Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tribe

We share a cadence, a similar sense of humor.
~Judy Sheindlin

As clear as the memory is, it might as well have been yesterday. However, it was 38 years ago. I was ten years old when my mother (then 44 years old) met her brother for the first time. Actually, Rudi was her half brother. My grandfather left his wife and four year old son behind when he fled Hungary in the early 1920's. Not long after, his wife died and the son was raised by his maternal grandparents. My grandfather never returned to Hungary and never saw his son again. My mother knew about Rudi and they exchanged occasional Christmas cards and letters over the years, but it wasn't until 1972 that they set eyes on each other.

I'm not sure why I was the chosen child, out of the five of us, to go with her - I'm only glad I was. After a very long trip, and nearly missing our connecting flight to London, we landed in Budapest. Customs awaited us. I sensed that my mother was nervous. I'm sure part of that came from the excitement of meeting family for the first time and also from not knowing what sort of inspection we'd have to go through. The customs agent was wonderful though. He asked why we were there, and Mom, in Hungarian, explained that we'd made the trip so she could meet her brother for the first time. The agent was so impressed with her story and her knowledge of Hungarian that he slammed the suitcases shut and said, "What are you waiting for?! Go... GO!"

We made our way through the double doors, out into the sea of people awaiting arrivals. I looked up at my mother, who was holding my hand in a vise-like grip, and watched her anxious face as she quickly scanned the crowd. She gasped suddenly, "Oh. Oh... there he is!" Rudi stood there, wife, son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren in tow. Then the rush of tears, and embracing, and half completed sentences in Hungarian. I tried to do the shy ten year old gig and hide behind my mother, but regardless, I was hauled in and passed around in a series of hugs. There was no separation, no awkwardness. There was no distance. This was family. My cousin Marika had two daughters near my age and immediately took to me as though I was her third daughter.

I know there's the whole bit about children being resilient and able to adapt, but... I didn't at all feel like I was in a foreign country, a strange land. I didn't feel that there was anything to which it was necessary to adapt. It was more a sense of coming home, a feeling of explanation for who I was. Yes, I sensed these things even at that young age. I remember listening to my mother and my uncle talk. I had heard Hungarian spoken often - my mother and grandmother used it to talk to each other. To hear my mother talk to anyone but Grandma in that language was new. It was at once familiar and strange, but it was a connection. The food we ate, so like the food that came from Grandma's kitchen - only different, was at once exotic and comforting. It was, from the distance of 38 years, as if the parallel universe I sensed was there finally came into view and meshed with my own.

I felt as instantly bound to Hungary itself as my mother did to her brother, and as I did to all of my relatives there. Although it's been a number of years since I've been back, I still feel a strong kinship, a pull even, toward all things Hungarian. Whenever I see a Hungarian name in print, I can't help but think, "ahh... comrade!" In the rare instances that I hear a Hungarian conversation - this happened once on a subway and I rode 4 extra stops just to listen - I feel as though I'm hearing an old, but familiar, tune.

I have felt this same way at other times in my life. There are certain people I've met that I recognize instantly as fellow travelers (if I may). They are people for whom I feel an immediate affinity and familiarity - an Oh-there-you-are feeling. There are places that do the same thing for me. I remember the first time I found my way into the Northwest's woods. I breathed in the cedar scented air laced with the damp, earthy odor of mycelium and thought, "Home." Home is, after all is said and done, where the heart resides.

Bombshell Stamps Contest


To all my normal readers, thank you for stopping by. Today I'm posting a selection of "manly" cards in hopes of winning some new stamps in a blog hop competition at Bombshellstamps.com. Please cheer me on and wish me luck! I'll be back to my normal posts tomorrow.

Thanks again!
Barb




Monday, June 28, 2010

Babysitting My Inner Child

"My alphabet starts with this letter called yuzz. It's the letter I use to spell yuzz-a-ma-tuzz. You'll be sort of surprised what there is to be found once you go beyond 'Z' and start poking around!"
~Dr. Seuss

My inner child must be a two year old. Sometimes I think that the only word she knows is Why? That word worked really well when I was in the corporate world. Why are these numbers not adding up? Why are there no receipts for this? Why am I sitting at this desk doing brilliant work and hating my life? However, Little Why (as I call her), is no help when it comes to artistic endeavors. Why are you using that color? Why are you placing the image there? Why are you writing it that way? There are trusting toddlers who will quietly get through the day without much fuss, and then there are toddlers who question the reason for every... freakin'... thing. I'm stuck with the latter.

What I really need is an inner teen. I want a sloppy teen, one who doesn't give a shit how anything looks to anyone else. Yes, an inner goth child is what I need right now... prolifically pierced and tattooed, pointed Mohawk dyed black with magenta tips, black lips and fingernails, and clothing that looks as though it fell off of last year's Goodwill truck. I need an inner child who looks at things with a rebellious viewpoint, a child who says, "To hell with convention, I'm doing it this way."

Perhaps I also need an inner geriatric. Indeed, I need a crotchety old bastard, wearing nothing but a baseball hat and boxers, who summons a succinct thought with a mere scratch of his nuts. I need an old man who's seen it all and been though it all - a guy who says, "I don't give a rat's ass what anyone thinks. Life is way too short and before you know it all your bones are aching and you wake up dead. Might as well do whatever you want and enjoy it while you can."

But no. I get the little questioning, pestering, simpering, snot-nosed brat. Anyone looking to adopt?

"I’d like to find your inner child and kick its little ass... Get over it!"
~Get Over It, The Eagles

Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's All Good

"... I find the best things I do, I do when I'm trying to avoid doing something else I'm supposed to be doing. You know, you're working on something. You get bugged, or you lose your enthusiasm or something. So you turn to something else with an absolute vengeance."
~Norton Juster

I'm taking the day off from deep philosophical rumblings. Well, maybe. I thought I would, instead, list five good things that have happened to me this week. There are more, but five is sufficient, I think. Two of them happened just this morning.

First, Steve surprised me by taking today off after a very long week of early mornings and hard work. He needs and deserves it! We slept in (after a week of getting up at 5-ish), snuggled (after a week of jumping out of bed and getting on task), and he even made me french toast with strawberries, plus a ham and cheese omelet for breakfast. I'm so spoiled. Now he's relaxing and watching car races while I write this. Perfect day. That's one very good thing.

Also today, I've been written up in a post at The Dreaming Cafe (here), in a featured reader profile. How flattering! Thanks, Sandy!!! So, there's another good thing.

The other day I went to Ben Franklin's in search of a couple of specific rubber stamps for some projects. Not only did I not find what I wanted, but nothing else jumped out at me either! (Not a good thing.) I finally had a tiny budget to work with and get something new and fun, all to no avail. Ahhhh, but not entirely! I ended up buying some water color paper. When I paint, I've been making do with pretty much any paper I get my hands on, so this... this real paper... is luxury! I can go wild and not be concerned about tearing or overly stressing the paper! This, too, is a good thing.

Summer produce is back. We've been eating juicy nectarines, melons, and sweeter-than-candy cherries, not to mention some good fresh vegetables. Not only are they tasty, but it feels so good - so nice to be able to reach for a snack that's natural and light. Flavors are bright and fresh. Food doesn't land and hang around like an anvil in your gut. I love the perfume-y scent of good produce. It always takes me back to my early days working at the produce store in Grand Rapids. Fresh, healthy food... it's a darned good thing.

Finally, I've had the great pleasure communicating with some true kindred spirits of late. There is something so completely gratifying about sharing a thought or a feeling, and having someone, not only get it, but lob it right back. I'm really blessed with some wonderful friendships. Regarding friendship, I've often heard the term, "Water seeks its own level." True enough, true enough. But I think that sometimes the water has to travel a great distance before it finds its level. (Okay, so I am not capable of a post without some kind of armchair philosophy ... mea maxima culpa ... deal with it.) And, when you dam up your feelings and send them down alternate avenues, everything gets confused. What it comes down to is this: the more I open up, the more I get back... and the water is fine. This, then, is not only a good thing, it is the best thing.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Be Fudd Led

My introduction to Shakespeare and grand opera came when I was nearly five years old, in 1966. My brothers, sister and I were watching Gilligan's Island. The castaways wanted to produce a musical version of Shakespeare's Hamlet, which they did to the music from Bizet's Carmen, and Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman. Of course, I wouldn't have known this without my mother running in from the kitchen and exclaiming rather peevishly, "Good Heavens! WHAT are they doing to Bizet?! That's the opera Carmen!? ... but... and those are Shakespeare's words! Tch! I can't watch this." Mom's disgruntled scrutiny made it important to pay attention to what I was hearing. Besides, it was a damned funny episode!

To this day, whenever I hear the Toréador song from Carmen, I also hear the bastardized version of Shakespeare's words:
Neither a borrower nor a lender be.
Do not forget: stay out of debt.
Think twice, and take this good advice from me:
Guard that old solvency!
There's just one other thing you ought to do.
To thine own self be true.


In What's Opera Doc?, Elmer Fudd taught me Wagner, specifically The Ride of the Valkyrie, as he, in horned helmet, chased Bugs Bunny and sang, "Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!!!" Ah, I love the smell of Hassenpfeffer in the morning (oops... sorry, that was my obscure mind jump from The Ride of the Valkyrie to Apocalypse Now... has nothing to do with this blog).

I read a lot, and you know I'm a big proponent of reading. Reading has given me most of my vocabulary (which in turn amazes, vexes, perplexes and befuddles my friends). However, some of my favorite words were learned from unconventional sources. Bugs Bunny taught me the words pulchritude and indubitably. Daffy Duck taught me the word droll. From the Wizard of Oz, I learned the words caliginous and pusillanimous. I learned the word lascivious from Steve Martin in All of Me.

I don't suggest we attempt to learn from a TV set. Fie upon that idea! However, as a self-ascribed autodidact, I will admit that much of my knowledge comes from some rather dubious and obscure places. This is how I've always learned, and learned best. Even when formally taught something, I can only absorb so much before my brain goes into saturated sponge mode. I have to stop, run it all through my internal juicer, and extract the essence before I can move on. I think there is a lot to be said for this method. Although book learning is useful, it is also easily forgettable. For me, hands on learning has always worked best. Learning while I'm amused with the subject is even better. For example, in school I was never good at learning history. All of those dry facts and dates left me in a stupor. The exception to that was my English history class. The teacher I had would come to class in costume (robe, crown, scepter) and do the most horrendous British voices while reciting events. It was hilarious. And it stuck. Over thirty years later, I still get all of the English history questions right on Jeopardy.

We can learn a lot simply by observing nature. I once had a deep philosophical revelation while watching ants - plain old garden variety black ants. Go figure. The revelation? Carry the load, follow the path - the universe depends on you doing just that. It's as basic as life gets. When the chips are down, I remember the ants.

Learning should be fun. Learning should be interesting. Learning should not be a rote memorization thing that we're forced into. Knowledge and insight will come from the most unlikely sources, but you must pay attention.

Back where I come from there are men who do nothing all day but good deeds. They are called phila... er, phila... er, yes, er, Good Deed Doers.
~The Wizard of Oz

I am the Wizard of Ooohs and Ahhs and Fa La Las
~Wordplay, Jason Mraz

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Art of the Cage

"Sometimes when you draw your cage you're also mapping your way out of it."
~Sharon Lyn Stackpole

Sharon is a very gifted artist friend of mine who has been going through some rather trying stuff lately. When she made that statement yesterday in relation to a photo of her artwork, it hit me like a bolt of lightening. Had I not been sitting down, I surely would have fallen. It was one of the bigger AHA moments I've had in my life. And, as usual, Sharon's timing was impeccable.

I've been having doubts lately. Big doubts. Huge. It's been all I can do to slog my way through them. At one point, as I worked on a project, I heard myself mutter, "What the fuck am I doing? And why?" The voice went on to say, "Pointless, utterly pointless." I've been wondering why I bother posting a blog, if anyone's reading, if it matters (not looking for validation here, I'm just saying). I've been looking at my artwork, thinking that it's just play time. It's not important. I play the piano and think, "What does it matter? No one hears it." Still, I pour my heart and soul into what I do, and... honestly, I feel like it's lost on the world. Shit, sometimes I feel like it's lost on me. Yesterday I came thisclose to taking pictures of it all - my piano, all my art supplies and stamps - and posting it on craigslist.

In a fit of tears I pulled my digital camera off its dock. I looked around at my studio and realized what a daunting task it would be to take pictures of everything. So, I decided to take a break first. I came downstairs for some fresh coffee, hopped online, and the first thing I saw was Sharon's post. Instantly, everything changed. I suddenly understood what and why, and I understood how vital it is.

Over the course of about 46 years, I built myself a cage - not only built it, but reinforced it - only to wake up one day and find myself completely stuck. I had trapped myself, but good. True to Sharon's quote, the only thing I could see was my cage. Problem was, the cage had been put together out of so many different bits and pieces with no diagram or instruction. There was no easy way to take it apart or tear it down. Essentially, I had nothing to do but sit there and draw the cage. I created my way into it, I'd have to create my way out of it. That's exactly what I've been doing this past year. I've been creating my way out of my cage, drawing a map to something... something freer. It's a timely process and can only be done layer by layer, lest the whole thing collapse.

I have to walk my path before I can map it. I have to make the candle before I can light my way. The cage exists so that I can know the freedom without it. Does it hurt the caterpillar to become a chrysalis? Is it painful for the chrysalis to become a butterfly? And once in flight, once launched into the sun on shimmering wings, does it matter?

It matters. It always matters.

How apropos it is that today is Carly Simon's birthday, and I've chosen to play this song.
Let the River Run

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My Life as a Pie


I love to cook. I love the idea of taking a few simple ingredients and turning them into something magnificent. I don't know anything much more satisfying than watching others enjoy my food. It's as if the process of cooking is the foreplay and the meal itself is the orgasm. It's as close to an orgy as I'll ever get.

I fell into a conversation about pie the other day. It is definitely one of my favorite desserts. In its simplicity, it is delectable. It's also something that I enjoy making at least as much as, if not more than, eating. Many think that making pie is complicated, if not impossible. Really, once you learn how, it's one of the easier desserts to make, and one with a whole lot of Wow Factor. It is crunchy, flaky crust and gooey fruit and sweet and a little salty and... do we really need the scoop of vanilla bean? Yes, yes... such is Hedonism. *thud*

A girl came up to me in a bar and said she wanted to be my apple pie. I wish I'd said something cool, but I was stunned.
~Jason Biggs

Let's set the fork aside for just a minute. The pie conversation got me thinking about the things I treasure in my life, about the things that make my world, my existence, something extraordinary. It all comes back to simple ingredients. I don't do fancy, and I don't need fancy. The music I like is uncomplicated. My clothing is unpretentious (there's a good selling point for a clothing manufacturer). The relationships I choose are comfortable - I like intimacy without it being esoteric. In my house, no one is required to park their shoes at the door and you're always welcome to flop anywhere you care to. Long ago I had a friend who would come to visit, and without fail, she would fall asleep on the sofa. I teased her about it once, citing that perhaps I'm boring company. She apologized, explaining that she just felt so relaxed whenever she was at my house. It's one of the best compliments I've ever received.

My life as a pie. For all my ineffable greatness (insert polite cough here) and convoluted notions, I'm made of some fairly simple ingredients: Big Love, Overt Humor, a Modicum of Curiosity, and just a Soupçon of Intelligence. I'd like to think that, as my ashes are scattered to the wind, someone will say, "She was so easy to be around. Easy as pie."

But I, when I undress me
Each night upon my knees
Will ask the Lord to bless me,
With apple pie and cheese

~Eugene Field

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Survival Is Questionable

The Wind Goddess

"Well, if you have a life like mine, then these experiences gradually accumulate until you become known as 'a survivor'. This is a term that I loathe. But, the thing is that when you are a survivor, which fine, I reluctantly agree that I am - and who over 40 isn't? -when you are a survivor, in order to be a really good one, you have to keep getting into trouble to show off your gift."
~Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher

I've been having an ongoing and wonderful online conversation with a friend. We've been comparing "war" stories. Both of us have been through a lot in this life, a lot of ugly. We're also the sort to see the beauty in pretty much everything. He shared that bit from Wishful Drinking with me yesterday, followed up with a sigh and, "I guess I'm a survivor." I said, "You're no survivor. You are intrepid."

Yes, I've had my share of fan-hitting shit in my life. But, like Carrie, I hate it when people tell me I'm a survivor. It just feels didactic and trite, as if it should be followed with a pat on the head and "there's a good girl." All too often when people are telling us "survivors" such tripe, they are, in effect, saying that they don't want to hear about our problems... "What? Your leg is still bothering you after that 20 story fall to the pavement? But you're a survivor!" Meh. When I'm having a bad day, the last thing I want to hear is, "But look at all you've been through!" I need to be reminded?! Oy.

Saying I'm a survivor makes me sound as though I was once a victim, and I refuse to be victimized. I refuse to grant any latitude to the people or events that engendered the harsher moments of my life. Granted, much has happened in my life, over which neither I nor anyone else had control. Do we ever really ask for the sky to fall? Sometimes the earth quakes and all is reduced to rubble - find your way out from under the concrete, or you die. So you survived the earthquake; you got lucky and didn't get beaned in the head with a brick. However, clawing and crawling your way out of the detritus wasn't about mere survival. No, it was a rage against anything trying to hold you under. Surviving implies passivity. Soldiers don't survive a war, they fight their way through it. They're alert, cagey, canny, and aggressive. I'd like to think that when the excrement hits the rotary blades that I'm anything but passive, that I haven't simply stood by and watched the walls get splattered.

Here are ten words I much prefer to any declension of the word survive: Persevere, Intrepid, Adapt, Undaunted, Mettle, Steadfast, Resilient, Defiance, Contravene, and Fortitude. Those words are all about action, rather than inaction. Those are words of consciousness and will.

The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.
~Aristotle

So, I ask you. Are you a survivor... or...  are you intrepid?

************************************

PS A special thanks to my intrepid friend Matthew.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Aware Am I?

The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.
~Henry Miller

I am wrestling... something. I would like to say that I'm on the horns of a dilemma, but all I can see is the tip of the horns. The rest of the beast remains hidden. I can hear it in the fog, snuffling and pawing at the dirt. Perhaps it is waiting to fully see me. Perhaps it is just making noise to remind me, "Be aware."

One of the reasons why so few of us ever act, instead of react, is because we are continually stifling our deepest impulses.
~Henry Miller

Be aware. Right. I feel, for all my sagaciousness and acuity, that I'm just missing something. The catch in the woodwork that opens the door to a hidden room. I'm the child, jumping up and down behind a too tall fence, trying to peer over the top, whining, "I wanna see! I wanna see!"

Why are we so full of restraint? Why do we not give in all directions? Is it fear of losing ourselves? Until we do lose ourselves there is no hope of finding ourselves.
~Henry Miller

It's that damned restlessness again. That thing in me. The feral in the finery. One of these days, it'll find a way to chew through the restraint. One of these days it will burst into the clearing, unfettered and wild, snorting and defiant... and ready to take on the world.

Then there's this. I wrote it yesterday, rather mindlessly. I just needed to pour some words out. When I re-read it this morning, it felt like self-admonition. Okay. I accept.

Another Sip

Vainglorious
for all to see
as the world
washed itself new,
it wasn't as if
you ate the last pickle
from the jar,
or the first ripe peach
from the tree.

See, I am drinking
another cup of coffee
as I search
for meaning
in your tea leaves,
but comprehension,
much like your coat of armor,
fails.

Try walking another mile.
Try drowning in a thimble.
Try falling up
as stars surround.
This, then
is your duty,
your ever bound success.

I hate to tell you,
I'm no oracle.
Only, I talk rather
loudly, insisting
that your feet be bare
and your head bowed
before you take another sip
of me.
~bab 21 June 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

What Art Thou

I sense, myself, some trepidation in the air. You clap and laugh as wish, and that lightens the load of all these animals. They're extremely sensitive to ambiance, so be exuberant and that lightens the atmosphere...
~Doug Seus

I heard it about a month ago, that thing I'd been dreading. It's taken me this long to unclench and write about it. I've yet to speak about it. I knew I was going to hear it eventually, so I was semi-prepared for it. Still, to hear it uttered was a bit soul rattling. I was at a craft show, my cards arranged around the table, along with some other bits of crafty stuff. A woman came by, eyed my lot, gently fingered a couple cards without picking them up for closer inspection. I could tell she was looking, but not really looking. Then she had the great audacity, in a voice normally reserved for phrases such as, "Goodness, what is that horrible stench?!", to say, "Do you ever do any real art?"

In considering the possibility of this question coming up, I had an entire three minute speech prepared. Unfortunately, something happened on the way to the forum, and I couldn't remember a word of it. So, I simply leveled the audacious lout with a brilliant smile and a single bat of my baby blues, and said, "Why yes, I do." She did the equivalent of holding a lace hanky to her nose and uttered, "Hmmm," as she strolled away.

I'm not so ostentatious as to think my work is at the top of any chain. Some days, I'm not even sure it's part of the chain gang. But to me, and this is important, to me it feels like art. At the base of everything creative that we do is how it feels to us. I love making pies, because to me, it's making something magnificent out of a few simple ingredients. That's art. The way my Grandmother used to iron was art - her dance. The way Steve twists a wrench and swings a hammer and knows which wires and tubes go where is art.

What makes such a question particularly painful for me is that, for the longest time (until about a year ago, in fact), I didn't consider myself an artist. I would concede that I was creative, but an Artist? No. That moniker was reserved for the greats, for the people with real vision and flair. I shut down a whole part of my creative self because I convinced myself that I was Not An Artist. When we tell ourselves we are not something, we are telling ourselves that we are incapable and not worthy of wasting any time trying. Pish posh.

Do I ever do any real art? I do. I do now. What's more, I realize, in looking back at pictures of projects I've done over the years, that I always have. I was an artist the day I was born. But I left that precious gift sitting under the tree, unopened, year after year, feeling that I was unworthy of it. Then I went through a period of telling myself, "Quit saying no." The problem is, I didn't further instruct myself. It should have been, "Quit saying no and start saying yes."

What is art? Art is anything we do that brings a sense of beautiful, fanciful, whimsical or wonderful to this hackneyed world.

So. This too, then, is art.

~Doug Seus with Bart the Bear

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hold Over

It was a long time ago, perhaps 45 years in the past. In my recall it was a sultry night in Toledo, Ohio. The windows were open and the sheer curtains fluttered in the slight breeze fingering the tiny bedroom at my Grandma's house. I was curled up in my babydoll pajamas, hair plastered to the sweat on my neck and forehead, dreaming. I remember the dream being dark, I remember feeling lost (both a common recurrence in my dreams, even to this day). Something woke me up with a start. I didn't recognize Grandma's place for what it was. It was only an unknown territory that was Not My Room. I was frightened, terrified really, and began to cry.

Suddenly my Father was standing over me, smoothing the hair from my face. "What is it, Punkin?" Punkin was my special name, a name reserved only for him to use and only for me. I couldn't answer, not only was I still crying too hard to be coherent, but I really didn't know what had upset me so. I merely hiccuped as I started on a fresh batch of tears.

Dad stooped to gather me up into his arms. I wrapped my tiny arms around his neck and clung for dear life. Dad, in obeisance to the heat, was wearing just a muscle-man t-shirt tucked into his trousers. I remember the sticky, hot feel of his skin, and the slightly scratchy feel of beard stubble as I buried my face in his neck. I remember the scent coming from him, the sour pine turpentine smell that, as a sign painter, seemed to be a permanent part of his odor, and the co-mingled smells of tobacco and Right Guard deodorant. It was those smells, more than anything, that gave me a sense of safety. Dad took me out to Grandma's living room and held me like that, gently rubbing my hair against my scalp, for... I don't know how long. I must have fallen back to sleep in his arms.

This is one of my truly treasured memories of my Dad, as I don't remember him holding me like that any other time in my life. I'm not sure why it happened that time (terrified child emergencies were usually Mom's department), I'm only thankful that it did. To this day, the scent of cigarette smoke on a Summer night's breeze is one I love. It reminds me that once upon a time, this little girl was completely and utterly safe, from all of the monsters in this world and any other, in her Daddy's arms.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Eye Spy

I have a little scar just above my right eyebrow.
I've had it since I was a kid.
I was messing with some photos of myself.
In adjusting the saturation and density of this
photo, I discovered that I have a third eye.
I would like to be surprised.
I am not.

Welcome to my Mystic Woowoo post for the week. I kind of take all of this with a grain of salt, and I kind of don't. To me, it feels fairly natural. Still, once I'd made my discovery this morning, I had to find out more. So, research brat that I am, I went looking (I'm exhausted!). Here's what I discovered in researching the significance of the Third Eye -

The third eye, also known as the inner eye, is a concept referring in part to the brow (Ajna chakra) in certain spiritual traditions. In some spiritualities, the third eye may alternately symbolize a higher state of enlightenment or mental images bearing deep spiritual or psychological implication. The third eye is often associated with visions, clairvoyance, and precognition. It is alleged that people who have developed the ability to utilize their third eyes are sometimes known as seers.

In Hindu and Buddhist teachings, the third eye is a symbol of enlightenment. It is sometimes referred to, in Indian traditions, as gyananakashu - the eye of knowledge, which is the seat of the Antar Guru (“teacher inside”). In the Upanishads, a human being is compared to a city with ten gates. Nine gates (eyes, ears, mouth, etc.) lead outside to the sensory world. The third eye is the tenth gate and leads to inner realms which house various states of higher consciousness.

I've always felt that I see more, see deeper, than most do. This is not something that makes me feel proud, or better than others, it just is. Sometimes I even see things that "aren't there" - I've gotten used to this over the years. How do I describe this better without sounding certifiably insane? Hmm. It's as if, sometimes, there is a scrim of this world, the one we all recognize, draped over a whole other world. Most of the time that world isn't visible (or maybe I'm just not looking), but every now and then, I get a glimpse of... something. I get that old Sesame Street feeling of, "one of these things is not like the other... one of these things just doesn't belong..." It's a sense of something moving in the shadows, neither bad nor good, but moving.

I also have very strong "hunches" when it comes to other people. I'm a very good judge of character, but a lot of that is simple observation. What I'm talking about... *sigh*... let's see. Okay. For example... just this morning I logged into facebook. I was feeling fidgity after my revelation, so I hopped over to youtube.com. Normally I'm not a big Lenny Kravitz fan, but the song that was in my head was his, "Fly Away." I often post on facebook the music that matches my mood. So, I hopped back over and posted "Fly Away" on my facebook wall. Just as I did, I saw that my friend Sharon was online. I thought, "She's going to give this one a big thumbs up." No sooner did I think that when the update revealed that she had typed in "YES" in the comment section under my link.

I've had prophetic dreams and feelings that have been substantiated. Often I know where lost things are. I don't know how I know, I just do. Sometimes I find that I already know the words to a new song on the radio. Heck, sometimes I even get the correct answer on Final Jeopardy before the clue is even revealed. I did this just last night. The category was "Sports Venues." I looked at Steve and said, "Wrigley Field." He rolled his eyes and said, "You can't know. You haven't even heard the clue." I shrugged and said, "That's my final answer." Turns out I was right.

All my life I've seen things in richer colors, heard things that are there and not there at the same time, and felt things more deeply than I ought to. It's something about myself into which I haven't dug too deeply - partly from fear of what I might find, and partly because I don't want everyone I know to think I'm nuts (more nuts). In an odd and ironic way, my discovery this morning wasn't startling. It was a little freaky to first see that extra eye, but then... I kind of had the feeling that someone had just handed me a warm blanket on a very cold day.

~Closer to Fine, Indigo Girls

Friday, June 18, 2010

One Shoe Off, One Shoe On

One of my very favorite people in the world is in Seattle for the weekend. Bill Cosby. Unfortunately his schedule is such that he won't be able to stop by. His loss - I make a wicked good blueberry coffee cake. This morning I tuned in to a local TV station interview with Mr. Cosby. The anchor asked him what events in his life were the most significant. Cosby's reply was, "All of them." I like that. I love that.

I've been asked the same thing before. "What makes you Barb?" Everything. While there are moments in my life that are significant, some that were definitely pivotal, all of the moments are important. It's like asking a rose bush, "Which bit of dirt made you bloom?"

Years ago, a co-worker and I were talking about Most Embarrassing Moments. She asked about mine. I began with, "I was wearing a pair of brand new shoes... and, I don't know what genius decided to put the bathroom light switch higher than a five year old can reach..." She began to laugh so hard that I had to wait to continue. As she wiped her eyes she said, "I'm sorry. You sounded like Bill Cosby..." At the time, I felt it was the highest praise that I'd ever received, and it was one of those tiny, innocent moments that defined me. It was the moment that made me realize I knew how to tell a story well, that I could be funny, and that humor was a way of reaching people. Even better, it taught me that humor was a way for me to step outside of myself.

While the embarrassing moment defined me, so did the telling of it, and so did how I told of it.

I was wearing a pair of brand new shoes... and, I don't know what genius decided to put the bathroom light switch higher than a five year old can reach. I was in Miss Brown's kindergarten class, and we were all sitting in a circle, having story time. The rule was that we were not to interrupt. If we had to use the bathroom, we were allowed to get up and do so without disrupting story time. Halfway through the story, the urge hit me. So, as instructed, I quietly stood and crept away from the circle. I went into the bathroom, a small closet type at the back of the room, and realized the light was off. What to do? I was still young enough to be afraid of the dark, and too short to reach the light switch, and I didn't want to interrupt the story.

I went with intrepid. Brilliant child that I was, I figured out that if I stood on the toilet seat and leaned over, I'd be able to reach the switch with little effort. I climbed up on the seat, my new shoes squeaking slightly. I leaned over, reached the switch, flipped on the light and... SPLOOSH!... my right foot had slipped and I found myself shin deep in the toilet.

I really, desperately had to pee. I climbed out, took care of business, and pondered the possibility of staying in the bathroom until everyone went home as I stared down at my soggy shoe. Unable to avoid the inevitable any longer, I timidly opened the door and made my way back to the story time circle, my soaked shoe squishing the whole way. The twenty feet or so from the door to the circle suddenly seemed interminable as the sound of Miss Brown's voice ceased and every eye in the circle turned to me.

To Miss Brown's credit, she didn't laugh. She merely said the story would be continued later and sent the other kids to do something else, while she got my shoe and sock off and dried my foot. She also mentioned how silly she thought it was that the light switch was up so high. Thereafter, the switch was permanently taped in the 'on' position.

Even so, I've never quite gotten past the sound of my squishy shoe and the long walk across the classroom.

If anyone asks... that's who I am.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Eggs Act

Yesterday evening I sat on the deck watching a gaggle of children run back and forth across the field. Then I heard it, just as clearly as if it was 1970 and I was eight years old again. "Last one there is a rotten egg!" They all screeched and put on the speed, racing toward the swings. I thought, with a smile, "These kids have no idea how many generations that came before them have used that same idiom."

Last one there is a rotten egg. How clearly that bell peals, even now.

I was always, always the rotten egg. Not only was I not a runner, even back then, but I never saw the huge need for hurrying. Plus, (face it Barbara Ann) I never thought I had a snowball's chance on a barbecue of winning, or even getting there ahead of anyone else. It was easier to hang back and feign indifference. To this day, I don't know if it was apathy or self-preservation. Both, likely. I've tried to convince myself that I'm the tortoise of the fabled tortoise and hare race - definitely faster of wit than foot. Although I never felt like a loser, I also never felt like a winner. Give me a spelling bee over a foot race, and it's fresh omelettes all around... just sayin'.

Not much has changed there. I take the same slow approach to all goals that I always have. If I get there, I get there... either way, I'm taking my time on the journey. No point in rushing about and ending up ass over tea kettle down some slippery slope into a ditch. Of course, this is in direct opposition to my generally impatient I-Want-It-Now attitude. I was a strange child. I still am.

Last one there is a rotten egg.

It doesn't mean you won't eventually get there. If it's all the same, I'd rather show up later than sooner... cracked, grass-stained & dirt-speckled, oozing stink, and completely useless in the end... but there, and satisfied that I paid attention to the journey.

Olly-olly-in-freeeeeeeee.....

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Just Right Is Okay

It's the little things that count... it's somewhere in between... go big or go home.... one size fits all... Size doesn't matter! Size matters!

Is it any wonder we're confused as hell? Had I been Goldilocks, I would likely have been so frustrated that I would have overturned the place, smeared porridge-flavored epithets on the wall, and stomped away in a general huff way before I got to "just right."

Just right. What is that? Even in the most satisfying moments, there's always a bear lurking about.

That's all I have to say, and I just want to be okay today....

And I am. There's nothing going on but some standard type grizzly bear cage wrestling in my head.

~Be OK, Ingrid Michaelson

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Wait-A-Minute Button

Inside of an altered Altoids tin that I crafted.
Lewis Carroll quote reads:
Either the well was very deep, or she was falling very slowly.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.
~Ambrose Redmoon

I get tired of reading quotes and articles about why we shouldn't fear, why fear is such a bad thing. Sure, if you dwell in it, if you allow it to rule, you'll never live life fully. However, fear is around for a reason. It's a measure against the dark. It's what keeps every little kid on earth from taking the hand of a stranger and disappearing forever. It's what (one would hope) keeps us from going with some of our more breakneck ideas. Fear for our loved ones is noble, I think. What good mother doesn't fear for her children's safety and well being?

My mother has always been terribly afraid of water - swimming pools, lakes, rivers, oceans. She never learned to swim and I've never seen her do more than stand in water up to her hips. She would only do that much if she had something solid to hang on to, like the side of the pool or a railing. Otherwise, shin deep was good enough for Mrs. Black. That didn't keep her from ensuring that her children learn how to swim. We all did, and from a fairly young age - I don't remember not knowing how to swim. I have no idea how much lip biting it took for my mom to accompany us to the local pool or to the lake. I'm betting... a lot.

A little fear is a good thing. Fear is our Wait-A-Minute Button. Fear is our conscience saying, "You sure?" There's nothing wrong with that. It's when we give fear permission to rule, rather than guide that we have a problem. It's when we allow fear to say "No!" rather than "Wait a minute..." that we have issues.

A few years back I was at a local fair with a friend and his eleven year old son. The father gave the son a ticket and said, "Go ride the roller coaster." The son immediately blanched, and said, "No... I don't want to!" The father, unable to go on the ride because of a disability, said, "Sure you do... it's all you've been talking about. It's the whole reason we came here." An argument ensued. Uncomfortable with the situation (I could understand both sides), I interjected, "It'll be okay. I'll go with you. You can squeeze my hand and scream as much as you need or want to." The son, reluctantly and obviously under duress, acquiesced.

As we moved forward in line and handed over our tickets, I felt his fear, a palpable thing coming off of him in waves. Finally it was our turn. We got into the coaster's car and lowered the safety bar. He wrapped his hands around the safety bar in a death-grip. As the coaster lurched forward and up the first hill, I strained to hear the lad muttering, "I hate my dad I hate my dad I hate my dad." I suppressed my smile. He didn't scream as we went careening down the first hill, nor did he as we corkscrewed our way through the loops. He made it through the ride with a look of abject loathing on his face, not for a second loosening his grip on the safety bar. The ride came to a stop, we disembarked, and walked over to his dad. My friend asked the boy, "Well? How bad was it?" The son punched him on the shoulder and said, "I hate you." To his credit, my friend took it with good humor, and quiet acceptance. Then the kid did something completely unexpected. He looked up at the coaster, looked at his dad, looked back at the coaster, then turned back to his dad saying, "Give me another ticket."

The kid went on the coaster again by himself. Three more times. I'm not sure he enjoyed those rides any more than the first one. He just made up his mind that he wasn't going to cave to fear, and he for sure wasn't going to let his dad have one over on him.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
~Marianne Williamson

~Darling Do Not Fear, Brett Dennen

Monday, June 14, 2010

Chimera

The Ridicule of Esméralda

barkers hawk
shifting paradigms
change is good
and I've got a pocket full
drop a token
in the slot
and get
all the advice
any clown
made of nuts and bolts
can offer
a calliope jangles
the unsaid
a cacophony of slights
left with a sickly slick
(candy apple on a stick)
swirl and whirl
gone crazy
just another ride
just another chance
at the desperation
and acceptance
of the soul carnival
~BAB 14 June 2010

It's not great, but it was there when I woke up. Granted, I went to sleep with some of it in my head, which preceded noisy dreams of a carnival midway, complete with all the excitement and anxiety. And smells... (I smell things in my dreams)... cotton candy, hotdogs, sawdust, sweat, grease. I did get advice from a rather redoubtable mechanical clown. He spit out a piece of paper, on which was written Nosce Te Ipsum (Latin for Know Thy Self). It made me cry. The bright lights against my tears made it impossible to see where I was going and I kept bumping into people, unkind people, indifferent people. No one wanted to help.

I woke up frustrated, exhausted, and alone (Steve having slipped out of bed early to go fishing). Yet, I also felt somehow exulted that I'd made it through the experience at all... as if I'd confronted some abhorrently aberrant thing in the dark and lived to tell about it. Well. Here I am, huh?

Nosce Te Ipsum. I'm reasonably certain that I do, at least as well as any of us can. I can meet the Cimmerian freaks and come out with my soul intact.

~Karn Evil 9, Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Eye Can

Yesterday I had a sublime moment of understanding. Most of my life I've had thoughts and ideas in my head that I've wanted to get onto paper, but something always got lost in the translation. I blamed it on my negative notion that, "I don't know how to draw." I've always felt that, because I couldn't draw like everyone else, I simply couldn't draw. However, a month or so ago, I had a reckoning with my bad self and said, "Dammit, woman... draw anyway. Don't think. Feel." Even so, as pleased as I've been with my doodles (you've seen some in my recent posts), there was something about me doing it that felt kind of stilted. I'm sure a lot of that comes from lack of experience - y'know... the more you do something, the more natural it feels.

I've long been in awe of sculptors and carvers who say that they wait for the medium they're working with to tell them what it is to become. There's a certain level to which I've understood this. Often, words and phrases do that for me. I can latch onto one word and suddenly there's a paragraph swirling around it. However, I've never quite connected on that level with art.

Until yesterday.

Having finished necessary projects, I found myself with some "play time." Finally, I had a chance to simply do some art for art's sake. Oh, rapture! What joy!! I wandered up to my studio, fresh mug of coffee in hand, and spent some time piddling around, rearranging things, and putting things away, before I forced myself to get busy. I had a lot in my head. I knew I needed a big surface and paint. For a little while, I splotched away, daubed, swept wet brushes across the paper. I didn't know where it was going and I didn't care. It was the doing of it that was what I needed most. The... the... freedom.

I leaned back, stretched, took a gulp of my cooled coffee, and looked at my painty fingers with great satisfaction. Then, I looked back at the paper. There she was, hiding in a streak of aqua, Esméralda, the gypsy girl from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. She stood, statuesque and defiant, pregnant, holding a bouquet of flowers. All I did was give her outline and a bit of shadow here and there. "Why the defiant look?" I thought, and then noticed a sneering group of onlookers on the other side of the paper. I, too, looked at them defiantly, and in defense of my favorite gypsy character, as I scribbled in their squinty eyes and down turned mouths. Wretched crowd. Bastards. Who are they to judge?

I leaned back for perspective only to realize that I wasn't in a teaming town square in Paris after all. I was still in my little upstairs studio, paint covered and deliriously happy. I also realized that I finally understood.

It's not getting your vision onto the canvas. It's allowing the vision to leap from the canvas and come you.

I can hardly wait to get back upstairs to see who or what else has put in an appearance.

Yes, I will post a picture of The Ridicule of Esméralda soon.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

It's Knot What You Know

The other day on Facebook, I posed the following: Finish this sentence. I never thought I could...
I received lots of interesting responses - some funny, but most of them heartfelt and simple. The simplicity is what struck me, considering that I have friends from all walks of life. We all just want to be allowed to be.

Anyway, I thought I would share them here. I never thought I could...

... get a call back from an employer to go interview.

... face the thing that always scared me the most and come to realize that it wasn't as scary as I thought.

... undo the Gordian Knot.

... be so strong, yet be so weak, be so tough yet be so scared, be so serious yet be so silly.. I never thought I could amount to much, but with friends like you, I feel like a winner.

... stab somebody in the ass and get away with it.........AWESOME!!!!!

... live the life I'm living now.

... find someone that could touch my soul and make me happy.

... have friends that really do care.

... enjoy being a grandma so much!

... go to Europe for 6 weeks!!

... get sober... I was wrong.

... switch to a digital camera and LOVE it.

... be a fabulous single mom!

... meet a man as awesome as my husband!

... quit smoking

=*^*==*^*==*^*==*^*==*^*==*^*==*^*==*^*==*^*==*^*=

The Gordian Knot comment impressed me, although, considering the source, I can't say that I'm terribly surprised. The Gordian Knot is a metaphor for an intractable problem that is solved by a bold stroke. According to ancient Greek legend, Phrygia was without a ruler. An oracle informed the populace that their future king would come into town riding in a wagon. A peasant, by the name of Gordius, and his wife arrived in the town square of Phrygia in an ox cart. Upon seeing Gordius and his wagon, the people made him king. In gratitude, Gordius dedicated his ox cart to Zeus, tying it up with a highly intricate knot, hence the Gordian Knot. Another oracle (oracles are plentiful in Greek mythology) foretold that the person who untied the knot would rule all of Asia.

The problem of untying the Gordian Knot defied all attemps until the year 333 B.C., when Alexander the Great, not known for his lack of motivation when it came to taking over Asia, hacked through it with a sword. "Swindling Bastard!" you might holler (though you'd have been unwise to have pointed it out in Alexander's presence). His method did seem to go against the spirit of the problem. Surely, the challenge was to solve the puzzle solely by manipulating the knot, not by cutting it. Either way, in one fell swoop, the issue of the Gordian Knot was no longer.

Sometimes we struggle so hard to do things "the right way" that we fail to see the easy resolution to the problem, thereby keeping ourselves from achieving the "impossible". We keep ourselves from saying deferentially, "I never thought I could..." What is your Gordian Knot? What is keeping you from simply slashing through it?

It's not what you know. It's how well you can figure it out.
~Elizabeth Klass, finalist in the 2010 Scripps National Spelling Bee

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Swirl

I'm suffering from whatever the opposite of writer's/artist's block is. I've been lost in a swirl of too much and too many - too much input to unravel, shuffle and delineate; too many ideas, words, and pictures in my head. I'm so full of it (hah, yeah, I said that) that I don't know where or how to begin. I've spent hours doodling and dabbling with nothing concrete making an appearance. I've fiddled with words on a page without saying anything.

I really need to find a way to, pardon my baseness, stick my finger down my mental throat and regurgitate some of it. I'm feeling... not blocked... but plugged. It's as if I'm trying to force molasses through a tiny funnel, and the sweet trickle just isn't enough to satisfy.

And there's a thought that won't leave my head. I woke up with it in the middle of the night, those vague, ethereal hours somewhere between Wednesday and Thursday. The thought is: Touch one soul, touch the Universe. It means something, something weighty... something I'm supposed to get on a deeper level than I already do.

There is something looming and I'm not supposed to get out of the way, or not allowed to. The feeling I have is that I'm to be absorbed by it, and then burst through it. I know how weird that sounds, but try feeling it. Oy vey. I'm just sorting out loud here.

So, I took the day yesterday to stay quiet and listen. I heard nothing more, save the repetitive litany in my head: Touch one soul, touch the Universe, touch one soul, touch the Universe, touch one soul, touch the Universe, touch one soul, touch the Universe, touch one soul, touch the Universe...

Deliciously maddening, a sad alertness, a joyful reluctance...

I am waiting.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Sticking Point

All was well and good for her until The Great Glue Disaster of 2010. Then things got sticky.

There I was yesterday, crafting away as usual. I prepared to glue a layer of clear acetate onto cardstock. The only thing that works and still looks nice is spray adhesive. I donned a rubber glove to protect the hand holding the layer of cardstock (I learned that silly lesson long ago!). I picked up the cardstock pointed the nozzle at it, and pressed the button. Evidently the nozzle was partially clogged with old glue. Spray went everywhere - all over my arm, my hair, my glasses, my non-gloved hand, and half of what I had sitting on my side table (scraps of paper and my cutter). I had to laugh. Hardly any of it hit the intended victim, the cardstock in my hand. Alas, all is fair in art and war. I cleaned up as best I could, although there isn't much to do but let the stuff dry and move on.

A little while later, I was dealing with a recalcitrant bottle of glue. It's wonderful glue that turns into a shiny glazed finish when dabbed appropriately - I use it a lot to accent eyeballs. It also comes in handy to create a watery or wet effect, which is what I was after since I was working on some marine life cards. The tip often gets clogged on this one, and I'm used to dealing with it. I simply poke a pin through the dried glue tip and get it flowing again. This time it seemed a bit of dried stuff had gotten into the glue. I would unclog it, try to use it, and a tiny blob would come out before it quit producing again. Frustrated after several attempts, I jabbed the pin into the tip again, heard the telltale gasp of air, inverted the bottle and gave it a squeeze. Nothing. I squeezed harder. Uh uh. "Give it up already, Rat Bastard!" I uttered, and gave it a really good squeeze. Sploosh! The thing exploded like a 14 year old boy at a Victoria's Secret conference. Glue smothered the whale I was working on, ran all over my work surface (which I keep covered with scrap paper for just such emergencies), and slid into two stamp blocks before I could stop it. Once again, I cleaned up, getting more sticky stuff under my nails and on my clothes in the process.

I was beginning to stick to everything I touched.

I decided to take a break from the treacherous world of card making and get some envelopes ready to go with orders, and some addressed for shipping. I grabbed a stack of six envelopes off of my shelf, only to discover that they had been stored (probably even bought) unflapped and back to back, in such a way as to firmly glue them all together accordion style. I decided to keep the stuck together envelopes and  craft them into an art book at some point in the future. By this time, I was nearly hysterical with laughter. I took a deep breath and ran my sticky fingers through my sticky hair. Bad idea. I sailed right over the edge and free fell into the giggle abyss.

It was definitely breaktime. I sat on the deck and sipped some coffee, still having fits of giggles everytime I'd shift my mug from one hand to the other and hear the inevitable thwup as my agglutinative fingers pulled back from the ceramic.

There are some glues in our lives that do exactly what they're supposed to, they hold us together. Love, humor, art, compassion, intelligence... they're glues that keep us from going the route of Humpty Dumpty. Then there's pesky extraneous stuff that adheres anywhere it wants to for no good reason. Ire, indifference, judgment, apathy, ignorance... tacky stuff that's difficult to get rid of once applied, and picks up lint and dirt as we move through the day.

The means to gain happiness is to throw out from oneself like a spider in all directions an adhesive web of love, and to catch in it all that comes.
~Tolstoy

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Little Milk For My Surreal, Please?

I had a few different ideas about what to write today. They're good ideas, although not entirely formed yet. But I woke up to sun streaming in the window, so... enough seriousness already! I wanted to post something fun.

I asked my buddy Dave, "If I say 'fun'... you'd say...?"
Dave replied, "Sex... of course you could say dog shit and it'd still be sex... wait that sounds wrong... fun roller coasters... today roller coasters sound fun."

I asked my friend Angela the same thing. She replied, "Unleashing Superpowered Weasels into a packed lady's restroom." Which made me wonder if it would be any less effective to unleash average weasels into a packed lady's restroom.

So. We have sex, dog shit, superpowered weasels, and a packed women's restroom, and a leftover vision of another friend of mine being trampled by turtles. Oh, and roller coasters. I feel like I'm having one of those weird Night at the Improv dreams, except that I'm fully clothed and no one is booing. Yet. To add to the surrealism, The Cat Man is outside in his bathrobe meowing. (He's just a normal guy who feeds the stray cats in the area, but it always makes me laugh when he wanders around meowing for the cats to come eat.)
I'm amused, and that's good enough for me.

Funny little story... my Hungarian Grandma couldn't pronounce 'th' - it always came out as a 't'. The sound just isn't part of the Hungarian language. Any time we'd visit her we would make her show us where Mom took piano lessons, because invariably, she'd say, "It's the turd house on the left." And we'd giggle every time.


That's my story today.

Lighten up. Laugh a little. Oh hell, laugh a lot. It's good for the soul.

Monday, June 7, 2010

How Sweet It Is

The other night I cried my way through a TV PBS special… a stinkin’ PBS special! Heavens to Murgatroyd, but I can be such a sap sometimes. The special was a reunion concert of James Taylor and Carole King at the Troubadour, filmed about a year and a half ago. The last time it happened, I was 10 years old, 1971. This time around, they played the same songs they played together 39 years ago, along with the original band. As I watched, I had the peculiar sensation of having old friends suddenly appear at my doorstep. We are older, grayer, wrinkled, and still so alive.

It was clear, watching Taylor and King on stage together, that there was some deep and abiding love between the two, a bond that went deep enough that there was no awkwardness even after all those years. After about every other song, Carole would get up from the piano bench and walk across the stage to hug James. Performing, the two of them looked content, and boy howdy, they sounded fabulous.

About halfway through the concert, Taylor set up his next song. He quipped (to wit), “When I first heard this song, I knew Carole had something good there. She was kind enough to let me record it, even though she was in the middle of recording Tapestry and it was on her album. So, I recorded it. Little did I know I’d have to sing it every damned day of my life! But this song has taken me all over the world, so I’m not sorry. I’ve thanked Carole over the years, but now I get to thank her personally.” And with that, he launched into a tear-inducing You‘ve Got A Friend.

I thought… what a beautiful thing that this friendship has survived 40 years, that the two of them are still here on earth to share their beautiful spirits with us in music, that my life would have been minus two very important soundtracks had I not “discovered” them as a pre-adolescent. Carole King released her Tapestry album in 1971, right about the same time that James Taylor released Sweet Baby James. Back then I had them as record albums, those big ol’ easily scratched discs from days of yore, and I played them until they were completely worn out. In the 80’s I bought the two albums on cassette tape and wore those out as well. In the 90’s I bought both of them on CD. They’ve come along with me to grace my iTunes and iPod.

I don’t have any other albums I’ve done that with, at least not as completely. I know every word of every song on both albums. Their music has sustained me and been the soundtrack to so many moments in my life. While there is music from every era in time that touches me, none does so as perfectly as these two albums. I feel that, between the two of them, I do indeed have friends, a couple of soulful gypsy spirits that have been looking out for me over the years.

We’re all getting older. Carole still has those beautiful curls, but they’re entirely gray now. She still has that wonderfully warm smile, but it’s well accented with wrinkles now. James has lost almost all of that gorgeous long hair he had, he’s mostly bald. He too, still has that great smile, those killer twinkly blue eyes, along with plenty of wrinkles. But their voices, oh, their voices… there’s nothing lost there. As they played their final song I couldn’t help but think, “Oh, my friends… stick around a while longer, will you? I’m not at all ready to say goodbye to either of you.”

Whether or not the Troubadour is still standing in another 39 years, I doubt that the three of us will be. But maybe, someone will be digging through ancient internet files and will stumble across this blog post, and like a gentle breeze will hear three voices together in harmony, softly singing, “When you’re down and troubled, and you need a helping hand…”

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Life Buoy

Picture a quiet Sunday morning. The rain has been coming down steadily since the wee morning hours and has just let up. The sweet heady fragrance wafting off of the cedars seems to remind one that, when it comes down to it, the earth knows how to take its time doing a thing right. The cloud ceiling is beginning to lift and pulls swirls of mist up out of the mountains. Everywhere the eye rests it catches lush, verdant growth, and the inner poet is inclined to think, “The world is dripping in emeralds!” Birds titter and flit over the sodden, food-rich ground. There is a profound sense of well-being, a true tranquility of the soul, yet a keenness and awareness that is very nearly electric.

A couple sits side by side in lawn chairs on the deck. It‘s apparent by their bathrobes, sweatpants and tousled hair that they haven‘t been awake long. They are quietly sharing a big mug of coffee. He is tall, and his arm easily reaches around her shoulders as he, preoccupied, plays with her long hair. She rests her hand on his leg and her head on his shoulder. He breaks the silence between them, saying softly, “It sure is good to have you here with me.” She replies, “It’s good to be so loved.” He kisses the side of her head and they return to their wordless morning observation.

She thinks, in her usual poetic terms, that this morning is a Life Buoy. This is one of those consecrated moments that will remain within easy reach for the rest of her life. At odd times and for no real reason, it will appear in her mind and will paint a wistful smile on her face that strangers will wonder about. When the world crashes in on her, she will have this moment to remind her that nothing good is ever truly lost. She wishes she could bottle this feeling and share it with everyone, and can’t help wondering why the gift was bestowed upon her. She doesn’t question that she’s deserving, only she wishes for an ideal way to distribute it.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sherpa Image

It's possible that Sir Edmund Hillary could have made it to the top of Mt. Everest without his Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay. It's possible... but not likely. Without the help and guidance of Itzak Stern, Oskar Schindler wouldn't have saved the lives of 1000 Jews during the Holocaust. Behind every man or woman who has accomplished anything impressive, done the extraordinary, or who has succeeded against all odds, there is, invariably, a humble person quietly untangling the ropes and keeping the books. Said person is usually not a best friend or lover, but someone who simply steps into the fray and meets a need.

Too often we demand that people bend to our expectations before we accept them. We forget that others are going through the same kinds of trials and tribulations that we are. We all have a path to follow. That those paths intersect and occasionally weave, in my mind, is prodigious. It's the presence of others that adds the magic to our lives. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. And again, and again, and again. This one is important enough to repeat endlessly. You never know who is going to come into your life, or when, or what kind of and how much effect they'll have. It pays to treat everyone with respect until they prove otherwise deserving.

Who is the Tenzing Norgay in your life? Would you recognize him if he showed up, much less be ready for him? Perhaps most importantly, can you let go of pride enough to allow a Sherpa to shoulder some of the load?

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.
~Sir Edmund Hillary

Sir Edmund Hillary & Tenzing Norgay

Friday, June 4, 2010

Alla Musica!

Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.
~Sergei Rachmaninov

Last night something I've long suspected was confirmed - my theory that there is no singularly musical part of the mind. Music taps into many areas of our minds, and it's the only thing we have that consistently does that. As one who not only appreciates music, but plays musical instruments, I wholly concur. For me, playing uses the same brain power as doing mathematical equations or solving puzzles, while at the same time appealing to emotions and creating visions. One part of my brain is aware of the process of playing, another part is moved by the melody or tone, and yet another part is recalling, in pictures, a time when the tune was the soundtrack to an event in my life, or maybe it's painting an internal picture of what the music allows me to "see."

I found myself nodding affirmatively through most of the show, Nova: Musical Minds (active link to the entire show), and all that Oliver Sacks had to say. (You might recognize Sacks' name as the man who wrote Awakenings, which became the movie starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro.) I also found myself wishing for a longer show. It stirred me and left me with so many questions. Additionally, I realized what a beautiful gift I've been given. It wasn't really an epiphany, but a greater awareness of what I already knew.

Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent.
~Victor Hugo

I grew up playing mostly classical music. Like most things I learned, I didn't have to work hard at it. Learning always came naturally to me, and studying wasn't usually necessary. Sure, I'd practice, but I didn't spend hours at it. Had I done so, who knows how much greater my skills would be. (Throughout my school years, teachers would sigh and tell my Mother, "If only she'd really apply herself...") Music simply made sense to me, the patterns fit together. If you play this note here, then you need to counter balance with these notes there. Still, somehow, I was never completely satisfied until I started writing my own music.

I don't know that the music I write is any good or not, and that's not what's important to me about writing it. Playing my own music is the only time that playing feels 100% natural to me. It completes whatever that musical thing is in my head. It allows me to explore rather than merely trying to duplicate what someone else has already done. I remember writing my first song almost 30 years ago. I started randomly plunking the piano keys in an attempt to focus on a piece I was learning. Fifteen minutes into messing around, I realized what I was doing sounded like something. I remember thinking, "... But you don't write music!" Turns out I was wrong.

I have many friends who don't consider themselves musically inclined. However, without exception, they all love music. I've watched as they get lost while listening to a melody, or even in talking about an old tune that triggers memory and elicits emotional response. Music touches us in a way that nothing else on earth does. It appeals to our senses in a way that nothing else on earth does. It connects us in a way that nothing else on earth does - you can take two people with wildly different beliefs, lifestyles, and social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds, and they'll still be able to smile and bob their heads to the same piece of music.

In my life, music is my heartbeat. It is the internal conductor that runs my train.

To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable.
~Aaron Copeland

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Note to Self

Sometimes when:

I don’t like myself;

I feel that I’m not good enough;

I don’t have a handle on my emotions;

I’m not creative and I'm uninspired;

When I don’t feel well;

I make unintelligent choices;

I’m not strong;

I’m not courageous;

I can’t find humor;

I’m tired;

I lose sight of goals;

I feel like crying “just because”…

Even when all those things are true, and maybe especially then,

I am still:

Lovable and loved;

Intelligent;

Creative;

Worthy;

Valid;

and,

Allowed to be…

Me.


Nothing is worth more than this day.
~Goethe