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

Tag: joy

watershed . . .

"Joy" planter, a gift from C. last year with new growth . . .

“Joy” planter, a gift from C. last year with new growth . . .

Sometimes the term, “watershed” is used to describe a moment when things “before” and “after” are markedly different: water shedding in different directions. In hindsight, it feels to me like this “watershed moment” has been coming on for some time, a long time it seems. Without going into detail, it’s more of a holding than anything else for me which then manifests itself in all kinds of outer events, actions and ideas: like downscaling Christmas from a huge extravaganza to a very modest (almost nonexistent) one.

For whatever reason, I have begun to understand that I wanted to compensate for shortcomings that occurred (for all of us in one way or another) in my childhood or young adult life. Neither of my parents was around much in spirit even when they were present, and I think that I took that ball and ran with it with my own daughters. Whatever my parents didn’t care about nor did for me, I did for my kids. In spades. Now that I am still active but moving a bit slower, I’ve taken stock and it seems it’s time for me to discard that mode and live a much simpler life.

That doesn’t mean that I’m bored or unhappy. It just means that so much of the energy, time and resources that I have applied to “helping” my kids is probably too much both for their sakes and especially for mine. I want to live simpler and formulate a routine that gets me outside to take walks when the weather permits, to clean up the garden and to tend the many plants that have suffered through a Darwinian phase (“survival of the fittest”,) which, laughably is what I think I am doing for myself right now (to survive as fit as I can.)

I’ve already begun last week to cull through my vast music library of CDs, reorganizing them by pianist (Richter, Argerich, Hewitt, Lewis, Gould, Pires, Tureck, Haskil) and by composer (Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky) and listening a LOT to music that I have known so well growing up and which I got away from listening. For example, I remember listening to Khachaturian violin concerto and Shostakovitch 5th Symphony a lot when I was in high school. Now, I play my favorite music aloud on speakers, or use earphones during football games on TV. Talk about multi-tasking: I still manage the remote for the ads that come on the Patriots game while listening to Schumann or Scriabin via the earphones in my head. A little disorienting but not bad.

More than ever, I feel that music is truly the great mover that endlessly nourishes the spirit. No matter if one is rich or poor, with someone or living alone, there is nothing like music to elevate mood, enrich perspective and to just keep company with us, each and every day. A pianist who had dinner with us on Saturday suggested some early recordings by Sviatislav Richter (Rachmaninoff 2nd piano concerto with the Warsaw Philharmonic and the Brahms 2nd with Erich Leinsdorf.) I loved listening to them–thanks to I-Tunes. The technology of being able to search I-Tunes, purchase recordings, copy them to a playlist is so facile it amazes me. I had the Leon Fleisher Brahms recordings but have now added these two Richter recordings to my music library–what a revelation they were! He uses pedal a lot in his Bach recordings and I also listened for the first time to some Brahms sonatas he recorded that I’m unfamiliar with.

In parallel, I’m experimenting with a piano list to practice and learn new pieces, an idea to practice a new program every 3-6 months, or maybe in a year’s time. Although a little arthritis is showing up in my left hand, the rest of me, especially my brain and ear, still seem to be intact, at least, most of the time.

Anyhow, this is a monumental watershed for me in the beginning of December, a time, when I’m usually projecting to spend DAYS preparing for the holidays. Now, whatever happens, happens. I feel a little sad to give it all up, but not as sad as I might have expected. And I have discovered that honesty compensates for all the things I thought I had to do to make other people happy.

Now, I can let them find their way while I follow my own path “not taken” as much as I might have up to now.

A new day. A fresh start. Let’s see what little leaves grow from last year’s box of Joy.

new growth in last year's "Joy" planter . . .

new growth in last year’s “Joy” planter . . .


sleight of hand . . .

This winter and spring have been filled with recuperation, recovery and other taxes on the mind and spirit here, not only for me but for my husband, G. as well. We’ve done well during some of it and not so well for some of it. But that’s the way it goes. We’re only human and when pain fatigue sets in, you’d like to think of something better to do with your time.

Speaking of that, I’ve reflected on what to do when things appear bleak and there’s nothing obvious to look forward to in the immediate future. For example, when we had our granddaughter, A.’s high school graduation to look forward to a couple of weeks ago, there was a flurry of anticipation and preparation that was both exciting and engrossing: finding a place to stay in that seaside town (found a perfect one with minimal stay requirements and soft quiet environs that we plan to go back to often); planning what to wear (experimented thinking about more color and prints but left the tags on and returned most of the items unworn afterwards) but it was fun to “try on” those new looks; planning and giving special gifts to A., buying and preparing special cheeses and charcuterie to contribute to the family gathering spread, and so on and so on. Afterwards, there’s usually a let-down. It took us quite awhile to unpack everything, get help carrying things upstairs and then putting things away, little by little. Then, the let-down hit. So, activity is good.

In the last week, I’ve been feeling like there’s not much to look forward to except straightening out a vexing airline ticket credit that I had leftover from last year and a number of equally vexing car insurance matters to straighten out. Add to that, neither of us is wholly healed as yet, experiencing small ups and a few downs along the way. Thankfully, the weather has been pretty dry and temperate most of the time, showers and enough rain so that the gardens and trees look more lush than ever. The roses are out now and the morning glory seedlings are well on their way to getting started on their climb up the strings so that when they bloom, their blue flowers will be able to sun themselves on the 2nd floor deck.

So here’s the thing: I’ve discovered that the way to have something to really look forward to is (te-dah!) to consciously plan something yourself. I think intervals of every 2-3 months is probably good enough to get through a year. The key to this emotional sleight of hand is to be intentional about it: that is, not just rely on reacting to an invitation or thinking something will come up that may not appear. So, making invitations for a dinner party, or inviting out of town folks to visit, or going somewhere you’ve never been, even if it’s just for a weekend are things that we can make plans to do and it can cost whatever it is we think we can afford. Or not much at all. In fact, I don’t think that I can afford NOT to do it. So here’s my current idea.

It turns out that my daughter M. was able to straighten out my ticket credit by explaining my ankle injury to the travel people so that I can travel domestically rather than internationally and to extend the expiration to September when it’s not so hot everywhere. Given that I HAVE to use the ticket up by that time, we began brainstorming about places to go that we always wanted to visit, even for a brief time. She and the Helpers found a quaint place with an 180 degree view of Puget Sound from the deck of the cottage which sleeps 6, five minutes from the Seattle airport. Even though there are scant windows of time that my daughters can travel, given schooling obligations and teaching school schedules, we’re trying to find a time that they can make it out together along with M.’s partner and her daughter, J.

A few years back, I rented a cottage facing the Atlantic in Rockport for three winters running. By the third year, we were only able to make it up on weekends although we loved it everytime we were up there. For three years, Thanksgivings and Christmases were spent there en famille with everyone bunking down wherever there was room. It was a lot of fun. But it was also costly for the amount of time we were actually able to use it. Now, I’ve rationalized (that’s the only word for it) spending money on trips that will create memories for us which we might not have otherwise. Honestly, why not do that now while we still can? The injuries that we’ve had recently have brought home with a thud that these times won’t last forever.

HOW we think about things, our perspective, determines the attitude we can choose to take about something. Things can shift in an instant. I hope that with a mindset to create wonderful shared experiences for ourselves, every quarter or so, there will be many more family memories than there might be otherwise. After all, you can’t start planning for Christmas in September, can you?

Our granddaughter, J. will be turning four in September, almost the same timeframe as this trip that we are trying to pull together. What a nice way it would be to do new things together: go on a ferry ride, watch the sun set over Puget Sound, eat as much Dungeness crab as you can, go to Pike’s Place for farmers market, seafood, restaurants and people watching. And trying out COFFEE in Seattle. Now, there’s something to look forward to! Can’t wait!

If we don’t look for joy in our lives, who will?


“happiest moment” . . .

sliced Peking Duck . . .

sliced Peking Duck . . .

I’ve gone back to reading today, paging through Julian Barnes‘s “The Sense of an Ending,” which was, in my opinion, endlessly frustrating to read, no one character worthy of trusting what he/she said. This hardback volume was one that I had on the shelf, brought home when it first won the Man Booker Prize two years ago. It didn’t really send me then, nor in today’s briefing although I wanted to like it.

But another book called “The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis” did interest me in its smaller handbook size with deckled edges. The stories made me laugh and relieved the frustration I felt trying to decipher Barnes’s so-called “literary novella.” Lydia’s stories made me feel like I could call her by her first name. They were intimate, thank-godfully brief, and above all, humanly funny while being poignant, a hard combo to pull off. I also enjoyed reading about her as well as reading what she had written.

She was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, where I went to school. That seemed like an odd coincidence to me. Her first husband was Paul Auster, a writer who is also a close personal friend of someone I know by association (a friend’s brother) that seemed like a second, odd coincidence. They divorced and she remarried later on. Apparently, she’s been writing her kind of short stories, which feel to me like the word, poesy, for some reason. They are short, poetic and also whimsical. So, poesy seemed like a good description about her writing. She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2003 which is comforting to know. AND, her collected stories won the Man Booker Prize this year to lots of people’s amazement! At my Truro writing workshop last summer, her name was mentioned and people were so surprised that I was the only one in the class who recognized her name, much less being familiar with her way of writing. My nature leans towards being original in one’s search for creativity. And for sure, her approach and writing are original.

I’ve been feeling hemmed in about writing these days, and this morning, took on writing hundred-word haiku like biographies of people that I know well. I enjoyed it for awhile but was sensitive to the fact that these little biting pieces were probably unmentionable to others, particularly the people I was writing about, including myself. It even felt a little misanthropic, which I felt guilty about for a few minutes, but was relieved to read that people sometimes react in misanthropic ways because they have a sense of naive innocence or high expectations and then are deeply disappointed in how things work out. Boy, is that the story of my life! Naive innocence, high expectations and then, boom!, my feelings or thoughts falling down with a thud. There must be a way to survive these occurrences without becoming cynical or jaded. I guess if one’s naivete or innocence is still operational (at least mine sometimes still is!) you can’t really be a true misanthrope, can you?

The reason I’m writing this post, though, is to share with you one of Lydia Davis’s stories. It’s called “Happiest Moment” and I thought it was so charmingly Davis that I wanted to share it in a post:

 Happiest Moment

If you ask her what is a favorite story she has written, she will hesitate for a long time and then say it may be this story that she read in a book once: an English language teacher in China asked his Chinese student to say what was the happiest moment of his life. The student hesitated for a long time. At last he smiled with embarrassment and said that his wife had once gone to Beijing and eaten duck there, and she often told him about it, and he would have to say the happiest moment of his life was her trip, and the eating of the duck. 

I think this story is priceless, don’t you?

home again . . .

I’ve been visiting family who live in Minneapolis and have been away from home for a few days.

It’s been a time to get to know each other better, the little one playing with me on these last days rather than playing by herself in my presence.

Connection is an intangible spark, her eyes lighting up when she sees me after a nap. When I speak to G. on my cellphone, Josie listens intently to his voice and says softly, “hi, wa-wa.” After we hang up, she picks up the paw of her new stuffed puppy dog and waves goodbye at the cell phone, now still. These heart-filled moments float by like the flicker of light from lightning bugs on a soft, warm evening.

Life is indeed long, I think to myself, when we experience moments of sweet innocence and tender gestures of love by so young a spirit. Or maybe her spirit is wiser than her years.

We seem to go through many phases of our lives: starting out in a small place, wanting a bigger one, expanding and taking on more responsibilities and financial burdens. Then wanting to simplify, downsize and be in a smaller place again. The tide ebbs and flows along with our wishes and desires as time goes by. Health and illness also come and go. If we are fortunate, (and luck has a lot to do with how we fare along it seems,) we may live long enough to be in a soft place where children show us fundamentals we have forgotten about, or might never have had ourselves. 

We make our own homes, wherever we happen to be. And I am glad to be returning to mine today even though I am leaving this sweet girl. It’s a good time to celebrate that slice of innocent joy when I return to my own place, home again.

a tiny tiger. . .

"tiger, tiger burning bright"

Although G. and I live in a large house, it is split up into many uses. G.’s piano shop is on the first floor; there are over two dozen pianos, Steinways mostly, other ones, active and inactive down there. More pianos are in the barn. We live on the third floor where we watch the sun set while we have dinner. On the second floor are apartments that are rented out, often to grad students and post-docs at UMass Medical School which is nearby. Our current tenants have a two year old boy named Spencer.

One day last Fall, as I was washing the breakfast dishes, I heard a whirring noise out on the deck. As I wiped my hands and looked down at the deck that connects the barn to the house, I saw little Spence riding his three wheel bike. It wasn’t really a bike, it was one of those down to the ground vehicles that tots ride before they are old enough to get on a bicycle. Anyhow, Spencer was riding this thing, but he wasn’t just riding it, he was barrelling as fast as he could without a care in the world. I mean, he was careening around on the deck!

I wonder where that kind of joyful abandonment comes from, trusting that you can actually go at that speed in life without running into something or taking a fall. Even more exhilarating to see was the expression on his face, his eyes almost closed, shrieking with joy. Man, it was really something! His father quietly took photos of him, kneeling in one place as he recorded his kid running amok on the deck.

Are we all born with the potential for this kind of unbridled joy? I wonder.