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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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.

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