Questions on a plane

October 31, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | Leave a comment
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(I wrote this almost three weeks ago and finally feel ready to post it.)

I am sitting on a plane, on my way to three days of study on baroque violin with a colleague of mine who is a sublime musician and an excellent teacher.  I am looking forward to the work though I am sad to say my circumstances are not ideal.  I have been feeling puny lately, especially during the past week, and do not have much stamina, which may prove to be at odds with the prospect of spending three days in lessons and practice sessions.

This book I am reading – Callings, by Gregg Levoy – together with my present status, are bringing up a lot of ponderings.  I guess sometimes a malady makes you go to bed, and sometimes it sends you to your journal.

1. What is important? I was standing in one of four parallel security lines at the airport.  Dan and I had picked this line because it looked ever so slightly shorter when we arrived.  Dan had accompanied me this far, carrying my much-too-heavy pack (actually Rachel’s school pack from last year) and my baroque violin, temporarily housed in a lightweight case for travel.

Our track record so far was astounding.  We got an early start (okay, not actually early when compared to our planned time of departure, but definitely early enough to provide a comfortable margin), there was little traffic, even the stretches of road construction did not delay us, and we found an exceptionally close parking space in a lot marked “full.”  (All the lots were full this morning, according to the signs.  It was a good call, we had to admit.  We were relying – as we always do – on my extraordinary parking karma, inherited from my late father – thank you, Peter!  As we neared the terminal, Dan spotted somebody pulling out of a stellar slot.  We definitely scored.)  So after saying good-by to Dan, I stood on this security line and soon realized I had chosen the wrong one.  My shoulder hurt, my pack was heavy due to the fact that I was carrying my new laptop (which, by the way, is functioning more reliably since Dan worked on it following the FATAL ERROR [see “The nature of moving forward” from my Sept. 27, 2010 blog entry]), and as I said before, I am not feeling well.  So I resorted to the Eckhart Tolle approach of coming into the moment by focusing on my breath, rather than projecting into the future (“It’s going to take forever to get through this line,”) or dwelling on the past (“Why did I choose this line?”)  Two or three breaths.  My shoulders began to drop and my jaw relaxed a little.  (Though I might note here that putting “my jaw” and “relaxed” in the same sentence might be the closest those two will ever get.)  “This is not important,” I heard in my higher mind.  Before I could bask in this momentary possibility of nirvana, another thought – the featured question – leaped right into the space created by the first one:  “Then what is important?”

To me?

My family.  Music.  And then something else.  Something that I have been missing, which may be the reason I am making this trip, even though I have been telling myself and everyone else that it’s all about improving my violin playing.  Maybe I need to remove myself from the trappings of my daily life to have a chance to listen to myself a little better.

2. What am I being called to do? I keep thinking that it’s teaching, because that’s what keeps coming to me.  Every time space is created I find myself being asked if I can take one more student, or teach two more classes, or teach lessons on one more instrument.  The irony is that I do not feel like I have the expertise necessary to be a good teacher.  Lest you think I am being overly modest, I assure you I am not.  I do know that I am by nature a good teacher.  It’s that I lack the years of technique and training on violin, piano, and recorder that most professional musicians have, so I often feel at a loss as to how to help my students when we bump up against an obstacle or challenge.  I could go on and on here to document my long gaps between studies and the patchwork style in which I have gathered what credentials I do have, but I won’t waste the space.  It may be that the universe simply wants me to explore the question, so I will not attempt any real answers.  I might add that I do enjoy teaching, and find it an excellent way to keep myself on the learning path.  I also know that I am a much better teacher, in countless ways, than I was years ago.  But just because the line of students outside my house seems to continue, does that mean it is my calling?  Maybe my life lesson is to learn to say no.  You can see my confusion.

3. Is this a virus or an infection in my spirit? It is an undeniable fact that when we feel a physical symptom such as pain or malaise, something is out of balance.  I will never forget the time I had a sinus infection brewing just on the day I had an appointment with my therapist.  It was a very revealing session, and during it I was able to release some emotional turmoil.  Amazingly, with it went the sinus condition.

The connection that has taken me longer to make is that my spiritual fitness is as important in the equation as the physical and emotional.  Where I stand – and how I feel – with my fellows, both those close to me and the masses at large, cannot help but affect how I sit with myself, in my body, in my hear t space, and beyond.  So what is my body trying to say right now?  Can I listen?  Can I allow myself to hear?

On cool calendar dates, reunions, and synchronicity

October 11, 2010 at 9:27 am | Posted in Very Long Blogs | 1 Comment
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I have always loved dates like today’s:  10/10/10.  My first memory of such a date was June 6, 1966, only days before I graduated from the 6th grade, which made the day feel personally special.  And in that morning’s paper was an article about twin girls who were celebrating their sixth birthday that day.  I think they lived on 6th Street in their town, with a zip or area code with numerous sixes in it.  I was so excited by that.

I’m not the only one who finds things like that attractive and intriguing.  Tonight Dan and Rachel and I will be attending a party.  The host couple has commemorated the appropriate date for the past few years:  5/5/05, 6/6/06, etc.  (As I am writing this, I just want to say that in five minutes it will be 10:10 on 10/10/10.  Yes, my heartbeat accelerated just a wee bit as I typed that.)  And remember when we could actually watch the numbers turning on our car speedometers turn over from 99.999 to 100,000? (Assuming your car made it that far.  And let me just note here that one of our two cars still does have that old-fashioned mechanism.)  And who of you knows what I mean by our golden birthday?  That’s when you turn the age that is the same number as your birthday date.  For me it was turning 22.  Poor Rachel had to celebrate it on her 5th birthday, before she was old enough to understand it.  At least the rest of us enjoyed it!

I don’t know if it was the stars and planets lining up because of this date approaching, or just coincidence (though I have to say I hardly believe in coincidence anymore), but I have intersected with three different threads from my past in the last two days.  I feel a little stirred up by having so many memories and connections sparked by all three.

One was an email from someone I have not seen since Chloe was very young, I think even before Rachel was born.  She was one in a circle of friends.  Though the two of us were never super-close, as a group we were bonded.  For me, one of the most significant ways in which she affected my path was after I had written a particular song, back in my active folk performing days.  It was such a personal song that I could not imagine anyone understanding it, let alone identifying with it, which made me very reluctant to sing it in concert.

I’ll back up a little here to try to describe what it used to feel like for me to perform a new original song for the first time.  Somewhere pretty early in my solo career I was practiced enough that I was never very nervous in concert.  I really enjoyed the interaction I had with my audiences, and felt like I could ride that energy and have a very relaxed, fun, and also meaningful exchange with them from the stage.  But performing a brand new song was nerve-wracking by nature.  There was always the strong possibility of forgetting words or messing up a guitar part, as it just wasn’t completely a part of me yet.  If it was a song I had recently written then there was even more heaped on top of that normal anxiety.  One aspect was that it felt like I was exposing something about myself.  (Usually this was justified, because I was!)  This always made me feel like I was taking off all my clothes and performing naked, it was such a fragile thing to share from my heart this way.  Another piece was that I was always, at that point in the life cycle of a song, totally in love with this newest piece of work, and desperately wanted everyone to share in that love.  It was not unlike whipping up a self-invented delicacy and wanting everyone to feel deep rapture while eating it.  And finally, there was the precedence set by my previous songs, and the fear that perhaps this one would fail to live up to a higher expectation.  Rather lofty, and clearly daunting on all counts, though also clearly self-created and perpetuated.

So back to my friend and my newest song.  This particular work had been forcefully ejected from me by a powerful muse, and though I kept running away from it mid-stream (literally leaving the room right in the middle of composing it, hoping to escape the painful birthing process of those verses), I was consistently marched back to the drawing table by something far stronger than my own urges, until it was finally completed.  I had never experienced such a wrenching creation process.  I truly felt I had written a song against my will.  It took over a month before I had the courage to play it for one other person.  I was attending a music conference and found a willing audience in a fellow songwriter.  She sat on my hotel bed as I sang it.  When I finished and looked up at her, she asked me if I would sing it again, which I did.  I think she had me sing it a third time before we talked about it.  Agony.  But she liked it.  Very much.

So finally a month later I decided to debut it at a small concert in an intimate setting.  My friend, along with a few others from our circle, sat in the audience.  It was her face that gave me the courage to start, execute, and finish it.  And again the response was good.  So it became part of my repertoire and eventually the title song of the next album, though I never would have foreseen that!  And two days ago, after years of silence between us, she emailed that she had been thinking of me and listening to my music and felt like reaching out to me.  It was like a little electrical jolt to see her name there on my screen after all that time.  What do you say to a friend, fifteen years later?  So I answered her, with a brief update, and will see what is to follow.

Earlier that same day, I had had a cup of tea with an old high school friend.  Similarly, we had never been close when we were in school together, but we had gotten to know each other and had a few classes together.  Though on a different schedule, as I graduated a year ahead of my class and then took time off to record and travel with my band, we graduated from our hometown university at the same time.

Three months ago I was part of a concert that deliberately featured music from three differing styles of music, held in a small art gallery.  I was wearing my singer-songwriter cap for the first time in a long while.  Since this performance was being given in a new location for this series, I sent out an email announcement to try to generate a little more interest, as ticket sales were slow.  As a result I knew several people in the small audience.  Greeting people before the show, I was very surprised and pleased to find myself saying hello to this high school friend.  After living on the east coast for a few decades, she and her husband had recently moved back here, where most of her family had remained.  We agreed to get together.

Circumstances being as they are, it took until late last week for that to work out.  We had such a lovely quiet time together, exploring where our paths had led us through all these years, and sharing what we are navigating in the present.  I am sure we will see more of each other.  And she may even become my neighbor, as she and her husband are house-hunting in my neck of the woods.  I came home with a little excited flutter.  All these years that I have been a mother raising two kids, I have shared much with many friends, felt nurtured in several communities, and Dan and I have grown many new friendships.  Somehow this single hour over a cup of red berry tea felt new, like the beginning of a fresh chapter that put me in the center instead of my children or my relationship with them.  I pictured inviting this friend and her husband over for dinner, Dan cooking up a gourmet meal, and the four of us enjoying each other’s company as grown-up friends.  It’s not that this hasn’t happened at all in the past 18 years (though I have to admit it hasn’t happened with great frequency!)  It’s just that the image conjured itself up and it excited me with its sense of promise.  That is definitely new.

The third brush with my past came yesterday afternoon in the form of a get-together to remember a recently passed co-worker and friend.  I spent my college years working in a local restaurant.  My fellow waiters, bartenders and managers were some of the most intelligent, creative and fun people I have ever known, and many after-hours were spent in each others’ company during those years.  The restaurant business often attracts people who are on their way to something, and this group was no exception.  In our midst were future doctors, lawyers, artists, scientists, mountain climbers, dancers, actors, writers, poets, teachers, and many more.  Our beloved manager died last month of cancer.  His mother and his brothers celebrated his life – and what would have been his 64th birthday – at his mother’s house, serving the same food we dished up when we all worked together.

It is always such a bittersweet thing, these gatherings.  I cannot help but find myself thinking, “Why couldn’t we have had this party while he was still here?”  And yet I do not want to diminish the gift of having had that time yesterday with these people who all cared deeply for this sweet man we all called a friend.  It was a treat to find out what everyone has been doing all these years, to see how well everyone is aging, who remembers what, and who is still connected to whom.  There were, of course many people missing from our circle, some due to other commitments and some because we have lost touch.

Okay.  So now it’s time for true confessions.  I came home with my mind swirling.  Even today I am calming down from the dizzying effects of over-stimulation.  As fondly as I remember those years, they were also some of the most despondent in my life, fraught with uncertainty about myself in the world, desperately lonely even when I was surrounded by people, trying hard to be someone I wasn’t, and being hit over the head repeatedly with the lesson that I could only be myself, yet refusing to learn it until decades later.  All of the unhelpful and hopeless tapes that were helplessly recorded in my subconscious back then have been trying to pull themselves back into the forefront (wherever the forefront of my sub-conscious could be) since last night, and my very grey matter is tired, all the way to the tips of my just-as-grey hairs.

Sitting here writing this, I also find myself pulling something else together.  A few days ago, after a hard day of teaching beginning violinists, I asked the universe to offer the guidance of a few clearer signposts.  (Interesting.  I had to correct my mistyped word “soundposts.”)  Everyone at the party, my out-of-the-blue email, and my tea date, everyone asked me if I’m still doing music.  Yes.  But what music did they mean?  The last each of these people knew me, I was a folksinger, not a violinist in a baroque orchestra, taking and teaching private lessons.

Just this week I picked up the guitar, for the first time in quite awhile, and a new thought began to come forth.  There is no extra energy or time in my life these days to set up a solo folk concert and do all that is necessary to publicize it.  Could I put a show together and show up and do it?  Absolutely, with pleasure.  But performing is not just giving a concert to an audience.  In fact, that part, which is the most rewarding and fun, is in many ways the easiest part.  So now it suddenly came to me:  what if I were to pick one song and work on it, at my own pace, up to performance/recording level?  And then I could employ our little digital camcorder and post it on Facebook or YouTube, or both, and let my friends know about it, just to be able to connect to people with my music in some way.  It’s not that I have no desire to play the very music around which my entire life revolved for all those years, now in my present tense.  It’s that while I was resting from it, and raising my children, the world – and in particular the folk industry – continued to evolve, and I cannot step back into it without a major commitment on a lot of levels.  It would be hard to do it in a micro or fractional way.  This is the first inspiration I have had to move back out into the public as a soloist, just a little bit.

Just last week I read an article about a singer who goes into corporate settings and rallies these business people in meetings to sing together!  Not surprisingly, it has helped co-workers deal with conflicts, stuck energy, and many other challenges in the workplace.  Just before I left the stage and the touring circuit, this was an idea I had had, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to pull it together and market it.  Reading about this woman rekindled that question – could I work with local companies?  I would love to provide some inspiration to grown-ups who do not have enough music in their lives.

So here I sit, my mind reeling with questions.  For my own sake (and to contribute to your possible boredom or at least overwhelm) I will try to articulate them.  The big one:  what am I being called to do? (This might be an appropriate place to mention that last week I went to the library and checked out a book about finding and following your calling.  What attracted me to this book six days ago?)  A smaller and more immediate one:  can I quiet the noise in my head and find some stillness?  It is out of that stillness that I am usually able to identify something to do just right now, in the short run.

So with that I will close for today.  First, I will do the mundane and necessary thing that string players must do often, which is to clip my nails so I can practice.  And then I will practice.  And after lunch I will lie down and breathe, and do my best to let everything fall away for a short time.  I have a lecture and a concert to attend – as an audience member and friend of the performer – and then a 10/10/10 party to attend.  With dear friends I have known for decades and care very much about.  Hmmm.  Recurring theme a la mode.

Dance: a family history

October 3, 2010 at 9:52 am | Posted in Long Blogs | 2 Comments
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I have not sat in this room for years.  Rachel is in her Irish stepdancing class and has to leave early today, so rather than just dropping her off I am sitting in the waiting area for an hour until we have to go.  It brings back such memories.  Chloe started taking classes here ten years ago, and for the next several years I spent every Tuesday afternoon from around 4:30 to 6:00 in this room.  Eventually Chloe and Rachel became such advanced dancers that they were in class for three hours at a time so I could go home during class.  In recent years I began using that time to teach lessons.  And for the last two years Chloe drove the two of them there and back.  So I have not had occasion to sit on this couch (yes, it actually is the same couch) until today’s exception to the norm.

Dancing goes way back in my family.  As a teenager, my mother was a contra dancer in New York City in the 1940s.  As a matter of fact, she can be seen in a segment of the movie “To Hear Your Banjo Play” with Pete Seeger, filmed in 1947.  (See the YouTube video posted below.  The dancers come on around 12:30, and my mother can be seen close up at 14:16-17 on the right side of the frame.)  A few years later, as a classroom teacher my mother taught her students “play party games” – songs with dances to go with them – and years later, once I had joined the family fold and we had moved out west, my mother occasionally taught those dance-songs to my girl scout troop and at birthday parties.  And, once we settled in our new home, my parents signed up for a square dance class (contra dance was hard to find in our community at that time), and met many people who became lifelong family friends.

In my teens I spent two summers in Oaxaca, Mexico.  My grandparents on my father’s side had run a summer camp called High Peak in the Catskill Mountains of New York.  When my grandfather’s health was beginning to decline, around the time I was coming into the world, they decided to retire to a warmer clime and chose Oaxaca because it reminded my grandfather of his birthplace in Salonica, Turkey (now Thessaloniki, Greece.)  Finding almost immediately that they missed running a summer program, they started a smaller version, a kind of culture camp, the year I was born, with a group of fifteen girls in their early teens.  There they lived for eight weeks at my grandparents’ place, which held several small buildings inside their gates, amid gardens and courtyards.  It was a success and they continued every summer.  My grandfather died just before my fifth birthday, and then my great-aunt (my grandfather’s sister) joined my grandmother as she continued to steward a small group of American teenage girls.  I am so blessed to have shared those two summers with my grandmother, my great-aunt and fifteen other girls from all over the United States.

One of the very first days I was there, someone put on some music one afternoon and everyone began to dance.  It was an Israeli dance, Mayim.  I had never heard it before, but I was charmed by both the dancing and the fact that everyone seemed to know how it went!  (It being decades before I “came out” as a Jew, it had not yet dawned on me that almost all of the girls who attended my grandmother’s camp were Jewish.)  I followed along until I learned it.  It was fun!  And not so unfamiliar, having learned my mother’s play party games.  Over the next several weeks, we learned several regional Oaxacan dances and attended a centuries old annual dance festival where we watched those dances, and many more, performed by native dancers in their traditional costumes.  We rounded out our repertoire with some more Israeli dances, and a couple of evening parties where we danced to rock and roll hits.

It was also in Oaxaca that I first learned to play the guitar.  My grandmother bought me a classical guitar in Mexico City, made in a local factory.  It cost $24 and I fell in love with it almost instantly.  Several of my campmates in Oaxaca already played, and they taught me what they knew.  I figured out more songs on my own and in turn taught those to my friends.  Throughout the summer we performed together at schools in the city of Oaxaca and in neighboring villages, both Oaxacan and American songs.  That $24 guitar planted a seed for a very tall and strong tree, as it eventually led to my decades-long career in folk music, beginning with my homeboys band in the early 1970s.

One pivotal Sunday night in July, 1972, my band was playing, as usual, at our regular home gig.  We had built over the year prior a huge local following, and I often saw familiar faces in the crowd.  During a break that night I recognized an old high school friend and went to greet him.  He had never been able to come to our show, he told me, because he usually spent Sunday evenings doing Israeli folk dancing.  And on Friday nights (when we had a regular gig in another town) he always went to international folk dancing.  But two nights earlier, at a party after folk dancing, he had accidentally walked into a plate glass door and sliced open his chin.  Because of the stitches he had to take a few days off from dancing, so he came to see me sing.  As annoying as I had found this friend during our high school years together, he now seemed, mysteriously, infinitely more interesting.  Coincidentally, so did the idea of folk dancing.  And it turned out there were Monday night sessions in town.

You might not be too surprised to hear that I went the very next week.  A little bit into the evening my old friend Mayim was played on the record player, and that pretty much clinched my desire to become a regular at the Monday night dance.  My high school friend and I did do the dance of romance for awhile, and then he went off to college.  I stayed in town and became an avid (Dan and I now use the word “rabid”) folk dancer.  I spent the next twelve years participating in many different recreational and performance groups, even including a five-month gig as a musician for a folk dance ensemble performing at the Epcot Center at Disneyworld.

In the meantime, a glimpse into Dan’s childhood.  He was lucky enough to take a social dance class when he was in 6th and 7th grade, and it stuck.  As a young adult he developed a love for Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly movies, bought himself a set of tails at a thrift store, and dreamed of sweeping some girl off her feet, just like Fred did with Ginger Rogers and Gene did with Leslie Caron.  After grad school, when he moved east (close to my neck of the woods) for his first grown-up job, an acquaintance mentioned a local folk dancing group to him.  After another invitation or two, he tried it out.  Within a year he was attending workshops, teaching dances to recreational groups, and even co-directing a new performance ensemble.  His name began to be mentioned among my friends, a few towns south.  It took about two more years before we met at the Friday night international folk dancing that I now attended regularly, since my band had long since split up.

We still don’t agree on which dance we first did together.  It was either a waltz or a Swedish hambo.  But we do remember our first conversation, which went as follows:

Me:  “I heard you moved away.”

Dan:  “I did.  But I came back.”

Me:  “Oh.”

Romantic, huh?

Okay, it took a few months, but we did eventually get together (obviously).  He took me to many Fred Astaire movies, where he half-thrilled, half-(well more than half) embarrassed me by waltzing me up the aisle after the movie on more than one occasion.  I bought him a collapsible antique top hat for his birthday, the kind that opens by itself with a snap of the wrist.  We developed lifelong (so far!) friendships with many fellow dance fiends, including some of the people my parents met at their square dance class in the 1960s.  Small world, good people.

So it isn’t hard to make the leap to when Chloe was three and we took her to a festival where she first beheld an Irish stepdance performance.  She turned to Dan and proclaimed, “I want to do that!!”  Being on the shy side, she was seven before she had the courage to sign up for a class (which meant attending without a mom or dad to hold her hand).  She took to it easily.  After her first year we moved her to a different dance school led by a teacher who has since become a life mentor for her.  Which is what first brought us into this very room.  Sometime in the following months Rachel began to imitate Chloe’s practiced steps and we enrolled her in class at age five.  The two of them have performed and competed for all these years.

Until now.  The way the Irish stepdance world works, you join a school and learn their own choreographed steps.  If you move away, to college, for example, you would have to leave your own school to join another, and begin the arduous process of learning all new steps, and then you would “belong” to that school instead.  Chloe saw it coming, even two or three years ago.  During her senior year she enjoyed participating in class and at a few competitions, but felt violin moving into first place, especially in terms of focus and time commitment.  Her last hurrah was dancing the lead part in a dance drama, which competed at the western regional and the national competition, where they placed, respectively, first and third, much to everyone’s delight.  Over the summer she helped teach classes and worked part-time in the office at her dance school, cherishing the time she got to spend with her beloved teacher.  She is friends on Facebook with her dance chums, wants to hear the results of each competition, and hopes to perform in some St. Patrick’s Day shows when she comes home for spring break in March.  But that chapter in her life is coming to a close, at least in the foreseeable future.

And for Rachel?  I know things have to feel different for her with Chloe gone.  This Saturday morning she is scheduled to go to her first local competition after taking a year off from solo events.  She enjoys performing more than competing but feels some peer pressure to remain in the swing of things.  It evolved over time for Chloe, and I’m sure it will unfold for Rachel as she moves forward.  I feel confident that they both will stay connected with their dance friends just as their parents and grandparents have before them.  The world of folk dance is full of very good people.  And who knows?  Maybe Dan and I will start contra dancing some day.

The nature of moving forward

September 27, 2010 at 9:46 am | Posted in Long Blogs | 1 Comment
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There is a moth frantically dive-bombing the walls and lights in the kitchen tonight.  As desperate as it sounds to my ears, perhaps every moth making a beeline (haha) from one lumen to the next is actually filled with carefree abandon.  But here we are, in the final days of September, and it hit 90 or higher today and a summer insect is careening through my house like it’s June.

Chloe has been a college student for exactly one month. 

I have rarely in my adult life had a busier month, and am relieved to be able to say that the crush of too-much-at-once is behind me.  I would try to enumerate it all here, but that’s not really why I am writing tonight.  I am writing tonight to explain why I did not write yesterday, as I had intended to do – and actually did do.  Until the computer challenged me and I retreated.

One of the factors that has contributed to my busyness is that I now spend Monday evenings taking Rachel to an orchestra rehearsal 45 minutes away (each way).  We go straight from school at 3:10 so that she can have a snack and short homework session before her violin lesson, fit in another study break and a hasty bite for supper, and then orchestra from 6:00 to 8:45.  We finally return home a little after 9:30.  Once the snow season starts, we will get home even later some weeks.  It’s a very long day for her, and for me as well. 

After the first four Mondays, it dawned on me that I could use the time during her rehearsals to write my weekly report to the parents of my students, and also to write my blog.  If only I had a laptop.  I casually mentioned this to Dan last Tuesday, and, computer geek that he is (I assure you it is his own term for himself – in my opinion he is much too well-adjusted socially to be considered a geek) he was willing, even eager, to find me a refurbished model.  Eager, indeed.  I had myself a “new” laptop before the end of the week.  Dan loaded the necessary software and virus protection onto it and presented it to me after lunch Thursday.  Cool!

It happened to be one of my “orchestra weeks” during which my baroque chamber group – this time our concerts involved thirteen performers – spends three days rehearsing for a weekend of local concerts.  This means that I spend several days floating from one rehearsal to whatever classes and lessons I am able to teach to a quick meal and back to the next rehearsal  – happy, usually more than a little stressed, and definitely stretched in terms of time and energy.  So it wasn’t until yesterday, the second concert day, that I actually had a little uncommitted time. 

It was a beautiful day outside.  Sunny, clear, a little breeze, and that little touch of autumn that starts to make itself evident in those days when the sunlight takes on more of a slant.  Since I had spent most of the week inside, I decided I would take advantage of the perfect weather.   I went out in our backyard and settled myself onto a patio chair, a little giddy with the romantic image of working on MY laptop, which I placed before me, small 21st century altar on the picnic table.  Dan was mowing the lawn and Bella was merrily cavorting between the flying bits of grass and the bees she loves to chase around the raspberry bushes. 

I opened with a paragraph about the splinters emanating from the rough wood of the table, moved from there to Bella’s bee habit, and was just segueing into yesterday’s theme – no small feat, it had taken me so many weeks to be ready to actually put words to paper – when my new ally, my dear refurb, abruptly interrupted with an alarming announcement that something very serious was happening and it was forced to abort all present activities in order to protect itself.

Barely three paragraphs into my fragile beginning, my words were erased.     

It’s not that it had taken that much time to write them.  It’s not even that it was that good.  But in that shattering moment (not quite the blue screen of death, but those big white words on the black screen are a little scary – just saying) I was demoralized.  The universe doesn’t want me to write?  FINE!  I cursed the very laptop I had been worshipping only moments before.  I made an angry and upset show of closing it down, Dan all the while instructing me that I need to use the computer some more so we can see if it happens again.  HAPPENS AGAIN?  I’m going to pour my heart out onto its soulless – not to mention conscienceless – keys again, JUST TO FIND OUT IF IT IS FUNCTIONING PROPERLY?  Which by the way I just expect it to do because THAT’S ITS ONLY JOB AND PURPOSE IN LIFE! 

I’m calmer now.  It didn’t even take me that long to regain my normal heart and breathing rates.  Dan expressed his sympathy for what I lost and I thanked him for showing me that he has much more of a heart than the machine that provides most of our income, as grateful as I am for that.  My higher self knew that I would find a new starting place and compose a new set of paragraphs, and still be able to post a blog within a day or two.  And in the meantime Dan identified a few outdated “device drivers” that may have contributed to the crash.  He is replacing each one with a newer version.  For my part, I will employ the “save” function sometime during the first paragraph from now on, instead of being so cavalier as to trust a mere hard drive with words that often do not come easily.  Lessons learned, little harm done.

By the way, in case you are curious as to the theme of the lost essay, it was this.  For those of you who remember how it felt to go from two to three, from a coupledom to a threesome – how suddenly it hit you that life would never again be the same – exactly, word for word, the phrase that our houseguests, a couple with a one-year-old angel boy – used oh so casually during a mealtime conversation on Wednesday – that is exactly and precisely what Dan and Rachel and I are experiencing.  But this time there is no fanfare.  No shower with gifts.  No sweet bundle to caress.  I can no more retrieve the days behind me than recover the lost words on my screen.  So instead I offer these.  And we all continue forward, since we cannot go back.  

Neither can the moth.  I found it this morning, nestled in the pages of one of Rachel’s violin books for its final rest.

The school of leavings

September 4, 2010 at 10:39 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 2 Comments
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I played music for a bat mitzvah service this morning, a very sweet occasion.  At the very end, right before the closing song, a passage written by Albert Einstein in 1954 was read:

“A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space.  We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest.  A kind of optical delusion of consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.  The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self.  We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.”

An optical delusion of consciousness.  What a powerful and apt term!  I sat through the whole service teary-eyed and choked up – rites of passage always do that to me anyway, no doubt enhanced today by the freshness of Chloe’s leaving – and those words showed up as a lifeline, a rope to grab hold of to lead me out of my soggy puddle.  What is my life – your life, anybody’s life – but a meandering path of leavings, and of moving forward even when we want to hold on?

The day Dan and I began to try to conceive, I was thunderstruck by the realization that we had stepped onto the escalator of letting go.  Could we control whether or not we hit the jackpot (so to speak) this ovulatory cycle?  Never.  We had no say over any of it, speed nor date of conception, the nature of the pregnancy, the first miscarriage, the grieving process, how many months more of trying for the next, the nature of the next pregnancy… Obviously, I could go on for years with this list.  And once Chloe was born, and later Rachel, I had no control over the next set of variables.  Each step of developmental progress was another departure – from my body, from our arms and laps, from babyhood and soft sweet cheeks and wide open eyes and clinging, eager hands and ramrod posture and adorable outfits to everything that comes with every single stage of growing up.  I had pictured parenthood as the act of welcoming someone into the world.  What a surprise to learn I had it backwards!  Our children were welcoming us to a whole new curriculum of lessons to be learned.

I know I have not been the best of students in that school, though neither have I been the worst.  When I could not go by my own experience, I looked for others who could teach me.  I learned about being a gentle parent from three unlikely couples, namely, the parents of Frances and Gloria, in all the Priscilla Mary Warner children’s books; of Arthur and D. W., in the PBS series inspired by author Marc Brown; and of Ramona in Beverly Cleary’s classics.  They were great models for me in the area of love, patience, maturity, and understanding.  But their stories show little to nothing of the slow parade of good-byes that lie ahead.  Like Dorothy in the land of Oz, I had to find them for myself.

They did not come on the expected days, like the first morning of kindergarten or even the first time Chloe drove Rachel to their dance school and Dan and I were left waving on the porch, the air oddly sucked out of our lungs.  I felt it more when Chloe would come home from a play date a little farther away from my understanding, a new cockiness in her voice.  Or when Rachel suddenly didn’t need a good-night kiss and hug anymore.  Then who am I?  What am I now?

If I am first and foremost the one who brought them into the world and sustained them with the milk my body produced for them, I stand alone and separate, as Einstein observed.  But if I remember that I too navigated my path away from my mother and father into the world that was awaiting me, they join me as two more children in a long line, and we join all families.  All mothers and fathers were once children, following the drive to leave their parents, forever moving forward.  I can now turn with compassion toward my own parents, who must have grieved my moving out at age 19, though I didn’t notice at the time.  It was not my job to notice them!  I was joining the world – for myself, I thought at the time.  Now I know better.  The baby bird leaves the nest and flies off, to grow big enough to build another.  It is the way of the universe.  I will never know whether the mother and father bird shed tiny tears in their abandoned circle of twigs, but I know it is the same set of impulses, even if I use words to try to understand it all, and they do not ponder but only act. 

I am thankful to be swept up in the fast and fierce winds that meet my face as I hurtle helplessly forward in time.  It is comforting to me to be part of the very nature of things.  That in itself frees me (for the moment) from the prison of separateness and personal agenda.  And by the way, Einstein wrote that magnificent paragraph the year I was born.

Hit the ground pausing.

August 31, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 1 Comment
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In the years that I used to be a touring folksinger, I bonded intimately with the expression “hit the ground running.”  I would usually be working on several projects at once right up until we packed up the car to go, and then we would drive cross country for two days, or three, or even four, to our designated geographic region of the month.  Upon arrival, I often had only hours before entering the first concert venue to open the performing portion of the trip.  We always tried to fill as many days as we could with gigs, as down time is generally not too attractive during a tour.  After the last gig, we would turn around and start the trek home, and once home, I invariably had commitments almost right away.  It became a lifestyle.  I am married to a “do” kind of person, we are both self-employed, and there is always something begging for my time, and for his.

For the past year and a half much of my energy has revolved around all the steps toward Chloe going to college.  Each campus visit required an inventory of detailed planning:  flight, accommodations, and rental car reservations; schedule particulars, both on our end and those of the school; signing up for a campus tour, for which we encountered different hoops to jump through for each school; setting up a violin lesson with a professor; and often many more.  The application process provided a new and exhilarating ride to say the least.  Preparing for auditions involved providing support for Chloe’s musical efforts as well as all the travel logisitics.  And auditions themselves were nerve-racking for everyone in the generally vicinity.  (I wish you could measure the quality and quantity of energy circulating through a conservatory on audition day.)  Waiting for acceptance packets (or, in contrast, the dreaded rejection letters) to arrive in the mail was its own frontier to navigate.  Then the month-long big decision, which led us back to more campus visits (see earlier in this paragraph…)  And after that, the transition period between everything-being-about-getting-ready-for-college and Being There and Saying Good-bye.

Dan and I drove home as fast as we could.  Six hours the first day (we left campus at 4:30 in the afternoon, after the last parent session, entitled “Letting Go”), fourteen hours the second day, and four the third.  In one sense I followed my old protocol.  I had Sunday afternoon and evening to catch up on email, put my teaching schedule together and contact all my students, and respond to last minute fall-semester questions, not to mention catching up with Rachel after the days apart.  And on Monday I made announcements to three middle school classes, taught my first two violin classes and took Rachel to her lesson and orchestra rehearsal.  Busy, busy, busy.

On another level, I feel as if I am walking through a different kind of atmosphere from the one I left last week.  It feels thicker and heavier to walk through.  Breathing can be challenging for a moment here and there.  Time is ticking by in a new silence I had never noticed before.  I am passing through a threshold I had not expected to be encountering.  Raw is the best word to describe this new place.  I know it is also filled with promise.  The path that led to Chloe’s entrance into our family fold was one that multiplied the expansion of my universe exponentially, internally as well as externally.  So it should be no surprise to me that her first step of departure from this nest would send me gear-shifting into the next catapult.  I will not lie and tell you that I am eager.  But I am willing, and I am as ready as you can ever be, if only by virtue of the fact that I am able to put it into words for you this afternoon.  Thank you all for receiving it, and thereby standing witness for me.

Minivans, rental cars and a two-by-four promise

August 21, 2010 at 10:59 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 2 Comments
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Eight years ago this fall, we decided to buy a minivan. Dan and I were slightly horrified when we began to consider taking this drastic step, coming from decades of Subarus with only a couple of exceptions. Of course, Chloe being ten and Rachel six at the time, they were delirious with excitement at the prospect of a new car, even if it turned out to be a new old car. We knew we were facing at least ten, probably closer to twelve, more years of carpools and field trips, and we hoped at the time to have some family road trips ahead of us also. So we swallowed our pride, compromised our pre-parenthood-era values, started the tedious and mind numbing process of car shopping, and ended up with a Mazda MPV, getting a deal on a 2002 model at the end of that year. It’s beige, by the way. (Aren’t they all?) After we figured out how to find it in a parking lot, we became accustomed (or at least resigned) to our new identities as minivan owners.

The carpools and field trips turned out to be accurate predictions. The family road trips? Once a year we drive 70 miles to the south for a dance competition. Kidding aside, we have taken only two substantial trips in the minivan. Flying almost always ended up the preferred choice for two self-employed parents who missed out on too much income by taking the time to drive.

I do not know why, but when it came time to figure out how to get Chloe to college, we all pretty much assumed we would drive there. She will be taking a lot of living stuff, like bedding, towels, suitcases of clothes, jackets, boots, books, lamp, electric fan, wastebasket, etc. Plus she has her violin and her guitar. We figured we could ship most of it and fly, but there was something kind of – I don’t know – quintessential? – about taking to the highway to get to college. I figure if all three of us pictured it that way, it was probably meant to be. Rachel doesn’t really care either way, since she will be staying in town with a school friend.

Dan and I had planned to take the car in for an oil change and general road-trip check, thinking one week ahead would be about right. However, last weekend, as we were driving to my mother’s house for a farewell dinner, the “check engine” light came on. The car was driving fine, so we made it to our dinner and back home, and Dan took it to our mechanic, Gary, the next morning. It turned out to be the PCV valve. (That’s Positive Crankcase Ventilation, in case you care.) Commonplace, we were told, no big deal. And while they had the car there, they changed the oil and checked everything else, to their satisfaction. We had it home later in the day. Whew! We all expressed our relief that that had happened while we were still at home. Except I have to admit that it planted a teeny tiny little seed of discomfort in my mind, like a nagging itch. That night before I went to bed I sat down briefly at the computer and visited the Travelocity site, oh soooo casually. Rental cars, mostly. Also Amtrak, just to check. Dan took a little extra time to come to bed that night. When he came in he just mentioned that he found one really good deal on a Hertz full-size car. We agreed that it wouldn’t hurt to reserve it.

Two days later Rachel and I were on our way to the dentist when the “check engine” light came back on. (I hate that seemingly benign little symbol in the dashboard – in an anemic shade of orange, no less.) We phoned Dan, who made another appointment with Gary. This time it turned out to be an oxygen sensor. Rather than replace the part, Gary suggested we just clean out the fuel injectors. His car guys poured a special potion into the tank, instructed Dan to get a half-tank of gas, and then to fill it with gas when it got down to a quarter-tank. The “check engine” light was off when the car came back home. Gary said we will eventually have to have a new sensor put in, but that in the meantime there is nothing to worry about.

That evening, only to explore a little further, Dan and I returned to the Hertz website. We discovered that we could find an even better deal on a mid-size at another location in town. It began to sound very attractive to us to rent a car. This would save our van from the wear and tear. It would feel less risky to drive a newer car. Maybe the gas mileage would be better. Surely a mid-size or standard car would hold all of the stuff Chloe is hauling with her. And think how comfortable and quiet the trip would be! We basked in a newly found sense of security and well-being. We planned when we would pick it up and turn it back in. This could work!

To add the proverbial fuel to our fire (so to speak) that detestable little warning light came back on the next day. Trying to remain reasonable, Dan pointed out that we had only driven a little bit with the cleaner swimming in its warm bath of gasoline, and the fuel injectors were probably still a little clogged. And we talked about how once the little warning light comes on, it won’t go off unless the mechanic clears the car computer, even if the injectors are completely cleared out, and really, this is a minor problem. Creating an artificial deadline for ourselves, (probably just to be done with it) we sat down to make the official decision about the rental car. Chloe confessed that she loves our minivan and really, really wants to make the drive to college in it. We pointed out to each other that any car could break down on a road trip. Renting a newer car is no guarantee. The minivan is as comfortable to ride in as any car can be for a long trip, and it has both a cassette player and a CD player. And the clincher: Gary said the car is totally fine, we can take it on the highway with his blessing, AND if we do have any trouble on the road, I have his permission “to hit him upside the head with a two-by-four when we get home.” It’s not a guarantee, of course, but it’s pretty close to one. (Not that I like hitting people. Or that I could lift the two-by-four high enough to use it in such an untraditional manner. It’s just the intent of it that is supposed to reassure me, and I hear the heartfelt caring behind the words. After all, Gary has kids of his own. And he has an art gallery in the front of his car repair shop, for goodness sake.) And if Chloe wants to hold on to anything from home as long as she can, and all other things are declared equal, so be it. It was decided. The Mazda is going to college. And then Dan and I will drive it back home together. Together alone, but that’s another post.

The “check engine” light came on, stayed on for a day, and then went off all by itself.

Yesterday Dan went to the tire place to have the tires checked and rotated. It turned out the tread was just a little too thin. So several hours and 497 dollars later, our minivan now has a new set of “shoes”. Dinner was pretty late, as it was apparently very busy at the tire place. Maybe lots of other people are leaving for college next week, too. Though I would bet their PCV valves and oxygen sensors are just fine. Just saying.

On transition

August 16, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Posted in Short Blogs | 4 Comments
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Chloe and Rachel are out for the evening, tie-dying and dining with friends, so it is quiet here. I have a violin lesson tomorrow morning and I want to get some more practice time in tonight, but thought I would write just a little bit first.

The weather was cooler this morning, giving us a hint of fall, bittersweet. I love the crisp air, the deepening colors of autumn, the new shade of blue in the sky, but with this prelude a little part of me begins to pull in, bracing for what’s to come. My acupuncturist speaks of this transition time as the fifth season, deserving of its own mark on the calendar. What would we call it? Threshold? Bridge?

Perhaps in truth every day is a transition. We awake with expectations of what it may bring, and are almost always surprised by something before we yield to the night. It is so easy to ride our time on the ship of complacency, believing that the details we enter on our digital daybooks are the important ones. When Chloe and Rachel were little, I was reminded of what really matters a hundred times each day, startled out of the mundane by those young and unconditioned voices. Now our teenagers look up at the family calendar to see what’s coming as often as they open their eyes to see what’s here.

As long as I can remember every August into September has carried the promise of something new. Even after I had graduated from college, I started something in the fall. I took classes in weaving, yoga, Pilates, Jewish history. I took on new students of my own, settling into a rhythm so different from that of the warm summer months. For years I prepared for and embarked on a fall tour, traversing both familiar and unfamiliar territory each time. A couple of times, Dan and I went backpacking in September, feeling even more keenly the chill of earlier sunsets.

Once our children began attending school, August held a new meaning for them. And through the years our family has navigated the path from relaxed breakfasts to rushed, from shorts to sweatshirts, from evenings of leisure to assignments and requirements, with mixed reviews. The older they grew, the more complicated the mire of gains and losses that came with this passage, with Dan’s and my feelings adding to the tangle.

This year we are all more careful and less sure. Every meal together is a little more poignant, every silence loaded. The floor of Chloe’s room is filling with boxes and packages. The contents of her closet grow a little leaner, as she selects what goes with her, what gets handed over to Rachel or me, what gets given away. We are all too, too busy, though maybe the distractions are at least a partial salvation. One week from tonight Rachel will be rehearsing with one orchestra or another (depending on this weekend’s audition results) and Chloe and I will be finishing the last of the packing.

I go up and down every day now, excited with the ripeness of possibility and promise one minute, devastated in the next by the visceral awareness of Chloe’s pending departure. As much as I detest the quiet in our home this evening, it is allowing me to breathe through this new brand of labor pains. I can hardly believe I will make it through the next contraction, but I do. And I make it through the next, and the next as well. It’s transition. ‘Tis the season.

Pans in the fire

August 14, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 3 Comments
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You should see my desk. Of course, that is just an expression, and I would be embarrassed if you even stole a glance at it, so please do not take that as an invitation. What I really mean is you are about to be submitted to a description – or maybe more like a sampling – of what lies literally before me. Between my sternum and the computer monitor: indicators of my pans in the fire.

  • The tailpiece from a bass viola da gamba. Almost three years ago I was putting new strings on my viola da gamba (a hand-me-down) for a concert, when I heard the most horrendous sound of something ripping. As I tightened the high D-string, the gut was pulling right through the wood of the tailpiece, along the grain. The harder I tried to bring the string up to pitch, the farther it tore, until I saw that it was going to continue to cut all the way through unless I reduced the tension, thereby de-tuning the string and rendering the viol unplayable. It made me sick to my stomach to look at it. Dan rigged a temporary fix by inserting a tiny bushing, but then when I tightened the string, the metal bushing shredded the string itself. We somehow finessed it just enough for me to get through the concert.

    I emailed the luthier, who emailed right back, instructing me to take the strings off and send him the tailpiece. He promised to either repair it (I hope not) or replace it (yes, please). Okay, now I had a new challenge. Even contemplating the task of taking it all apart made me as queasy as did the wound itself. So I cleverly put it back in its case and, with the exception of two or three feeble attempts to play the viol in spite of its ailment, I avoided the whole problem. This, I discovered, is a one hundred percent successful strategy, but only in terms of my nausea. So finally, finally, this afternoon I faced my demons (this one anyway) and took it to a local violin maker who removed the tailpiece and handed it to me, flaws and all. Which is how it came to be sitting on my desk. I promise I will be more prudent in emailing the luthier about my progress on this front, in hopes of speeding up the recovery of my poor viol. I’ll update you.

  • Various chord charts, lyrics and program notes. The actual inventory of this small pile: a bar mitzvah service program from September, 2007; one chord chart for an unidentified song; a small essay on prayer; lyrics to two songs, one identified and one not; the chords and lyrics and my concertina part for the final lines of the Beatles’ “And in the end, the love you take…” (as soon as I went to type that, the title of the song flew out of my head); a loose songsheet for a British folksong called “Dockside Cries” by someone whose initials are A.M.B.; lyrics to Lotus Dickey’s song arrangement of Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life”; words to a beautiful song about Israel’s Lake Kineret that I taught at school six years ago; and the chord chart to “Stairway to Heaven” to which a friend adapted a Hebrew song.

    What are all of these pieces doing together? I have no idea. And the bigger surprise – even to me – is that one of my violin students brought them to me last week saying that somehow the pile had gone home with her after her lesson the week before. Not only am I utterly blank as to the roadmap for the journey of this little collection, I have no idea where they were before last week nor where I should return them now. However, I have faith that I will soon need at least one of these items, since they have materialized so magically and mysteriously. I will report back if I’m right. If I’m wrong, you can forget about this one.

  • A hand-sketched (two-sided page) chart of dates and who is available when. Our synagogue is in the process of welcoming a new rabbi, after over a year of searching. This is a joyous time, and simultaneously an opportunity to fill my calendar and many others. Last month I had one meeting with our executive director, the new rabbi, and two of my three fellow High Holidays music leaders, discussing how to be somewhat consistent with how we led last year’s services when we had no rabbi, how to introduce the rabbi to the services we have created over the past four decades, and also how to introduce the rabbi to the congregation-at-large at said services. Two days later I helped lead the services with one of my fellow music leaders and the new rabbi. The following weekend I compiled this chart of the responses of seven families to a query I had put out a week or two prior about when our group of families could perhaps have dinner and get acquainted with the new rabbi. Soon after that I met with the Shabbat services committee and the new rabbi to discuss how things look for weekly services. A few days later I had a one-on-one with the new rabbi to go through the music for several of the High Holidays prayers, just to make sure I’m singing them correctly (at my request), and a meeting with one of the religious education committees to talk with the new rabbi. The next day I “met” on the phone with the new rabbi to decide how the two of us would lead the Shabbat service for that week, and of course that Saturday we had the service itself. And finally, late last month I attended a larger meeting with the executive director, the new rabbi, and several individuals who put the High Holidays services together.

    After all these meetings, I can say I have met the new rabbi. However, my task was to pick a date for the other seven families in this group to get acquainted with her. After sending out one group email and carefully recording the responses, I emailed our top three dates to the woman in charge of “congregants meeting the new rabbi.” That email got lost in the shuffle, so after some days had passed, I sent another email, which in turn got handed over to a fellow committee member, who in turn called me and told me she would check those dates with the new rabbi. She did and called me back. None of our three picks would work.

    At my next meeting with the rabbi, I asked her directly which dates might work for her. (I do occasionally learn from past experiences.) She gave me four choices and I emailed those to the seven families concerned and charted the responses as they came to me over the course of the next week or so. The most popular choice could only accommodate four and one-half families.

    We have decided to wait until after the High Holidays and try again.

  • The brand new handbook for high school families at our school. Last year, a fellow mom and I established a new group, open to any parents from our high school. We met at her home on a school night every five or six weeks, and sat in a circle, sipping tea and eating munchies while chatting about topics that were brought up spontaneously by anyone in the circle. The purpose was simply to create a sense of community between us, and to share our experiences and mutual support as parents of teenagers. It turned out to be a very positive thing, and we are continuing it this year.

    Last week we met with the new high school coordinator, just to describe last year’s gatherings and to come to a mutual understanding of the role this group fills. It was a fruitful and gratifying meeting for us all, and toward the end I was given this new handbook. It looks great! Our high school is fairly young and we have been growing steadily in recent years, which creates a high need for clarification of things like expectations and policy. The booklet represents much progress in this area. I have only one problem, the title of which is I DO NOT HAVE A CHILD ENROLLED IN THE HIGH SCHOOL THIS YEAR. Just how nuts am I to have offered to help facilitate this group again for 2010-2011? I guess I will find out the answer to this perceptive and perhaps belated question.

  • CD and playlist. This is my desk. This is Chloe’s CD, a good-bye gift from one of her fellow graduating seniors. Her iTunes and my iTunes are both on my computer, so to enter things into her iPod means sitting at my desk. Do I need another reminder that she is leaving? I will not answer this question at this time.

  • A little teeny drawing of a cake, by Rachel. Rachel has a cake decorating business. She does not have her own computer, so she uses mine, which is great for many obvious reasons. The other day she received an order for an organic carrot cake, decorated with cream cheese frosting and “Happy Birthday Chad” on the top. Rachel does incredible work, almost always off the cuff (so to speak). Over the past few months of baking, there have been a few little bumps in the road, many of which could have been avoided had there been a master plan, including a detailed, measured drawing. This drawing is on a piece of paper that measures 2 ½” by 4 ¼”. The cake illustration itself is 1 ¼” wide. The finished product will be a two-layer nine-inch cake. While I am pleased that she followed some advice and drew an actual picture of this one, I am now aware of the need to prepare myself for a possible cake emergency sometime in the next three days. The cake is due Tuesday.
  • To do lists. Yes, plural. Why would I keep old lists? Partly because I am so worried I will forgot something IMPORTANT that failed to get checked off before I ran out of room and had to start on a new piece of paper. And partly because I occasionally lose my list and have to start another, and then the old one turns up again. And partly because they remind me of something. Like a souvenir. Pause. Oh. I CANNOT BELIEVE I JUST WROTE THAT!! WHY would I want a souvenir of the things I have not accomplished over the past several months?

This blog is so helpful for me! I am laughing so hard at myself right now, I can hardly see straight. Okay, I really get it. Do you know that most stove tops have only four burners? Maybe there is a reason you can only cook in four pots at a time.

Naming my blog: a (slight) retrospective

August 12, 2010 at 11:47 am | Posted in Long Blogs | 4 Comments
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I admit it, I do become obsessed when I’m searching for the perfect whatever.  Decades ago, when Dan and I were planning our wedding I got so wrapped up in the quest for the right dress, I still found myself gazing at silks and pale colors two and three years after the gown had been properly stored away.  Embarrassing, but true (and somehow freeing to say it out loud in public, after all these years – thanks for listening!)  So when I was trying to come up with a name for my blog, it was torture.  Here’s what I wrote while still in the throes of the final decision-making agony:   

So now it’s a name.  No, no more babies, no more dogs, unless you call this blog my newest child or pet.  But perhaps it would be helpful to review the last few name-selecting processes I have been through and survived to tell the tale.

  1. Chloe’s name.  When I was pregnant with Chloe, we chose no boy-names.  Holding on to the old fashioned mysteries, Dan and I had decided that even though the doctors and nurses and staff people could be informed of our baby’s gender through the miracles of science (I was 38, so they required amniocentesis) we wanted to wait until the moment all of our ancestors had had to wait for.  I’m not saying there were no male names that we liked.  There was Ian, Ewan, Matthew, Martin (except for what “Martin” means), and more that have been long forgotten, but none of them made it to the “possibles” list.  So we arrived at the hospital (with less than two hours to spare, but that’s another story) with four girl-names:   Emma, Laurel, Maureen, and Chloe.
  2. There was no question in my mind.  Chloe was my favorite, hands down, and I couldn’t understand why we would consider any other choice, but since I thought Dan wasn’t sure, it seemed the right thing to do.  And to clinch the list idea, we reached a milestone decision:  How could we really know who the baby was until he/she was born, and therefore, how could we pick a name ahead of time?  Even with my bias, it seemed obvious to us that you have to wait and see who you get. 

    So after she was cleaned off and we got to look at her, we had to walk through the process of ruling out three names.  One look told us she was not an Emma, and probably not a Maureen either.  (I had gone to nursery school with a Maureen, and it forever holds meaning for me as a sweet and adorable bright-eyed toddler.)  That left Laurel and Chloe.  The latter had come from the movie “The Big Chill”.  Chloe’s character is somewhat enigmatic, of a younger, seemingly more flakey and carefree generation from the rest of the cast, but in the end she turns the most troubled individual around and offers him a new chance for happiness and serenity.  I saw her as a caring and wise soul peppered with a sprightly cheer. 

    Was Dan really strongly considering “Laurel”?  I’ll never really know, but I do remember that I breathed a sigh of relief when he came around.  And our Chloe has turned out to be a caring and wise soul, without a doubt, with more than a touch of her own brand of chirpiness.  The irony is that years later Dan discovered that he has been saying his L-sound in the wrong part of his mouth all of his speaking life.  Instead of using the tip of his tongue he has always pulled the back of said tongue up toward his hard palate – a very difficult thing to do, but it’s how he interpreted it way back when.  So, poor thing, either of our top two would have proved a mouthful for him!  It’s okay, she’s worth it.

  3. Rachel’s name.  Another story, first of all because we knew she was a girl.  As it was our second time around, we decided we were no longer in need of a mystery and allowed the clinic to give us the complete report from the amnio.  Actually, she was so different in the womb, I had thought that perhaps she was a boy, and shared my thoughts with Dan and Chloe.  So we spent a few weeks of early pregnancy picturing the little quintessential family with one girl and one boy, and then got the news that our imagined portrait had a major flaw.  That was amazingly shocking!  We found ourselves reeling for awhile over that piece of news. 
  4. Soon Dan and I went to work collecting names again, and this time nothing took.  We spent months combing through name books from the library, my parents’ house, and our friends.  Nothing.  Or rather, each time something sounded good, there was a compelling argument against it.  We liked Gretchen, but as we watched Chloe learning how to write her name, we decided it was too many letters.  I liked Ruby, but Dan felt it was too old-fashioned.  Emma, Laurel and Maureen were not even considered.   

    A few months later, on the way to the hospital in the back of an ambulance after Rachel had been born on the living room floor (I’ll cover that one some other time) I suddenly remembered that we had no list of names, or perhaps more accurately, no names on our list.  Once Chloe was handed off to my parents and Dan caught up with me in the hospital room, we discussed the issue at hand.  Finally we came up with the name Margot.  My parents had been brought together by a folksinging Margot Mayo in New York, which added a nice dimension, and we liked the sound of the name.  During the night, as I lay there too overwhelmed to sleep, the name Rachel came to me.  We decided in the morning to give Chloe the choice. 

    Unbeknownst to us, Chloe had gone through her own process during the months prior, and had decided the best name for the new baby would be Diamond (taking off from Ruby – another gem?  I’ll never know.)  I can easily imagine the kind of appeal that name would hold for a four-year-old who is becoming a big sister.  What I cannot imagine is what went through her mind when Dan called her at my parents’ house and offered her our two options, which had to seem unquestionably inferior to her.  Luckily she was by nature quite agreeable, and since there was in her mind no contest between Margot (ugh) and Rachel (yay!) she came through.  Definitely a family process.

  5. The Folkaltones.  I think I still have all the sheets of scrap paper on which we brainstormed for just the right way to capture the essence of our trio.  We loved Tribe of Three, until we Googled it and found it was already taken.  It went from there, and every time we ran a search engine we found we were not as clever and unique as we had believed.  It was ego crushing, not to mention frustrating, and it was getting annoying that we had no name.  I honestly have no memory of how it happened, but we finally settled on the Trifolkals.  We liked the implication of 3-ness, the obvious folk reference, and we decided to capitalize on the “focal” aspect by giving our music the subtitle “visionary folk”.  Egos back, intact.
  6.  Until we had printed out business cards and had the graphics all ready for our debut CD and a friend of mine from Chicago mentioned that there was already a trio by that name.  I had even already even made the acquaintance of their songwriter/leader, Greg Trafidlo, at a conference.  That was close!  So we had to return to the drawing board.  We played around with all the ideas again and, happily, stumbled fairly quickly upon Folkaltones, which took.  We like it, but most people think we are the Folka (like polka) tones and that continues to drive us mildly nuts.  It’s better than a lawsuit (though Greg is way too nice to think of it.)

  7. Naming my song Adjustment, and then changing the name to Bouncing Back.  I wrote this song in 1979.  Dan and I had split up in September of that year, after two years of dating, and two months later the song pretty much wrote itself, the result of a wrenching time.  “Can I help it if I’m not bouncing back…” is how the song starts, and the refrain echoes it at the end of each verse.  So when it came time to give it a title, a poet friend of mine suggested I call it what it is.  To me it was about adjusting to being alone, separate from Dan, when I wanted to be with him.  Once I had performed it a few times, audience members started to request the song about bouncing back.  It isn’t about bouncing back, I would respond.  It’s about not bouncing back.  Aren’t you listening carefully to my lyrics?  (I didn’t say that last part out loud, it not being a good idea to criticize fans.)  It went on my first solo album as Adjustment and retained that title.
  8. Until three years ago, when I decided to re-release a compilation CD of songs from my first three records.  This was my chance to make any changes.  The pain having been eased during the past thirty years, it dawned on me that perhaps the song was about bouncing back after all.  Maybe I wrote it during the early phase, when progress on that front was slowest.  Maybe my fans had been right all that time.  So for the first time ever, I re-titled a song.

  9. Naming this blog.  I keep going back to the advice of my poet friend, call it what it is.  What is this blog about?  Based on past experience, I may not really know the answer to that question until around the year 2040, but in the meantime, I think it is about two main things.  One is walking through the process of letting go of my older daughter as she leaves for college.  The other is figuring out what on earth I am going to do with my own life now that most of it has revolved around being the mother of two daughters and I will only have one living here.  Those don’t sound like they are related, except that both of them involve me, and I do happen to be the one writing this blog.  And one is catapulting the necessity of figuring out the other (you can work out which is which for yourself.)
  10. The challenge is that it is difficult to encapsulate both of those in a four-word title, give or take a word.  I had first come up with “Notes from the nest” but it’s taken.  I contemplated how this nest is going to be half empty – “Half-empty nest”.  Already taken, but also it is seen as leaning toward the negative, which is not my desire.  So I brilliantly and optimistically went for “Half full nest” but it’s taken.  And I decided also that it kind of sounds more like the earlier years of child-raising (especially when you read the blogs at those sites.)

    So I have been brainstorming for days.  Partial list:  Face the Music, Cries at Weddings, So Far from the Nest, Musings from the Nest, Mom in Search of, Tune-up in the Nest, Mamatone, Take Your Vitamins, Whose Life Is It Anyway, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Love in the Translation, Tune-up for Mom, Losing my Marbles, Recomposing (maybe a little too close to “decomposing”), Lullabies for Mom, Apron strings and A-strings…

    Finally I stumbled upon Roots and Chords, which everyone in my house (at the time) liked.  I liked it too, but there was no sign from the universe to go ahead and grab it, except that it wasn’t already taken.  Up stepped my Great Doubting Mind:  If it isn’t already taken, maybe it’s not so good!  However, that kind of logic has a fatal flaw, which is that I will never ever get to post my site if I am seeking approval from an already existing title, SINCE I CAN’T HAVE THAT ONE.  Okay, breathe in, breathe out.  I finally just went to bed after that episode.  And this morning I jumped onto a new and different track:  Apron strings and metronomes.  Or Bach, Baez, and Bombeck.  I’m kind of liking that approach and have two hours in the car this afternoon to come up with more tries.

    Obviously, by the time you read this, the decision will have already been reached, since I will have chosen a title and posted my blog site.  OR you and I will be dead because waaaaaay too much time will be taken in making the decision.  As it is painful for me to imagine this being read at my funeral – or worse, used as my epitaph, I choose the first option.  I promise you will hear from me soon.

Back to August 12, 2010.  You can see where I ended up.  I think it turned out to be the best choice, just like all the others.

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