Friday, June 30, 2006

Watch This Space

Last night, I was watching an old episode of The West Wing, one from the fourth season. For fans of the show, it's the episode where C.J. goes to Dayton for her high school reunion, but winds up being confronted with the stark reality of her father's descent into Alzheimer's. She also connects with an old classmate, a former bad boy who's cleaned up quite nicely, and he offers her a bit of comfort along with some rather pithy philosophy.

"For me," he says, "the best day is always the next day. It's like those blank billboards that say 'watch this space.' There's always something better coming."

Well. Hearing that yesterday, after spending a good part of the afternoon with a friend whose brillant son committed suicide four months ago, really didn't cut it for me. Hearing that after getting a phone call from my neighbor to tell me his already frail 79-year old wife fell and broke her hip today and is awaiting surgery tomorrow, didn't really ring true with me. Hearing that after reading some of the things I read in the news yesterday morning - heck, I won't even go there.

I wish there was "always something better coming." The stark reality, cute guy philosophy or not, is that the "something" could just as easily be death, or disease, or some other destruction.The big question for all of us is how to deal with the uncertainty that is the essence of life.

I have a friend whose faith in God enables her to make sense of the incomprehensible. I have another friend who swears by the power of meditation and visualization to deal with life's vicissitudes. I also know people who rely on chemicals, both legal and otherwise, to anesthetize them to life's pain. There are no definite answers to this most indefinite of dilemmas.

I try to maintain a guarded optimism about life. Admittedly, some days are more difficult than others, and I fear I have recently succumbed to a bout of old fashioned pessimism. I realize that I've been extremely lucky in my own journey, and though I've had sorrows and disappointments, none were out of the bounds of expected occurrences. I know bad things happen to good people, but I know good things happen too.

So I remain realistic and pragmatic, but hopeful. I'll keep watching the space, but I'll keep an eye on my back at the same time, just for good measure.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

That's All That Matters

During the years that I've been working with high school music students, I have been fortunate to maintain long lasting relationships with some fabulous young people. I've been to weddings and baby showers for several, attended many concerts in which others were performing, and even done some accompanying for one who now has a choir of his own. I admit to becoming quite attached to them, and caring about them in ways that would probably surprise them if they knew.

That's why it hurts so much to lose one. On January 31, 2006, one of the very brightest, compassionate, fascinating, and talented young men I have ever known, took his own life. Jeff was a writer, an actor, a musician, a mathematician - he was "off the wall" gifted in every area. But, unlike some extremely gifted people, Jeff was very socially oriented. He loved people, was fun to be with, had loads of friends, and was never afraid to make a fool of himself in the course of having a good time.

During Jeff's high school years, as well as those of his younger brother, his parents also became my friends. Gary and Vicki are lovely people, who have a strong marriage and have built a stable home. Watching the family together, it was evident that there was mutual respect, love, and lots of laughter in their relationships.

I had lunch with Vicki today. Whenever I am with her, I wonder how she can function at all. How can she get out of bed, take showers, put on makeup, prepare food, clean house, pay bills - all those ridiculous tasks that are just necessary in order to exist. I sit and stare at her, at the raw pain that is still etched in her face, the tears that well in her eyes at the mention of Jeff's name. And it's impossible not to talk about him, because his presence is there between us as real as if he were sitting in the empty chair at the table. We remember Jeff and the things he said and did. She talks about the plans she made to take him to see his favorite plays at the Shakespeare festival in Ontario this summer. Somehow, she does all the mundane things she needs to do and goes on living, even though her life is now defined by this huge "Why?"

I have not written about Jeff's death until now, although it has weighed heavily on my heart for the past four months. I wonder why the God I profess to believe in would allow a young man with so much promise to become so full of despair that he found life no longer worth living. I wonder why I, whose talents and potential are so miniscule in comparison, have always been able to overcome those dark demons that have haunted me from time to time, and continue to "soldier on." And why, oh why, couldn't anyone see this coming and do something to stop it?

The last time I saw Jeff was at the wedding of one of his classmates, just about a year ago in Florida. "Do you think Brian is happy?" he asked me, watching his friend dance with his bride.

"Yes, I do," I answered truthfully.

I remember he smiled at me before he replied, "Well, good, that's all that matters."

Jeff, I wish you could have been happy here with us.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

One Deep Breath-Fibs

time stops
old loves meet
breathless lips touch softly
hearts healed they continue on

Has it happened that you've unexpectedly run into an old flame? For a second you're stopped in time, your heart beating wildly, palms getting suddenly sweaty. You stop, perhaps exchange awkward greetings, until, no words left, you gently and sadly kiss goodbye.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Ascent of a Woman

I was a big fan of the TV show, West Wing. I came to the program late, but I've loved catching up on all the episodes with DVD's from Netflix. I adore Martin Sheen's President Bartlett, and would vote for him in a heartbeat. I'd even work for him, stuffing envelopes or any other pedantic thing I could do that would let me be on the fringes of such a charismatic figure's reign.

So, I was excited about the prospect of another show about a US President, especially since this one featured the first woman President, played by Geena Davis. The show got big press, and the early ratings were fabulous. I was so geeked, thinking to myself that people were getting the idea that a woman in the White House was not only acceptable, but desirable! And on the first episode, when President Mackenzie "Mac" Allen walked onto the House floor and "Hail to the Chief" began to play, I actually felt shivers down my spine. "May I live long enough to see this for real," I prayed.

Sadly enough, the honeymoon for this President ended all to early. There were lots of behind the scenes changes, and the network kept pre-empting and then rescheduling the show, until the word came down just a few weeks ago that this Commander in Chief was being impeached for good.

In a survey quoted in last week's New York Times, 90% of those asked said they would vote for a woman President if the "right candidate came along." However, only 55% of those polled stated their opinion that the country as a whole was "ready" to accept a woman as President.

Although I was pleasantly surprised at the 90% who would vote for a woman President, it's the dissenting 55% that interest me. Here in America, a country whose very existence sprang from the desire for equality under the law and freedom of expression, a country who has always been on the cutting edge of scientific and technological achievement, a country that goes around the world blatantly and physically declaring it's superiority, it seems wrong that we somehow aren't "ready" to accept a woman as our leader. It's not as if there are no other examples to follow - there are women currently at the helm in Ireland, Germany, Finland, Chile, Liberia, and the Phillippines. But the American public's social and cultural idea of women hasn't caught up with the realities of women's roles in the modern world. And we really haven't yet raised a generation of young women with the idea that they can be anything they want to be, including the ruler of the free world.

No doubt we're making progress. When I was a child, a TV show about a woman President would have been considered science fiction, if it was even allowed on the air at all. At least, although briefly, President Allen was taken seriously as a character. She was able to portray a woman making the tough decisions when necessary, but also bringing a sly strength and common sense to her dealings with politicians both at home and abroad, much as a very clever mother would in her relationship with unruly teenagers.

Perhaps there's hope for me to hear "Hail to the Chief" being played for Madame President. That would certainly be music to my ears!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Five Book Meme

I was intriqued by this one on BB and Susannah's site today, so here goes:
  1. Take five books off your bookshelf;
  2. Book #1 :First sentence: Best Friends, Martha Moody;
  3. Book #2: Last sentence on page 50: Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott;
  4. Book #3: Second sentence on page 100: Somehow Form A Family, Tony Earley;
  5. Book #4: Next to the last sentence on page 150: My Latest Grievance, Elinor Lipman;
  6. Book #5: Final sentence: Digging to America, Anne Tyler.

Put them all together, and here's what you get:

Really, all I wanted in a college was unrest and demonstrations. People hand me books and articles to read that they promise are fascinating, and I wake up holding the book with a jerk~like when you wake up from a little nap at the movies, thinking that you are falling out of an airplane. We are looking for ghosts together.

"Then why didn't she call me herself to tell me about her change of plans?"
They looked up at her, and they started smiling, and they waited for her to join them.

It almost makes a crazy kind of sense, doesn't it?

In another wierd moment of synchronicity, just before I ran across this meme, I was reading Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, and she suggested a very similar exercise using sentences from your own writing. Here's her suggestion:

"Take one of your most boring pieces of writing, choose from it three or four consecutive sentences and write them at the top of a piece of blank paper. For about a third of a page, scramble them up as though you were moving blocks around. Don't try to make any sense of what you write down. Your mind will keep trying to construct something. Hold back that urge, relax, and mindlessly write down words. If you like, arbitrarily put in a few periods, a question mark, maybe an exclamation mark. Do all this without thinking, without trying to make any sense. Just have fun."

In doing this, Goldberg says we free our mind from the subject/verb/direct object structure, allowing us a "new engery" in which to view the world.

Anyone have the nerve to try this one?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Sunday Scribblings- Music

Music is such a powerful force in my life, I hardly know where to begin. Should I describe the way my fingers ache to touch piano keys when I'm away from a keyboard for more than a day or two? Or the complete fulfillment I experience when I'm playing with my handbell group and the 14 of us are like one big instrument, totally connected, and the music flows effortlessly toward the audience? How about the chills that run down my spine when the high school choir I'm accompanying achieves a perfect blend on that last chord, sending the final note soaring into the air? I love making music more than anything else I do.

But it isn't just the act of playing music that has been so life changing for me. Music has helped me face down my fears - of performing, of traveling, of speaking in front of people - and in doing so, has given me the confidence to pursue so many other avenues in my life. Through making music, I have met some of the most remarkable, inspirational people I have ever known, and made lifelong friends of all ages. And, most importantly, music led me to my true love. I met my husband when I was 13 and he was 15 - we were piano duet partners then, and have been partners in life for the past 30 years.

So you see, I could write a book about the importance of music in my life. It would be a book full of lyrical melodies, exciting rhythms, and fascinating harmonies. It would be a book that never ends, because for me, this song will go on forever.

Grateful Friday

Grace to experience the joy and beauty of summer
Relaxation, which I, in my perpetual busy-ness, need to remember is necessary
Antiques, especially the lovely tea set I found at an estate sale
Terry cloth towels, which feel so good when you climb out of the pool
Exercise, which gives me so much energy when I can motivate myself to do it!
Friends, those near, far, and in cyberspace
United Kingdom, my most favorite country to visit (so far!)
Lipstick, the glossy kind with tiny sparkles

Fresh fruit and vegetables, already appearing at the Saturday farmer's market
Reading, and the extra time I have for it now that summer is here
Inspiration, to write, to make music, to garden, to do all the things that add beauty to life
Digital - cameras, tv's, dvd's, computers
Anticipation, of all the good things yet to come
You and me and all the things we can accomplish if we work together!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Poetry Thursday

Black as ground coffee
they percolate low on the horizon,
roiling, boiling,
bubbling to the surface.
they overflow their cup of sky
soaking parched soil
with warm elixir.
Sated at last,
earth wakens with a smile.
This week's prompt on Poetry Thursday suggested a poem using words we love and/or words we hate. Anyone who knows me is aware that coffee is one of my great obsessions. As I was drinking this morning's brew, a much needed summer storm rolled in. The moist downpour was a jolt of caffeine to our dry, brown grass and wilted flowers. They perked up just like I do after my first cup! I love all these works associated with making coffee too, especially "percolate"- (thanks, Annie!) So, it seemed natural to put it all together.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

American Girl

Here I am with one of my favorite girls - her name is Cara, and she's eight (going on 18!) years old. Cara loves her cat Sweetpea, really wants to get a dog, knows all the songs and dances from High School Musical, is reading the latest Harry Potter book, takes tennis lessons, and is going to horseback riding camp next month. Her favorite foods are pizza, pancakes, and bacon. She like to paint her nails with sparkly nail polish and loves having "spa days" at home with her mom. She is an all America girl.

Last week, Cara was with us in Walt Disney World for three days and nights of wonderful, park hopping fun. But about eight years ago, Cara was abandoned outside a hospital in a small town in the Hunan Province of China. She was two weeks old. She spent the next nine months in a Chinese orphanage, until her parents, our dear friends Stuart and Donna, traveled to China to bring her home. Cara is very aware of her history, and is also very proud of her heritage. She meets regularly with the other Chinese girls who were adopted from the orphange with her, goes to Chinese school once a week, and will undoubtedly travel to China quite soon, since her father goes there each summer to teach English in an exchange program affiliated with Ohio State University.

I have loved being with Cara from the minute I met her, right after she got to America. Although we don't get to see each all that often, we always pick up right we left off. I find her pretty irresistable, and she can usually convince me to do things I would never have imagined I'd do (like riding Splash Mountain three times in a row at 10:30 pm!). But whenever we're together, it's never far from my mind that she could have been growing up in that little Chinese town we saw in pictures, where the streets were paved in red clay and the largest homes were only a little bigger than my two car garage. It's also never far from my mind that living in that town is the Chinese woman who gave birth to her and couldn't keep her, and who most likely thinks about her day and night. I wish that she could somehow know how happy, safe, beautiful, and loved her daughter is. She is truly one lucky little American girl.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Back in the Real World

It's been a very short Monday, a day with not nearly enough hours. Trying to regain my equilibrium after a week away has seemed unusually difficult. I was attempting to get in a few minutes of everything I had on my summer "resolutions" list - there was a haiku to compose and a photo to take for One Deep Breath, all those great posts at Sunday Scribblings to read, a stack of library books to return (and of course who could resist perusing the new arrival shelves), a workout at the gym, the Beethoven Sonata still open on the piano, plus doggies who hadn't been walked for a week, grocery shopping for me and my mom, a weeks worth of mail...well, you get the picture.

Nevertheless, I'm rather glad to be home. I actually don't like taking vacations in the summer, because being home in the summer is it's own vacation. From September to May, I have not only my office job to contend with, but also school rehearsals and concerts, church choir rehearsals and service responsibilities, plus the schedule of subscription concerts and plays I always attend - Detroit Symphony, The Hilberry Theater, Measure for Measure (my husband's men's choir), et al. Every day is filled to the max. But from June to August, there is absolutely nothing on my calendar. I flip through all those blank pages and just shake my head in wonder. I am so protective of those empty days, that I don't even want to give them up to go on vacation!

However, if today was any indication of the way this summer is going to go, I'm not too happy about it. Fact is, the day got completely out of my control. I felt like I was standing in the middle of a funnel cloud, being spun around in a frenzied circle, and when it finally stopped I was too dizzy and disoriented to accomplish anything!

So, it's 11:00 pm, and I'm once again here at my keyboard, the place I started this day, sipping Chardonnay now instead of Gevalia coffee. The puppies are sleeping contentedly under the cool breeze from the ceiling fan, resting from their late evening walk. My haiku and photo are posted. My muscles are starting to feel just a little sore from the morning's workout at FitZone.
We had a lovely (healthy) grilled chicken dinner, with rice and fresh green salad. I worked out the "A" section on the Beethoven F major Sonata. The mail is sorted, and my little stack of things to take to work/bank/post office is piled neatly on the kitchen table.

Actually, I guess I accomplished more that I thought. After all, it's summer, and tomorrow is another day!

One Deep Breath-Pathways

Infinite footprints
leave ghostly echoes
on long forgotten pathways.
Back in the 60's, this overgrown path was once a shortcut the neighborhood children (my husband among them!) took to school. Sadly, it's now considered dangerous for children to walk through this park alone, so the path has become neglected and overgrown. But I can still imagine groups of boys and girls, chattering as they make their way along it.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Bed

When I was sick and lay a-bed
I had two pillows at my head
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.
Robert Louis Stevenson, The Land Of Counterpane
As a child, I was often sick - not with anything really serious, but I was prone to recurring bouts of bronchitis and asthma. My mother tended to be overprotective, and would put me to bed at the first sign of a sniffle. This was one of my favorite poems, because it helped me to imagine my bed as a place of adventure, rather than confinement. I too could "send my ships in fleets all up and down among the sheets," or "bring my trees and houses out and plant cities all about." I never resented the time I spent in bed, even if my friends were outside playing, when I was able to create adventures in my very own "pleasant Land of Counterpane."

Daddy Dearest

I admit it, I was a daddy's girl. I couldn't wait until my dad got home from work each day, and would swing me up in his arms and twirl me around until I was dizzy with delight. Even when I was little bitty, I recognized that the way his face lit up when he caught sight of me racing down the sidewalk to meet him meant that I was his "most special person." And as I got older, that same face would beam with pride at my piano recitals, enjoying every minute of each one, from the three line, one fingered pieces, all the way through to Beethoven Sonatas and Debussy's Arabesque. From the earliest of ages, I was always certain of one thing, and that was my father's love and acceptance.

That was why his betrayal hurt me so deeply. Technically, it was my mother he betrayed, but the ramifications of his actions affected me at my deepest core. Even though I was a grown woman with a family of my own, the things he did meant I could no longer count on him to be there for me, as guardian, protector, constant admirer. I built up a huge core of anger and resentment toward him, feelings that no amount of therapy or pharmaceuticals seemed to erase. We were completely estranged for several years.

I did a lot of reading and talking about forgiveness, from the Christian standpoint and the psychotherapeutical standpoint. I visualized my anger and hurt feelings being tossed from a cliff, submerged in the waves, burned to ashes. But I could always manage to rekindle those embers of rage, and for a long time I held on to them so tightly becuase the anger was the only power I had over the pain he had caused me.

In his wonderful novel The Grace That Keeps This World, author Tom Bailey writes:

"Forgiveness didn't arrive as a thought. You could talk about the idea of forgiveness, of course, talk it out, reason with yourself, but that wasn't the mystery of forgiveness. An emotion first, it happened in the heart, not the head. And you had to be prepared to receive it - there were no short cuts to the full knowledge of it."

That's exactly how it happened for me. One day I realized that thinking about my dad no longer made me white hot with anger, no longer made me want to scream about his unfairness and injustice. Forgiveness appeared as a surprise, unbidden, arriving in my heart like a long hoped for guest. I welcomed it with open arms.

Today, I'm having lunch with my dad and his wife. We laugh and talk fairly easily together, now. I am not the little girl that runs to meet him with such great joy, but meeting him brings me a measure of peace. In the end, forgiveness was a gift to both of us.

Friday, June 16, 2006

A World Apart

I've spent the last several days in an alternate universe. Well, it was really just a theme park, but it seemed like a "whole new world" (cue song, please!) Yes, I've been in Disney World, fighting my way through crowds of hot, irritable people, standing in endless queues, paying far too much money for overly large portions of average tasting food, and attempting to convince myself that I'm having a good time.

I am not unfamiliar with the American theme park experience, particularly the Walt Disney World Experience, and there is no doubt that Disney does theme parks very well. The attention to detail is amazing, and there is a huge variety of experiences on offer. No mindless roller coasters for Walt's parks- even the "thrill rides" have a theme. The newest entry in this vein is Mission Everest, a huge replica of Mt. Everest with a winding miner's railroad that scales the peak in a hair raising journey, hauling you hundreds of feet into the air before sending you careening to the bottom once again.

The difference on this trip was the presence of an eight year old child, which meant we couldn't just meander desultorily through the parks for an hour or two, and return to our hotel for drinks around the pool. We had to really do the park -mingle with the masses, ride the rides, eat the food, brave the heat.

What struck me most about the crowds on this trip was the single minded determination to have a good time, even if it killed them. Late one afternoon, I overheard a mother complaining about her whining five year, saying that he had been "like that" since they got there at 7:00 a.m. that morning! American's can be greedy, and we don't really know how to pace ourselves. This is never more evident than at Disney World, where the game plan is to experience as much as possible as fast as you can.

But in spite of the crowds and confusion (and just plain misery sometimes) we came away feeling as if it were all worthwhile. By the end of the trip,we were laughing about getting soaked on the Kali River Rapids ride, and missing the 11:00 showing of Stitch's Great Adventure because we were standing in line to get a "fast pass" for Splash Mountain. Or not being able to get an ice cream cone because there was a parade going by and they wouldn't let us cross the street to get to the ice cream parlor.

Maybe our ability to find satisfaction in the face of adversity is also an American trait. One of my favorite shows at Epcot, The American Adventure, quite beautfully depicts the traumas of the first American settlers, and reminds us of the work it's taken to get this country where it is, brash, bold, even rude, but always seeking happiness and a good life experience. I guess that's the spirit that keeps us plugging along, through theme parks and through life in the 21st century. Hopeully, that same spirit will provide the guts to keep us in glory for centuries to come - the spirt that sets us apart from the rest of the world.

One Deep Breath

Imminent storm -
Tropical winds send clouds racing
To protect the moon.

Tropical storm Alberto joined us during our vacation in Florida this week. One windy evening I looked skyward to see the heavens covered with ragged clouds hurrying by, gathering in a protective clump around the moon.

For more haiku go here.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Mystery

Ah, sweet mystery of life! There are an infinite number of things that gnaw at my mind, begging for answers. Mysteries both large and small, like what would my life have been like if I was born 50 (or 100, or 150) years earlier? Or if I had been a tall blue eyed blonde, rather than a dumpy brown eyed brunette? Would I have been a good elementary school teacher, if I had finished my education degree? Or would I have been a better concert pianist, if I had had the chops to enter all those competitions?

There is one mystery that I try not to think about too much, but it occasionally appears in my subconscious like an ugly troll popping it's head out the cave, leering at me with an impish grin. I usually slam my hand down on it and shove it back into the hole, but sometimes I let it stay in the light of day for a moment and just consider it.

This mystery is about the children I decided not have. As a young woman, I was determined to have only one child. There were numerous reasons for this decision in my mind, and they don't matter now. In terms of life mysteries, though, that decision has left me with a pretty huge unsolvable one.

So, now I'm left with questions that just gnaw at my psyche. Would there have been a daughter (perhaps tall and blue-eyed like her dad and brother?) Would she have been a musician, an artist, a writer, or a mathmatician or engineer, becuase all those genes were in her pool? Would she be another perfectionstic control freak like the majority of us in this family, or would she have inherited some recessive, laid back, fun-loving gene from a relative I never even met? Would she be married? Would she have children of her own?

There are no answers to these questions. And maybe that's just as well. The pain that comes from not knowing, is probably also the salvation of not knowing. I guess some mysteries are best left unsolved.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Grateful Friday

Besides the fact that it's Friday, here are a few more things I'm grateful for...

School's Out!

The mouse that has been living a charmed life in my kitchen and avoiding all my effots to dispatch him seems to have disappeared...
The weather is absolutely gorgeous, Michigan at it's best with fresh breezes and blue skies...
My best friend is home from two weeks in Paris (lucky her!) and it's Girls Night Out tonight...

School's Out!

A package from Amazon arrived on my doorstep yesterday, containing the new Anne Tyler novel...
My favorite capri pants from last summer still fit...
The latest batch of medical records I'm supposed to review for my office job is not as big as I thought it was...

School's Out!

I was able to hang my sheets on the outside clothesline, so they smell delicious after spending the day drying in the sun...
I have no concerts this weekend...
I'm headed south tomorrow to see my son and daughter in law, and also to spend three days in Disney World with some dear friends and their eight year old daughter...

Did I mention - SCHOOL'S OUT!

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Poetry Thursday

Tiny Warrior

I dare you, she said
white knuckles tight fisted on the wheel
teeth clenched, jaw rigid
fire darting from steely blue eyes.
I dare you to do that again.
Harnessed safely behind her, he sat.
Chubby loins girded defiantly,
miniature Nikes poised to strike.
Should I? or not?
In one swift motion, the decision was made
THUMP! on the seat at the small of her back.
She freezes.
He laughs.
She cries.
I cheated a litte on this week's Poetry Thursday suggestion (which was to "listen in" on some anonymous converstions) because this poem was inspired by a second hand experience a friend of mine related to me. When she described this scene with her sister and nephew, I was reminded of how powerless our children can make us feel sometimes. I really sympathized with this mother, whose car seat had been kicked umpteen times while she's sitting in traffic. Yes, you would want to scream at that child, who is really only tired and bored, just like you are. But sometimes the effort to subdue all your baser instincts is just so humongous that all you can manage to do is cry.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

I Am What I Read

We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.
Ursula LeGuin

In glancing over my Book Journal, the notebook where I list the titles of the books I've been reading, I realized that I've been meeting a lot of lovely people in books lately. People like Emma Gant, the fiercely ambitious and determined young journalist in Gail Godwin's Queen of the Underworld. Or Frederica Hatch, the intrepid teenage heroine in Elinor Lipman's My Latest Greivance, as she struggles to forge her own identity in spite of her parent's, two very principled college professors who serve as "dorm parents" in a small New England college. Then, there was Elizabeth Gilbert, as herself, in Eat, Pray, Love, on a voyage of discovery about her corporeal and spiritual life that took her to Italy, India, and Indonesia.

In thinking about the things I've been reading, I can't help but notice some similarities - for the past month, I've been keeping company with several young women striking out to forge their identities and discover their passions. So if what Ursula LeGuin says is true, that the lives of other people, real or imagined, help us understand who we are and what we could become, what have I learned from my meetings with these bright and plucky women, with whom I have absolutely nothing in common? And is it consequential that I've been drawn to stories about young women, when I am clearly no longer young myself?

I think there was a part of my youth that went missing, the part where you rebell, and experiment, and try out several different states of being. When teenagers like Frederica Hatch were questioning their parents beliefs and reaching out to other adults for inspiration, I was quietly ensconced in a girls school, following the nun's rules, and doing my homework each night. When young women like Emma Gant were traveling to Miami, living in a hotel run by refugee Cuban's, and carrying on an affair with a married man, all while making their mark as a reporter on the Miami Star, I was setting up housekeeping in a home inherited from my in-laws and just down the street from my parents. And when Elizabeth Gilbert was traipsing all over the world, tasting life's pleasures, I was raising a toddler.

So I read about their adventures, and sometimes wistfully wonder "what if?" But I'm also inspired by their courage, their inventiveness, their self-confidence. And now, as I embark on the next part of my journey, I can look at them for inspiration. Who knows, I may yet travel the world on a spiritual journey, or make my mark in the world of letters. It's never to late to be young in spirit.

Monday, June 5, 2006

One Deep Breath

Burgeoning blossoms
Hastily grow
Spreading abundant impatiens

It's probably not a coincidence that I plant lots of these in my garden. For one thing, they're easy to grow, and gardening does not come naturally to me. But more likely, it's because these particular flowers and I are so much alike. We're always anxious to grow quickly and become better and more beautiful as fast as possible. Always in a hurry, we are. Always impatiens...

for more of One Deep Breath, go here

Sunday, June 4, 2006

What Lazy Days of Summer?

I'm sure glad I'm not a teenager anymore. In an article in today's New York Times, writer Alex Williams reports on a "small but growing number" of college bound students for whom summer has become a time of "resume building academic work and all-consuming, often exotic projects to change the world." Apparently there is a growing belief among young people and their parents that "downtime is wasted time," so teenagers are spending their summer months doing everything from advaced prep on their AP classes and early level college courses in basic subjects, to political internships in Washington, and working with impoverished families in the Phillipines.

Obviously there is great value in all these activites. Who can argue with furthering your education, or volunteering to help your fellow man? I just can't help feeling saddened that young people believe it's worthless to spend a week at the beach with their family or friends, or to lay on their back porch reading a book. One student interviewed for the article admitted that she didn't have much time for her friends, and philosophized that it was just a "give and take." Another young woman expressed her hope that the "carefree feeling of being young would come out in college." Well, I didn't make it into Harvard, but I'm smart enough to know that you don't get second chances to experience the "carefree feelings of youth."

With this trend toward year round achivement, as with everything in life, the key is finding balance. Teenagers tend to believe that if a little bit of something is good, then a lot is even better, whether that something is drugs and sexual activity or advanced placement classes and volunteering in foreign countries. They aren't always mature enough to find the happy medium which best suits their individual emotional and physical capacities. As their parents, teachers, and society, it's our job to remind them that productive growth experiences really can occur in non-structured situations. Let the rat race wait a little longer - there is plenty of time for that!

Saturday, June 3, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Earliest Memories

Just the other evening I took a trip back in time to "the old neigborhood," the one where my earliest memories would have occured . Mind you, I haven't been back to that area for almost 45 years, so I was somewhat anxious, not knowing how the old place had fared over time. I was pleasantly surprised. Of course there were the requisite McDonald's and Walgreen's on the corner where I recalled The Clock restaurant and Sam's Drugs. But the homes still looked much as I remembered them, and my old house was sporting new windows, and a stylish entry door with beveled glass. The tiny back yard was now surrounded by tall white fencing, so the little round gate that I remember trying desperately to open so I could "get out" was no longer there. But I was amazed to see that small patch of woodland at the end of the street where my grandfather and I would walk our dog, me carrying a miniature Winchester rifle and pretending to be Daniel Boone in the forested hills of Kentucky.

Something that had not changed at all was the stone fronted library, which stood just around the corner from our house. I was about age four when my mom and I walked there for the first time. The first wonderful scent of those pages and ink is still stored in my olfactory memory, and as I breathed in the aroma of all those words, printed and bound so beautifully, it was like the breath of life to me. That was the moment I fell in love with books, and I have loved them ever since.

On the last Christmas we spent in that house, I got a little toy piano as a gift. I can clearly recall sitting on the bottom stairway, playing my heart out on that miniature keyboard. My parents must have realized that my desire to play was genuine (or they just couldn't stand the tinny sound of that toy once second longer!) for it was on my next birthday that a real piano appeared in our living room.

It's interesting to me that my clearest early memories all involve things that have become crucial to the center of my life today - books, music, even dog walking! I wonder if early exposure ignites our gentic proclivities, sort of "jump starting" our inherent talents and desires? Or is it that our experiences over the course of a lifetime tend to clarify those early memories, sort of flag them as important in our unconscious mind? Whichever way it works, I know those incidents I now recall so fondly became cornerstones for the things that I love, creating years and years of special memories for me.

Friday, June 2, 2006

Mug Shots

According to novelist Joanne Harris' protaganist in her latest book Gentleman and Players , "you can tell a lot about a teacher's personality from his coffee mug." Well, if that's true, I must be schizophrenic, because all these mugs are mine. Yep, there's mugs here that date back to the first year I set up housekeeping (1976 in case you're keeping track), and as new as the one I bought at the Smithsonian Institute two weeks ago when I was in DC with the school choir. Why so many?

I'm willing to bet that if I looked inside most of your cupboards, you'd have your own motley collection of mugs. We get them as gifts from our friends, our co-workers, our kids, and especially from our students (for those of us who are teachers). I've done quite a bit of mug weeding over the years, and I still have this many left. Do I use them all? Actually, I do. As I stumble into the kitchen each morning, blindly reaching toward my lovely Cuisinart programmable coffee grinder/maker that has my morning brew nicely prepared and steaming hot for me, I'm already in the process of deciding which mug it's going to be. The white bone china with pink roses that I bought not long after my wedding because it "matched" my pink kitchen? The tall slim ironstone one, covered in Monet's famous Water Lily? The plain white Corelle mug that I picked up in the dollar store in Orlando to keep at my son's apartment so I'd have a mug to drink from when I visited him? Decisions, decisions...

Coffee mugs, like T-shirts, and key chains, and calendars, are one of the little ways we use things to express our personalities and our feelings on a particular day. When I want to feel elegant, I use the bone china mug. When I feel like I need a "really big cup", I'll grab the one festooned with hearts and music staves that Jim gave me for Valentine's day a few years ago. When I'm missing my boy, I'll pick up that Corelle, or the one he gave me once for Mother's Day that says "A good mother is like a quilt; she keeps her children warm, but doesn't smother them."

So I guess my mug collection doesn't necessarily mean I'm schizophrenic. There are many facets to my personality, and many ways I like to express them. Coffee mugs are just one tiny one. So, what does your mug say about you today?