Valentines Day, the blob on the screen, and growing up

February 21, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Posted in Very Long Blogs | Leave a comment
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It is Valentine’s Day.  I am actually wearing red, coincidentally or unintentionally (whichever way you want to think of it), but don’t tell anyone I didn’t plan it.  We sent Chloe a care package on Friday – two homemade cards (one from Rachel and one from me), a store-bought funny card (from all of us), and a bag of Lindor chocolate truffles.  Not that we have any special family connection with this holiday.  It’s just that Chloe’s roommate always decorates their room in a season- or holiday-appropriate way, and I didn’t want Chloe to feel – left out?  Forgotten?  Perhaps I am merely (desperately?) grasping at any opportunity to do something special for her, now that she is away.

I am sitting in the sanctuary of a church.  It is Monday evening, time for Rachel’s weekly orchestra rehearsal.  This is what they are calling the “dress” rehearsal, though the students are not required to wear their concert black.  The performance is Wednesday night.  In it they are premiering a piece by a local Grammy-winning composer, and he is here tonight.  He and their normal director are taking turns conducting and listening from the hall.  It is a beautiful piece, and we are so excited that Rachel gets to play it, as only the first few chairs in each section were selected for this work.

I have performed with my orchestra and with various other chamber groups numerous times in this room, and I do not often get to sit out in the pews.  Never did I think, six years ago in my first concert here, that in a few years I would be watching Rachel play in such a prestigious group.  Nor did I at that time picture Chloe at music school.  And 1,300 miles away.

Before Chloe was born, I was active as a touring solo folksinger.  Dan booked my concerts and traveled with me, leaving his computer training and consulting assignments behind each time we went out on the road.  I took a few months off during my pregnancy and then when Chloe was four or five months old, we hit the road anew.  She traveled to countless places with us during the first two years of her life, and let me take this opportunity to mention what a super nomad she was – eager and bright-eyed for every leg of every trip, and forever good-natured.  Anyway, once she turned two, not only was it suddenly more expensive to take her with us, it had also become increasingly costly to me in terms of energy and focus.  As she became more affected by the changes in her surroundings, it was harder on her, and therefore on Dan and me, which made it challenging to balance everyone’s needs while we toured.  So I went out there by myself for just over one year more, leaving Dan and Chloe behind at home for each of my four- or five-day trips, twice a month, until I could no longer find enough of a reward so far afield to lure me away from the bosom of my family.  When Chloe was three and a half I gave up traveling and became a stay-at-home mom, doing whatever gigs I could find close to home.

One month after my final tour, I went to Chloe’s nursery school to watch the children in their special Christmas holiday performance.  They got up on their little platform, two inches above floor height, and Chloe, who had never given me even a clue as to her thoughts about my being a performer, turned to me from her place up on the “stage” and said, “Mama, now it’s MY turn to be up here!”  As they launched into their first song, I observed several of the children gazing blankly around the room, mouths open with wonder at what was going on, utterly oblivious to the fact that they were performing.  In the meantime, Chloe and a small handful of others were singing their hearts out, clearly, spiritedly and confidently, fully cognizant of the attention their adorable selves were garnering.

(Note:  Lest you be misled by this quintessentially cute scenario, allow me to bring you back down to earth by informing you that Chloe had at that time almost no sense of pitch.  It filled me with dread and alarm to think that I had actually hatched a tone-deaf child, and for all her early years I did my best to not discourage her vocal efforts with my clenched teeth and too-bright smile.  My anxiety was relieved around the time she turned eight, as by then she had finally settled into a reliable and well-tuned relationship between her ears and her vocal cords, thank goodness.  Until then I had not realized that for some children, developing a sense of pitch is a developmental thing.)

Chloe is now not only playing in her college orchestra as well as the designated string quartet of the music department, and working on solo repertoire with her private teacher, but also was accepted into the women’s chorus for this semester.  Next week they will be performing Handel’s Messiah.  At Christmas, when all the choruses and the orchestra put on the annual holiday concert, it was live-streamed for those parents who live too far away to show up for every performance.  Dan and Rachel and I were way more excited to watch it than I would have expected, especially once we saw that the visual quality was disappointingly far from sharp.  “That blob has to be Chloe!!” we assured each other in front of our long-distance computer screen.  And we were right, of course.  Family members can always tell.

Rachel’s orchestra has just begun the opening theme of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, one of the most lovely melodies out there.  In waves, I find myself overcome with emotion as I listen.  First of all, music is a personal thing, somehow intimate even in a giant hall (which this is not).  When it is delivered in performance it feels as if it has been handed To You, even as you sit among five others, or hundreds or thousands of others.  And the intimacy extends to the others in the room, as you are all receiving it together.  There is that level of it, enhanced in this case of course by the fact that it is my kid up there!

Then there is the piece that is just particular to my family and our experience of performances.  We all have almost always been there for each other’s special events.  Dan has been there for close to every concert I have ever given, with the exception of that dreadful year when he stayed home with Chloe while I was still touring.  Chloe and Rachel stayed with a sitter for a few years, and then began to come to my shows with Dan, even if they fell asleep during the show.  Once I joined the baroque orchestra, not only have they come for almost every single performance (even coming night after night when we have a multi-night run), they generally sit right up there in the front row.  My fellow musicians have come to expect them to be there, and have missed their shining faces on the few occasions when they have either missed the concert or been banished to a seat farther from the stage.

So this year presented me with this multi-faceted loss as well.  We don’t get to be there for Chloe’s shows, and she doesn’t get to be here for mine or for Rachel’s.  Maybe that doesn’t sound like such a big deal.  My words don’t carry the charge that I feel about it.  This is part of how we live together.  It’s part of how we know each other.  We eat together, we talk, we listen to each other practicing and we are there for each other’s performances, cheering each other on – and enjoying it.

When I played at Carnegie Recital Hall back in 1980, I don’t think it ever dawned on my parents to fly out for the concert, nor did that possibility occur to me.  Since both of them were from New York and had many friends and family members who still lived there, they simply wrote to everyone they could think of to tell them I was coming.  And my fan club definitely showed up, stand-ins for my parents, who waited excitedly back home for the reports of the event.  I think they may have sent flowers, but I can’t remember for sure.  And my aunt went with me to the Russian Teahouse and a long string of other places after the show, as we celebrated well into the night and then some.  Expectations have definitely changed over the past thirty years, as has the world of travel.  While Dan and Rachel and I cannot possibly fly out for every show Chloe is in, we certainly plan to be in the audience for the big ones.  I don’t know how we will distinguish between those that are important and those that aren’t, but I assume we’ll figure that out.

Nobody tells you, when you hold your precious little newborn, that this is going to be only one season in your life.  Let me try to explain this from my own point of view.  There was the season of my own childhood.  The season of college and young adulthood.  The mating season that resulted in marriage, those early years with Dan that were filled with music and travel, the wrestling with career and dreams of starting a family, which took time to sort out and clarify.  Then there was the season of early parenthood, mixed in with the loss of Dan’s parents.  And then all the decisions that come with that phase:  school, activities, priorities, the forming of new traditions.  Somehow my view of that season was often blurred by and partly merged into the recollection of my own growing up.  And in a way, “growing up” came to feel like a permanent state to me.  After all, my parents remained my parents even after I was technically an adult.  Maybe because that felt permanent to me, I took up with the idea that the tangle and closeness that is the nature of raising children would be, similarly, without end.

Of course, everyone tells me that it would drive Dan and me absolutely crazy, off the deep end, if our kids stayed with us forever, and I believe them!  Isn’t it amazing how we humans can want two opposing things at the same time?  In the early years, I wanted Chloe and Rachel to remain forever small, adorable and snuggly, imbued with that kind of worship that only the young bestow upon their doting parents.  And at the same time, I can remember how crazy-making it was to have them on my skin every waking (and, often, non-waking) moment.  I remember saying to Chloe as a baby, “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?”  Of course I want them both to grow into adulthood and find their respective paths.  And I want some sunset years with Dan, bookends to our early years together.  And I want Chloe and Rachel here with us because that is what feels complete now.

I can still remember the last time Rachel fell asleep on my lap, two or three years ago maybe, at the concert of a friend.  It was a Sunday afternoon, those sleepy after-lunch hours of the day, and she leaned on me, and then when I looked down into her face, she was asleep.  I sat there in the concert, tears streaming silently down my cheeks because I was fully aware that it was likely to be the last time that would ever happen.  The end of an era.  She may still be my baby, but she is definitely not a baby anymore.

In less than four months, we will attend her 8th grade “continuation” – in every way a graduation, even though, yes, she is continuing on into high school.  Chloe will be home for the summer by then, and will be sitting in the audience with Dan and me.  It’s not that our times together are all behind us, and, God willing, we will certainly be in each other’s audiences for many years to come.  I am seeing that these four years are indeed an extended transition into something else that might also be considered a transition into something further on down the line.  Maybe each stop along the way in life is more of a transition than a station.  I am beginning to think so.  May the valentines and bouquets and phone calls say it as loudly and clearly as applause and smiling countenances, in both directions.  And may we all ride the continuing surf, sometimes lulling and sometimes tumultuous, of transformation.

 

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Lessons, a square peg, and the issue

February 8, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Posted in Very Long Blogs | 2 Comments
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You have no idea how much I have missed writing.  Not only the writing process itself, but even just having the time and psychic space necessary to sit with myself long enough for it all to pour out and come together.  Right now I am sitting in on Rachel’s violin lesson with my laptop, which I brought with me so I could attempt to keep up with my work correspondence.  Even though the icons in the lower right hand corner of my screen are telling me I am connected to some local wireless internet source (a mysterious wasteland to me at best), I cannot pull up my browser, and my email refuses to either send or receive.  Flexible person that I am, I seized the opportunity to write instead of fighting with the cyber void.

From my seat on this second-hand couch in this classroom/youth lounge in the church where Rachel has her lessons, and later tonight, in a larger room, her weekly youth orchestra rehearsal, I am privy to a quintessential winter scene outside.  There is still plenty of snow on the ground from Saturday night’s storm.  The clouds are high but beginning to thicken, and looming with a darkness that foretells of the next wave, due around midnight.  Even so, there is a wan slice of late afternoon sunlight breaking through the clouds just above the horizon, from behind the branches of the large neighborhood tree, my view of which is perfectly framed by the edges of the window, a striking arboreal silhouette.  I find this kind of picture to be one of the richest gifts of this stark and frigid time of year – how many shades of white, blue, and grey can there possibly be?  I would never find this palette satisfying during any other season, but these few minutes have been like a visual feast.

In this calm before the storm, I submit to the admittance that this has not been an easy year.  On top of the fact that my family is negotiating the bulky and uncomfortable transition of letting go of one adored offspring, and I am walking my own musical labyrinth toward I know not what, I have taken on one year-long working assignment that is siphoning too much out of me and failing to satisfy me.  In my typical fashion, I have been battling with, instead of listening to, my twice-weekly inner experience of engaging in this project.  Every week, as I approach Monday and then again Friday, my step lags and I feel a sinking sensation in my stomach.  I think they call it dread.

I have never thought of myself as an optimist.  I do not tend to look on the brighter side of things, except when faced with someone who is looking at the decidedly darker end of the continuum, in which case I usually feel called upon to find the more luminous lining.  Yet, amazingly, I find myself doggedly showing up, week after week, dragging along the frail yet stubborn hope that I may suddenly stumble into some kind of love affair with this work.  In my more desperate moments I have sworn that after I wrap this up in June I will walk away from it forever.  Yet two weeks ago, when I had to indicate my plans for next year, I found myself unable to make it final on paper.  “Surely we can make this work!” some inner voice sings (or is it whining?) in my ear.

As I write this, I can see the theme that is crying out for my attention.  How many times in my life have I forced myself to do something because my intellect judges it to be good and I am capable of carrying it out, ignoring all the while a tiny voice inside me that is saying, “But.  I.  don’t.  like.  this.”  Bully that I am with myself, I have driven myself straight into many a situation without it even dawning on me to hold an inner committee meeting first.  Even once it becomes clear that we’re not looking at what you would call a good fit, my self-appointed internal judge and jury has usually insisted, tyrannically, on saying yes to the next offer, and again to the next.  “C’mon!” the court-cheerleader is stridently urging my square self, “Keep it up!  You’ll nestle into this round hole soon!”

Warning:  Please brace yourself for what may seem like an about-face.  In all honesty, I am actually very glad I accepted this position.  And, in my own defense, I did confer with myself, heart to heart (okay, I know I only have one heart, but you know what I mean), before agreeing to it way back in August.  I admit, I only had about one week to decide, because it was offered to me on short notice, so it was a rush job.  But the truth is that I could never have known what it was going to be like without just doing it.  And if I had said no and moved into autumn the way I had been planning, I know I would have been annoyed with myself, many times over, for not having been willing to try it.  I have no doubt of that, knowing myself as I do.

What’s more, I’m good at it – certainly not stellar, since, after all, I am a novice at it, and I have made plenty of mistakes along the way – but in general people are happy with the job I’m doing.  And even I can see the results, and they’re good!  My co-workers seem to accept me as one of them, and I by no means have a corner on the market when it comes to my complaints about the challenges that are part of the package.  In fact, my colleagues are bending over backwards to help me, so I feel very supported, and those that have come to observe me have complimented me, saying I’m doing a good job.  It’s hard but it’s not bad.  There is a difference.  So what’s the problem?

I had a rabbi who once said to me, “The content is not the issue.”  Truer words have rarely been spoken!  As much as it always seems that it is these particular circumstances, whatever they are, that are causing the problem, it is always my view of and reaction to them at the heart of the matter.  I could list for you the details that continue to make my work difficult, but that is not what is at issue here.

Regardless of the fact that Dan and I are now paying for our FAFSA-determined share of college tuition and we are happy to have the added income, that my learning curve is greatly enhanced by this new venture and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to grow from it professionally, that I am doing something good and that is a pleasant feather in my cap, and that it is possible it could grow into something even greater over time; regardless of all that is good about it, it is simply not where I want to be putting my energy.

You probably don’t know that I used to be a bookkeeper.  It was before the computer age, so I would have to go through a considerable updating process to return to that line of work, but I could do it.  I am a perfectionist (NO! you are exclaiming, in shock.  I know.  But I digress.) so I was a darn good bookkeeper, accounting for every penny, and it always came out right at the end of the week.  I could do it again, but that is not where I want to be putting my energy either.

Okay, this is where I am cringing inside.  The battering voice rises up, and I will share it with you.  Who-the-hell-are-you, it rumbles, that-you-get-to-be-so-discriminating?  Other-people-would-be-grateful-for-a-job-like-this.

Well, I am grateful.  And I want to move in a different direction, even if (and here’s where I feel defenseless against the voice-with-hyphens) I don’t know exactly which, yet.  I love writing this blog and would like to try my hand at writing something bigger than a blog.  I gave up a career in folk music years ago, but would like to take my music into new venues and new rooms and begin to create a meaningful connection with new listeners.  I have for years wanted to bring the arts into the corporate domain to nurture the hearts and right brains of people whose left brains are very effective, to see what could be cultivated.  You should see the pile of books I continue to check out from the library on paper and fiber arts – I am itching to get my hands on color and texture and see what I can do!  I completed the first round of training a couple years ago to teach people how to improve their visual acuity through relaxation and good ocular habits, and found I loved working one on one with clients, something else I would like to expand upon.

And here’s the thing that came to me as I wrote the above.  Yes, I’m busy – too busy – right now.  Yes, I have too many pans in the fire.  And yes, that’s an old and familiar pair of shoes.  (Not to mention the obvious fact that I could add many more pans.  Or shoes.  I’m not sure which metaphor I’m carrying here.)  And, probably like most people, I don’t always love everything I have (over-) committed to.  But that is not the issue.  As true as it is, and as much as I have repeated that history, it is still just a deeper layer of the content.

What lies even deeper than that is the fact that I know what I need to do and I keep resisting it because my mind thinks it knows better.  But how can I allow my mind to rule on its own, without tapping into my heart and intuition?  Surely creativity and wisdom spring from something more than mere intellect.  Six weeks from tomorrow I will turn 57.  My father’s father took up oil painting in his 50s and died in his 60s.  What am I waiting for?

What am I waiting for?

Permission.

From whom?

I am finishing this writing a day later.  The snow came upon us last night with gusto, with a whipping wind and such cold that the dry white drifts squeaked under our boots and tires today.  That serene and achingly spare glimpse of winter beauty that bequeathed itself to me lasted but a few moments and then yielded to sunset, which yielded to darkness lit by a clear crescent moon, which yielded to more clouds, which emptied themselves upon us in a fury, all through the rest of the night and most of this day.  Not one of them asked for permission from anywhere, neither the clouds nor the moon, neither the sun nor the tree.  Each played its part with both grace and passion.  And acceptance, that divine gift of nature.  Thank you, God, for helping me pay attention and for making me teachable.

 

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