Saturday, June 30, 2007

Where the Seeds Are Found (Karen Mal)

So much emotion swirling right now, coupled with lack of sleep - I had promised M I would find something for her, buried in a stack of paperwork... and I stayed up until 5:30 a.m., reading through the entire file, even after I had found what I was looking for...

Long story short is that, 10 years ago, four women (one of whom was the hub connecting us all) engaged in an intense e-mail correspondence (amidst our real-life relationships) we termed our Village, meeting up around the "well" of the computer to share stories, support and sustenance. From March through September 1997, we each wrote (almost) daily, baring our souls... on pregnancy, motherhood, husbands/exes/boyfriends, books, music, food, fears, joys, transitions, rituals, spirituality, etc. - the sisterhood chronicles illustrated our abilities to be incredibly strong, as well as amazingly wise and riotously funny... and we always "threatened" to turn it into a book, changing the names to protect the innocent (guilty?... :-)

At one point, as a gift to all, I made copies of everything and, perusing the pages last night/this morning took me right back to that time, synchronistically a decade ago - it was exhiliarating, it was exhausting, it was fruitful, it was frustrating, we raised each other to new heights, we crashed and burned. Since then, the friendships have ebbed, flowed, lain dormant, re-bloomed... and reading the unfolding history made my heart ache - as Joni would say, "we can't return, we can only look behind from where we came". I *know* the growth, power and love gained in those seven months is immeasurable - I can't help but feel a twinge of sorrow at what is not, and will never be, again. We are different women now, and that's okay - it was a glorious time, and I am honored to include it in my life's resume of experience... <3

Where the Seeds Are Found by Karen Mal

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

POEM: The Layers by Stanley Kunitz
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

QUOTE: "And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom." ~ Anais Nin

Friday, June 29, 2007

(No Such Thing As) Girls Like That (Christine Kane)

Christine Kane is one of my favorite music artists, for many reasons - she writes amazingly literate and lyrical songs, she has a wicked sense of humor (evident in her storytelling between songs) and, off-stage, she's personable and accessible.

I've always loved music and, when I began to be aware of the plethora of contemporary folk and acoustic singer-songwriters (a story for another time), I bought various compilations so I could discover who struck my fancy - I first heard of Christine through the Women's Work CD and really enjoyed her song Off the Ground...

Fast forward a few years to the 2000 Folk Alliance conference I was attending in Cleveland - Christine was performing in an in-the-round and it was such a pleasure to hear her up close and personal. I was a volunteer for our South Florida Folk Festival and spent a good bit of the conference handing out postcards encouraging artists to enter our songwriter competition - I was more than a bit delighted to receive Christine's entries a few months later, and even more thrilled when her songs ended up in the Top Twenty. I had attended some local house concerts (definitely more about *those* at a later date) and decided I'd like to host one for Christine the Thursday before her festival appearance - I had 35 people squished into my living room, all of whom came away fans, myself even more so... <3

When I decided to present a second, and then a third, house concert, it appeared it was turning into a series - I came very close to naming it Loving Hands House Concerts (after my favorite-at-the-time CK song) but I knew it had to be something Oz-related and came up with Heart's Desire House Concerts (referencing a most-fitting Dorothy line), which had a lovely and successful four-year run.

More fast-forwarding: I had the pleasure of hosting another house concert for Christine a few years after the first and we've crossed paths many times since at various conferences and concerts - a few of us even drove up to Asheville, North Carolina in October 2005 to see her in a split-bill with Dar Williams, another dear-to-my-heart artist. Christine is now playing much larger venues, has had a ballet choreographed to her music and began (about a year ago, I think) writing the most fascinating and inspirational blog - one of the closest-to-home posts for me has been Are You Leaking? (ack!).

Over the last few months, Christine has been recommending Eat Pray Love, the book mentioned below - I've just chosen it for our local reading club selection in September, and am curious as to what my book-women friends will think of it. Thanks, Christine... for the music, the memories and the motivation - my fingers are crossed we can get you back to South Florida soon. And, as an extra added bonus, here's a YouTube video of Christine performing my blog-titled song... :-)

POEM: Warning by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

QUOTE: "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive." ~ Howard Thurman

Thursday, June 28, 2007

You're Aging Well (Dar Williams)

M wrote some wonderfully reinforcing ideas about beauty on her pin-up blog the other day, which of course got me thinking about my own interpretation as well as my self-image - ultimately, in my opinion, it distills down to "beauty is as beauty does"...

I have had years/weeks/moments in which I felt stunning... magnetic... indestructible... at what would not be considered my ideal weight/size - however, because I felt involved (with my family and friends/my community/the world), I wasn't thinking about any perceived inadequacies. I've realized I have a talent (actually more of a *need*) to contribute, share and widen the circle - when my blinders are on, my ego gets in the way and I tend to concentrate on the trivialities.
Which is not to say I still shouldn't care about how I look and becoming more healthy (through nutrition, exercise and rest) - when it becomes an obsession such that I'm not only *not* enjoying life but completely narrowing my focus, something is wrong. People appreciate my authentic smile, my gift of listening, my love of music - they're not likely to spend time critiqueing my hips, my hair, my nails.

Our bodies were designed to age: sagging breasts, graying hair and crinkling eyelids - if we've made the most of our time on the planet, we should also be able to track incremental wisdom, peace and compassion. The purpose of skeletons, muscle and skin is really only to keep our souls, hearts and minds safely surrounded - as long as we live with purpose, enthusiasm and good will, we will remain forever young in the ways that count... and aging well in aspects that matter.

SONG: You're Aging Well by Dar Williams

BOOK: I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron

POEM: Beauty by Tony Hoagland

When the medication she was taking
caused tiny vessels in her face to break,
leaving faint but permanent blue stitches in her cheeks,
my sister said she knew she would
never be beautiful again.

After all those years
of watching her reflection in the mirror,
sucking in her stomach and standing straight,
she said it was a relief,
being done with beauty,

but I could see her pause inside that moment
as the knowledge spread across her face
with a fine distress, sucking
the peach out of her lips,
making her cute nose seem, for the first time,
a little knobby.

I'm probably the only one in the whole world
who actually remembers the year in high school
she perfected the art
of being a dumb blond,

spending recess on the breezeway by the physics lab,
tossing her hair and laughing that canary trill
which was her specialty,

while some football player named Johnny
with a pained expression in his eyes
wrapped his thick finger over and over again
in the bedspring of one of those pale curls.

Or how she spent the next decade of her life
auditioning a series of tall men,
looking for just one with the kind
of attention span she could count on.

Then one day her time of prettiness
was over, done, finito,
and all those other beautiful women
in the magazines and on the streets
just kept on being beautiful
everywhere you looked,

walking in that kind of elegant, disinterested trance
in which you sense they always seem to have one hand
touching the secret place
that keeps their beauty safe,
inhaling and exhaling the perfume of it—

It was spring. Season when the young
buttercups and daisies climb up on the
mulched bodies of their forebears
to wave their flags in the parade.

My sister just stood still for thirty seconds,
amazed by what was happening,
then shrugged and tossed her shaggy head
as if she was throwing something out,

something she had carried a long ways,
but had no use for anymore,
now that it had no use for her.
That, too, was beautiful.

QUOTE: "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart." ~ Helen Keller

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Superhero (Ani DiFranco)

I'd prefer not to go into the significance of this song... but suffice it to say it has (or had) power over me, rather than the other way around - fear and helplessness, begone (ZAP, BAM, POW!).

Also wanted to add that years ago, it finally clicked that She-Ra is the feminization of hero - I love the concept... and use the term whenever I have the opportunity... :-)

Superhero by Ani DiFranco

Fearless Women: Midlife Portraits by Nancy Alspaugh, Marilyn Kentz, and Mary Ann Halpin

POEM: by Jeannine Hall Gailey ~ Female Comic Book Superheroes

are always fighting evil in a thong,
pulsing techno soundtrack in the background
as their tiny ankles thwack

against the bulk of male thugs,
They have names like Buffy, Elektra, or Storm
but excel in code decryption, Egyptology, and pyrotechnics.

They pout when tortured, but always escape just in time,
still impeccable in lip gloss and pointy-toed boots,
to rescue male partners, love interests, or fathers.

Impossible chests burst out of tight leather jackets,
from which they extract the hidden scroll, antidote, or dagger,
tousled hair covering one eye.

They return to their day jobs as forensic pathologists,
wearing their hair up and donning dainty glasses.
Of all the goddesses, these pneumatic heroines most

resemble Artemis, with her miniskirts and crossbow,
or Freya, with her giant gray cats.
Each has seen this apocalypse before.

See her perfect three-point landing on top of that chariot,
riding the silver moon into the horizon,
city crumbling around her heels.

QUOTE: "When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid." ~ Audre Lord

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I Believe You (Todd Snider)

Here is a link to The Learning Curve of Gratitude, Mary Chapin Carpenter's This I Believe essay for NPR's Weekend Edition, Sunday June 24, 2007 - I've also copied and pasted it below...
"I believe in what I learned at the grocery store.

Eight weeks ago, I was released from the hospital after suffering a pulmonary embolism. I had just finished a tour and a week after returning home, severe chest pain and terrible breathlessness landed me in the ER. A scan revealed blood clots in my lungs.

Everyone told me how lucky I was. A pulmonary embolism can take your life in an instant. I was familiar enough with the medical term, but not familiar with the pain, the fear and the depression that followed.

Everything I had been looking forward to came to a screeching halt. I had to cancel my upcoming tour. I had to let my musicians and crew members go. The record company, the booking agency: I felt that I had let everyone down.

But there was nothing to do but get out of the hospital, go home and get well.

I tried hard to see my unexpected time off as a gift, but I would open a novel and couldn't concentrate. I would turn on the radio, then shut if off. Familiar clouds gathered above my head, and I couldn't make them go away with a pill or a movie or a walk. This unexpected time was becoming a curse, filling me with anxiety, fear and self-loathing — all of the ingredients of the darkness that is depression.

Sometimes, it's the smile of a stranger that helps. Sometimes it's a phone call from a long absent friend, checking on you. I found my lifeline at the grocery store.

One morning, the young man who rang up my groceries and asked me if I wanted paper or plastic also told me to enjoy the rest of my day. I looked at him and I knew he meant it. It stopped me in my tracks. I went out and I sat in my car and cried.

What I want more than ever is to appreciate that I have this day, and tomorrow and hopefully days beyond that. I am experiencing the learning curve of gratitude.

I don't want to say "have a nice day" like a robot. I don't want to get mad at the elderly driver in front of me. I don't want to go crazy when my Internet access is messed up. I don't want to be jealous of someone else's success. You could say that this litany of sins indicates that I don't want to be human. The learning curve of gratitude, however, is showing me exactly how human I am.

I don't know if my doctors will ever be able to give me the precise reason why I had a life-threatening illness. I do know that the young man in the grocery store reminded me that every day is all there is, and that is my belief.

Tonight I will cook dinner, tell my husband how much I love him, curl up with the dogs, watch the sun go down over the mountains and climb into bed. I will think about how uncomplicated it all is. I will wonder at how it took me my entire life to appreciate just one day."

SONG: I Believe You by Todd Snider

BOOK: This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman

POEM: Sunsets by Alan Brownjohn

Suddenly caught by how it seems
Possible and quite credible that,
In this last windless minute at

Sunset, that downspread of fields I watch
(Gazing past, from the vantage hill,
Just visible cows to the town) will

Have darkened a little – even though
You can’t measure this and it may be
Your eyes don’t tell it truthfully –

I sense a comparison with
Some points in the progress of love:
Times when each element has to move

At just the stage when you would want
It at rest – when, dispassionate-
ly, you would want to define and state

To yourself just where you stand. It may
Be a simple error to believe
That love runs on like that, you can deceive

Yourself quite easily. But
So often love seems to be set
On rushing you past anywhere you get

A chance to arrest it, and talk.
And in this, as with nightfall, you sense
That you cannot make much pretence

Of defying any darkness.
It leaves you no other choice.
It happens in front of your eyes.

QUOTE: "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense." ~ Buddha

Monday, June 25, 2007

Happy All the Time (Danny Schmidt)

A touring musician friend I used to book gigs for also runs a record distribution company - he's exposed to so many amazing artists on a regular basis and, just like the E. F. Hutton ad... when A speaks, I listen! He told me about Danny Schmidt a few years ago and I've been listening ever since - in fact, I took part of my commission in DS CDs once but, I am so enamored of the latest, Parables and Primes, I haven't yet moved on to listen to the other two. Danny's lyrics are just brilliant and this CD is perfectly produced, both tastefully and minimally - I would love to bring him to Florida in the next year or so. I haven't even had the pleasure of seeing him live - it's something to look forward to (and I love the pun in the fifth verse of this song... :-)

SONG: Happy All the Time by Danny Schmidt

BOOK: Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter

POEM: Undelivered Mail by Rhina P. Espaillat

Dear Daughter,
Your father and I wish to commend you
on the wisdom of your choices
and the flawless conduct of your life

Dear Poet!
Where is the full-length manuscript
you promised us? Your check is waiting
The presses are ready
and the bookstores are clamoring for delivery

This convention is tedious
beyond belief: the hotel is swarming
with disgustingly overexposed women
far too young to have dignity
or any minds at all

Dear Patient:
The results of your blood tests reveal
that your problem stems from
a diet dangerously low
in pizza and chocolate

Dear Mom,
You were right about everything
and I was an idiot not to listen

QUOTE: "Happiness is permanent. It is always there. What comes and goes is unhappiness. If you identify with what comes and goes, you will be unhappy. If you identify with what is permanent and always there, you are happiness itself." ~ Unknown

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Everything Is Music (Kris Delmhorst)

I am very involved with our South Florida folk and acoustic music scene (have been since February 1998, a story for another time) - one of the events we promote is a monthly songswap. The gathering is held in a member's home and is a circular sharing of music (originals and covers, solos and jams), as well as a potluck and social occasion - I've been hosting the June Open House for 6 or 7 years now. I don't sing or play an instrument but I call myself an active listener - it's a lovely time, with so many different types of music represented (folk, traditional, pop, rock, etc.) and so many instruments and voices chiming in. Feels like family and I do so look forward to the annual opening of my home and heart - 5 p.m. cannot get here soon enough!

POEM: Sonnet by Elizabeth Bishop

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling finger-tips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

QUOTE: “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” ~ Aldous Huxley

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gentle Arms of Eden (Dave Carter)

My friend M has a lovely ritual on her blog, whereby she refers to each of the people in her life by a fictitious name (either self-chosen or christened) of gods/goddesses, figures in novels/movies or even Disney characters - it preserves anonymity and it also provides history, mystery and more than a touch of romance/color commentary... :-)

I've been curious as to just which mythical persona I'd choose for myself and this morning went googling for something appropriate, typing in the keywords of "goddess of music" (duh!) - I came up with the following, which seems to fit perfectly, not only for the harmonic part of the equation, but for my love of verse, discovery, creativity, the ocean and kids (I taught/directed preschool for 10 years). Plus I'm drawn to anything Asian, whether furniture/decor/art style or Zen/Buddhist philosophy - to paraphrase MCC, I think I'll keep her!

"BENZAITEN or Benten
Goddess of Music, Poetry, Learning, Art
Goddess of the Sea, Protector of Children

The sea goddess Benzaiten is the sole female among the
Seven Lucky Gods of Japan. Her temples and shrines are almost invariably in the neighborhood of water -- the sea, a river, or a pond. She is the patroness of music, the fine arts (dancing, acting, visual) and good fortune in general and is often shown carrying a biwa (Japanese mandolin) or playing a lute. She is often represented as a beautiful woman with the power to assume the form of a serpent or shown seated on a dragon or serpent and playing a lute. In fact, the snake is almost always associated with Benzaiten, who was originally a Hindu deity (Sarasvati) who represented learning, music and poetry. Such artistic learning and wisdom often bring prosperity, hence her inclusion in the Japanese group of seven luckies. She also has a jewel that grants desires. Some say it is a jade, while others say it is a pearl.

Images of Benzaiten often show her with eight arms, holding objects such as bow, arrow, wheel, sword, key, lock and sacred jewel; sometimes two of the hands are folded in reverent prayer. She arrived in Japan soon after the introduction of Buddhism to this island in the 6th century and her worship was based largely on her attributes as described in the Sutra of Golden Light."

P.S. I've often spoken of my technoweenie self and, through investigation and trial/error, blogging has helped me overcome so many cyber-roadblocks - today I learned how to hyperlink (what a concept, eh?... :-) so I'll be using that form to provide further information from now on and, when I have/make time, will go back to edit past posts (zippity!).

Gentle Arms of Eden by Dave Carter

BOOK: The Red Book: A Deliciously Unorthodox Approach to Igniting Your Divine Spark by Sera J. Beak

POEM: Security by William Stafford

Tomorrow will have an island. Before night
I always find it. Then on to the next island.
These places hidden in the day separate
and come forward if you beckon.
But you have to know they are there before they exist.

Some time there will be a tomorrow without any island.
So far, I haven't let that happen, but after
I'm gone others may become faithless and careless.
Before them will tumble the wide unbroken sea,
and without any hope they will stare at the horizon.

So to you, Friend, I confide my secret:
to be a discoverer you hold close whatever
you find, and after a while you decide
what it is. Then, secure in where you have been,
you turn to the open sea and let go.

QUOTE: "I, the fiery light of divine wisdom, I ignite the beauty of the plains, I sparkle the waters, I burn the sun and the moon and the stars, with wisdom I order all rightly. I adorn the earth. I am the breeze that nurtures all things green. I am the rain coming from the dew that causes the grasses to laugh with the joy of life. I call forth tears, the aroma of holy work. I am the yearning for good." ~ Hildegard of Bingen

Friday, June 22, 2007

On and On It Goes (Mary Chapin Carpenter)

I've been a fan of Mary Chapin Carpenter's music for almost two decades - her heart-hitting lyrics and stunningly-clear voice (whether whispery-soft or raucously-joyful) combine to make for an always-rewarding listening experience. As far as I'm concerned, she was mis-pigeonholed in the country genre for years, when she's actually more folk/singer-songwriter - her new CD, The Calling, is absolutely brilliant as it addresses personal, political and spiritual struggles, often questioning yet always reaffirming...

To follow up on yesterday's gratitude blogpost, I share the following, posted to today's MCC discussion list: "When singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter canceled her summer tour, she no doubt disappointed the dozens of dancing glow-in-the dark plastic flamingos who traditionally turn up (to her delight) for her annual outing at Chastain Park Amphitheater. But her reasons were sound. In her This I Believe essay, "Everyday Is All There Is", recorded for Sunday’s edition of National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday, the singer details her recent health scare. After a concert tour this spring, Carpenter was hospitalized after suffering a pulmonary embolism. “Everyone told me how lucky I was,” she says in the radio essay. “A pulmonary embolism can take your life in an instant.”

As she recovered, Carpenter says she experienced disappointment and depression, until a chance encounter at the grocery store: “One morning, the young man who rang up my groceries … told me to enjoy the rest of my day. I looked at him, and I knew he meant it. … What I want, more than ever, is to appreciate that I have this day and tomorrow and hopefully days beyond that. I am experiencing the learning curve of gratitude." The singer should be back on the road in 2008."

Weekend Edition Sunday airs locally (in South Florida) from 8 - 10 a.m.

Plus... Mary Chapin will be a guest on the Air America show Ring of Fire Saturday, June 23. Ring of Fire is hosted by Robert Kennedy Jr., Mike Papantonio and David Bender, streams live
from 3 - 6 p.m. and is rebroadcast Sunday, June 24 from 8 - 10 p.m. If you can't tune in for either time, the show is available from iTunes.

SONG: On and On It Goes by Mary Chapin Carpenter


Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude by Sarah Ban Breathnach

POEM: Sweetness by Stephen Dunn

Just when it has seemed I couldn't bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk
to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn't leave a stain,
no sweetness that's ever sufficiently sweet.

Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low

and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief

until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don't care

where it's been, or what bitter road
it's traveled to come so far,
to taste so good.

QUOTE: "Gratitude is twofold -- love coming to visit us and love running out to greet a welcome guest." ~ Henry Van Dyke

Thursday, June 21, 2007

One Summer Dream (Electric Light Orchestra)

From today's Writer's Almanac: "Today is the summer solstice and the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere. For those of us in the north, today will be the longest day of the year and tonight will be the shortest night. The entire earth is about 3 million miles farther from the sun at this time of the year. The difference in the temperature is due to the fact that our planet is tilted on its axis, and at this time of year, the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, receiving more direct radiation for longer periods of time each day. It is that slight tilt, only 23 1/2 degrees, that makes the difference between winter and summer. The rise in temperature allows most of the plants we eat to germinate. Wheat and many other plants require an average temperature of at least 40º F to grow. Corn needs a temperature of 50º F, and rice needs a temperature of 68º F. "

Let there be light indeed - what an amazing metaphor, eh?

SONG: One Summer Dream by Electric Light Orchestra

BOOK: Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

POEM: Light, at Thirty-Two by Michael Blumenthal

It is the first thing God speaks of
when we meet Him, in the good book
of Genesis. And now, I think
I see it all in terms of light:

How, the other day at dusk
on Ossabaw Island, the marsh grass
was the color of the most beautiful hair
I had ever seen, or how—years ago
in the early-dawn light of Montrose Park—
I saw the most ravishing woman
in the world, only to find, hours later
over drinks in a dark bar, that it
wasn't she who was ravishing,
but the light: how it filtered
through the leaves of the magnolia
onto her cheeks, how it turned
her cotton dress to silk, her walk
to a tour-jeté.

And I understood, finally,
what my friend John meant,
twenty years ago, when he said: Love
is keeping the lights on. And I understood
why Matisse and Bonnard and Gauguin
and Cézanne all followed the light:
Because they knew all lovers are equal
in the dark, that light defines beauty
the way longing defines desire, that
everything depends on how light falls
on a seashell, a mouth ... a broken bottle.

And now, I'd like to learn
to follow light wherever it leads me,
never again to say to a woman, YOU
are beautiful, but rather to whisper:
Darling, the way light fell on your hair
This morning when we woke—God,
It was beautiful. Because, if the light is right,
Then the day and the body and the faint pleasures
Waiting at the window ... they too are right.
All things lovely there. As the first poet wrote,
in his first book of poems: Let there be light.

QUOTE: "Summer is the time when one sheds one's tensions with one's clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit. A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all's right with the world." ~ Ada Louise Huxtable

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Shower the People (James Taylor)

Given my devastation at J's passing, I was sure I would have a wallow week - in fact, I'd almost planned it, feeling as if I could choose to embrace my inconsolable sadness until I had could cry/tremble/shatter no more. Of course I realize emotions aren't light switches, to be turned off and on at will - despite my grief at the achingly-empty cubicle next to mine, life has crept back in. Always one to seek the silver lining, I've vowed to turn J's neglect of his own body into an even more conscious attention toward my own - I keep making, and breaking, promises to myself... but this time somehow feels different. I was furious with J for allowing his decline, depriving his friends and family of his company and comfort - I'm attempting the path of moderation again... with the incentive of health, inner and outer, to stay on track.

It's also a wake-up call to "be here now", telling the people you love, often and with feeling, how much you love them - make the moments count, because they are all we have...

SONG: Shower the People by James Taylor

BOOK: Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings by Rob Brezsny

POEM: The Perfect Day ~ Alice N. Persons

You wake with
no aches
in the arms
of your beloved
to the smell of fresh coffee
you eat a giant breakfast
with no thought
of carbs
there is time to read
with a purring cat on your lap
later you walk by the ocean
with your dog
on this cut crystal day
your favorite music and the sun
fill the house
a short delicious nap
under a fleece throw
comes later
and the phone doesn't ring
at dusk you roast a chicken,
bake bread, make an exquisite
chocolate cake
for some friends
you've been missing
someone brings you an
unexpected present
and the wine is just right with the food
after a wonderful party
you sink into sleep
in a clean nightgown
in fresh sheets
your sweetheart doesn't snore
and in your dreams
an old piece of sadness
lifts away

QUOTE: "Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow." ~ Melody Beattie

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Three Little Birds (Bob Marley)

I subscribed to The Sun literary magazine for almost a decade - last year we were going through some financial difficulties and I vowed to cut some things out of the budget that were "non-necessities". I thought I could sacrifice a few of my subscriptions - I was wrong. As I was going through some back issues this past Sunday, I came across the poem I use here... and it took my breath away - what I absolutely love is that its jumping-off place is Emily Dickinson's verse, first published in 1891, a few years after her death. I might not have known that if I didn't wear a bracelet on which is etched the first two lines of her poem - the beauty of Bursk's follow-up, over 100 years later, is that he never once writes the word "hope" but the intent is clear... and you can bet I'll be re-subscribing first thing tomorrow!

“Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

POEM: The Thing with Feathers by Chris Bursk

It's the first thing you hear in the morning,
the last you hear at night.
In the woods, in the swamps,
in the old steeple, in the ruined eaves,
over the wreckage of a car
your mother drove straight into a wall.
The bird won't stop singing.
It is perched in the ashes of a house that burned to the

Wherever you move, it's one hop
ahead of you. Tireless
as a creek, it's a tune that will not allow itself
to be forgotten. It keeps building
and leaving its nest, all chatter, all expectation,
water singing to itself
in the shadows as well as in the sunlight.
That insufferable optimist.

No matter how many doors you slam,
curses you shout, rocks you throw,
it pipes up louder than ever
on this very branch of this very tree outside your house
---as if stones must be your way of applauding.
It was singing the morning you got fired,
the day you brought grief to the person
you most wanted to protect,
the evening when the great cause you'd pledged yourself to
failed. It sang
while your father was writing his suicide note,
the night your dear friend told you he was HIV-positive,
the night you could find nothing remaining
to believe in, when all you wanted
was to be left alone. It sings in places so dark
you can't see into them.
It's out there singing now.

QUOTE: "Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark." ~ Rabindranath Tagore

Monday, June 18, 2007

Fragile (Ralston Bowles)

Today was unbelievably difficult, as an e-mail regarding J's death went out to our client list - many people responded immediately, obviously with shock and disbelief, not having a clue his health issues were life-threatening. The phones were respectfully quiet, with only a few emergency problems requiring attention - fielding those calls brought it all home... again... but in a good way, with sweet stories shared of J's calm and patient manner, talking them off a tech support ledge.

I've begun to segue from a numb haze to sharp reality, surrounded by so many daily reminders - a friend reminded me that we Leos tend to form immediate and close attachments, which is of course a good thing, even when it brings such intense pain. In fact, her blog today had the most perfect quote, which I've borrowed to use below - thanks, M, for the support and empathy...

For four years (from January 2001 to December 2004), I hosted a house concert series in which singer-songwriters would perform, about once a month, in my living room to an appreciative audience of 30 or so - 100% of the donations went directly to the artist as well as whatever CDs/merchandise they sold, and it was a lovely way to help supplement their touring schedule and treat fans to an up-close-and-personal musical experience. Jonathan Byrd, who I wrote about a few posts ago, performed in August 2004 - as was often the case, I offered home hospitality (meals and a stay in our guest bedroom) between gigs. In a late-night jacuzzi session after the house concert, I shared my father story with him - I always asked the musicians to write something in a blank book I had (to preserve the memories)... and I found the following poem recorded there after he left...

SONG: Fragile by Ralston Bowles

BOOK: The Soul's Book of Answers by Carol Bolt

POEM: by Jonathan Byrd

Last night the moon was almost full
And you loved it for its almost-fullness
Laughing at her fertile belly and cooing
Like a friend at her baby shower

Last night your Jacuzzi was almost hot
And we hissed into its almost-hotness
The warm womb of your father's memory -
the inheritance of a failed relationship

You wanted to show me what it was like
to be in the tub when the moon was full
And it really wasn't - but that is you;
Turning loss into healing,
Anticipating the greatness of what could be
with such intensity that you create it.

QUOTE: "Love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable." ~ C.S. Lewis

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Blue Rondo a la Turk (Dave Brubeck)

One of my earliest memories is being with my father, listening to Harry Belafonte’s Matilda, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade and anything by Johnny Cash (I *still* know all the words to his songs) – I was born in 1954 and we had a hi-fi back then. I will never forget the momentous occasion when my dad brought home a *stereo*… took great delight in setting it up… and then had me sit down on the couch, at the apex where the speakers joined to make “the sweet spot”... and played Dave Brubeck’s Take Five – magic!

The song Unsquare Dance, on the same album, was one of Dad’s favorites – he explained to me it was in 7/8 time, quite a tricky tempo as the piano, bass and various percussion instruments weave around the chorus of clapping hands. Every time he played the album, which was quite frequently, he encouraged me to attempt to clap along, which was quite fun and challenging for a seven-year-old child – even though the tune was only two minutes, I never could keep the rhythm all the way through… but he always did.

I was raised to believe there were only three ways to do anything in life: the right way, the wrong way and the Marine Corps way - that's a really catchy saying, but the reality is that "right" and "Marine Corps" are actually one and the same, leaving recruits with only two options. They can do what they're told or they can suffer the consequences - we learned not to question authority.

I believed I had a perfect childhood… up until the year I turned 27 – my parents divorced after 29 years of marriage, mainly because of my father’s alcoholism. His prestigious jobs were a thing of the past – he found himself working as a clerk at Radio Shack, making minimum wage. His self-worth plummeted – a few times the police had to be called to intervene in domestic situations. At that point, I was living an hour away, with a husband and a small child – my visits home decreased as the situation worsened.

My father died on my 19th wedding anniversary – I had not spoken to him in the 3 years before his death because he had chosen to take his life in a direction I did not wish to follow. I felt no guilt about our diverging paths, only regret that there was a finality to whatever possibilities I may have envisioned for our future. On the day after his memorial service, as my mother, brother, sister and I drove up to Anna Ruby Falls in North Georgia to scatter my father’s ashes, we took turns telling stories of our interactions with him over the years – it was like putting together the pieces of a puzzle, as we all had such different, and sometimes conflicting, memories to share.

My father is so much in me: my love of music, my affinity for the written word and my appreciation of humor, especially a good pun - on the dark side, I have also inherited his qualities of perfectionism which leads to procrastination which leads to paralysis.

There is a relatively happy ending to this story – when my father died he was living in my grandmother’s house, which was subsequently sold. There were 8 grandchildren, and, after all the debts and estate costs were settled, each received $3,000.00 – my husband and I discussed how to spend the money, and there were certainly bills that needed to be paid. Ultimately, frivolous as it seemed, we decided on a Jacuzzi for the backyard – I joked that my father had caused so much stress in my life it was the least he could to do relieve it through his legacy. I must confess I am in the hot tub almost every evening… and not a night goes by when I don’t think about my father… in a peaceful, calm and loving manner – the last 12 years have given me the closure I needed… and I hope that somewhere, some way, he feels it too…

For my fortysomething birthday (one or two?), I called a few of my close friends and asked them to join me to see the movie Smoke Signals, mainly because Dar Williams' song Road Buddy was included in the soundtrack - the film was a winner of the Sundance Film Festival in 1998, the first feature made by a Native American crew and creative team… and is about a young man, accompanied by his friend, who travels from his home on an Idaho reservation to Phoenix to pick up the ashes of his father, whom he hasn’t seen in 10 years. The movie is based on the book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist-Fight in Heaven, by Sherman Alexie - the poem I've chosen for today's blog post is read during the last scene.

SONG: Blue Rondo a la Turk (music by Dave Brubeck, 1960; lyrics by Al Jarreau 1981)

BOOK: The Great Santini by Pat Conroy

POEM: by Dick Lourie

How do we forgive our fathers?
Maybe in a dream.
Do we forgive our fathers for leaving us too often,
or forever,
when we were little?
Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage,
or for making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all?
Do we forgive our fathers for marrying,
or not marrying,
our mothers?
Or divorcing,
or not divorcing,
our mothers?
And shall we forgive them for their excesses
of warmth
or coldness?
Shall we forgive them
for pushing
or leaning?
For shutting doors?
For speaking through walls?
Or never speaking?
Or never being silent?
Do we forgive our fathers in our age or in theirs?
Or in their deaths,
saying it to them,
or not saying it?
If we forgive our fathers, what is left?

QUOTE: "I am reminded of the old show business adage. Showing up is eighty percent of the work. The rest is about concentration and focus, about being specific, all of which - just being there, just being - are deeply spiritual values. And that's what a father has to do, too. Not 'to be' or 'not to be.' Just be. Be, be, be." ~ M. G. Stephens

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Long Year (Todd Snider)

J's death (indirectly caused by long-term issues of excess and neglect) has me re-examining the history of alcoholism in my family - my father "inherited" it from his father and, for years, I worried it would trickle down to me. In January 2003 I made the conscious decision to quit drinking - I didn't set a time frame, but figured I'd just take it, to use the AA vernacular, one day at a time. I kept expecting it to be more of a sacrifice, but it wasn't - I found I was still fun to be around, and could continue to have a good time, without artificial stimulants. When a year had gone by, I realized I was in no danger of addiction and began drinking again - you can't imagine what a relief it was to know I had power and control over the substance.

[ From The Writer's Almanac: June 10 was the anniversary of the establishment of Alcoholics Anonymous (1935), in Akron, Ohio. It was founded by a stockbroker named Bill Wilson and a surgeon, Bob Smith, who found that the best way to keep from drinking was to spend time with other people who were trying to keep from drinking. Between the two of them, they developed the main traditions of AA: anonymity, confession and mutual support. Alcoholics Anonymous grew rapidly in the '40s and '50s, but Bill Wilson refused to appear on the cover of Time and wouldn't accept an honorary degree from Yale because he believed in anonymity... and he stuck with it to the end. ]

P.S. We just heard from J's partner, A - there is to be a memorial celebration at 6:00 p.m. this evening... a bit last-minute, but I intend to be there...

SONG: Long Year by Todd Snider

BOOK: First Year Sobriety: When All That Changes Is Everything by Guy Kettelhack

POEM: Gray's First Sober Year by William Notter

This new life is better
than a dozen beer-joint romances
or a hundred drunks at fishing camp.
My habit now is not drinking,
and waking up where I belong.
I can see colors again,
and I don't feel like a turd in the punchbowl
whenever I go around people.

I'll mow the weeds for Sharon
and almost enjoy it. She's even given up
checking my breath whenever I come home.
I went shopping for our anniversary
and wound up crying in the store,
but not the kind of tears you cry
when your wife catches you lying in the shed
with your pistol jabbed up in your mouth
and vodka running out your nose.

The only thing she could think to do
was check me into another detox,
and this time it finally took.
This year has made me different—
vodka could never do that for long.
Some days when I wake up early
and listen to Sharon lying there breathing,
it feels like somebody snuck in while we slept
and changed our sheets.

QUOTE: "I love to drink a martini, two at the very most, three I'm under the table, four I'm under the host." ~ Dorothy Parker

Friday, June 15, 2007

Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg)

J died last night/this morning - when I walked into the office, all I had to do was look at V's face and ask, "what time?" (1 a.m., actually). It's been a very difficult day - a few clients were aware J had been hospitalized but no one (including us) realized the seriousness. A note is being drafted that will go out to everyone Monday morning - the response will be immediate and comforting since J, in his role of tech support, interacted with hundreds on a regular basis.

His partner A said he'd keep us informed as to a memorial service - we all cried a good bit of the morning, feeling lost and numb. Our routine is to bring lunch in every Friday, and today I suggested we have a WWJE day (What Would J eat?) - burgers and greasy accompaniments was the unanimous vote, and we lifted our onion rings and toasted his spirit.

I wrote yesterday that J and I shared an obsession with Oz - what's not to love about the ultimate metaphor?... flying monkeys and the horse of a different color and heart's desire, oh my! A few weeks ago, I gave J a compilation I had made... of 19 different versions (Tori Amos, Glenn Miller, Leon Russell and many others) of Over the Rainbow - he laughed, thanked me for it and then informed as far as he was concerned there was only one version: Judy Garland's. I laughed in reply and said I'd still like him to keep the mix for posterity's sake, even if he never listened to it - the following is for J... and I have no doubt he's flying with the bluebirds now...

POEM: Summary by Gary Wagner

Disaster snakes from blackened sky
Uprooted homes carry uninvited passengers
Evil rides from east to west

Adversity materializes in rolling smoke and thunder
Little people terrorized by larger threats
The path to salvation spirals outward

Unknown wisdom sprouts forth from fodder
Compassion forged from heartless metal
Hidden valor boldly revealed

Climbing denizens take frightening flight
Simple water conquers flames of fright
Victory reveals hollow promises

Promised wishes are self granted
Broken trust restored
Reunion vanquishes anxiety

There’s no place like home

QUOTE: "Although I can accept talking scarecrows, lions and great wizards of emerald cities, I find it hard to believe there is no paperwork involved when your house lands on a witch." ~ Dave James

Thursday, June 14, 2007

True Colors (Cyndi Lauper)

I don't know how else to say this... so I'll just blurt it out - my co-worker J is dying. Three of us from the office just got back from visiting him in the hospital, where he's been for the last two weeks - his partner A called and told us they had moved him to the Hospice floor earlier today. From what I understand (I've only been working at this job for three months), J has had ongoing health problems but always seemed to find a way through it - even in my short time there, I've seen the effects and it's broken my heart... although I never really believed it would get this bad. Blood poisoning, liver and kidney problems and congestive heart failure conspired to make it impossible to recover - he went into a coma and the doctors have said the end could be two hours or two days.

He and I had an instant connection from the moment I moved into the cubicle next to his - we had a love of Oz and music in common and most days flew by, as we traded quips, movie lines and song lyrics. On the one-month annniversary of my job there, I came into work and found an e-mail in my inbox, titled Present for Susan - it was this picture (in full color, although the only one I seem to be able to find on the web is in black and white), sized to be wallpaper for my office desktop... and, amidst my shrieks of delight, he came around the corner to install it.

The week before he was sick enough to be admitted, he brought me a burned copy of an early, obscure Cyndi Lauper album (now CD), knowing I'd fall instantly in love, which I did - I'm going to order it from as soon as I publish this blog post, so I can have the liner notes and full-color photos. I also have two DVDs he loaned me, Judy Garland in The Harvey Girls and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (the Australian version, not the remake) - I will make a point to watch both this weekend, in his honor.

I had flowers sent to the hospital last week, a brightly-colored arrangement with a rainbow balloon attached - I dictated the card to read: J, you're not in Kansas anymore. Get Well Soon! He called us at the office to tell us how perfect it was - it was the last time I heard his voice. He had a gentle spirit and generous nature and wicked (in a good way) laugh, oh my! - I'll miss him dearly... <3

SONG: True Colors by Cyndi Lauper

BOOK: Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kubler Ross

POEM: Dirge without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not

More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

QUOTE: "The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning." ~ Ivy Baker Priest

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Movie of My Life (Susan Werner)

This afternoon I realized it's been a full month since I began blogging... and I've actually managed to post something every day - I don't always achieve my goals, deadlines and wishlists but it's comforting to know that when I set my mind to something, I have a greater chance of achieving. Hmmmm - no rocket science message there... :-)

What started out as a song/book/poem/quote cut-and-dried exercise has become fuller over time - I decided to add pictures to accompany each post and am quite pleased with the results. I'm "talking" more, injecting a bit of myself into the day's contributions - it feels comfortable, as I'm overcoming my technoweenie self to learn and grow in a cyber-environment.

Basically, though, I still consider it a journal - at this point, I've only shared the site with three people in my life... and others seem to have stumbled across it. Maybe I'll tell a few more - maybe not. I'm not actively searching for validation or applause or feedback (of course, it's always nice when they happen organically) - this ritual has become my mind/body/spirit meditation... and it feels good to slow down enough to do something daily with forethought, creativity and intention.

P.S. The picture will make sense when you read the song lyrics!

SONG: Movie of My Life by Susan Werner

BOOK: Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

POEM: What's in My Journal by William Stafford

Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean
Things, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.
Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous
discards. Space for knickknacks, and for
Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.
Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected
anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind
that takes genius. Chasms in character.
Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above
a new grave. Pages you know exist
but you can't find them. Someone's terribly
inevitable life story, maybe mine.

QUOTE: "When we think of beauty, we often think of those things we cannot hold... the moments when we are loved, the distant rainbow, the sweet ordinariness of times when nothing exceptional happens, but we are aware of doors to other worlds and the shaft of light drenches the now with unspeakable joy." ~ Rita Gormley