1. Tuesday evening: moonrise. A not-quite-full moon, pale and round and flat. The sky, too, is clear and pale. Peaceful. This week is busy, like so many of the rest of them, but the sky remains open and peaceful, changing and unchanging.
2. Later Tuesday evening: orchestra rehearsal, all Beethoven. The 7th Symphony, and Leonore Overture No. 3, and the Piano Concerto No. 4. I’m not sure how many times I’ve played any of these pieces, but the past performances are present, always. The piano concerto, for instance: I once got to play this with Daniel Barenboim as both soloist and conductor. The intensity and concentration of that performance, it turns out, is burned into my psyche. As we run through the piece with tonight’s soloist I can hear both the present version and the one from all those years ago. And this music is so good.
3. Wednesday morning: I’m sitting alone in the waiting room at the dentist’s. All three kids are having checkups at once. I hear Youngest’s voice—she is singing “Let it Go” with all her heart. I imagine her face, and the way she must be moving in the dentist’s chair as she swoops for the high notes and dips for the low. “The cold never bothered me anyway—” I think she especially loves that line, and the meaning she intuits in it. The hygienist tells me later that they waited at the doorway of Youngest's room until she finished the song. They did not want to interrupt.
4. Saturday: the last birthday cake of the season, chocolate with cream cheese frosting, sprinkled with dark chocolate curls and golden sugar. It struck me, looking at the finished cake, that the frosting works as a sealer, holding in moisture, at least as much as it sweetens and decorates. I’ve always thought of the frosting as the best part; I’ve never before thought of it as a kind of armor.
5. All week, each weekday afternoon: The Violin Project. These kids are young, and they're tired at the end of the day. It is a difficult time for intense focus. The room is often noisy. I have been trying to get them to be quieter—especially while I am tuning their violins. But this week I suggested that they use tuning time (which for them is waiting time) to help each other—second year students could help beginners with bow holds, playing positions, rhythms; older kids in general could help younger; second year kids could join forces to puzzle out new skills and pieces. The noise turned into something special. This is what I am looking for, at least as much as I am seeking order. What could happen, if we all keep learning and growing like this?
Is it the heaviness of all that light in your hand?
Is it the fact that those bubbles are caught solid in time?
It is that, isn’t it—that fact of ethereal things, caught and still. The thought that all those mercurial, transparent, fleeting things you never get to look at long enough could rest, solid and weighty, in your hand. Alive with light.
If there is a word for that thing that makes you believe, for half a moment, that you could hold all those other things—every bubble you broke trying to catch, for instance, or every glowing moment that slipped away—in your hand and gaze into them as long as you want
you cannot think of it. The word, too, must be encased in glass, and just out of reach.
Wednesday morning: pink fog for a moment, so briefly that by the time I mentioned it to someone it had shifted to gray. Mushrooms-like-flowers in the lawn. Ripe tomatoes and eggplants on the counter, and a recipe for black bean chili. In my head, alternating currents of Beethoven 7 and the Romance from Wieniawski's Violin Concerto No. 2. I get to play both this fall. Also in my head: projects—some unfinished, some un-started; the emails to friends that are as yet un-typed; the endless connections with friends, acquaintances, loved ones waiting un-made; the endless (urgent!) daily things to attend to. It is all water streaming through my fingers. I cup my hands to drink and my feet, the ground—everything around me—gets soaked. Is it a fight for you, too, to focus on how cool and sweet the water is? Even on my feet the water feels good, if I let it.
* * *
I wrote that paragraph more than two weeks ago. All of it is true. But I haven’t been able to finish what I started writing because of the other narrative in my head—because this is also true:
So now tell the rest of the story. Tell how the water spilling onto your feet metaphor breaks down—how sure, those missed opportunities are signs of the richness offered, and maybe you can absorb a little of it as it falls—but it’s not that simple, is it? Tell how what gets your feet wet is all the ways in which you have failed family and friends and students. How unfair it is to romanticize that. Tell how you constantly feel like a failure. How you are haunted by the fear that those you love will stop loving you because you cannot manage to be good enough. How, even after you learned to fight for yourself, to not bury yourself inside pleasing everybody else, the fear remains. You have ways of fighting it now, but the truth is you mostly only hold it at arm’s length. It is a permanent resident in your life, following you into whatever you do.
* * *
I was going to tell you how it seems that the thing to do is to get comfortable with both the fear and this feeling of not-done, not-as-good-as-I-wanted-it-to-be, not-sure-I-can-handle-this-next-thing failure. How getting comfortable with these feelings is no compromise, but survival. I was going to tell you how violin is what taught me this, that all those years of practicing, little by little working my way through techniques, through etude books, through concertos and sonatas and partitas proved to me that each day’s drop in the bucket matters, that the bad days don’t steal as much as you think they do, that in the end it really is the trying that matters.
Maybe all those years of trying in the practice room—maybe one of the most important things I was doing was one of the invisible, inaudible things: learning to never quit working towards a goal that constantly shifted out of reach, to push for perfection knowing I would never get there, if only because it always proved to get me somewhere.
I don’t know that I have the courage to show you how messy my office is (putting things that are “in progress” away is almost equal to giving up on them,) or how I don’t stay on top of the laundry, or how quickly all my attempts to get organized fall apart. But I can tell you that it is as easy to be overwhelmed by the great beauty I get to see every day as it is to be overwhelmed by all the rest.
Sometimes spilling and bucket-filling look a lot alike. I keep trying to make these crazy days into more than that, but maybe it’s really that simple. No more beautiful and extraordinary than that, but also no less. See how our wet hands shine.
And by the way? Yesterday: more pink fog—jeweled, this time.
Maybe the holiness of the sound is simply a childhood association. But maybe not. All the notes have texture to them, somehow occupy a vertical space in the air. The lowest notes are thick enough to touch. Thick, and yet they reach deep into head and heart, and in grounding themselves in those places they provide grounding for all the restless things they find there. And in sound there is silence, and in the deep tremble of sound waves there is stillness. That can be miracle enough for a day.
There are many things I love and miss about my childhood.
I wish I could re-create the surety I felt that the chrome window latches on the little triangular windows in my parents’ car doubled as water spigots. We must have been traveling. I must have been thirsty.
I wish I could get a handful of the suckers we were treated to after Suzuki festival concerts at Northrup Auditorium—they were rectangular, flat on one side and domed on the other—perfect for conforming to the roof of your mouth with only a little work. It was so hard to choose between butterscotch and orange. It still would be, unless I was in one of my lime moods.
I wish I could dance with a broom on the front porch, believing no one would see, because that is a wondrous freedom to feel. And to the neighbor boy who caught me—yes, that is exactly what I was doing. I lied to your face about it for years, claimed I was only sweeping, because I figured I could make my supreme dorkiness disappear if I denied it enough.
I wish I could lie in the grass or on the floor and daydream, with no hint of anxiety that I could/should/have to be doing something else.
I wish I could reclaim some of the hours I had long ago with paper and coloring books and crayons and markers—more daydreaming, plus endless paper worlds filled with color.
But when I was young, I thought the sky was blue. Every picture I colored had some variation of blue sky and white clouds, and only a small range of shades of blue, at that. And this makes me happy about the age I have gotten to: I have watched for many years, and I have seen the sky striped, dotted, scalloped. I have seen it gold, and wet-green, and purple, and salmon, and gray, and I have seen it pull the rest of the world into its light. Instead of always calling it blue, I have dared to name the color of the sky, myself. And because I dared, the sky has shown me endless worlds. Real ones. Just over our heads, all the time.
I figure if things are making sounds they are asking you to listen.
* * *
Early, early in the morning. I am awake for no reason but since I am the thoughts have started rushing in and swirling around. First the details: schedule, after-school activities, the never-ending to do list. But then, louder: You are going to let everybody down. You will not be able to do this well. Who do you think you are, anyway? The fears and details need to be answered. They are quieted, often, when I turn to face them. But they are not the only thing to listen to in this early-morning dark. There are also the crickets outside. I can let the silver whir envelop me for a moment. I can hear it as the mating call of countless insects, yes, but I can just as easily hear it as something else, entirely: the fading-away of summer, a gilding of the dark air, the easy praise of a creature fulfilling its calling simply by being, by whirring.
* * *
If I have been quiet, these last few months, I have also been listening. It is something, I’m starting to believe, that requires the whole body.
Listen to the fears—we must, I suppose—but listen, also, to the crickets. The crickets should also be required listening.
Listen to the words on the page. Sitting down with a book recently has been like sitting down hungry to a good hot meal—the kind that brings forth an extra prayer, an exhaled Thank you as I take in the first bite. Often, when reading, the inhalation follows: Tell me. I want to eat the words, absorb their marrow into my own, internalize, understand, live the good I find.
This listening—I don’t know how my own voice fits in to it. I only know that it’s hard to listen when I'm making noise, myself. That too often the echo of my own voice makes me cringe.
I believe there are stories to tell. I know that the conversation I want to have with the world is not a conversation if I remain silent. But this deep quiet seems necessary. It is nourishment, it is fuel. It is something, maybe, taking shape.
And all around me there are requests to be heard:
Listen to the words of the song.
Listen to the pictures on the wall, in the book, in your memory.
Listen to the small hand that grabs yours, the eyes (big, deep, wide, scared, friendly) that seek out yours.
Listen to the friend who says she can’t take it anymore.
Listen to the voices everywhere that are frustrated, angry, hurt, afraid: Ferguson, Liberia, Iraq, Syria, Gaza.
Listen to the voices right there beside you in your life—what is asked, what is told, what is left out.