the front of the garnet hill catalog features a collection of stones and says, “there’s beauty in simplicity.” yes. i recognize those rocks – they are scattered through our house…pebbles of mica-laced igneous, slices of red rock, chunks of granite, smooth water-worn river rock. small cairns stacked on the windowsill or the sunroom table, a vase with rocks that are special but can no longer be traced back specifically to why. simple beauty, they remind us that we are all a part of it. no less, no more.
as i get older i realize that i am leaning into simplicity. i am less inclined to be moved by fancy stuff, more given to the unembellished. we hike on trails and are reminded of nature’s brilliant eye for decorating the world. no tchotchkes or trinkets, just no-frills and unadorned life.
i’m guessing this propensity – this leaning – has something to do with my love of arvo pärt’s tintinnabuli minimalist exquisiteness. spiegel im spiegel on repeat. not fussy. not ornamented. straight up gut-wrenchingly beautiful, much like the pine needles in the snow. two monodic lines – melody and triad – woven into the simplest tapestry and “expressing the composer’s special relationship to silence”. nothing bombastic. no blustering. purity.
“there’s beauty in simplicity.” stark, unpretentious, natural.
the snow swirled outside the floor to ceiling glass – the city was blurry beyond the wind. it was brief. it didn’t stick. it was a statement. fall was gusting a bit of winter. everyone shivered, glad to be inside during the band of squall.
there is much still to be done. time seems to have raced by and we chose trails instead of pruning, talking in adirondack chairs in disappearing sun instead of packing away. procrastinating, holding onto the last vestiges of warmth and perfect autumn days, we opted to do the minimum, knowing the rest would need to be done in the colder days; the season keeps moving on.
we rise now in early quiet morning, without multitudes of birds out the windows, without sunny-the-chipmunk calling from the fencepost, without the sun beckoning us, “outside, outside.” we check the temperature…24 degrees…we reluctantly turn the heat up a smidge. we re-stock the nespresso pods, choose warm holiday teas for the coffee-pot-canisters over the counter, and seek out new soup recipes. we think about placing the shovel by the back door, its winter home. we crack the window just a bit now and sleep with an extra quilt.
the mums bow in the hush of the brisk mornings, chillier daytimes, less sun, more clouds, frost at night, all delivered by the magic wand of the calendar marching on. they are still beautiful and, from this view, we see the intricacy of the bud, sepals nestling and supporting petals, protecting the pink. we dig out my miracle mittens, his warm gloves, earmuffs, scarves, baselayers.
we talked about the silence this morning. it is still and the sun is trying. it may snow.
there were tiny flurries as we walked on the sidewalks of chicago, down coats and gloves, our heads bowed to the wind. it’s time to be inside more and we recognize – in the way of the universe – that we are much like the mums.
the old radiator in my studio was its home for years. i picked it up at a wholesale show…an old fencepost with equestrian leather…i couldn’t resist. it was perfect next to my piano. shh. quiet. ponder. dream.
it’s outside on the back deck now, really for the same reasons. shh. quiet. ponder. dream. it reminds us to take those moments and just be.
in the middle of the night last night we talked for a few hours. it was a big discussion…about life, about existence. we agreed that life is merely about those rare and outstandingly idyllic moments – a collection you might store in a little special box or place in photographs-in-the-round for a viewmaster – ready, at any time, for you to look at, review, be reminded of, hold close. not usually the gigantic stuff, but the slides of tiny, even silent, markers, instants you recognize as mica.
we had another water episode a few days ago. it seems the theme this summer. once again, drains in the basement yielded water instead of no water. a really lovely young man from the sewer-drain company came; it was their second time in just over a month. the tree roots they had cleared likely had left behind another piece. it doesn’t matter. he cleared it out and we moved on. it wasn’t without a ton of unexpected work…clearing all of david’s paintings out of the space to protect them, moving any and every thing out of the way of the water and allowing room for the technician to work without feeling nervous about anything around him. after he left and we cleaned everything up it was back to quiet.
we exercised down there again yesterday. it’s a peaceful place, even though it is a basement. being surrounded by the muse of david’s time at his easel brings a certain life to it. i imagine he wishes this little sign was in his studio, but there is a hush nonetheless, even without the sign.
our studios – places where time fills in the gaps between noise.
in the middle of existential questions about my wrist and hand, a screeching halt to occupational therapy imposed by the insurance company (don’t get me started), questions and the after-effects of betrayal, a silencing of my professional work, i have not sat there much. i enter to allow in light and fresh air, gaze at my piano and walk out. another silent day.
each morning, for at least a week, as i have sat with pillows propped sipping coffee, the window beside me wide open, i have been visited by a chipmunk. it sits atop the fence post across the driveway right opposite the window and looks in, chirping. i named him ‘sunny’ as it is often that the sun is just reaching that fencepost as he sits and the first time he was bathed in rays of light as he held his spot and said whatever he was saying to me in chipmunk i could not understand.
today, in the quiet of the morning, sun not even yet beginning to stream in the window, sunny was out there, chirping to wake us. i called out the window to him a good morning greeting. we chirped back and forth a bit before he left, satisfied he had awakened me. i watch for him now each day as the sun starts to rise.
three times in a twenty-four hour period over the last weekend i heard or saw the words “everything will be ok”: once written, once spoken and the third time bob marley sang it in the woods as we hiked the river trail.
sunday as we sat at the table on the deck in waning light a not-oft-seen hummingbird came directly over and hovered right in front of me. a couple days later as i stood on the deck, david watching, a monarch butterfly flew over to me and circled less than a foot above my head. and sunny, a chipmunk on a fence post, greeting me each day.
i guess that sometimes the universe is quietly whispering, “it’ll be ok. everything will be ok. shh.”
personally, i like the black bin in the middle of the room. right now, it gives me a sense of peace, or, more accurately, less of a sense of panic. in our seemingly neverending plumbing story, we are still seeking the proper gasket for our dysfunctional coupling. we were behind a local plumbing truck on the way to lowes. this business has operated in our town for four decades servicing all these old houses with their variety-pack of fittings and pipes and unions and o-rings and such. as i told a friend, it was a universe-is-laughing-at-us moment as we drove behind this truck that i just knew had shelving with old disheveled water-stained cardboard boxes full of the exact gasket we needed. i wanted to jump out of littlebabyscion at a stoplight and run up to his driver’s window and knock-knock-knock on it and beg him to check the ratty cardboard boxes for this gasket, which of course, he probably had in his pocket, upon which i would offer him 10 or 20 dollars for this simple vintage rubber 79 cent piece. it didn’t happen, of course. i’m quite sure that he would have done anything to avoid my panicked face in his window. and so, we are still on the quest. and learning a lot about gaskets and o-rings and sheet-and-ring gaskets and fun stuff. someone said to me yesterday, “oh, like that’s something you really want to know about!” but i disagreed. though i wish the tiny leak would stop, i am finding the puzzling-out of it a great learning process. a creative process, let’s just say. so. the black bin in the middle of the room.
soon we will piece back together david’s studio down in that space. he’s bringing paintings back into the light and we gaze at them as he recalls much of this pandemic year, time spent without painting. i know this feeling as i enter my own studio upstairs. a crate of cantatas i composed, some resource books i have used for decades, a few decorations from the choir room i used to occupy – they sit along the side wall of my studio, the remainder of what i need to file away, put away, throw away. i, too, have not spent time in my studio creating. it’s the wrists, it’s the job-loss, it’s the pandemic … it’s a long time of fallow, i suppose. it is the juxtaposition of art that makes a living and art that is living. it’s a sort of betrayal by art. it’s feeling that which you have dedicated yourself to letting you down. it’s change. it’s a time of discernment. it’s a time of confusion. it’s a time of loss. it’s a time of not-found-yet. it’s a time of grief. it’s complex. it’s a mixed bag.
we laid awake in the middle of the night. we had a banana, our traditional middle-of-the-night snack. we talked. we grappled with the year-of-years we have all had. once again, for the millionth time, we tried to sort it out.
we talked about my snowboarding-broken wrists and a community of leadership that never reached out to me. we wondered aloud. we talked about the pandemic breaking out, virtual-work, exponential curves of connecting to others online. people, including us, losing positions we loved to a virus that shut everything down. we talked about financial hardship, too common a denominator. we wondered aloud. we talked about the terrifying covid numbers we watched on the news – climbing, climbing, climbing. we wondered aloud. we talked about political division, a time of chaos and the amping-up of bigotry, complicity and vitriolic rhetoric. we wondered aloud. we talked about isolation, people missing people. we wondered aloud. we talked about the civil unrest in our town, deaths-by-automatic-weapon a few blocks over, curfews, fires, boarded-up businesses. we wondered aloud. we talked about my fall in the fall, a whopping new wrist ligament tear and, again, a community of leadership that did not reach out. we talked about losing my long-term job. we talked about the silence of others. we wondered aloud. we talked about david’s dad and his move to memory care, his mom and her spinning grief and loss-paralysis. we wondered aloud. we talked about our sweet babycat and his sudden dying, the heartwrenching hole. we wondered aloud. we talked about the lack of security, rampant. we talked about extreme gun violence and people’s hatred of anything-they-aren’t. we wondered aloud. we talked about exhaustion, pervasive and overwhelming all of us. and we wondered aloud.
not much sleep.
we’ll find a gasket that works soon. or we’ll call a real plumber in. and maybe, little bit by little bit, our artistry will call to us – to trust it, trust ourselves. it will remind us that it is not responsible for making a living. it will ask us to look around at that which is of solace to others in these times, regardless of lacking financial reward: it is music, it is visual art, it is the written word. it is art and it is living.
and, for some time to come, the black bin will sit in the middle of the studio. to remind us of the process.
dogdog does not live his life expecting grandeur. he does not look for the secrets of the universe nor does he try to reach the pinnacle of success, whatever that is. his riches are right around him – his shredded toys, his bone, his food and water bowls, his treats, his people and his beloved cat. he lives each day, seemingly, without the emotional chaos we get embedded in; the view from his amber eyes is simple and they reflect back a love of living, of those things he cherishes. he does not try to be anything; he just is. “when you seek to be special, only a few things in life will measure up,” writes sue bender. he does not seek to be special, yet he is magnificently special.
it was very very quiet in the house last week. i played no music. i watched no tv. i barely read the news. together, dogdog and i were almost silent. my dear and wise friend wrote, “sometimes silence allows us to conserve our energy to go on.” together, dogdog and i stepped in our days, the padding footfalls of babycat’s sorely missing from our mix. yet we continued on and the earth spun through the galaxy and the sun and the moon did that which they do, nevertheless.
“i learned to love the journey, not the destination. i learned that this is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get,” pens anna quindlen. dogdog’s journey sans destination – for without the same human parameters that make us measure our lives, his is simply a journey without a destination – included babycat. and now, in his quest to find his cat, we can only hope that babycat sits by his side and reassures him, in his gravelly babycat voice, that he’s right there with him. our journeys include the angels all around us; they are right there, quiet and steady.
“get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over the dunes, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over a pond and a stand of pines. get a life in which you pay attention to the baby as she scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a cheerio with her thumb and first finger,” recommends anna.
i’d add, get a life in which you take moments to be very quiet – silent, even – and in which you can see the dim outline of your angel-cat sitting next to your dog at the front door.
the cicada was silent, attached to the deck. it was late spring/early summer of 2015 and this insect had chosen our deck as its place of transition. we watched the shell, cautious to not disturb it, waiting for something to happen. until one day it began to emerge, looking much like an extra-terrestrial, wings of flight opening and drying in the sun of the warm day. it was a stunning process from nymph to adult, all silent, with no fanfare for this remarkable transformation. suddenly, this little being was present on the earth, ready to make some noise.
silence to noise – a transition from nymph to mature adult. a lesson, perhaps, for humanity.
our progression from without-words nymph-baby to with-a-voice mature adult, a transformation of growth, of learning, of critical thinking, of fortitude. as cicadas raise their voices to the sky, buzzing and clicking, choosing their song, their chorus wisely, they answer an intuitive call, they align in truth to their purpose, their place on earth. much the same perhaps should be mature adults – answering an intuitive call, choosing their song or chorus wisely, aligning in truth.
there are times we find ourselves in hush. stunned into silence by the words or actions of others, we sit, ensconced in the shell of our exoskeleton. we wait and we watch. and then, as we rise as winged and responsible people, we have the opportunity, the obligation, to speak – to speak up, speak out, speak for, speak against, speak to truth.
perhaps there are adults who have skipped their instar stages, those phases of development that insects pass through on their way to maturity. perhaps they should have lived underground like cicadas, feeding on roots, a bit longer before they emerged, before they walked on an earth where they felt they could use their words to hurt or harm others. perhaps then, after a slow transition into maturation and with no fanfare, they would choose their buzzing and ticking with more forethought, with more compassion, with more honesty, with more wisdom.
probably one of the most frustrating things in human community is the willingness for people to forego hard conversations and, instead, accept things as-is, invest in misinformation and make assumptions. toxic in almost every situation, assumptions are the stuff of poison apples and they will destroy everything in their wake.
a good old chinwag would do wonders for forward movement. people – together – back and forth – who are candid and honest, forthcoming and steadfast, who ask the hard questions and demand straightforward answers, who don’t leave out pertinent details, who expect truth and speak up, speak out, speak for, speak against, freely upfront.
a good old chinwag is a mature opportunity for growth, for learning, for progress. silence is the opposite – it is a wound that will fester, a mistake that will become exponential, an injustice that will become a wart, a carbuncle on the integrity of a community.
a good old chinwag is not easy. it is the stuff of bravery, the stuff of guts, of risk-taking, of fortitude and perseverance. it is the stuff of dedication to the bigger picture, to progress, to being proactive. it does not yell or scream; it is quietly respectful, using language of negotiation, of reconciliation, of courtesy, a deference to thoughtfulness.
a good old chinwag may lead to tears. it can be the stuff of renewal, of healing, re-establishing relationship, correcting wrongs. it can be the stuff of granting forgiveness and the stuff of receiving forgiveness. it can be powerful and it can be most tender. it can bring weeping into the back and forth, drowning out toxins and harvesting hope.
a good old chinwag can never be a bad thing. it can forge or strengthen mature friendships and dig deep foundations with honesty and candor. it can elicit change. it can revitalize and reinvigorate. it can rebuild.
a good old chinwag. simply caring enough to have a conversation.
you speak. i speak. you speak. i speak. back and forth.
david knows that i would get in little-baby-scion or big red without hesitation and drive across the country – despite any circumstance, in rain, sleet, snow or ice, night or day, day or night, without delay – if i were to see either of my children for even three seconds when we arrived. just 3 seconds. because – yes – any time i can say “i saw you for like 3 seconds” about my daughter or my son, i can also say “and it made my day”.
it can make all the difference.
my niece put my sweet momma on facetime over the phone. momma was in the hospital and things were serious. we were leaving and going to be there in just a couple days. but we didn’t make it in time. yet, i had those moments – more than three seconds but less than the years of lifetime i wanted. i saw her face for like more-than 3 seconds and it made my day.
the last 3 seconds i saw my dad, i took his pale and fragile hand in mine and told him he was the best. period. and my sweet poppo, mere hours away from leaving this earth, whispered back to me, “i love you, kook.” i memorized his voice as i left his bedside. oh, those 3 seconds.
it’s unusually quiet here on wednesday nights. we had ukulele band rehearsals those evenings and, since this time of virtual life, zoom rehearsals were a good bit of loving community in our week. i miss these people and i miss making music with them. i miss their conversation and the lifebits they shared each time we gathered. it’s funk-worthy, these silent wednesdays. and then…”i think of you every wednesday night,” he texted. like 3 seconds of text and it made my day.
the sun came out on the trail the other day. we hadn’t seen it for days. grey upon grey, the dismal became lodged in us. it’s hard – it’s just us and dogdog and babycat. we do know even in that we are fortunate. we all desire more. to be surrounded by people we love – light itself. when the rays streamed through the trees over the trail, i felt it on my face first. we looked at each other, smiles coming to our faces, cold from the bitter dampness. “the sun!” we exclaimed at once. it stayed out for a mere 3 seconds before it slid behind the next bank of clouds. but it was like 3 seconds and it made our day.
there is nothing quite like the last strains of gabriel’s oboe(ennio morricone) falling into your heart. there is nothing quite like a break in lyrics, or like the moments after the words “and the world will be as one” (john lennon). in music the rests grant time for digesting, for processing, for evoking, for wrapping around you. it is golden time, those rests, and it makes everything else – all other notes, all harmony, all orchestration, all lyrics – make sense.
the music tells the story. it is honest and forthright; it is transparent. it does not suggest innuendo, nor does it allude or insinuate or imply. it does not squelch the truth or warp the narrative. one note follows another until it rests and gives the listener time to breathe, to catch up, to absorb it. its words – the notes that are played – are golden. its silence is golden. it is truth.
and – silence is not golden.
“listen to silence. it has much to say.” rumi may have been speaking of the silence of the snowfall, the silence of the sunrise. like the golden silence of music, these silences fall with grace. they are not silences with implication nor are they incendiary.
equally as powerful as graceful silences of rest is the silence of the person-who-does-not-speak who brings inference, who hints, who implies, who, because of a deliberate lack of words, causes others to jump to conclusions, to opine, to form judgements without the basis of knowledge. powerful seems the person who does not speak up, speak for, speak against, who remains silent, crediting correctness but acting out of intentional design. but this is not the power of rightness, despite any display of righteousness. it is not the power of the powerful; instead it is weakness.
to not speak up, to be silent. to not speak for, to be silent. to not speak against, to be silent. to not speak questions, to not speak objections. to not communicate in honest words, to sit in quiet insinuation, to encourage blind compliance, passive and complicit acceptance, blind trust, to encourage conjecture. weakness.
it is it is on our shoulders to choose our words carefully. it is also on our shoulders to choose our silences in that same way. should our public statements be rigorously measured by integrity and responsibility and truth? should they be steeped in justice and fairness and respect?
yes. they hear your words. and yes. they hear your silence.
and the new year enters from stage right/house left and whispers to the middle of the old wooden stage. a slight and humbled bow to its foregoer, it beckons silence and quiet resolve.
we stand in ovation as we pine for its downbeat and new music, this new year’s promise. then we take our seats in the snow and turn our faces to it gently falling, flakes in slow motion, moments of fresh powder.
stillness commences and the hushed voice of what is to come lingers in the cold dark air around us. it is voiceless and indistinct; we lean in and listen for the timbre of the spirit of what will be.
and the snow whispers back to us, ever-fragile flakes, reminding us of its evanescence, of our impermanence, of the mystery of it all.
we rise and we walk into the woods, our feet crunching on the trail.