Friday, May 25, 2012

Old Ways, New Ways

Thursday, Warren submitted a grant application that he had been working on for weeks. It had been a major effort and he was worn out. I had been at the office longer that day than planned. Sometimes an unplanned, unscheduled, and urgent mediation comes up just as you are about to walk out the door, and our policy is to turn around and sit down with the parties for at least an initial meeting, which is what I did. So I was already tired when I met Warren at his office and we walked to City Hall for the "farewell" reception for our highly respected Police Chief, Russ Martin, who was recently appointed the county Sheriff. As it turned out, many of my former colleagues from Municipal Court were there at the same time, so there was a lot of catching up to do.

By the time we reached home, I was exhausted.

We ate a small supper, then Warren proposed a small walk. A little walk just to unwind. The warm day had cooled into a pleasant evening, so I was game. As it turned out, we got no farther than a block away, when Warren pushed open the front gate at the home of Darrell and Gola. Darrel, who was one of Warren's earliest music instructors, has remained a long-time friend, champion, and colleague of Warren's.

"Let's stop and visit," suggested Warren.

Darrell and Gola live in one of the older, large, wood-framed homes that fill our neighborhood. It has a deep front porch that Darrell just rebuilt. The porch also has several benches and chairs on it (also built by Darrell, who is a master woodworker), as well as a porch swing.

A porch swing. You know, the kind every house used to have. The kind that you hang on chains suspended from the porch ceiling, the kind that you take down every late fall and store in the basement until the weather warms up in the spring. I grew up in a house with a porch swing; my parents have a porch swing on their back porch. The kind that has a nice rhythm and a pleasant creak as it swings.

We sat on the swing together and rocked and talked with our friends for the next few hours. We talked until the fireflies (and the mosquitoes) came out. We talked until the moon slid down the western sky. We talked until the soft evening had faded into a silky night.

When we finally walked home, Warren and I agreed it was one of the most relaxing evenings we'd had in weeks. There was no computer trying to attract our attention. There was no television, no radio. There was just good talk and laughter and the communion of friendship.

As I fell asleep last night, I reflected on how satisfying the evening had been. It was life at a slower pace. It was life as we (the collective "we") used to live it 70, 80 years or more. The depths of the porches on our older homes in this town attest to that.

It was life lived in the old ways.

This morning, still smiling from last night, I turned on my computer and got a jolt. In my email Inbox was a message that read:

I just got a new email with my computer and wanted you to have my address.

Dad?! What new computer? What new email address? There was never an old email address or an old computer.

Some days you just can't keep those new ways away.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

On the Little Screen

I am infamous in many circles for not watching television. For the record, we do own one. It gets plugged in for This Old House (Warren), the final game(s) of the World Series (both of us, but mostly me), and little bits of the Olympics when they roll around.

And that's about it.

I stopped living with cable in March, 2002. I stopped living with all television, except as noted, pretty much in March, 2005.

I have nothing against TV. In fact, if I had cable, I could easily be a TV junkie. And I am not at all a discriminating viewer. Antique Roadshow? Yes. Reruns of the Patty Duke Show? Superb! The Lehrer News Hour? Works for me. The old Trading Spouses that used to run on FOX? Be still my heart.

Like I said, I don't watch TV.

I do, though, watch YouTube. Oh, not obsessively, and I don't surf it (or whatever one does on YouTube), but I do look for clips on it. And if I find a clip I enjoy, I bookmark it and revisit it from time to time.

Right now, I am watching two clips on a regular, ongoing basis. (Okay, more times than daily sometimes. Okay?) Right now they are my comfort, they are my inspiration, they are my go-to when the walls of my life start pressing in a little too sharply.

The first is a patient-made video from the Cancer Center of the Seattle Children's Hospital. For all those of us who live in Cancerland, or have someone near and dear to us who lives in Cancerland, this is a pick-me-up straight from the heart:

Yes, it's meant to tug at your heart. It's a feel good video despite the setting. But it's something more than that. Watch the patients dancing at the end of the video: joyfully, gleefully. It is what so many of us in Cancerland want to do, despite the odds: we want to dance gleefully, with or without a soundtrack, because we are still here. These kids do it.

The other often watched clip is from Britain's Got Talent and may be this season's phenom discovery. And yes, if I watched TV, I would totally watch stuff like this:

I don't watch this clip for the performance, amazing though it is. This clip keeps drawing me back time and time again because I work in a juvenile court. It reminds me every time how utterly vulnerable adolescents are, and how fragile their world can be.

We just finished up Week 3 of the Victims Awareness class I help teach. I am still the class newbie and I still thrill when the light goes on in the recalcitrant, the defiant, the clueless. Admittedly, not every kid "gets it," but there are enough "aha!" moments, even with the tough classes, that I walk out there each week high on adrenaline.

(I wrote "I still thrill." Truth is, I suspect I will always thrill when that moment happens.)

So when I watch Jonathan—big, hulking, fat, shy, insecure, all-odds-against-him Jonathan—he reminds me of the juveniles I work with weekly. Watch the clip again and focus on him. His fears, his hopes, his acute nervousness are all on display, achingly so. As a co-worker (who also teaches the Victims class) noted, the mic shakes in his hand the entire time. He looks time and time again for a comforting smile from his partner Charlotte, even when it is patently clear to everyone that he has captured the crowd during this audition.

And yet, despite everything against him, Jonathan opens his mouth and sings straight from the heart.

I watch these videos over and over again because they fill me with hope. They inspire me to dance with abandon. They inspire me to sing no matter how much the mic shakes.

They inspire me to live.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sell Me a Dumbo

The Mini Cooper returns to America, 2002*

There are things I now know I am never going to do in life:

  • Live in Montana and watch a winter storm move in across the mountains.
  • Live in a waterfront house—ocean or lake—anywhere.
  • Win the Pulitzer Prize. Or the National Poetry Award. Or be asked to become the Christopher Gray of Chicago. (Go ahead, I'll give you bonus points if you know what I am talking about.) 
  • Bike across the United States.

Given where I am in life, given my age, my health, my finances, my profession, my marriage, my family, and my husband's age, profession, finances, and family, there are some other things I am pretty darn sure I am never going to do:

  • Live in a house that is 900 sf or less. (Where would we put the gongs, let alone the marimbas, xylophones, drums, and timpani?) 
  • Own a Mini Cooper.* (Same issue as with a small house.)
  • Spend a year crisscrossing the United States—Gettysburg, Mt. Desert Island, Savannah, Key West, Missoula and the Lolo Pass.

Somedays I look at my "never" list and my "pretty sure not" list and sigh just a little. Or a lot, depending on the mood.

It reminds me of Dumbo.

As a child growing up in the 60s, almost every single Sunday night revolved around "The Wonderful World of Disney" on television. And somewhere in that opening montage, there were scenes of Disneyland and the Dumbo ride.

How I wanted to go to Disneyland and ride the Dumbo ride. How, when my parents talked of summer vacations, I prayed that the magic word, "Disneyland," would be spoken.

It never was. Looking back, we took some pretty amazing trips for a blue-collar family, but Disneyland was not one of them.

So when at the age of 32, I finally got to Disneyland and finally rode Dumbo with a very young Ben, it was too late. Don't get me wrong: I loved Ben's excitement. Ben loved Disneyland. Ben loved riding Dumbo. But I could not call up the 10 year old girl I used to be and thrill to riding Dumbo for my own sake.

I recently recounted this story to my friend Margo. We laughed as I explained that what I now realize is  that when I finally got to Disneyland, I didn't want to ride Dumbo. I wanted to own a Dumbo. I wanted a fiberglass Dumbo fresh from Disneyland. Not the whole ride, just one of the Dumbos in my backyard. One with a pink hat. I think it'd make a really good planter, with flowers and trailing vines where the seats are.

I looked at Margo and said, "I want to say to Disney, 'Sell me a Dumbo.'"

I'm never going to have a Dumbo. I'm never going to have a Pulitzer or a waterfront home either. I'm not even going to get the Mini or the small house.

Life is what it is and at some point, you let go of some dreams and wishes. You take satisfaction in what you have. You count your blessings, and mine are many. I am blessed with an extraordinary degree of good health which, given the cancer, I should not have statistically. I am blessed with a husband and a rich marriage I never expected to have. I am blessed with wonderful children, with an amazing daughter-in-law, and with a granddaughter on the way. I am blessed with incredible friends and a community in which I am allowed to serve.

Blessings rain down upon me every single day.

And yet, as I recently wrote a friend, I sometimes find myself hemmed in by my life. The parameters in which I live sometimes chafe and the chafing bubbles up between the lines. I bump my head against them. I worry that as I set aside the unattainable dreams (goodbye, Pulitzer), I run the risk of setting aside other attainable dreams, of not challenging myself to even try to attain them. I run the risk of accepting the status quo even if it doesn't quite fit, just because it is so darn comfortable and easy. My greatest worry is that by not reaching, stretching, growing, I will diminish my engagement with the world and with my deepest self.

So I need to be sure to hang onto some of my dreams, dreams which I have not even listed above. I need to be able to reach into my pocket and pull out a rainbow, or a blue-bordered handkerchief, or a song. I need to be able to continue to live life deliberately and as fully engaged as possible.

But I still want a Dumbo.


*The Mini Cooper was unavailable in America from the late 1960s until 2002. The ad, dating from its reintroduction, is classic.

Friday, May 11, 2012

In Each Other All Along

This morning in the New York Times was a photo of a Nepalese felt rug that looked like a puddle of colors spilled on the oh-so-shiny loft floor.

The rug, described as a Nepalese felt rug, looked like this:

NY Times, 'The Fun Starts Here," 5/10/12
When Warren came down for breakfast, I was looking online at Nepalese felt rugs, more conventional (i.e., circular) but just as bright and all well out of my price range.

I showed Warren the photo and he said, "it looks dangerous."

It looks dangerous? I thought it looked fun and bright and inviting. I thought it looked like a rug I wanted to sit down on while I read a book. I thought it looked like a rug a small child or toddler would pat in satisfaction. 

I guess I was expecting a chuckle and a comment along the lines of "I bet you would love all that color on the floor." Or maybe a humorous "And which of us is buying this, hmmn?"

But, "it looks dangerous"?

I was caught off guard and quickly blurted out, "I want that rug on the floor of my 900 square foot house in Montana."

"The one with the wood floors," I added, quickly completing the dream sketch I have just tossed into the air.

There was a quick flicker of pain across Warren's face and his voice, softer than usual, quavered slightly as he replied. "Well, you will just have to go there without me." 

Oh, my dear husband! Why would you ever begin to think I'd set off without you?

We have been through a long stretch when outside factors—some big, some bigger—have bulled their way into our lives, muscling aside some of the peace of the home. Warren is carrying a lot of weight on his shoulders and in his heart and lately has often had a thousand yard stare in his eyes. Add to that my own bundles that I am carrying and it has made for some very quiet, not unpleasant but not terribly close and connected either, times. 

When I began writing this post, I was sitting at the Valvoline shop, having the oil changed on the car. Warren is off with the Symphony, performing an educational concert in a nearby community. I opted out of going—not for lack of support, but because I needed a breather in which to run my errands on my time at my pace. I've had a chance to reflect on this morning and the rug discussion with a little more acceptance and humor.

I am completing this post in the afternoon after finishing running a number of small errands. There are more errands to be sure, but I will do those tomorrow with Warren. I am looking forward to his return later today, looking forward to hearing about the concert, looking forward to sharing supper. I am looking forward to a quiet moment in which to reach over and take my husband's hand. 

The poet Rumi wrote Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They are in each other all along. Even during our disconnected times, Warren and I are always in each other. 

Just not on that rug. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


I spent an hour plus this morning in Columbus having coffee and conversation with Pastor Glenn of my favorite church, Maple Grove. Warren had a series of meetings in Columbus this morning in connection with the Symphony, so we rode down together. Warren asked me what I thought Pastor Glenn and I would talk about.

"Oh, probably God."

I mean, heck if I knew. This meeting came about because I blogged about the Easter sermon Pastor Glenn gave and he invited me to meet with him and talk.

So we met. And talked about who we are, about who we were, about reading, about Maurice Sendak and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, about our families, about some of my spiritual wanderings, and about community and building community.

And we talked about God. We talked about what Pastor Glenn called God-moments in his initial email to me—those moments when the veil is lifted and you see God.

Our discussion stemmed from the Easter sermon and Mary Magdalene finally recognizing the gardener as the risen Jesus. Glenn talked about what it took for Mary—what it takes for us—to realize that God is always there, but for whatever reasons, we do not always see through the veil (of life, of tears, of "chatter") and realize it. I alluded to the short story, "The Gardener," by Rudyard Kipling, where a similar scene is play out simply in a vast cemetery holding the dead of World War I.

I shared with him a Pearl Bailey quote I keep in my quote collection: People see God every day, they just don't recognize him. And I voiced my belief, courtesy of my friend Patricia longing for God to speak to her, that God talks all the time to us, we just aren't listening.

We happened to be sitting outside the coffee shop, with the traffic going by, and I gestured with my hand. "We are so busy filling our life with chatter," I said, "that we don't hear Him."

For two self-admitted introverts (who lead extroverted professional lives), we did pretty well talking.

Afterwards, I walked north along High Street to spend time in a used bookstore while waiting for Warren to finish his event. As I walked along, I thought of many things. The day is beautiful—"a handsome day," Warren called it earlier—and I relished the fresh midday. I thought about how rarely I have ever walked in Columbus—I probably have logged more miles on foot in Chicago in the last five years than in Columbus in a lifetime. I thought about the streetscape along High Street—the small shops and small brick apartment buildings on the street front, and the glimpses of neighborhoods tailing off down residential side streets.

And I thought of God-moments.

As I pen these words, I am sitting in a noodle shop diagonal to the bookstore, finishing a small lunch and still thinking about God-moments. Sometimes you are just going through your everyday life and there is that moment—that small, quiet light that glows on like an old-fashioned vacuum tube. It is as close as a cup of coffee with a new acquaintance. It is as near as the brief snatch of conversation with the elderly woman I crossed the street with 15 minutes ago, who laughed and sprinkled blessings on the day. It is as immediate as the genuine small smile yesterday from the surliest of the current crop of students in the Victim Awareness class I help teach.

Those moments are the treasure we tuck in our pocket and carry along, touching from time to time for comfort, or reassurance, or happiness. They are not always BIG or flashy or loud. Sometimes they are so small and quiet that we have to hush ourselves and slow ourselves down to appreciate them.

They are the God-moments.


Linking with Michelle and Deidra!  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Man Who Took Us Outside Over There

Maurice Sendak is dead. When I heard the news this morning, I emailed Warren: "I may need to go home."

I didn't, but I sure felt like it. I felt I needed to go home and pull his books off the shelf and reread each of them again.

"And now," cried Max, "let the wild rumpus start!"

Now Ida in a hurry snatched her Mama's yellow rain cloak, tucked her horn safe in a pocket, and made a serious mistake.  She climbed backwards out her window into outside over there. 

Did you ever hear of Mickey, how he heard a racket in the night, and shouted "QUIET DOWN THERE!"...

I read a lot of Maurice Sendak to my boys when they were little. We would study the pictures of Mickey in his airplane over the kitchen city. For a long time, a poster of that very scene hung in Sam's bedroom. We would read about the Wild Things, about Ida and her wonder horn, about milk in the batter.

A poster of that very scene hung in Sam's bedroom.

And now the man who created all those wonderful images and characters is gone. 

I had kind of been waiting to see who died before Ramona Dawn arrives this August. I was thinking Beverly Cleary or E. L. Konigsberg, but it turned out to be Maurice Sendak.

That sounds grim, "waiting to see who died," but I don't mean it that way. I don't believe in some giant cosmic balancing act: you get a grandchild, but I get to take this person away. But given my deep love of books, and knowing that Ramona Dawn will be blessed with two parents who also love books (let's face it, Ben eats books for breakfast), I mourn when a giant in the pantheon of children's literature exits the world just before someone dear to me is scheduled to make an appearance. 

I was pregnant with Ben when E.B. White died. I remember crying that night when I heard the news on  MacNeil/Lehrer, thinking how sad it was that my child was being born into a world in which E.B. White no longer lived.That was shallow thinking, of course, which I now chalk up to prenatal hormones. Andy White was dead, physically, but his books were still there. They still are. I just reread Charlotte's Web last night with its evocative ending lines: It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.

And I know it will be the same with Ramona Dawn and Maurice Sendak. The man is gone, but the Wild Things, Mickey, Ida, and all the rest of his amazing cast are still here. They will always be here. They are here waiting for someone to open up the books and let them out. They are here waiting for someone to fall into the batter or climb out the window backwards into outside over there. They are here waiting for someone to sail to the island where the Wild Things are.

And they are here waiting for Ramona Dawn, waiting for her to discover them.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Last Gift of Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I recently wrote about Anne Morrow Lindbergh and my just learning that her family was about to publish a sixth and final volume of her diaries and letters. (The first five volumes were brought out during Anne's lifetime.) Thanks to the wonders of the interlibrary loan system, I checked out the book last Thursday and just Sunday morning slowly and reluctantly read the last entry.

It was the kind of book that, as I read it, I would have to set aside and walk around a bit to regain my balance. It was the kind of book that, as I read it, I would sometimes put my hand to my throat to catch the emotions welling up in me.

It was the kind of book I will read again and again until it is imprinted on my heart like so many others of hers.

I emailed Margo when I had read about a third of it. "Heartbreaking." I saw Margo briefly at Saturday's concert and we talked in a few quick sentences. "Heartbreaking," I said again.

Why that choice of word? All that came to mind was this year's Easter sermon at Maple Grove: "Easter begins with Mary, weeping in the dark."

Let me not give the impression that Against Wind and Tide is a sad book. No. While Anne captured the sad moments that life holds: the deaths of her mother and her husband, the loss of friends through misunderstanding, the limitations on her life as she aged, she also celebrated the joyous ones: a family wedding, the arrival of grandchildren, talking with a dear friend.

So why do I find this book heartbreaking?

I wrote in my blog post that I looked forward to meeting the older Anne. I have not been disappointed. The older Anne is even more understandable and approachable than the younger Anne. I recognize myself (not for the first time) in her words, not the least in her frustrations over her writing.

So why heartbreaking?

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, like any of us, had many different roles in her life, including some (wife of an aviation icon and a pioneer aviator herself) that none of us will ever attain. One heartbreak for me was reading her struggles (when she was in her 50s, incidentally) against roles which no longer fit or she had never asked for in the first place. It is hard to read in her own words what price she paid to fit so many roles, including that of "good girl."

How many of us struggle with being a "good girl"—a good wife, a good mother, a good daughter, a good friend—and feel we constantly come up short? Or feel someone else does it better or more effortlessly? How many of us strive to achieve that impossible goal and then resent what we must set aside, or suppress, or not say or do, in order to be good? (Go ahead. Admit it. You know we do.)

There is even more heartbreak in Anne's reflections on her own writing. In 1955, she published Gift From the Sea, a reflection on the various stages of a (married) woman's life. The book was an immediate best seller and has never been out of print. As Anne ruefully noted, she had finally won vast acclaim and adoration for a book (and sentiment) in which she no longer believed. There is her jealousy when Charles, with whom she had a long, complex, and often lonely marriage, won the Pulitzer prize for The Spirit of St. Louis. While she pegged some of her resentment to his lack of support when she went through a long period of therapy for depression, she also ground her teeth and wrote that her life, her writing, their marriage, and their family, were all sacrificed to The Book, and that she ended up supporting the writing of it at the expense of her own dreams and projects. It is hard to read that entry and feel her pain and bitterness.

That, ultimately, is why the book is heartbreaking. It is sad, but not heartbreaking, to see her struggle in her marriage and in coming to a satisfactory relationship with Charles. It is poignant to read her worries over her adult children's problems.

But it is heartbreaking to watch her agonize over her worth and ability as a writer. I swallowed hard when Anne, in her late 70s, finally admitted in her diary that she could not pull together another book.

As I read this book, I was grateful that Reeve Lindbergh (and other family members) thought this volume was needed to complete the personal portrait that Anne had started with the publication of the first volume. For those of us who find her writing so arresting, so sure and so beautiful, the book is a gift. I am also grateful that the Lindbergh family did not wield the same heavy censorious pen that Anne (and certainly Charles) would have. They have let Anne speak—in reflection, in sorrow, in love, in anger, in joy, and in humor.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh turned again and again to the written word to carry her through the difficult times, the joyous times, and the ordinary times of her life. Although she was rarely satisfied with the results, Anne was a writer and she understood what writing meant: Writing is a glass-bottomed bucket through which one looks to the still world beneath the ruffled surface of the waves. It is the blind man's stick with which I tap my way along the pavement. It is also my keel, which keeps me steady in choppy waters and gives me direction. So you see I write because I have to. 

A glass-bottomed bucket to see beneath the waves. A stick to tap along the pavement when you are blind. A keel to keep you steady in choppy waters.

And for those of us reading her words, Anne's writing is a gift, one last gift, from her beautiful pen.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Palette

A good friend just gave me an exercise his therapist had given him as an instant tool to draw upon during anxiety attacks.

Think of three colors you really like.

Got them?

Now think of a word that you associate with each color. For example, you might think of a deep chocolate brown and think "comforting." Or a sage green and say "soothing."

Got your words? Good.

When you are feeling stressed or anxious, pull the colors out of your mind's pocket, think of them one by one, and think of the word you associate with each color.

Simple, no?

My friend related this technique during a brief phone call, and I had just enough time to ask if I could pick different colors for different scenarios. The answer came back, "well, I guess so," which I took to mean "why not?"

"Why not?" indeed.

I got to test the workability of this technique this evening. It is Friday night of Concert Week, which means dress rehearsal. I ended up volunteering to run an errand for the Symphony before many musicians arrived and my mood was, well, let's just say it was less than positive. So as I sat at an impossibly long stoplight, I thought of the colors I had named to my friend an hour ago and pulled up the words that went with them.

Darn if it didn't work. At least enough that my irritability level dropped several notches.

It worked enough that when I got back to the rehearsal, I turned it over in my mind, thought through my color choices, and came up with two palettes.

One is my de-stressing palette: blue, deep purple, silver gray.

          Blue (a nice, solid but not too dark blue): calming
          Deep purple: restoring
          Silver gray: tranquil

The other is my pick-me-palette: primary yellow, turquoise blue, and brilliant white.

          Primary yellow: upbeat
          Turquoise blue: strong
          Brilliant white: uplifted

I am writing these words as the musicians come on stage and start to warm up. My mood has flattened out from earlier but not yet risen. I have another errand to run yet this evening so we don't have to run it at 10:45 after rehearsal. There is a letter I want to write. I am just beginning the newly published final volume of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's diaries and letters, and it is just heartbreaking. (Yes, I will be writing about it when I finish.)

I am not sure as I sit here that I need my de-stressing palette.  I needed that earlier when my irritation level was high and threatening to hit flashpoint. Those embers are cold now. Maybe I need my pick-me-up palette. I could use feeling strong and uplifted right now. I need to feel upbeat.

Primary yellow: upbeat
Turquoise blue: strong
Brilliant white: uplifted

Turquoise blue.

I wrote the above post before running the errand, dodging raindrops, and getting back to rehearsal to find the orchestra deep into the Debussy. While I drove, I though of turquoise for strength, primary yellow for being upbeat, and brilliant white for feeling uplifted.

As I sit here, watching Jaime and the musicians do what they do so well, and feel the music swell to the ceiling, i open my hands and let the colors seep through my fingers.

Primary yellow.

Turquoise blue.

Brilliant white.

Friday, May 4, 2012


Walking downtown this morning, I passed the home of a good acquaintance, someone I have known since high school. He was doing yard work; I waved as I approached.

Rex straightened up as I came even to his house and, pointing at me, announced loudly, "I wonder how many people in Delaware know you were a majorette in high school?"

I didn't miss a beat in replying.

"None, including me, because I wasn't."

Zora Neale Hurston wrote "there are years that ask questions and years that answer them."

Yeah, and sometimes the questions that get asked are so goofy you don't need a minute, let alone a year, for the answer to appear. 

My sousaphone and I, 1974