mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

a taoist hermit. . .

In “About” I write that I think I would like to be a Taoist Hermit. If you read Bill Porter’s books written under the name, Red Pine, he relates stories about looking for Taoist hermits in the wild mountains west of Sian. Sometimes the hermits are in plain sight in a village but there’s no way to truly identify them even if you are looking straight at them. There are stories about hermits who sit alone in their mountain hut on a moonless night, eating only pine needles and drinking drops of dew.

I have been a loner all my life but I don’t think that qualifies me as being a “hermit.”  Here are two definitions of “hermit” I found online:

her·mit:

1. A person who has withdrawn from society and lives a solitary existence; a recluse.

2. A spiced cookie made with molasses, raisins, and nuts.

My existence is pretty solitary which is why being able to write this blog is a way to share who I am and to becoming more known by my family and friends.
So the hermit/recluse part is pretty well established in my lifestyle. Following the Tao begins with a single step (Lao Tzu) and the rest of the journey is the way that I live my life.
Click here if you would like to read a well-written article about the difference between Taoism and Confucianism (or Confuse’em-ism)

eggs in one basket. . .

Well, you know what they say about having all your eggs in one basket. At my age, I’m happy to have any eggs in my basket at all. There have been times in my life when I thought I had lost the basket along with all the eggs…yeah, a basket case, right?

When I was divorced, it felt like that. Lost the dream of our family staying together. Lost my job. Lost the dog (see “Life is Long” post) But true to the truisms of life, I found myself. When I had no job and knew no one while living in an apartment in one of those Georgian houses on the common in Salem, I was happier than I had ever been. Why was that… or  come again?

Things had gotten so bad that I was beyond bottomed out.  I was burned out from a brutal job, I was unemployed, living off savings. I was alone in life because my ex-husband and my children had all disappeared, avoiding the fallout from the divorce. I didn’t know what would happen to me. Usually a very strong person, I had had it at this point in my life.  I cried “Uncle!” and gave the burden of my fear away.

I looked up and said to the Universe, “Here, take it! It’s all yours! I can’t handle it anymore so I am asking for your help and hoping that you will hear me.” “Please.”

And for the rest of my time in that place, I didn’t worry about the future constantly anymore. I just lived. One day after another.

Little by little, things happened and help was on the way. I got a call from a VP from my last job that asked if I wanted to do some consulting for a start-up biotech firm. When I moved there, my piano needed fixing and I met my future husband to be (see “Life is Long“).

The COO of the biotech company asked me what I wanted to find in a place to live. I said a new contemporary condo with a view of the water. He said “good luck“. The next day, a stranger called me about a condo on a lake that was just listed for rent. I moved in there and loved it. It had more pantry space in the kitchen than I had ever had. Although having pared things down, I no longer needed it as much.

Now that I had a job, I could support myself again. There was a fireplace, a glassed in atrium with a bluestone floor, a small deck that looked out on the lake. There were lots of birds and wildlife too. A large blue heron would stand on the dock near my back yard and preen itself in the afternoon sunlight. Once, I heard a fluttering in the chimney and a bird got into the house, flying back and forth frantically seeking a way out. That same COO answered my distress call along with his wife and two young sons. A graduate of MIT, he engineered a chute with a chair and a blanket draped over it so that the poor bird (who was standing still under my bed by this time) could emerge and fly out the open window.

Then, I became friends with the piano tuner who invited me to dinner at his home, a huge Queen Anne Victorian house where his shop was, and which he renovated with a geothermal heating system drilling a well deep under the house. There was also a handsome stone drywall built around the perimeter of the property, the rock hauled by hand and loaded on over fifty trips in his small truck.

Life went up and down again. The biotech start-up that had such promise sputtered when their clinical trials (which I was managing) failed. We opened the interim results on a Thursday night and the company closed on Friday. I was out of work again. More work appeared magically over the phone. I could never figure out how they knew where to reach me. I was lucky. I also worked very hard for a long time, not always knowing what to do but coming up with ways to solve problems. Finally, I found myself not having to do it anymore.

So, I don’t know about eggs in a basket. My experience is that there is help and all you have to do is ask for it. And to be thankful when it comes. That’s an important part of this whole thing. Ask for help and be grateful when it arrives. It is also important to recognize help when it appears and to go with the flow if your intuition tells you that it’s okay. Just remember to give thanks.

emerson and heart. . .

"Trust Thyself: Every Heart Vibrates to that Iron String"

Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of my favorite thinkers. This is big because I usually gravitate toward the work of women writers like Emily Dickinson (“I’m Nobody! Who are you? Are you nobody too?”)

Emerson’s essay on “Self-Reliance” is one of a handful of admonitions that I have unknowingly subscribed to most of my life. His further exploration of universal energies and relying on your intuition is even more firmly embedded into my consciousness, especially after all the synchronicity that has shaped the direction of my life. Emerson said:

“Trust thyself. Every heart vibrates to that iron string”

and:

“Every spirit builds itself a house, and beyond its house a world, and beyond its world a heaven. Know then, that the world exists for you. For you is the phenomenon perfect. What we are, that only can we see.  Build, therefore, your own world.”

basil toutorsky. . .

Basil and Maria Toutorsky's home on 16th St., Washington, D.C.


I started playing the piano when I was three in China trying to imitate my Aunt Anna, a piano teacher. When my father was finishing his doctorate at the University of Chicago, he sent for my mother and me to come to America. We were living in Peking with his parents until the end of World War II. We travelled by freighter for three weeks, arriving in California. Then we took a train to Chicago, five days sitting up in a train, eating sardines on saltines for our meals. Our first home in Chicago was located in the cement basement of a house belonging to a Chinese family who kindly took us in. When he graduated, my father got a research position at the U.S. Geological Survey in Washington D.C. and we moved to a 2nd story apartment in a small house in Berwyn, Md.

Piano was important everywhere we lived. We had an upright in the Chicago basement which I would practice after I had started the evening’s rice to cook. In Berwyn, we also had a piano. That’s when my parents found a piano teacher named Mrs. Cortez to give me piano lessons. We stood by the highway and took the Greyhound bus to Washington, D.C., then took the D.C. Transit bus to 16th Street for my piano lesson. Sometimes my father would drive us there, reading scientific papers in the back of our old black Ford while he waited for me to have my lesson. Soon, Mrs. Cortez suggested that I take lessons with the Professor instead. She was a student of his as well, her teaching room right off the reception room filled with sumptuous furniture.

Before leaving Russia, Professor Basil Toutorsky was a renowned pianist and friend of both Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Scriabin. He was also one of the nicest persons I had and have ever met. He took me under his wing for about four years from the time I was eight to when I turned twelve. The architecture of the house on 16th street made it a landmark in Washington. Click studio to see the outside and imagine what it must have been like for a Chinese kid to have piano lessons there. Inside, there were twenty-two grand pianos, placed two-by-two with keyboards that ran from one end to each other. Some were coved together as matched pairs in room after room.  We spent many hours playing four-hand pieces together, either on one piano, sitting side by side or on two pianos where we could see each other over the music desks.

By osmosis, this early routine of playing with Professor Toutorsky gave me a deep sense of music and rhythm. He taught me laborious hand and finger exercises that gave me strength and independence. I played a lot of technical exercises: Czerny, Cramer and lots of scales: chromatic through the circle of fifths, natural, in parallel and contrary motion. I later learned that the finger exercises were known as the Leschetizky method. To this day, I owe the development of my technical ability, ear training and musicality to Professor Toutorsky.

me, at the age of twelve, at the piano in Toutorsky's studio


He was also one of the few adults who showed me humor and compassion. One year for my father’s birthday, he recorded me playing Beethoven variations and encouraged me to say “happy birthday” on the ’78 rpm record that he put into a paper sleeve.

When I was twelve, he took me down to the Cosmos Club, an exclusive place where concerts were attended by Washington’s society elite. It was the first time I played a few notes on a nine-foot Bosendorfer grand piano. The tone of the Bosendorfer’s bass notes made a lasting impression on me. Later, I compared its tone to many of the instruments that I played, looking for that elusive and rare depth of sound. He also planned my first recital to be given at his home. As a momento, he showed me a photo of a music lyre in the Encyclopedia Britannica, and then with my assent, had the image of the lyre made into a gold pendant, engraved on the back with my name and date commemorating my”First Recital”.

first recital pendant

To this day, I am ever so grateful to this gentle man who gave me so much technical and musical training so magnanimously. My parents underestimated what he did for me. I don’t think they knew what Leschetizky method was. For sure, they didn’t realize how much Professor Toutorsky cared for me. Nor I for him.