March 16, 2014

Even concert pianists will tell you that there are no perfect performances; however, I have persisted in the faulty expectation that I should be able to play an accompaniment without a mistake.  After all, people are listening to the choir, not to me.  

This morning I played for the choir as they sang, “The King of Love, My Shepherd Is.” My friend, Martha, and her daughter, Eden, played the flute duet to embellish the accompaniment.  We had practiced and were prepared for the meeting’s performance.  I wasn’t feeling nervous and the piece was not particularly difficult musically. The choir was well-trained and sounded amazing.  

I should know from previous experience that when things seem easy I have to concentrate even harder to stay in the moment.  It’s important to me to be listening as I play, to try to make each note as beautiful as I can.  Sometimes, when things are going well, I make the mistake of allowing the thought (“Hey this is sounding pretty good!”) to take me away from the moment as I reflect on moments past.

I got so close to the very best I can do today.  The flutes and I were playing as one.  The phrases rose and fell together. The choir was giving everything they had, and it was beautiful. But then, that thought came again and suddenly I turned two pages instead of one.  That’s the worst feeling – not knowing how much fumbling will be required to get back on track.  I think is was only a few notes, but my heart sank and humbly, I played the last page.

There are no perfect performances.

I’m thinking now that it’s the same in writing.  There are no writing pieces that can’t be revised.

March 15, 2014

Great Blue Heron

 

I am in the whitewater of my life’s river.

There is no bridge crossing this place.

No canal to detour danger.

Pulled by currents I cannot see,

I am

dodging the debris of decisions

made upstream,

maneuvering the hidden boulders–

Indifference.

Misunderstanding.

Grief.

I marvel that any living thing

could call this place home.

Trees have sent roots down

on these shores

only to be stripped

and exposed.

Their roots must reach deeper still.

Doused and drenched,

I look up for a moment.

Birds beckon

to secret still waters

only they know.

I imagine the great blue heron

waits for me there.

 

March 14, 2014

I wrote this note to my friend, Sally, who invited me to join this writing challenge with her:

“I love this writing challenge.  This morning, I found myself composing stories in my mind as I drove down the beltway.  And then I realized that I was going through the process that Ralph Fletcher talks about—where does the story really begin?  And what is it really about?  If the story is like a river, where do I jump in?  It was cool to realize that I’m thinking like a writer (a newbie for sure, but hey, we’re doing it!!)”

I find myself in composing-mode many times during the day.  When I’m in the shower, I’m trying out stories in my mind.  When I’m driving, or when I’m doing dishes, I’m rehearsing, revising, or searching for the meaning of a memory.  Why does a particular memory feel so important?  Such little stories, but they have lasted more than 50 years in my mind.  

I feel like writing daily has opened up my mind and heart to things that have been covered for some time.  If I start to worry whether my story will mean something to anyone else, I find that my inner-censor starts to take over.  I think I am learning that if I am honest in the details of my stories and open with my true feelings, my personal story might resonate on a more universal level with someone else. That’s why I have enjoyed the commenting feature of this challenge so much.  I only know one slicer personally, but the comments I have received from strangers are so warm and supportive.  I feel connected to the other “slicers” because their stories reach the truth in my life too.   

I questioned whether I would be able to sustain writing daily since routines are hard for me, but to my great joy, this challenge has not felt like a routine.  There is no drudgery here – there is nourishment and creative energy. 

March 13, 2014

My father was the youngest in his family and grew up with his five older sisters and his mother. His name was George, but everyone called him Juddy. He was known for teasing (all in good fun) and occasionally playing a practical joke. His sisters once felt the house tremble due to a small earthquake, but they cried out, “Mother, make Juddy stop shaking the house!”

Growing up in a house full of women provided my dad a thorough education in the ways of women. The ways they could be competitive, accomplished, envious, generous, sweet, determined, strong, and passionate. What happened when two sisters were interested in the same boy. It was not easy in the 1920s and 1930s to be a family without a father in the home, and his sisters were what we might now call “Power Women.”

Later in life, my father was again surrounded by women with a wife, a son who lived far away, and three daughters. Women seemed to always enjoy my father’s company and there was always much laughter when he was around. When I was young, we happened to have choir practice in our home every Wednesday night. My sister and I helped set up the chairs and provided babysitting for a few children who came along with their parents. My mother was the choir director, but it was my dad who seemed to really look forward to Wednesday nights.

This was primarily for two reasons: Virginia and Eddie. Virginia would come each week with a joke, riddle, or outrageous story for my dad. He would have a joke for her too. They tried to one-up each other with the hilarity, delivering punchlines with just the right inflection and timing. Some weeks he could hardly eat his dinner, he was so excited to tell Virginia his joke.

Eddie was a more serious woman. She was very fashionable and loved fancy shoes. Her grooming was impeccable. My father also knew that she liked neatness in others as well. Knowing this, he hatched a plan. One night he asked my sister to get a needle and thread. He asked her to run some stitches inside his suit jacket and leave the end of the thread hanging out of his breast pocket. The spool of thread was in the inside pocket of the jacket.

After choir, my dad engaged Eddie in conversation. People often stayed to visit long after choir was over. They were talking and soon Eddie noticed the thread. “Here, George, let me get that thread for you.” She started to pull the thread. Soon she had pulled a yard of thread or more. She kept pulling! My dad started to laugh–he knew his plan had worked. He laughed so hard every time he told the story of the time he “got” Eddie.

March 12, 2014

As I lay on the floor at the close of my yoga class, the instructor said, “Place your palms up to receive the blessings of this day.”  My eyes were closed, the room was softly lit, and quiet music played in the background.  I tried to focus on my breath and find access to the blessings of the day.  However, I had had a very difficult day of meetings about our at-risk students, and I had gotten soaked in a downpour of rain.

So what were the blessings of this day?  The stories I heard today make my heart heavy.  I learned of 2 sisters who miss at least 2 days of school each week because mother is in either high or in jail; of a first grader who is afraid for his mom who went to get an abortion when she learned her baby had multiple handicaps, but then didn’t because she couldn’t pay $9000.00;   of a sixth grader who has never really known his father, a known terrorist in prison and associated with Al Qaeda.  We discussed so many students who are homeless, living in deplorable conditions, or who are disengaged, unmotivated,  and making poor choices.

As a teacher, the blessings of this day must be held in a reservoir of hope or stories such as the ones I heard today would be more than I could bear.  It is a blessing to be with these children and perhaps be the one who can provide a smile, a kind word, a bit of encouragement, or a life lesson that will help them not only survive, but be able to thrive and flourish in their lives.  It is a blessing to be a colleague with caring adults who expend time, money, emotional energy, and their teaching talents in order to provide the education and nurturing our children need.

Each child’s story contributes to the blessings of today when I consider the privilege it is to be in their presence each day. While they do struggle and we call them “at-risk,” we are also blessed to see resilience, perseverance, and grit.  So after all, I do open my hands to receive the blessings of this day, breathing in and breathing out. 

March 11, 2014

My father was a sound sleeper and could fall asleep rather quickly. He snored very loudly so the nightly challenge was to get in bed and fall asleep before he did or it might mean a long time laying there listening to him breathe. Or not breathe. Then the snoring again.

My mother, on the other hand, was a light sleeper and awakened easily. One night after I had fallen asleep, my mom heard an unfamiliar sound and awoke abruptly. As a musician, she had perfect pitch and keen ears. She listened a moment. She heard a high-pitched sound that seemed to circle the room. Around and around and around.

“Honey, wake up. There’s a bat in our room!” In a flash, my dad was up and pulled his pants and slippers on. (He would never dream of not being dressed if he were out of bed.) He carefully edged out of the bedroom leaving my mother in the bed. I imagine she pulled the sheet over her head. He returned a moment later with the broom and a shoebox.

He swung the broom at the bat. Missed. Swung again. Missed. He didn’t want to hurt it; he just wanted to knock it down to the floor. Finally, he swung and connected, sending the bat to the royal blue carpet. Quickly, my dad scooped it into the shoebox and put the lid on.

As dawn approached, he took the bat to the back porch and set it free. As he told me the story the next day, he held the shoebox and looked inside wistfully as if there were the essence of bat left behind.

March 10, 2014

Some people are unlucky in love; I’m unlucky with dogs.  Back in the days before leash laws, dogs were free to run in the neighborhoods where children were out playing.  We played during daylight hours during the school year, and often much longer during the summer time.  

There was Sojo, the Australian Sheepdog, who herded our car down the street every time we went out.  He barked and barked, getting so close to the car, my mother was terrified of hitting him.  “Go home, Sojo!” we yelled.

Then there was Jericho, the Dalmatian, who loved to tip over our trashcan and dig in the trash.  “JERICHO!” I yelled as I chased him off so I could clean up the trash.  Sometimes I would hide on the front porch hoping to scare him off before he could make trouble.

Laddie, was the ancient Collie in the neighborhood who lived on what was left of the farm next to our house.  How was I supposed to know that he had arthritis?  I was only 7.  When I tried to pet him, he let me know of his pain with a quick nip to my left wrist which drew blood.  I kept a safe distance from Laddie after that.

One summer afternoon when I was about 5 years old, I was allowed to go to the stop sign at the top of the cul-de-sac where we lived.  My mom could still see me from the front window if I didn’t go too far.  I don’t remember why I went up to the stop sign, but the next thing I knew my five-year-old legs were running as fast as they could go down the hill.  Looking over my shoulder, I saw there was a bulldog chasing me.  I didn’t know his name, but I looked back again and saw his bottom teeth jutting forward. Slobber dripped from his jowls.  I screamed and ran faster, yelling, “Mama!”

The house seemed so far away.  Could I get home before he bit me?  He nipped at my legs. “Maaaaamaa!”  The front door opened and Mama shooed me in and shut the door.   My heart pounded and my eyes filled with tears.  Not knowing the ways of dogs, I couldn’t understand why that dog didn’t like me.  

The fear has remained even though I’ve tried to be a dog owner twice.  Those are also sad stories. I guess I’m just unlucky with dogs.

 

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