FriendsWriting

March 25, 2017

Writing and Wildlife at Windhorse

Tags: ,

I’m always struck by how cold the vernal equinox is.  Spring may usher in the warmth of summer on its far end, but it begins with Aries riding through the world, directing the whirlwind, waking up hibernating animals (like me) and splashing cold water on our faces.  During the week of the equinox, I was up on Whidbey Island,  which is already a windy place without any special help from archetypal energies.

Windhorse, the Buddhist meditation retreat where I come to write, feels like a second home.  I enact a homecoming ritual when I turn off the highway onto the two mile stretch of narrow road that takes me to the bowl of the retreat center.  First I turn off anything I might be listening to.  I unbuckle my seat belt and open all the car windows.  No matter the temperature, I drive slowly for two miles and let the air blow in and out of the car. I watch for deer, rabbits, and eagles.  I look at the canopy of trees as I drive through the woods.  I am beginning to arrive.

I turn in at the Buddha House and back my car up to the door.  I fish out the hidden key, let myself in, and unload the car.  I take out of the drawers and cupboards the dishes, utensils, and pots I’ll be using and wash them in hot soapy water. Everyone has different standards about cleanliness and I don’t think I am especially obsessive. It’s just that meditators—who mostly use the retreat– are exceptionally spacey people and I don’t think they even notice they’ve left scrambled egg on the sides of the pan or rice caked to the fork.

This week I wrote for five hours every morning and then my brain demanded other stimulus or lack thereof.  I had done some work with an editor (Jennifer D. Munro) and learned there was such a thing as Point of View and that I knew next to nothing about it. I read a lot of Victorian novels when authors all knew everything that was going on in everyone’s head. This is what I gravitate to. It turns out there are other ways to tell a story.

So I worked for five hours a day with the 20,000 words I had already written and I ended up with 19,500 words.  But every day after I closed the computer and went for a walk I felt excited and alive. The story is beginning to flow more freely.

Last year a mouse trotted into the Buddha House in the middle of the night and got into my pistachio nuts. I wonder how many mice the meditators haven’t noticed. I told Bert, The Very Good Neighbor, who has been trying to keep the place mouse free, that I’d seen droppings next to a sprung trap, as though a mouse had managed to get the peanut butter without killing itself.  Bert re-set the trap in the kitchen and reported that he had also removed the mouse that was under the bed.

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah there’s a trap under the bed,” he said cheerfully. This is one of Bert’s most identifiable features: undying cheerfulness.

Every morning I did a wildlife check, both inside and out. First I went to all the windows of the Buddha House to see if any deer were visible. Then I checked the three traps in the house. I never found a mouse in a trap but on Tuesday morning I found one drowned in the kitchen sink. I had left the sink full of soapy water and he tumbled in. I gave him a proper burial reflecting that city rats are creepy but this little guy could be on a birthday card.

The mouse in the kitchen sink was the only wildlife found inside. Outside, there were five deer whose habits I got familiar with. Two of them looked like teenagers and one was so pregnant I could almost trace the outline of the legs of the fawn she would birth before too long. I checked for them early and late afternoon and a third time at dusk. When I came upon them, I talked baby talk to them.

One evening they were grazing between the Buddha House and Tommie’s house, a distance I usually make in about 30 seconds. On this evening it took nearly ten minutes to get down the hill because I didn’t want to scare or disturb the five deer. Gradually over the course of the week, they let me get closer to them.

The deer were a constant source of wonder and delight. I’d be in a voice lesson, see them outside, and get distracted. Talking to Tommie at her house I got up and watched them every time they came within view.

“The deer,” I said to her. “You are so used to them, you probably don’t even notice them anymore.”

“Oh, I notice,” she said. “They’re eating the forest.”

After a pause she added that they were “wondrous creatures,” which I took to be Buddhist for “fucking nuisances.” As Tommie pointed out, they could be both. I suppose that’s true of us all.

 

 

 

PianoSingingSongsTeaching

March 16, 2017

The Curse of Daylight Saving Time: The Musical

Tags: , , ,

I’m in a better frame of mind about this year’s time change primarily because I am not cursing the Republicans for elongating daylight saving time, which they did during the Bush administration.  It’s been, what ten years, and I still haven’t gotten over it.  These days there are so many things to curse the Republicans for that I need to triage.  Elongated daylight saving time doesn’t even get in the ER door.

Even with my new frame of mind and a pretty decent night’s sleep on Saturday, by the end of Sunday evening I felt as if I had been hard at work for 48 hours.  I hosted a musicale that afternoon in my home.  It wasn’t the usual Terrified Adults and Spotlight Whore’s Sunday Afternoon Musicale because this time my piano students were also participating and I don’t guess anyone wanted to answer questions about whores to a collection of children under ten.

My front room/studio reasonably seats about a dozen people but there were twice that many on Sunday. I set out rows of chairs until it looked like a home wedding. My adult students often bring one audience member, a spouse or friend, but children tend to come with an entourage. The room was packed.

The show started. I made my usual speech about bowing: it’s the way a performer says thank you to the audience. I forgot to remind my piano students that they get five points if they remember to bow. Everyone forgot to bow, including me.

We did a group warm-up: scales and whines and honks to the amusement of everyone who had never taken a voice lesson.  Then we all, audience and performers, sang “Down to the River.”

I announced we would perform in order of birthdays starting with January but if at any time someone wanted to “get it over with,” as it were, to just say so.  One of my singing students immediately jumped up and said she wanted to sing first. Cindy sang—poignantly– Sam Cooke’s “Change is Gonna Come.”

After that it was a jumble of performances in and out of birthday order.  Forest played “Juggler’s Dance” and sang along with himself, something I am used to (and adore about him) but which can be a surprise to people who think they know what a kid’s piano recital is like.  Both Addie and Alex played “Duke of York Strut.”  Both played it well and neither cared that they played the same song.  Phoebe played an original composition, which she seemed pleased to call “Untitled.”

Emma made her debut. Emma is a tiny child, six years old, who comes to her lesson both physically and verbally.  She chatters her way in the door.  But she was quite shy at the idea of performing.

“I have stage fright,” she whispered to me at her lesson. She rehearsed her performance three times at her lesson.  “I have stage fright,” Emma said again.

“Would you like me to sit with you when you play?” I asked.

“Yes,” she whispered.  The relief on her face was gratifying.  If only it was always that easy.

Her parents told me later that after that lesson, she woke up every morning asking, “Is this the day I play?”

When it was her turn to play, I whispered to her, “Do you want me to sit with you?”

She waved her hand. “Whatever,” she said breezily.

She played her pieces alone at the piano—still on only the black keys and not yet reading from the staff—perfectly.

I don’t want to slight anyone who I suspect will see this post so let me enumerate the people I haven’t already mentioned.  Nina and I sang “Dimming of the Day” as a duet.  I got to sing the melody and Nina harmonized.  The blend we get together is transportive.

Louise improvised on “Cold, Cold Heart.”  Members of the audience had note cards with words on them like thrilled, sexy, disappointed, angry.  At the end of every line, Louise took requests while I vamped the accompaniment.  She sang each line with a different emotion and energy.

Leah sang “The Ladies Who Lunch” and I never enjoyed a Sondheim song so much.  I had practiced the unusual rhythm and chord progressions a lot.  Leah does such a good job with it that I didn’t want to degrade it by slopping the accompaniment.  Sheena sang “Small World” from Gypsy, a song I learned from her and came to love so much that when she leaves from her lesson, I play and sing it for myself.  Amber and her boyfriend Kevin sang “With or Without You,” a song she brought in three days prior so I was glad she had Kevin to play for her.

Johnine put on her Sunday clothes and sang “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” from Hello Dolly and the theme from Mame.  In the theme from Mame mention is made of cake walks and mint juleps.  Johnine, one of the most generous people I have ever known, brought cupcakes and bourbon so we could have a cake walk and mint juleps when the show was over.

I sang the first of the two Queen of the Night arias from The Magic Flute.  I am performing both arias in a concert version of The Magic Flute in April and wanted the performance practice.  It’s been 25 years since I’ve sung anything that difficult in front of an audience.  The show is at 3 pm, Sunday, April 30, 2017 at the Gift of Grace Lutheran Church in Wallingford, 2102 N 40th St, Seattle.

We had an unexpected audience member when a tiny snail traveled into the house on someone’s shoes and waited expectantly in the middle of the kitchen floor.  Levi, younger brother of Phoebe, the composer and who is as tiny as Emma, took it outside.  It’s not that it wasn’t welcome but Levi was concerned about its safety.  In my memory now is the image of a small boy standing outside my sunroom door on a wet afternoon, reverently freeing the little creature and saying goodbye.

After the recital as we were milling with cupcakes and mint juleps, there was the snail again and in the same place on the kitchen floor.

“Levi!” I called.  “Look, it’s back.”

It was like The Thing That Returned. Levi and I stared at each other. Then we smiled.

“Will you take care of it again?” I asked. He obliged me and then ran off to play with Emma. Apparently the two are now an item.

As people were leaving, one of the parents said to me “This was like Little House on the Prairie.”

 “How so?” I asked.

“People all getting together to sing and play.”

I thought that was sweet. In my world there’s nothing unusual about people getting together to sing and play. It’s really quite a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

When the last child and parent and friend and student left, I looked at the front room and kitchen.  Cake crumbs everywhere.  Everywhere.  Frosting smears in the oddest places.  Music forgotten.  Furniture askew.  A trail of props from Johnine’s performance. Feathers from the boa.  That damn snail back in the kitchen.  I ran the vacuum to pick up the most superficial layer of crumbs, went to bed early and slept like the dead.  Not a bad start to a week I usually curse.

PoemsPoliticsPsychoanalysisSpirituality

March 5, 2017

Puzzling

Tags:

A lot of my friends tell me they are coloring.  It’s a thing, isn’t it, Adult Coloring. Some are binge-watching anything with a good story and lots of episodes.  Almost everyone is taking an anti-depressant.  I suspect there’s a fair amount of self-medicating with sugar. It’s a surreal time.

Me, I’m doing jigsaw puzzles (and binge-watching anything with a good story, taking doctor-prescribed anti-depressants and self-prescribed sugar in various forms.)  I find them (the puzzles) meditative and calming.  It’s comforting to go through a process that ends with everything fitting into place and creating something predictable.

The Experts, as I understand it, don’t reference the picture on the box as they work.  They use the colors, values, lines and shapes to help them assemble the picture.  I’m not an expert. I’m just an anxious American trying to keep my equilibrium.

So I dump the thousand puzzle pieces onto the table—an old leather-topped folding table my parents used for Bridge.  I am not afraid of chaos.  It’s not my favorite thing in the world but I understand its usefulness and I enjoy creating order out of it.  So I start looking for the puzzle pieces with hard edges.  I always tell myself that this time I will find every single hard edge on the first sifting.  I will look at every piece and my mind won’t wander.  This never happens.  But eventually I get the frame.

The frame. There’s a phrase I like in a poem, “The Reverse Side,” by Stephen Dunn: “the lie of the frame:”

It’s why the terrified and the simple
latch onto one story,
just one version of the great mystery.

Image & after-image, oh even
the open-minded yearn for a fiction
to reign things in –
the snapshot, the lie of the frame.

In times of chaos and panic, we click the shutter. We get a snapshot that contains as much as we ourselves can contain. The larger context is obliterated.  There’s nothing wrong with this.  I just think it’s good to know that’s what we’re doing.

A calming technique I like is to look in front of me but focus my attention on my peripheral.  I see myself in a context.  Oh, I am not just an isolated sheet of white panic flapping on a line, I am a being with a place in the world and here I am, supported by the universe.  My frame has widened and it has stabilized me and given me more breathing room.

Once, alone in a hotel in New York City, I felt emotionally invaded by the noisy phone conversations of the guy in the next room.  At the time this was the kind of thing that would typically have triggered a panic attack. I felt the beginnings of one simmering.  It didn’t help that I was out of my familiar world—in a different puzzle, so to speak.  Something deep within me just up and moved the frame: I said to myself, “This doesn’t have to mean what it has always meant.  This can mean something different.”  It worked.  I started taking deep breaths. The sounds on the other side of the wall were demoted from panic trigger to mildly annoying.

After the frame come all the easy bits: the patches of bright colors, the discrete objects, and salvaging all the freebies: the pieces that came out of the box already attached.  Then the endless sifting through, starting to appreciate the many shades of blue, for example.  This sky is darker over here.  This is the light blue on the horizon over by the barn.  And this orange can’t be the farmer’s shirt because his shirt is clearly red.  But the orange piece fits right under the farmer’s head and next to the dark blue of the farmer’s trousers it looks much less orange and much more red.  By this time I am thinking, “Hmm, cadmium red medium maybe and Indanthrone blue.”

I am down to all the little weird pieces in the easy bits phase.  Things that are obviously not part of the sky or the grass or (god help me) the wheat field. I can’t figure out what the heck they are or where they go.  They pass through my hands over and over and I look from them to the puzzle to the picture on the box.  The conscious part of my mind relaxes and a deeper mind takes over.  Suddenly my hands are moving without me analyzing what they are doing.  They put the all the weird little pieces into their place.  This is actually an example of the creative process, which doesn’t differentiate between the grand and the humble.

The last part of the puzzle involves the grunt work of filling in the wide open spaces of a single color or the insistent gravel of no pattern.  I start looking at puzzle shapes: the broad shouldered men ones, the broad shouldered men trying to run away.  If I turn them around they look like broad–shouldered men giving birth to a baby and trying to run away—now there’s a frame.  The four-pointed ones and the hunchback, club-footed ones.  It’s a process of laboriously trying every piece on every side in every way.  At some point my deeper mind again takes over and finishes the puzzle.

When I have planned to ruin my day by working on my taxes, a puzzle is so much more satisfying. It calls to me more insistently than even the refrigerator.  I can’t walk past it without sitting down and becoming engrossed. My shoulders and neck get unhappy, I’m up past my bedtime, the sink is perpetually full of dishes, the cats are perpetually whining but for hours and hours I don’t worry about my health care, the cruelty of the immigration deforms—yes, you read that correctly— the stupidity of the department of education or the treatment of women all over the world.   There’s always tomorrow and I am temporarily out of puzzles.

Ethel, the Gourmet
(Charles Wysocki)

 

A Year in the Garden
(Trevor Mitchell)

 

 

 

 

 

CatsFriendsLiteraturePoemsSingingSongs

February 2, 2017

Coping

Tags: , , , ,

People who have lived with a personality-disordered individual can recognize one a mile away. We are held hostage to the whims, moods, and tantrums of someone who brings chaos and alarm wherever she goes. She will forget (or deny) anything she says when it’s convenient to. The rest of us will still be reeling days or weeks later, trying to understand what just happened.

That is a description of my mother, which will surprise no one who has read my memoir.    But does it not sound like someone else?  Someone with tiny hands and a big mouth? The weeks since the inauguration have felt reminiscent of my growing up. Actually the months since the FBI director re-opened the investigation into the alleged HRC e-mails have felt like my childhood: chaos and conflict and a sense that events were out of control.

Like many of us, I have alternated between light and dark, between uneasiness about the future and calm within the present.  Everyone I know is swinging on the same swing-set.  I have felt encouraged by people who have shared how they are coping with their fears and how they are maneuvering through the new American landscape.

There’s the energy and outrage that propel us into the street, to meetings and to small acts of resistance.  Then there’s the need to crawl back into ourselves –at least this is my experience as an introvert who loves being with people but only for about three hours a day.   Anxiety makes me feel beside myself.  I treasure the times when I feel inside myself.

Arranging music last Monday, for example, was a lovely way to spend a morning (even when I find out after I’ve made 35 copies that I’ve done something that’s not going to work.)  I arrange a lot of the music for the OK Chorale and I had meant to finish an arrangement of “Fiddler’s Green” over the weekend, no, a week, that is to say, two weeks ago.

It’s time consuming and meticulous work; I need to be in the right frame of mind.  Ironically, it’s an activity that puts me in the right frame of mind the minute I start doing it.  Written music is precise.  It’s fussy.  All those little black circles have to be carefully inked in the lines and spaces.  I use a ruler to draw the measure lines and the eighth note beams.  It’s important that everything lines up and is easy to read.  It’s absorbing.

Fussy tools of the trade

Fussy tools of the trade

Knitting was calming until I started learning to knit lace.  Since then it’s been less so.  On the up side of struggling to knit lace, I walked to the Fiber Gallery a mile from my home, three days in a row to get help with finding those pesky yarn overs that run away when I’m not looking.

I poured candles one evening. I burn beeswax pine-cone shaped candles that come from a shop in Longmont, Colorado: Amber Lights   The chandler is a friend of one of the Susans in my life– the one known as The Other Susan at All Present because there’s also Susan of Susan and Mike, try to keep up. The Other Susan couriers several candles to me every time she visits Longmont.  I burn three or four of them every winter, lighting the first one on the fall equinox.

Anyway, these pine-cone shaped candles burn efficiently and cleanly, often with very little wax left.  But I manage to collect a small saucepan of wax bits by the end of the year.  I like to melt them down and pour tea lights. 001

I am cooking again.  I’m not much of a cook.  I haven’t been a good cook since the 70s.  That was the last time I actually read cookbooks and tried recipes and had kitchen routines.  Things have changed in the culinary world and I haven’t changed with them.  Plus I’ve taken a detour into gluten-free and anti-inflammatory diets, also known as shop-and-chop diets and that’s a world unto itself.

Regarding gluten-free: A student of mine once asked me if I had “that disease” or was I just one of the annoying ones?  I guess I am one of the annoying ones but it really does make difference in my joints.  I would be much more annoying with gluten in my system.

In any case, I am reading actual recipes and trying new dishes and it’s been fun.

There’s always Bach.  I am working on a recital, the centerpiece of which will be the Bach wedding cantata (#202).  Bach is more holy to me than any scriptures.  As I work on this cantata phrase by phrase, line by line, recitative and aria, I try to sing it straight through several times a week.  Those are the times it feels most holy.  This piece of music has been around for hundreds of years.  Thousands of people have sung it. With every performance it has poured itself into the world and the world is richer for it.  This music connects me to a long line of singers who have sung Bach and been carried out of the darkness by him.

For sheer, mindless escape I play Trump Yahtzee.  This involves playing Yahtzee on-line.  Every time it looks like I am losing, I refresh the game so it never shows up in the stats that I have lost.  So far I haven’t lost a game.  That’s Trump Yahtzee.

Events in friends’ lives have a way of righting me when I start to totter.  My friend Putzer, the Attorney who incidentally has retired so I don’t know if I get to call her that any longer, has a new grandchild. This little girl had some huge challenges at birth.  When her life was assured and her mother called her Mighty Miss Matilda, I burst into tears.

Mighty Miss Matilda

Mighty Miss Matilda

Tears were a huge release when I went with Gwen to send her cat Lucy to new adventures in another world.  I’ll miss Lucy.  Gwen buried her in my yard.  That evening I lit a candle on the grave and stayed until the wind blew it out.  I tried to get my cats to participate but they acted like I was trying to pull a fast one on them. I’m always trying to enrich their lives and they are so resistant.

Lucy as a kitten before she got the smudged nose

Lucy as a kitten

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve discovered the poet Carl Dennis. One poem in particular digs a little deeper into me every time I read it: “On the Soul.” Maybe it seems poignant because with high levels of anxiety comes uncertainty as to who owns my soul.  The poem begins with the line “They told you you owned it” and eventually catches up to:

It would have been better if they’d said nothing
Or told you it lived its own life, like deer
Hidden in the woods, not seen from the road
As you drive past in the car, not seen
When you stop and climb the fence.
Even if they browse on your own land,
They’re happiest left alone,
Stepping down in the evening to the stream,
Bedding down in silence under a screen of thickets
To dream what you may guess at and can’t know.

 

 

 

FriendsPolitics

January 22, 2017

What a Wonderful World!

It started with a stray thought on a Facebook page the day of the election.  Teresa Shook in Hawaii invited some of her friends to go to D.C. to protest.  Then came yesterday: marches all over the world.  I was on-line early in the morning on January 21 sobbing over what had already happened and was still happening.  To see that people in New Zealand and India and Austria were standing in solidarity.  What sweet, sweet words.

I remember when the world stood in solidarity with us after 911 and our then president blew them off.  Tough guys don’t need help.  I was almost as ashamed of us then as I was on November 8 when we gave power to this very, very, very, very, very personality-disordered individual who, by the way, has the vocabulary but not the empathy of a third grader.

I feel so grateful to people who all over the world joined with America in a counter-inaugural, so to speak.  An inaugural is a beginning yet the events of yesterday were more of a mid-stream explosion. Imagine Niagara Falls.  And the river continues to flow. Joining the 175,000 who marched in Seattle was certainly the most dramatic event I’ve ever participated in.

I wanted to do the march with my friend Nancy who is my goombah for protest events as well as a weekly walk around Green Lake.   Nancy wanted to start at the beginning at Judkins Park.  I threw my lot in with her husband, Scott, to take the bus from their house in Wallingford and  meet the march as it came up 4th Ave.

This was a calculated decision.  Scott dislikes crowds and noise as much as I do.  He knows the bus system better than I do.  Worst case scenario: if I had to walk home, Wallingford is closer to Seattle Center than Greenwood.  Besides, Scott is good company.

We joined a small group at the bus stop and boarded a bus that was already standing room only.  It packed in even tighter before we burst out of it downtown.  We caught the beginning of the march as it came up 4th Avenue.

I was immediately in tears and didn’t stop crying for half an hour.  People packed the street like they had the bus, smiling and laughing with the occasional vocal wave that undulated through the crowd.  Men, women, boys, girls, all ages, all races, all causes.  The only thing that made it a women’s march was that women started it.  The signs were as varied as the people.  This is what a feminine sensibility brings to things: a jumble of love, an acceptance of differences.

I stood there with my little homemade sign and my (ridiculous looking) pussy power hat on my head and gawked for a while.  Suddenly a man with a camera and another with a microphone approached me.

“Tell us about your sign,” Microphone man said.

I looked at my sign: Kindness Counts.  What was there to say?  I felt completely inarticulate.

“Well,” I said. “It’s alliteration.”

The camera zeroed in on my T-shirt, one of the official Women’s March in Washington shirts.

“Tell us about your shirt.”

Again, completely inarticulate.

“Get that thing off my boobs,” I said.  Kindness Counts in varying digits, I guess.

The camera man smiled, I smiled, and finally I said, “This is the most dramatic thing I’ve ever been part of, who are you with?”

“KING-5.”

Oh, great.

Any plans–and I had several– to connect with people via texting were soon thrown out.  This was too big.  Scott and I scanned the crowds for a while, looking for Nancy.  Finally after an hour, we found each other and continued up 4th Ave.

It’s not sexy or provocative or attention grabbing but the sign that I think most reflects what a feminine sensibility brings to any discussion or policy or decision is this one: Women’s Rights are Human Rights. People all over the world know this.  I know there are people who are ecstatic about the new president but I am not one of them.  For five million-plus more of us, the outpouring today made the events of the 20th seem puny and whiny.

Two hats I knitted. Nancy wore one, the other went to Washington D.C.

Two hats I knitted. Nancy wore one, the other went to Washington D.C.

My knitted hat in Washington D.C.

My knitted hat in Washington D.C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alliteration

Alliteration

 Dublin

Dublin

Marseilles

Marseilles

Seattle (Brian Clarkson photo)

Seattle (Brian Clarkson photo)

 

And Seattle again: the Fremont Troll

And Seattle again: the Fremont Troll

 

 

 

 

BooksPolitics

January 14, 2017

Resistance

Tags:

Sometimes the unstructured days are the hardest.  The day is my own.  There’s nothing scheduled today although I have a lot to do.  Instead of doing it, I’ve been wondering how one personality disordered man and a group of opportunist congress people are going to cram down the throats of a majority a lot of things they vehemently don’t want? How exactly is that going to work?

Everything I was ever taught about what it means to be an American: that’s all gone. The election was a coup d’etat really.  If not within the meaning of the act, then emotionally, viscerally.

The ideals of freedom of speech and of belief are gone: ideals to be proud of, ideals that set America apart.  Even as I write this and think about putting it up on my blog, I wonder if it means trouble for me later.  The poison has thus already entered the system.

I have a Not My President pin, which I will wear a long as I have to.  To civics nannies who say that’s not the way to behave in a democracy, I say this: the contract between us and our government was broken a long time ago.  I don’t have to keep holding up my end.

I know I am not alone. We are starting to come out of our crouched positions and find each other.  Here’s a quotation from a piece by Adam Gopnick in The New Yorker (I will read anything by Adam Gopnick, anytime, anywhere, even when he writes about baseball.  He never disappoints:)

“The best way to be sure that 2017 is not 1934 is to act as though it were. We must learn and relearn that age’s necessary lessons: that meek submission is the most short-sighted of policies; that waiting for the other, more vulnerable group to protest first will only increase the isolation of us all. We must refuse to think that if we play nice and don’t make trouble, our group won’t be harmed. Calm but consistent opposition shared by a broad front of committed and constitutionally-minded protesters—it’s easy to say, fiendishly hard to do, and necessary to accomplish if we are to save the beautiful music of American democracy.”

 

I am not a reformer or an activist so I have nothing to urge on you but I have made a decision about my own first steps out of my crouch.  I now subscribe to the Guardian ( international independent journalism,) monetarily support Planned Parenthood (national, women’s rights) and am a member of the Phinney Neighborhood Association (local, community building.)

I’ve dug out my books on the French resistance to re-read.  The stories are inspiring and encouraging.  Resistance is possible.  It begins in small ways.  People turning over magazine covers so Trump’s face is hidden is reminiscent of how the French resistance started.  They painted la croix de Lorraine and later V (for Victory) on walls. Eventually people found each other and found ways to organize and to push back. We make jokes about the French surrendering in World War II but they didn’t surrender.  The French resistance was magnifique.

Here is a partial list of the books I recommend should you be so inclined:

Code Name Christiane Clouet Claire Chevrillon—an ordinary woman who did what she could

The Freedom Line Peter Eisner –about the Comet line that got downed airmen out of Belgium.  Two television series take off from the Comet line story: The Secret Army (drama and very good) and ‘Allo ‘Allo (comedy and really silly)

A Good Place to Hide Peter Gorse–hiding Jewish families in the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon)

Village of Secrets Caroline Moorehead ( also about Le Chambom)

Flames in the Field Rita Kramer—about women secret agents, well researched and well told.

The New Yorker Book of War Pieces Reynal and Hitchcock –some great journalism

The Resistance Matthew Cobb

Between Silk and Cyanide Leo Marks –I’ve already done my book report here.

Resistance Agnès Humbert—Book report here.

Outwitting the Gestapo Lucie Aubrac

Wolves at the Door Judith Pearson

Sisters in the Resistance Margaret Collins Weitz

Inside S.O.E. E.L.Cookridge

Anything you can find by M.R.D. Foot

What are the rest of you doing?  Leave me a comment.  See you along the way to the liberation!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choir SingingDogsFamilyFriendsHolidaysPsychoanalysisWriting

December 29, 2016

Winter on Whidbey Island

Tags: ,

I’m up on Whidbey Island writing a novel.  I have no idea how to write a novel.  This novel actually began in 1997 with a very long short story that I thought would develop itself.  I thought a novel would spool from my imagination without my having to think about anything like structure or an outline.  I managed to get through 16 years of school with a degree in English literature and education without learning how to make an outline.

I’m here to say that if I actually finish this book, then anyone can write a novel. I come to it as, well, yes an English major, a writer for 45 years, a published memoirist, a disciplined reader, and a self-initiatory learner.  I have taken one post-graduate writing class that was good for my ego but I didn’t learn anything.  I have read a stack of books about writing fiction, some more useful than others

Here has been my approach to this novel:  Well, I guess I need a character. Check.  She needs to live somewhere. Check.  She needs to say stuff so I need people for her to talk to.  Check.  Now there are so many characters in play I need a graph to chart where everyone is every hour of the first two days.  Check.

There has to be some kind of conflict so I need a plot. I was stuck on Plot for YEARS.  Since 1997 I have amassed a collection of interesting characters, many small vignettes, and an overarching idea that I kept hoping would coalesce into a novel.

Finally I had to break down and construct an outline.  I did that last September, the last time I was on Whidbey.  That felt like such an enormous accomplishment that it kept me cheerfully working on this book in dribs and drabs even after my time got reassigned to making a living.

The election and my subsequent mainlining of sugar drained my energy to an extent I found alarming. Then I slipped on the stairs and ended up with a bump and bruise the size of Montana on my butt. Between that and the nasty weather, the election and sugar I thought I might never again even get out of bed.

So really against odds, I am back at the Buddha House at my favored writing retreat with my voice teacher, Tommie, down the hill in the Big House.  The deer are here, the goats and the big shaggy white dog, Mishka, who drools and who has those poor goats herded to within an inch of their lives.

Tommie and I have dinner together.  The rest of the day I am alone writing, walking, looking at the world. I’ve never been here in the winter.  Whidbey Island is famously windy and the wind is going to town as I write this.  At night the world is an opaque black and I need a flashlight to get down the hill to Tommie’s house.

I drove up to Whidbey on Christmas morning.  I remember last year thinking it had been one of the loveliest Christmases in memory.  This year it feels like one of the most disorienting. It’s because the election is hanging like smog over everything.  It stinks and I can’t see.  I tell myself that I am groping to connect but in fact my connections feel more vibrant than ever.

My watercolor class has coalesced into a group of five regulars who say to me, “Just tell me the date and I’ll be there.  I don’t care what we are painting.”  They all came over early December and I showed them how to paint a poinsettia.  I made wassail and lit a fire and we painted and gossiped.

The ladies who paint

The ladies who paint

My friends Nancy and Scott came on the Solstice for a Scotch tasting. I have a hobby that’s really beyond my means: single malt Scotch. (“Oh, Elena, everyone needs an expensive hobby,” Scott said.) I scored four bottles of Scotch from friends this year, including a 16 year old Lagavulin. The three of us had a nice sampling, including the Laphroaig Nancy brought.  I felt known and loved.  I won’t say that is necessarily an unusual occurrence.  What’s unusual is for me to feel safe enough to let it in while it’s happening.  I tend to get out my “known and loved” experiences to play with when I’m home alone.

Nancy, Elena, Winston and Laphroaig, Solstice, 2016

Nancy, Elena, Winston and Laphroaig, Solstice, 2016

The OK Chorale had four performances, all of them satisfying. Next year the Chorale will have been in existence for 25 years. Twenty five years.  I’ve been with the Chorale that long because I started it.  After me our longest standing member Jean (tenor)–has been there 18 years.  Susan (soprano) and Terry (alto) and Gail (alto) have been there almost as long.   This year I especially felt a sense of our continuity and commitment to each other.  The OK Chorale is a community, not just a choir.t-shirts-photo-4

I took Christmas bread to my former analyst, something I have done for 35 years.  When I was still seeing him I used to joke that I planned my baking schedule around his office hours.  I still do.  He has moved to Edmonds, his fifth office in the years I have known him and I wanted to see it. Even when I don’t see him for years it feels very important to me to know where he is.”

We hugged.  We touched each other.  That has never happened since the day I met him in 1985 when we shook hands.

My former student (the brilliant and beautiful) Anna put together an elegant tea and we spent an afternoon talking, both of us still shaken over the election.  I don’t want her to know how much I count on the energy of her and her compatriots in this terrible new world order.  I think she knows.  In any case, she read my posts.

Anna (left) and her sister Julia in annual American Gothic Christmas photo

Anna (left) and her sister Julia in annual American Gothic Christmas photo

My cousin, Sue, in England and I have exchanged many sisterly emails since my visit in June and since Brexit.  After our election she with relief handed us the baton for being the stupidest nation on earth.

My friend Andrea visited the snobby Chef Shop (so I don’t have to) and bought me a bag of marcona almonds, which she delivered on Christmas Eve.  I am crunching them up here on the island and thinking about how much I enjoy the friendship with her.  A friend is someone who knows you like marcona almonds and that you had a withering time when you went to the Chef Shop so she goes there for a bag of marcona almonds and gives them to you on Christmas.

Gwen, my neighbor who knows something about just about everything, and I had our celebration on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day: ham sandwiches, fruit salad, pumpkin pie, Scotch.  Gifts. We both like to open things so we try to have lots of things for the other to unwrap.  I walked back across the street on Christmas Eve in the cold, in the dark.  Everything felt different.  Everything felt the same.

And here I am trying to write a novel.  I have 62 pages and 16,000 words.  It lurches forward for a while, then stalls.  Over and over I think, “I don’t know how to do this.”  Then I go for a walk, play the piano or sing in Tommie’s studio, go into Freeland for something or other at the grocery store.  Something comes to me and I write another section.

I don’t mind the feeling of “I don’t know how to do this.”  It’s actually kind of exciting.  It means that I can try anything.  I can try everything.  It’s like singing: When it’s not coming out easily, I talk to my vocal cords: “Well, ok, then how will you sing this note?”  Something new happens.

It’s like psychoanalysis.  I lie on the couch and I start talking. I say anything, I say everything.  Something emerges.  Something I never thought to think of.  Then somewhere along the road I feel lighter, more spacious, calmer.

It’s like painting.  When I don’t know what else to do, I throw in a big gash of purple.  Where’s the harm?  It’s only paper.  And then the big gash of purple transforms the painting into something startling and alive.

I think this terrible new world-order won’t be all that different for the artists, the poets, the musicians, the actors and storytellers. The terrible new world-order has been there all along and the artists have always known it.  Nothing changes for us now that everybody else knows, too.    It’s a not bad thing to say “I don’t know how to do this.”  We continue to do what we do. We can all try anything, we can all try everything.  Something new will happen. Something startling and alive.

 

DogsFriendsPianoSingingSongsTeachingTelevision

November 27, 2016

Distractions

Tags: , ,

The day after the election the pall that settled over Seattle was dreadful.  It was as though someone had died in every home–except for the guy around the corner who has had a big sign in his front window for eight years: No Obamanation.  For a month he had a Trump/Pence sign plastered over that.  Now the window is finally at rest with its white curtains.

He’s a perfectly nice guy with a love of a huge furry dog, a Malamute or some Siberian giant.  Once when I was weeding outside the fence, he came by with the dog who basically lay down on top of me in affectionate neighborliness. I am trying to remember the dog’s name.  Emily, I think.  This is a man of contradictions and certainly an anomaly in my neighborhood.

But as I said, the pall. Distractions have been thin on the ground and it’s been hard to concentrate and to work.  My littlest students had their Halloween/ costumed/chocolate fountain during the weekend that I had gone into a tailspin over the FBI director and his scammy announcement.dscn0403

Chocolate Fountain at the end of the day

Chocolate Fountain at the end of the day

I bought the chocolate fountains years ago after I made a special trip to Costco for something they didn’t have: a shredder or printer or something boring.  I was so irritated with the waste of time that I spent the $50 on a chocolate fountain and over the years it has been featured at many a recital.

The actual recital went by as fast as cows on a road trip because most of the songs were four lines long.  The roar of applause lasted longer than the music.  The week prior to the recital everyone had a dress rehearsal at his or her lesson.  I had each of them sit somewhere in my living room, holding their music:

“OK, now let’s pretend it’s Sunday and the room is full of people.  There’s your mom and there’s your little brother squirming around.  You can hear people breathing.  Somebody coughs.  The person before you is taking her bow and everyone is applauding.” I applaud wildly. “Then I announce that Sarah is going to play ‘The Detective Agency.’  So now you walk up.”

I talk her through the protocol.  She sets her music on the piano rack and anchors it with two little rice dolls.  She plays ‘The Detective Agency’ and she practices her bow.  The cat comes in and whines—that would be Winston.  We run though Sarah’s part in the recital again.  Most of my students like to do this playacting several times.

I have to run down a side street for a second and tell you about the rice dolls.  I have 24 of them– two for each month–that I bought at a holiday craft fair years ago.  I laid in my supply when I realized they were the perfect weight and size for holding music open on the piano rack.  Whichever (interested) child has the first lesson in the month gets to pick out the next month’s music proper-uppers.

English Separatists holding music open

English Separatists holding music open

I remember when two years ago when Alex was first up for November.  She put the witch and the ghost from October in the box of dolls and with some coaching managed to fish out the two Pilgrims.

“Huh?” she asked. “What are these?”

“They’re Pilgrims,” I said.

“They’re not Pilgrims,” she said scornfully. “They’re English separatists.”

We got through this year’s Halloween Costume Recital with the help of the English separatist music holders and carried on into the sunroom for the main reason all the kids came.  One of the older siblings had been given the job of stirring the melted chocolate on the stove during the recital so it was smooth and the right consistency to be poured.  It’s really fun pouring all that chocolate into the basin and watch it rise up the tower until it spills out on all sides.

One of the smallest children asked me what I did with the fountain after everyone left.

“I set it up right by my bed and run it all night long so I can stick my finger in it every time I wake up,” I said watching his big round eyes try to work this out.

My adult singing students participated in A Terrified Adults and Spotlight Whores Sunday Afternoon Musicale two weeks after the election.  The Musicales have so much variety.  There’s something for every taste.  Cindy sang something from Messiah. Susan sang “St Louis Blues” and “Kansas City” with her husband Mario on the bass and me getting to improvise the piano. Nina sang “Jubilee.”  Sheena and Leah both did songs from the Italian art song tradition (Schirmer edition for those of you in the know) as well as a folk song and “Anyone Can Whistle,” one of the few Sondheims that are easy to accompany. Johnine sang a Beatles song.  Amber sang “99 Red Balloons” with her partner accompanying her on guitar.  I got to preview the first aria of “Weichet Nur Betrubte Schatten,” Bach Cantata #202 that is to be the centerpiece of a recital I’m working on. I’ve been living, breathing, and singing myself to sleep with this Bach and performing something that has been so much a part of my private world was remarkably gratifying.

These recitals are part of my Work Life.  Sometimes when I have an emergency rehearsal or a sectional for the OK Chorale, I tell people to come at 3:30 and “I want you out of my house by 5:00.”  It’s my little joke but also a way to suggest that I am at work during those sectionals.  I have to be on.  I have to be diplomatic and polite.  I don’t necessarily want to be that way on a weekend.

Something about how awful we had all been feeling made this afternoon glow. I had looked forward to having people over and to making music.  I was glad that people stayed longer than usual. At one point I curled up on the couch and watched everyone eating the wonderful food—Susan makes these amazing dates stuffed with almonds and topped with crème fraîche–talking and laughing with each other, meeting new people, telling each other how much we’ve all “improved.”

Nina (rhymes with Dinah) saw me.  “Do you want us gone?” she asked.

I didn’t.  An afternoon with friends and music—it was something I needed.  I think we all did.

But the most magnificent and most anticipated distraction of all came the day after Thanksgiving: Gilmore Girls, A Year in the Life.  Before I discovered Gilmore Girls I had a student who wanted to change her lesson because it meant she missed the show.  I had no sympathy at the time.  Had I known then what I know now I would have moved heaven and earth for her to not have to watch it on tape (I don’t think we had DVR then) even though it meant she could skip the commercials.

If you have somehow missed this show, it ran from 2000-2007 and had what many felt to be an unsatisfactory seventh year and one which reeked of bureaucratic and corporate interference. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is the eighth installment, probably its finale.  It consists of four 90-minute episodes and it premiered the day after Thanksgiving.

I was up at 5:30 to watch it.  I watched for two hours, then went for a walk.  Two more hours and I had to go set up my stuff at the Dibble House Holiday Craft Fair.  I finished watching it around 2:00 in time to meet Nancy who was fitting the Apple Cup into her day to walk around Green Lake.  That evening I played the piano at the Dibble House Holiday Craft Fair Preview and special wine and appetizer evening.  I came home, fired up Netflix and started watching Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life all over again.  I finished it for the second time around noon on Saturday.

Gilmore Girls is a wonderful story with great writing and unforgettable characters.  I laughed and I cried through this year in their life.  I turned off the TV thinking that I want to be a better person and I want to eat less sugar, which is surely ironic given how much junk food those girls famously eat.

I am over the despair hump from the election—I think.  I hope we all are.  We all have our part to play towards making this a world a place in which we actually want to live.

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, HumanityAlzheimer's diseaseChoir SingingFriendsPoemsPoliticsSingingSongsTeaching

November 11, 2016

What I Elect To Do

Tags: , , , ,

“People have always been good at imagining the end of the world, which is much easier to picture than the strange sidelong paths of change in a world without end.”

Rebecca Solnit

(Thank you, Jenni, for this quotation)

I am no stranger to panic.  I suffered for nearly 20 years with panic disorder.  A counter-intuitive thing happens to me when people around me are in a state of panic.  It normalizes what had once been a huge part of my life. This is familiar country to me: this trauma that has been visited upon a majority of us.

In my experience panic was about something that had already happened. I was having flashbacks.  One of the things I learned to do was to enclose myself in a closet and reassure myself that I was contained within my own body. I hadn’t leaked out.

I haven’t experienced anything that rises to the level of a panic attack for fifteen years.  When I get to feeling high anxiety it’s usually about an imagined future but the best response is still to reassure myself that I am still in my body.  I don’t have to physically go into a closet although thanks to Maxine, my feng shui goddess my closet is empty enough to do so.

In the past three days I have had to remind myself over and over that nothing has changed: I’m in my skin. I still live in my house.  I still have my friends, my work, my health.  I still have Bach.  The clarity of Bach acts like an equalizing of the body registers for those of us who are fortunate enough to sing and play the music.  I still have poetry.  Everyone repeat after me: we still have the poets. Some of us still have Xanax prescriptions.

I have uncontrollable grief alternating with rage stoked by fear.   When the fear subsides and the rage calms, grief will open the door that disperses the panic.  Once the panic clears, I’ll find a way into and through a “strange sideline path of change.” The task right now –for me– is to tolerate intolerable feelings.  At the same time I stand up and cheer at the top of my classically trained voice (and it’s loud and resonant) for the angry, hurt, shocked protesters all over the country.

I talked to my former student Anna, the beautiful and brilliant young woman in law school in Virginia.  I called because I was hoping to find some comfort in her energy.  I quickly realized that that is my job now: comfort and support for the young women who are probably going to have to fight our fight all over again.  But I will say this:  whenever I talk to Anna, I do not despair over the future.

Wednesday night is when The OK Chorale rehearses.  The Chorale gives to me as much as I give to them.  I knew I didn’t have to hold it together for them.  At the same time I knew that I would.  I knew we would do it together.

The first thing I had the Chorale do was something I have done many times in voice lessons.  We whined.  We whined as stridently as we could.  Then we wailed.  Then we took another breath and wailed, me with as gut wrenching a wail as I had in me.

I passed out a reprint of a song with the unlikely title of “Milford” and told everyone to just throw their old copies on the floor.  That was when it registered that whoever set up the chairs had put us not in rows or clusters but in a big circle.  We sat in a circle and sang to each other.

Fittingly we sang “We Need a Little Christmas:”

For I’ve grown a little leaner, grown a little colder,
Grown a little sadder, grown a little older,
And I need a little angel sitting on my shoulder
I need a little Christmas now!

We ended the evening as we do all our rehearsals and all our concerts during the fall quarter: with “Auld Lang Syne. ” Not just the chorus that people manage to slosh through on New Years’ Eve but the whole beautiful song.

Thursday morning is when All Present meets.  Our friends with dementia came in. Many of them came in happy but many came in looking blank; they’ve been coming for years but they still don’t recognize why they are there.  They were the lucky ones;  they don’t get the news.  Their caregivers looked tense and worried.  We began our song circle with “Roll Out the Barrel” and “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Everyone came alive and the caregivers—I hope—put down a smidgeon of their care.

We sang “when you’re smiling, when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.”

I thought, “This really sucks today.”

We sang “Cigarettes and Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women” in memory of our Violet who we lost this week.  She was 92 and loved being with us though she wasn’t able to sing many of the songs any longer.  She could always contribute to “Cigarettes and Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women.”  It hardly registered with our friends with dementia what it meant that someone had died.  They have no memory of Violet.

The rest of us looked more glazed over than ever.

It was when we got to “Let it Be” that I stopped being able to see the music.  There is a line that has comforted me on more than one occasion:

And when the night is cloudy,
There is still a light that shines on me,
Shine until tomorrow, let it be.

Let it be.  That does not imply passivity.  That means to pay attention not to just what’s happening in the world, in the streets, in D.C. but to what’s happening inside.  In our grief we will find a way through.  If the central government closes itself to us we’ll find a sidelong path.

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

CatsFriends

October 23, 2016

The Intruder Cat

Tags: , , ,

You all know my neighbor Gwen by now. My neighbor Gwen who knows something about just about everything.

When it comes to gossip and goings-on, Gwen and I have pretty much got the neighborhood covered.  In spite of her tall fence, she seems to know a lot about what goes on to the southeast while I have the northwest covered.  Due west is the cemetery wherein live the least troublesome neighbors of all except during that awful period of the skunks.  Not that our neighborhood is troublesome. Quite the contrary.

Most of the trouble that concerns me concerns cats. Now that my Winston is a cranky old man I don’t have to pay off the owners of the cats he’s fought.  Artemis doesn’t fight now that she and Bill’s cat, Suli have finally come to An Understanding. There’s a new bully in town: a red-orange cat with a fluffy tail who terrorizes Suli and Gwen’s cat, Lucy.

Cranky Old Man, Winston

Cranky Old Man, Winston

Suli can pretty much take care of herself.  I’ve seen her take on a German shepherd.  She’s drawn blood from me on more than one occasion. One minute she’s purring and rubbing me and the next minute she has launched herself at me and red welts are rising on my arms.  Somewhere in between the two states she has apparently told me that she’s had enough and I haven’t respected that.

Suli patiently waiting for Bill to come home

Suli patiently waiting for Bill to come home

Lucy is an old cat.  We aren’t sure how old exactly, but she’s certainly older than Winston who is 15.  As she has aged, she’s drawn lines in the litterbox (so to speak) with various neighborhood cats, principally Cosmo who finally moved to Oregon.

In her young days, Lucy was quite the little outdoorswoman. But she was never the same after being stuck up a telephone pole for four days while neighbors were on the horn with Gwen who was in Texas.  Finally someone came with a tall ladder and fetched Lucy down.  After that Lucy spent her days inside the fence.  If you could see the camera-ready garden hidden inside Gwen’s old fence, you probably would, too.

Recently Gwen told me that some rogue cat had figured out how to get in Lucy’s cat door.  It’s one of those doors that require the cat to wear a magnet to which the door responds.  The magnet door lets Lucy into the basement.  Up the basement stairs and another cat door lets her into the kitchen. Gwen and Lucy curled up in the plaid room reading and napping, respectively, heard the kitchen cat door open and looked at each other.

“What’s wrong with this situation?” they asked.

The outside cat door

The outside cat door

Lucy probably knew who the intruder was, but for several of his illegal visits Gwen only heard him.  But then she hit on the most ingenious idea.  Gwen, the technology wizard, could probably fashion surveillance equipment out an angel food cake pan, indeterminate wires from a box in her garage, and an old computer.  Here’s what she did: she hung a mirror on the fence outside a bay window so it reflected the outside cat door.  When she heard the cat door opening she could stand in her front room and see the activity at the cat door. Still she wasn’t fast enough to spot the cat.

The surveillance equipment

The surveillance equipment

Gwen bought a different kind of door, the kind that requires the cat to wear a coded medallion.  A code that can be changed.  Now Lucy clinks like she has never clunked before what with her new medallion, her proof of rabies shot, and her I.D. tag.

Gwen finally spotted the intruder.  She heard the sound of the cat door trying to open.  The intruder waited expectantly for the door to open and apparently was mystified enough to wait long enough for Gwen to take her position in the bay window where she saw a butt and fluffy red-orange tail.  It was the bully cat.

 

The surveillance post

The surveillance post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now we are both on the lookout for the orange-red cat.  I have chased him out of my yard several times.  I chase him down the street until he goes under a house or somewhere I can’t follow.  When I see him scaling Gwen’s fence I e-mail her. I’ve not managed to get a photo of him but I’ll leave you with one of the cat who started this blog post:

Lucy

Lucy with giant medallion