Monday, September 8, 2014

One Thing: The Sound of an Organ during Prayer

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.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

One Thing: The Color of the Sky

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.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014


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.

Listen to the wind, the birds, the sunrise.

Listen to what takes shape in your life.

Listen, and be changed.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

One Thing: Refrigerator Poetry

Every once in a while something new shows up, almost an elves and shoemaker kind of thing. But with mixed results. This, I believe, is one of my favorites:

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Violin Project, Year 2: Notes from the First Day of Class

Seventeen is a big number. Seven returning students, ten new students. When I group them that way it all looks very manageable. All together they look like more than the sum of their parts. 

They were excited, yesterday, coming in. Eyes big. The new ones wanted to know when they would have violins. They are ready to play concertos. One child informed me, very seriously, “I’m doing violin because my mom said I had to.” One gave me five examples of How Fast A Learner I Am. We will move slowly, and that is hard but at the same time easier—so much less overwhelming than “Here’s your violin, this is how you hold it. Here’s your bow, this is how you hold it. Now play.” And I think we will have fun, regardless of how we ended up together in the first place.

I don’t know who was more nervous, the kids or I. For them I want to project calm and confidence, but every year is new, the territory fresh and a little wild, and every year I wonder if I am really up to this new year of teaching. I have trouble feeling calm.

And then we start, and everything’s okay.

We began yesterday with background music (Twinkle Theme and Variations) and coloring (treble clefs) and snacks, and worked our way into learning each others’ names, standing still, listening to and following instructions. The newcomers will be painting the fence, Karate Kid-style, for a while, and that tends to fly in the face of young peoples’ expectations. But it is like the scarf I have been knitting for months and months: day-to-day the progress is slow, and certainly not our culture’s usual way of acquiring things. But I got used to the slowness, and I enjoy the process. Recently—suddenly, it seemed—I noticed that the thing has length. Someday I will wear it and forget how long it took to make. Someday, suddenly, we will look at each other over our violins and say, “Look how much we’ve learned!”

Here’s what else I forget, and have to keep re-discovering: it’s not just every year that is new. Every day is new. Getting to know each other, fence-painting, problem-solving—we are in it together. What luck. I can’t wait.

For more about The Violin Project, click here, or visit our Facebook page.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

On How Today was a Lovely Day

There was a time when I looked around my home and could not see any of my own influence on it, could not find any sign of myself in my surroundings. There was a time when I believed that asserting myself into my own world would cost me nearly everything. It did cost a lot, it turns out, but it was worth it. Do those words sound simple? They are not. There is more behind them than I know how to talk or write about right now, but they are all I have to offer. 

Today I felt this great freedom to do the next thing in front of me, and to keep plugging away at these things I love, and to let the rain wash everything else away. Today I baked a birthday cake, made some headway with my teaching schedule, saw my kids playing in a cool drizzle with bright umbrellas. Husband and I planned a birthday party. Oldest showed me the pictures he took with his iPod, Youngest colored something intricate and colorful, Middle brought me a blade of grass dotted with rain so I could take a picture. And tonight we had the briefest dance party, in honor of Youngest’s last night as a seven year-old. 

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

So—July was a whole lot of traveling.

Now we’re home. A good part of this week has been spent puzzling out a schedule for the school year—for my teaching, for the kids’ school and activities, for everything else. I’m wondering how safe it is to drink lots of coffee while doing this. I was so excited to pay for the kids’ swim club on time, on top of all the Figuring Things Out! I did yesterday morning that I accidentally put the car into drive instead of reverse at the aquatic center and nearly drove down a big grassy hill. 

This time of year is a second January—looking forward, looking back. Last month’s travels are still fresh. The school year ahead is all theory, the outlines of it neatly arranging themselves on a grid. Things will not look this tidy in the thick of it, but that’s where the art lies, right? This is a thought I will try to hold on to.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Llonio the Gatherer from Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. I read the books to Oldest and Middle years ago, and Llonio has stayed close—with his approach to life, his skill at using what came to him, the beauty of his outlook: “Trust your luck, Taran Wanderer. But don’t forget to put out your nets!” Because I keep running into this: What You Have and What You Don’t Have are two very important and special things. Yes, both can be harsh, painful, devastating. But you can also make magic, when you start playing with the two. This, too, is something to hold on to.

In the spirit of Llonio, I want to share some of my gatherings from this summer—some of the quieter, magical things that presented themselves along with what was planned:

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Monday, July 28, 2014

It takes a while to learn this,

but there are many ways to give a gift. And so few gifts, it turns out, require what you think they require.

Sometimes—like on a Monday evening following a late-night homecoming from a good but tiring vacation—a gift looks like this, all fresh and sending its aroma everywhere:

and a bowl full of this kind of sweetness:

and celebrating pizza-movie night four days early
while clothes tumble clean in the basement.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Maybe you are a dreamer, but you get tired sometimes. You fight discouragement. And you dream, yes, and you Do, as well, but your hands feel so busy weaving together dream and reality…

And when they come to you, saying, We want to plant a garden! We want to grow vegetables! you remember when you had this dream of working the ground and pulling nourishment from the earth, plucking goodness from green stems. (They were going to help, but they did not. You were the Little Red Hen, out there alone planting, pulling weeds, and in the end watching your work, your beautiful plants, disappear bit by bit, eaten by deer and rabbits. You enjoyed your bounty alone, not that you didn’t try to share: 7 cherry tomatoes, 3 lemon cucumbers, 2 pumpkins. In the end you decided you had more important dreams to attend to.)

So they come to you with this dream and you remind them of yours and how it turned out. You give them your blessing but tell them they’re on their own for this one. You will focus on other dreams.

And they plant their garden, and not the way you would have done it.

And it grows.

Somehow this crazy, barely-planned, not-how-you-would-do-it garden does beautiful wild things, despite the rabbits. The plants bring forth jewels, and regularly you are called outside to admire their progress. Sometimes you go and check all on your own. You start to dream of all the things you can make with what they’ve grown, of all the goodness you can sit and eat together.

One day they bring in the largest zucchini you have ever seen and ask you to make zucchini bread. You would love to. You might even throw in chocolate chips.

They wait almost patiently when the bread is in the oven, even though it is late for breakfast. The kitchen on this cool summer day grows full and heavy with the scent of it, and you pull out heavy hot loaves, nutty brown flecked with green. It is good. You eat slowly.

It turns out you do not have to do all the dreaming.

Even so there is weaving to do, and now your hands feel rested.

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Monday, July 14, 2014


We followed up our girls’ week at the Chicago Suzuki Institute with a week in Minneapolis—all five of us—while Oldest attended Voice Camp at MacPhail Center for Music. Minneapolis, it is safe to say, remains the city closest to my heart: there are lakes with accompanying parkways and paths that will always be mine; parks, a library, a creek, and food that feel like home; family and friends I miss all but a few days out of each year.

All those things were wonderful and welcoming for this trip, plus Oldest got to sing his heart out. We returned home exhausted but full.

Two extra things I particularly loved about this visit: Little Free Libraries popping up everywhere, and the yarn bombs we discovered while walking, running, driving. Both spoke of community, and beauty, and chance encounters/connection. I want to scatter both all over my adopted city.


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