Saturday, March 31, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-Deepest and Darkest

"Deepest and darkest" is a phrase that just begs to be ended with "secret" or "fear." Somehow, I'm not in the mood to talk about either one of those right now, although I admit to having my fair share of both. Instead, I'm choosing to reflect on some of my "deepest and darkest" passions...much more uplifting don't you think?
  • Rich, dark roast coffee, freshly brewed and steaming hot (you all knew that would be on the top of the list, right?)
  • Running a close second~you guessed it~dark, bittersweet chocolate, which tastes even better when you're sipping passion number one along with it. Truthfully, one of my favorite ways to enjoy chocolate is to eat those little chips you put in cookies right out of the bag. Hmmm, guess I just shared one of my little dark secrets after all...
  • I love the color black. I love to wear black (which is lucky, since it's the musician's uniform color), and nearly every car I've ever owned has been black. Although, I'm due for a new car soon, and I think it's going to be red this time (aha! another secret is out!)...
  • I'm fascinated with novels and movies about mental institutions and deep, dark, psychological illness. The old TV miniseries Sybil, with Sally Field in the starring role, is one of my all time favorite spine tingling pleasures. I have this odd little penchant for the macabre that is completely at odds with my outwardly sunny disposition...
  • No list of passions would be complete without at least a hint of the carnal, now would it? So, I admit, when it comes to the opposite sex, my taste in men runs to tall, dark, and deeply romantic. I adore the actor Jimmy Smits~as Victor Sifuentes on LA Law, Bobby Simone on NYPD Blue, and most recently, as Matt Santos on West Wing. Yes, my heart does flutter a bit just thinking about him :)

So much for my deepest and darkest...for more on this subject, go here


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Will I Never Learn?

You would think that after 51 years on this planet, I would have learned when to say "No." Haven't I said "yes" and been sorry enough times? Haven't I said "yes," only to say "never again" once I realize what I've gotten myself into? So why, a couple of weeks ago, did I go against my better judgement, and agree to a huge accompanying assignment for someone I don't know, an assignment that keeps growing by leaps and bounds, and is turning out to be nothing less than a nightmare.

I've been flagellating myself over this decision ever since the first rehearsal, when I could see what an exercise in frustration this job was going to be. So I was really interested Patti Digh's most recent post over at 37 Days. It's about developing your own set of criteria to help you make decisions, criteria that you can use when someone offers you the opportunity to run a charity event, or enter a marathon, or accompany 20 voice students during a three day competition. Criteria that you establish, based on what is most important to your life, so that you can make intelligent decisions about the way you spend your time.

What a fabulous idea, especially for someone like me, who has real difficulty saying "no." For the past couple of years, my life has often felt completely out of whack, with too much time being spent on activities that keep me away from home, and prevent me from doing things that enrich myself personally. Yet I always seem to fall into the trap of accepting one more gig, or joining one more committee, or taking on one more big project at work. Wouldn't it be great to have a written set of criteria that any new project must meet? And wouldn't it be great it I committed myself to abiding by those criteria when deciding whether or not to accept a project?

Without too much thought, here are some of the questions I'm going to ask myself the next time someone calls me on the telephone with a proposal. Patti advises writing them down on a piece of paper which you carry in your wallet. That way, you're never tempted to say "yes" without first considering what's most important to you.

  • My number one criteria would definitely be much time is this project going to consume? time that I could be with my family or doing something healthy for myself...
  • Do I care about the people involved, and do they care about me? Will this project help me enhance and strengthen existing relationships or provide an opportunity to create new ones?
  • Can I learn and grow in a positive way? Will this project help me enhance my abilities in any of my fields, or help me learn a new skill?
  • Is this going to be fun? Is this project going to help me enjoy life while I'm participating in it? Will I get a positive feeling from participating?
  • Will this help someone else? Can I impart some lesson, or provide some worthwhile service to someone?
  • Is there a monetary reward, and is it commensurate with the time and effort involved? Will it help me provide for some aspect of my future, or make me feel satisfied with the way I've been compensated?
How does my current project stack up to this list?
  • It's certainly far too time consuming
  • I didn't know any of the people involved, and I don't see any long term relationships emerging from it
  • I will likely feel a sense of growth and accomplishment as a muscian, since the musical aspects are quite challenging, but I'm not sure the process to this growth is a positive one
  • It is not fun (and it isn't often that I don't have fun playing the piano!)
  • I am helping the students, and I always feel good about that
  • The money is good, far better than the usual fees, but still not commensurate with the time and effort involved

Hopefully, from now on I'll be able to make more informed decisions based on what's important to my life now. The beauty of this list is that it's your own, and it can change depending on the way life changes.

But for now, I have to go practice...sigh.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

They're Home!

if you are a mother you have probably worried about
~your child taking his first steps, fearful he would stumble and fall
~your child going to school fearful he would fail'
~your child driving a car, fearful he would be in an accident
~your child going to war, fearful he would be injured or killed
~your child facing the dangers of the world, fearful he would be hurt
this picture illustrates the airplane bringing my son and daughter in law home from their six week journey in Thailand and China, countries more than 10,000 miles away
as of this moment, they are back on American soil
and i'm happy :-)


One Deep Breath-Short and Sweet

suckling honeybee hangs on for dear life
indulging life's sweetest passion, creating nectar
for more haiku one liners, go here


Write On Wednesday-Everybody Write

The other morning, as I was sitting with notebook blithely writing away at my morning pages, I had a funny little frisson of thought~you know, those strange notions that seem to pop into your head occasionlly, like a waking dream. For just a second, I had the feeling that everyone in my neighborhood, everyone in the world, actually, was writing too. With a quick mental shake of the head, I came to my senses. How ridiculous is that? But then, a wave of sadness came over me, sadness for everyone I know that doesn't write, because they are missing so much.

Using words to express our needs, our thoughts, our emotions, is basic to life, and something every child is taught from the earliest of ages. Unlike playing a musical instrument, or painting, or dancing, learning command of our languge through speech and the written word is deemed one of life's most necessary skills. Isn't it exciting to watch children master the use of words, to figure out that the use of words makes things happen? Who hasn't cherished a child's scribbled notes and poems, written with such excitement and freedom, their first forays into the world of written expression?

Back in 1938, when she wrote If You Want To Write, author Brenda Ueland insisted that "everybody is talented, everybody who is human has something to express." We let that creative engergy, that drive to express oursleves get "drummed out of our lives by dry obligation, and because we don't respect it in ourselves and keep it alive by using it." Fast forward 60 years, and Julia Cameron publishes Right to Write, in which she advises us to "write because it's human nature to write. Writing claims our world. It brings clarity and passion to the art of living. It is good for the soul. It connects us to our insights, and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance." I don't believe writing is just for the "chosen few," but that everyone comes hard wired with this need to express themselves with the written word. The proliferation of blogging as a means of personal expression is testimony to that.

In the high school where I work, we have a period of time each day known as "Silent Reading." It happens about 10:30 a.m., right after morning announcements. Just after we've heard results of the volleyball game, meeting time for National Honor Society, and been reminded to wear red and black for spirit day, the announcer says, "Now it's time for Silent Reading." The entire student body -all 2100 of them- including teachers, stops class and reads for 20 minutes.

I love being there when that happens. I love the idea of everybody stopping in their tracks just to read, to enter into someone else's world for a while. Wouldn't it be fabulous if the whole world took time every day to do that? And, wouldn't it be even more fabulous if the the world took 20 minutes every day to write, to enter into our own worlds a little deeper, express our vision of life and ourselves on the page. Wouldn't we all become more mindful of the beauty that surrounds us, the people that intersect with our lives, and more keely attuned to our own thoughts and dreams? Those are just some of the ways my writing experience has enriched my life.

So, how about you? Do you make time to write everyday? Don't you think everybody should?


Monday, March 26, 2007

Bookmarked-Nineteen Minutes

I've just emerged from a heartbreaking world created by author Jodi Picoult in her latest book, Nineteen Minutes. I can't remember when I've last been so deeply affected by a novel, but I think it was another of Picoult's books, The Pact. Both novels deal with teenagers in crisis, which, as a mother and high school teacher, is a subject near to my heart. But Nineteen Minutes ~ the story of a boy bullied physically and emotionally by his peers his entire life, a boy who finally takes control in a horrifying shooting spree at his high school~strikes extremely close to home for me, because the more I read about Peter Houghton, the young man at the heart of this compelling story, the more I was reminded of my own son.

It's really hard for boys who don't fit the mold, boys who would rather write stories or draw cartoons than play football or soccer, boys who don't think stuffing people into lockers is funny,
boys who prefer hanging out at home watching Star Trek reruns to going to gambling and drinking at the casino. My son Brian, like Peter Houghton, was one of those boys who were "different." And like Peter, he became a victim of kids who used emotional and physical abuse as a way to preserve their own misguided sense of superiority.

"Most of Peter's childhood memories involved situations where was victimized by either other children or by adults whom he'd perceived as being able to help him, yet didn't," testified Peter's psychiatrist. "He described everything from physical threats - Get out of my way or I'm going to punch your lights out; to physical actions-doing nothing more than walking down the hallway and being slammed up against the wall because he happened to get too close to someone walking past him; to emotional taunts - like being called homo or queer." For Peter (and for Brian, too) the computer became a "safe haven." It was "the vehicle he used to create a world that was comfortable for him, peopled by characters who appreciated him and whom he had control over, as he didn't in real life," explained Peter's psychiatrist.

Brian was luckier than Peter in that he was physically forbidding - always tall and stocky, he was perfect quarterback material from a physical standpoint~which made him less vulnerable to physical abuse. But the emotional alienation was very real for him, especially during his high school years, and I watched him become increasingly withdrawn and angry. But, like Peter's mother Lacy, I really had no idea how to help, or really, how dangerous this situation was. And the teacher's at Brian's school (just like at Peter's) were of no help at all, and even insinuated that the kids doing the bullying were just "being normal kids," and Brian needed to "stop being so sensitive."

I'm ashamed to say that I bought into that philosophy for a while, and tried to "toughen him up," as Lacy Houghton admitted to doing with her own son. It took an act of violence to really make me understand just how traumatized my son was ~ a moment when he lashed out in anger and fear, his hand forced through a window, slashing his wrist and severing nerves and tendons in two of his fingers. From that moment, I realized that this was a matter of life and death, and treated it accordingly. We started fighting back as a family, found a wonderful therapist, and Brian began to gain confidence in himself and learn ways to cope.

I can tell Brian's story now because (unlike Peter Houghton's story) it has a happy ending. He's happily married, has a successful career, and functions very well in the world. But he keeps a wariness within him, a fear of people and situations where he might become vulnerable and prone to "attack." That's the legacy left from those years of exposure to mistreatment and ignorance.

If your child were being victimized by an adult, wouldn't you immediately move heaven and earth to stop it, to protect them? Why treat abuse from other children any differently? Why allow children to indulge in behaviors that hurt someone else, and pass it off as childish pranks? If you do (as Jodi Picoult so eloquently yet painfully portrays in her book, and as I have seen firsthand in my own experience) the effects can be more devastating than you could ever imagine.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Food for Thought

After a very long Sunday filled with more hours on the piano bench than I would have chosen, (especially with the sun was shining brightly and the red line of thermometer approaching the number 70!), I finally sat down with a glass of wine and started catching up on my blog roll. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that Vicki (Bibi's Beat) had "tagged" me with this lovely honor:

There's a nifty meme attached to this, and since I was lucky enough to be chosen as a "thinking blogger," I decided to play along. I figured it would be easy, since I have a lengthy roster of blog friends that make me think about everything from photography to food, antiques to art, politics to parenthood. Let me tell you, the hard part was narrowing it down to just five! This list represents just a few of the many people who stimulate my cerebellum every day. If the five of you want to play along, the "rules" are listed at the bottom of the page.

  1. Every post she writes is not only creative, it's courageous. Despite a debilitating disease, Tammy (The Daily Warrior), faces life with hope, optimism, and and great sense of humor. She always makes me think about life in a different way, and helps me look on the bright side.
  2. From politics to antiques, from poetry to life in Paris, Tara (Paris Parfait) always offers an array of interesting and thought provoking posts, accompanied by lovely photographs.
  3. Her vision of life, demonstrated in her writing and her view through the lens of her camera, her forays into new ventures, and her gentle outlook make Star (The Friendliest Flower) a shining light in my galaxy of bloggers.
  4. Speaking of a view through the lens, Susan's (soozphotoz) creative photographic eye makes me gasp for breath, which she then helps me recover with her inspirational prompts for haiku writing at One Deep Breath.
  5. I love to read about "the writing life," and Bug (Writer Bug) is a young woman living that life, as she works at writing and getting her MFA. Every time I read one of her posts, I'm inspired to get myself in front of a blank page and get to work.

To play along, think of five bloggers that provide you with some flavorful, spicy, comforting, food for thought, and then follow these rules:

  1. Write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.
  2. Link to the original post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme. (
  3. Optional: Proudly display your 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-In the Kitchen

We were all standing in the kitchen, my mom, my dad, and I, on a beautiful spring day much like it was here today. It must have been a Saturday, because we'd just come home from the allergist (Saturday's were my allergy shot day). My mother was bustling around in the cupboards, starting lunch-probably tuna fish sandwiches and tomato soup, which were my favorites. My dad was leaning in the doorway between the kitchen and living room, drinking a glass of milk.

"Why don't we go on trip?" he asked. "We could pack up and head south right now, and be in Kentucky by dark."

Excitement began rising up in me, like bubbles in a glass of soda, my mind already revving up with the idea of adventure, of hitting the open road, of seeing all my southern cousins and my aunts and uncles, of sitting on Aunt Emily's front porch in the swing late at night, listening to the tree frogs singing, of walking up the big hill behind their farm to the little cemetery on the hill where my great-great grandparents were buried, of wandering around the one room schoolhouse and hearing my mother tell the tales of riding Billy, her little pony, to school, seeing the spot where she tied him up each day while she sat inside doing her lessons.

My mother froze for a moment, then banged the Farberware saucepan noisily down on the stove, flipping the knob underneath so the gas fired under it with an angry hiss. "What are you talking about?" she said. "Why, we can't go on any trip now! How am I supposed to get everything ready to go on a trip in five minutes?"

I sat silently, hardly daring to move, knowing how much my mother disliked traveling, even to her old hometown. I could feel my father's disappointment, as he gazed out the window at the blue sky and sunshine, his desire to break free and do something spontaneous a palpable presence in the room.

"Oh please, Mama!" I cried out, jumping up from my chair at the kitchen table. "PLEAAASE! It would be so much fun!"

My dad draped an arm across my mother's shoulders and smiled, a warm and winning smile that, combined with my pleading, she was powerless to resist. "Pleaase, Mama," he said gently into her ear.

"Oh, alright," she agreed. "But nobody's going anywhere until after lunch. Just sit down here and eat your soup and sandwich, and then we'll see."

I barely tasted my food, and then ran to my room and started tossing things into my powder blue cardboard suitcase~my transistor radio, all the books I was reading at the time, my drawing pad and pencils, and of course, Tedrick, the battered brown bear I'd been sleeping with every night since the age of three.

We did go on that trip, setting off within the hour in my dad's dark red Coupe de Ville. It was the finest trip we ever took. Just the other day, my dad was talking about it- as a matter of fact, he brings it up nearly every time I see him.

"Remember that time we just decided to get in the car and drive south?" he'll say, and even 40 years later I can sense the excitement building in both of us - the idea, the possibility, of doing something so different and daring, something unplanned, unprepared for. "Remember, we were just standing in the kitchen one day talking about it..."

"I sure do remember," I answer, smiling.

"That was the best trip we ever took, wasn't it?" he said wistfully.

"It sure was," I agreed.

And it all started in the kitchen.

See what's happening in other people's kitchens right here.

Happy Anniversary to Sunday Scribblings, and thank you to Megg and Laini for hosting and inspiring all of us scribblers!


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Still Here

There's been little time for writing this week and I'm surprised at how much I've missed all my "regular" writing activities~One Deep Breath, and Write on Wednesday completely passed me by, and now here's it's Poetry Thursday already. The ideas are gnawing away in that little corner of my mind I reserve for writing, a corner that seems to be growing larger all the time. But when I look at my calendar for the next few weeks, my heart sinks a bit, because I see so little "me" time in those squares that are filled with work deadlines, rehearsals, music festivals, and appointments.

I've been writing off and on for most of my life, but writing has never been a "consuming passion" ~until now. I feel a deep sense of unease when life crowds in so much that there's no time left to get the words from my mind onto the page. The pen, the keyboard, the blank page beckon me, and it's all the more painful when I sit at my desk at work, typing away on medical reports and billing statements, when my fingers are really itching to tell the stories poking away at my brain.

I'm more than familiar with consuming passions~the piano has been mine since I was a child. Being away from it was like being deprived of basic sustenance~I become irritable, unhappy, and finally painfully miserable. That's one reason I hang on to my job as an accompanist -it allows me to feed that passion on a regular basis.

But the writing passion~that's new, and harder to fulfill within the parameters of my life in general. When life gets busy, like it is now, I feel guilty indulging myself in writing time, when I could be doing something "productive."

So, I'm about to set off on what I call Marathon Thursday~office from 9:30 until 1:00, school from 1:30 to 6:30, then church for bells and choir. Finally, home to Grey's Anatomy, which TiVo is keeping warm for me.

This week's haiku prompt at One Deep Breath was, appropriately, "breath and breathing." Here's mine:

deep inhale for courage
shoulders squared
i face the day

How about you? What are you facing today? Will you have time to indulge your consuming passions?


Monday, March 19, 2007

Tipping the Scales

I just got home from dinner with my friend Liz, the one I wrote about here. She's obviously fragile, but was able to laugh and share ancedotes about her recent hospital experience. I gave her a small, soft teddy bear, which she hugged tightly to her chest throughout dinner. I noticed she picked at her food somewhat, but managed to eat most of it in the end. She has great confidence in her therapists, feels positive about her support system of friends, and is living with a friend who is a psychiatric nurse. She feels safe now, and I feel safer about her. So many of you left such wise and supportive comments regarding my earlier post, and they were all right on. Just being there to listen, laugh (and cry) with her, is the best thing I can do. It wasn't hard, and I've promised her (and myself!) to make sure I do it more often.

During our discussion tonight, Liz spoke quite a bit about her mother, who doesn't know anything about what her daughter has been through in the past two weeks. Liz is adamant that she cannot tell her~at least not yet. Liz's psychiatrist agrees, stating that she does not need any more negativity in her life at this moment, something Liz's mother is an expert at dispensing.

Motherhood has been on my mind recently, I think mostly because of the book I'm reading~19 Minutes, by Jodi Picoult. The book is about a teenage boy, victimized by bullies his entire life, who exacts "revenge" by opening fire in the hallways of his high school, killing 10 of his classmates and one of his teachers. But it's also about the relationship between mothers and children, and the many ways they fail to connect, with sometimes horrendous consequences.

It's an old joke in psychiatry that "it's always the mother's fault." It goes back to Freud, I suppose, or even as far back as Oedipus in Greek mythology. And truly, as much as I hate to admit it, many of the psychological issues that crop up in our lives can be "traced back" in some way to something our mother did (or didn't do) during the course of our upbringing. My husband's relationship with his mother has always been horrible-if you ask him, he'll say she was cold, selfish, demanding, and completely pessimistic about everything life had to offer. Yet I know she thinks she was a good mother, and feels that she gave Jim everything he needed.

As for myself, I would certainly call my relationship with my own mother a good one, but I don't necessarily think it's a healthy one. During that awful time when my father left, my therapist taught me how deeply my mother and I were "enmeshed," and that our "boundaries were not clearly defined." I have always felt much more responsible for her well being than it's healthy for a child to feel, and certainly now as she ages and becomes even more dependent on me, it's harder than ever to maintain any kind of clear boundary at all.

I think so many of the difficulties in mother/child relationships come about because it's so hard for mothers to realize that our children are separate, individual beings, that have unique feelings and reactions which are often completley different from our own. After all, we house them within our bodies, we give them life in the most elemental of ways from the moment of their conception. Shouldn't we then be in sync with their needs automatically? Shouldn't we know how to talk to them, how to respond when they're hurt or upset? Aren't they just like us, after all?

No, they aren't. It takes a long time~if ever~for a mother to accept the fact that this child she thinks she knows so well is really a stranger in many ways. And that's why so many children of all ages find themselves reaching out to other adults when they're in need of help. Sometimes, our own mother's really don't know what's best.

As I sat with Liz tonight, hearing her talk about all the people who have been helping her through this crisis~Ms. D., her high school English teacher; Alice, the nurse she was living with; Stacey, her college roomate; even Mrs. Hoyer, her sixth grade teacher~I was struck by the fact that she wasn't able to name her mother as one of her support system, in fact, wasn't even able to tell her mother what she was going through. I know Liz's mother ~she's not a monster, she's just a hard working, single mom, who I truly believe wants only the best for her daughter, just like the rest of us mothers. I put myself in her place, and I know how horribly sad and defeated I would feel if my son were in that situation and didn't feel he could talk to me about it. But I'm also realistic enough to know that could happen. I know that it's possible to love a parent very deeply, and still not trust their ability to give you what you need during some of life's most difficult times.

So I'm glad Liz has found some caring adults to help tip the scales in her favor, as she tries to get her life back in balance. I hope someday she'll feel able to share this experience with her mom, and that in turn her mom will have the wisdom to respond in the way that Liz needs.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-Inspiration

I love the ancient meaning of the word inspiration~to "breathe life into." In Christian history, the Bible was the book "inspired by God," who "breathed the words" into the hearts, minds, and quill pens of the scribes.

When we talk about inspiration in the 21st century , we think of getting ideas, becoming motivated to do something, often artistic or idealistic in nature. Since I started writing last year, I find myself much more receptive to the possibility of inspiration. When I read Mary Oliver's poetry, suddenly the natural world comes alive, sending sparks into my own imagination. The delicious prose of author's such as Julia Glass, Jodi Picoult, Mary Gordon, and so many more whose words I devour like rich chocolates, starts setting off word explosions in my own brain. As I spend evenings wandering through the wonderland of artists that is the "blogsphere," I feel inspiration tugging at my shirtsleeves, urging me onward to express myself in my own prose or poetry.

When inspiration comes to call, I eagerly throw open the door and welcome it in. But I have noticed it can be rather shy, and, if greeted too exuberantly, will sometimes run back into the corner of my mind to gather itself together before making a reappearance. So I've learned to treat it with respect, and allow it time to become comfortable with my way of doing things.

How dull life would be without inspiration. From the simplest of thoughts to the loftiest ideas , inspiration motivates us throughout life. It's not limited to artistic endeavors, but includes all the exciting ideas that we think of to enrich our lives and the lives of others. It is the breath of the spirits~of creativity, generosity, excitement, joy, and wonder~that inspires us to live life to the fullest in every way.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Hanging in the Balance

Earlier this evening, while on my way to meet a group of girlfriends for dinner, I had a telephone call from one of my former students. She's all grown up now, and in her first year of teaching in a special education classroom. She's been calling me regularly for the past several months, telling me how her teaching experience was going (not well), her progress toward buying a condo (not well), her relationship with her younger sister and mother (not well).

A couple of weeks ago, she called while I was just about to go into rehearsal. "Liz," I said, "I can't talk right now. I'll call you later, OK?"

"Sure," she said, and I hung up the phone.

Well, I forgot to call her back~you know how it goes, life gets crazy, and you sometimes put off those conversations that you know are going to demand a lot of emotional energy. Tonight, when I saw her number on my caller ID, I was tempted to let her go to voice mail. I was within 10 minutes of my destination, and really ready to have a fun night out. But my conscience got the better of me. "Hi, Liz!" I said brightly. "How are you doing, honey?"

"Not so good," she said. "I've just been really overwhelmed with school and everything....and...a couple of weeks ago I tried to hurt myself...really badly. I've been in the hospital for the last 10 days. And I'm...well, I'm just reaching out right now to anybody who might care about me."

Oh. My. God. Obviously, I feel like the worst possible person in the whole world for letting this girl down (the night she did this was the night that I told her I didn't have time to talk to her!!!).
But I also feel completely inadequate to help her~what do I say? what do I do? Is it enough just to listen, to be sympathetic, to try and make her feel important and cared about? I know, I'm not a therapist, but, my control freak, over-responsibility factors have gone into overdrive. "Fix it!" they're screaming in my ear. "Make it all better! You have to!"

Of course, this all makes me recall with utter clarity the suicide of a student that occurred just last year. Another gifted young man, who felt overwhelmed by this world, and unable to measure up to it's demands. As I was talking to Liz tonight, one of the first things she said to me was, "I know this is all my fault." It was her "fault" that she couldn't handle the pressure of dealing with 18 autistic teenagers in a classroom with one aide, her "fault" that the condo she was trying to buy had structural defects the sellers were attempting to hide, her "fault" that her mother was totally unsupportive of her efforts toward independence, her "fault" that she was only 23 years old and new to the world of adult life and responsibility.

One of the best things age has given me is the ability to know how things can change. Even 24 hours can make a difference in the way you feel. Young people find that so difficult to believe, because they just haven't seen it happen enough. Whatever they're feeling now, is the way they're going to feel forever. Today's tragedy, today's failure, seems so insurmountable, because they have so little experience of the happiness and success that tomorrow could bring.

I'm meeting Liz for dinner on Monday night. I think I'll be meeting Liz for dinner as often as I can for a while. I don't know what I can say that might make life seem a little more liveable to her ~ I hope just having someone show up and listen will help. I do know the world can't afford to lose any more talented, caring, intelligent young people. We need all of them we can get.


WithoutWords (sort of)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Write on Wednesday-Writing What You Know

Anyone who has ever taken a class in creative writing, or read a book about writing, is familiar with the advice to write what you know. In my mind, I expand this idea to mean write what you know about, but also what you know deep down.

Brenda Ueland (my new favorite writer on writing) says it this way: “All people have in them this power to write greatly and well, when they freely and carelessly express what is true to them.”

How do you know what’s true to you? Just this morning, I was sitting in my favorite chair, enjoying those precious few moments of stillness before the chaos of the day. As I sat, sipping my coffee and watching the sun rise, I was reflecting on “stillness and calm,” this week’s topic for One Deep Breath. I played around with some haiku based on the serene stillness of a swan family, swimming on the pond near my office, and then some more with the summer- like breezes we had enjoyed the day before. Nothing that came out on the page felt right. Then I realized that the very moments I was enjoying ~ those moments just before dawn which I claimed for my own each day ~ these were the essence of stillness for me. When I began to write about this time of day that was so vital for my well being, the words flowed easily.

The more I write, the more I understand what it means to write what is true deep down. There is a certain sense of fulfillment in expressing this kind of truth, an ability to let the words flow freely, with no need for artifice, or for paging through the thesaurus or dictionary. I can write carelessly, without trying to impress an unknown audience or inner critic, because I’m expressing what’s coming directly from my heart.

Ueland taught creative writing in her native Minnesota for many years during the middle part of the 20th century. In her book If You Want To Write, she offers a favorite exercise for “getting people to write well, so they know how gifted they are and consequently grow in boldness and freedom.”

“I would ask them to tell about some childhood memory,” she states, “to write it as carelessly, recklessly, fast and sloppily as possible on paper. It worked for these reasons: they would forget about writing ‘writing,’ and about trying to please Teacher. Their only effort became to tell spontaneously, impulsively, what they remembered. I asked for childhood experiences for this reason. A child experiences things from his true self (creatively) and not from his theoretical self (dutifully), i.e., the self he thinks he ought to be. That is why childhood memories are the most living, and sparkling and true…”

So, how about you? What are your most “living, sparkling and true” thoughts? Are you writing what you know deep down?


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

One Deep Breath-Stillness/Calm

Like most of you, most of my days are sooo crazy busy, it's really hard to find a moment to even think about stillness and calm, much less experience it. So, I make it a point to get up early every morning just to have some time when the house is totally quiet, and the world is all just for me.

waiting for dawn
coffee percolates
beside me
Armed with a fragrant mug filled to the brim, I grab my book and morning pages journal, and curl up in my favorite chair. The morning sun rises just outside the window, bathing the room in warm rainbows of light.
basking in sun glow
morning sky
blesses me
For that one hour, sipping my coffee, watching the day break, and hearing the morning songs of birds, I can breathe deeply and let the magic of words envelop me.
centering my heart
in quiet time~
such a gift
Without this moment of calm and stillness each morning, I feel wrong-footed and out of sorts all day long.
My son and daughter-in-law have been in visiting family and friends in Thailand and China for the past month. My son wrote today that the Asian people sum up their perception of life in America with these three words..."Fast, full, and busy." What an amazingly succinct description of the way we live, always trying to cram as much into every moment as possible, racing from one activity to the next. I find that I'm actively looking for ways to slow life down, to add more stillness and calm into my day, to find more of the quiet magic that my hour in the morning creates for me.
in stillness
fluttering hearts
breathe deep
for more thoughts on calm and stillness, go here


Monday, March 12, 2007


One of my birthday traditions is to buy myself a new book (actually, I'll use any excuse to buy myself a book, so my birthday is just one of many!) Anyhow, last Friday (which was my birthday, in case you've forgotten) I hied myself to Barnes and Noble, fresh coupons in hand (love being a Readers Club Member) and grabbed up the latest offerings from two of my favorites~ Chris Bohjalian's Double Bind, and Jodi Picoult's, 19 Minutes.

I haven't started to read either book yet, but I'm sure I'll enjoy them. I've been reading these authors for as long as they've been publishing. Bohjalian's first mainstream novel was Midwives, which I read long before it became an Oprah Book Club Selection. My introduction to Picoult came with Harvesting the Heart, which was her second novel, published in 1993. Each one of these authors has a unique way of embroiling their characters in an issue that faces all of us in modern society, and creating a fascinating, thought provoking web of actions and consequences that we can all relate to .

There's something interesting going on with these two novels, something that's never happened before with an author that I "follow." Bohjalian and Picoult have become "hot properties" on the bookstore circuit. Barnes and Noble is featuring Bohjalian's book in their new "on-line" book clubs, complete with a really cool 10 minute pod cast of the author at home, discussing his writing process, giving us a tour of his study, and talking about the book. Picoult seems to belong to Borders, who has it's own video of Jodi participating in a book group discussion with other readers (just like me and you!)

I have to admit, I feel a little wierd about this. It was fascinating to watch these videos, hear the authors speaking, see their homes, even (oh my god!) their studies, and the actual desks where they write. But I felt a little like the kid who sees their classroom teacher in the grocery store and thinks, "My gosh! Mrs. Smith actually eats food like the rest of us!" Over the many years that I've been reading and enjoying their work, I think I've put them on a bit of a pedestal. Now I see that they're just human beings, like me - Bohjalian is quite obsessive compulsive, particularly about his study, which was frighteningly organized and neat. Picoult has the most beautiful, expressive face, yet she is obviously much heavier than the picutres on her book jackets, which leads me to believe they've been "altered" to make her appear "more attractive," when she is gorgeous just as she is.

This new web driven marketing is probably a good thing for authors, at least in terms of sales volume. In some ways, it's exciting to see writer's becoming media figures, and I'm all for making reading (and writing!) more popular in today's society. I guess I'm a little uneasy about some of my favorite literary "heroes" becoming slaves to the media. I don't want them to give up their individuality, their unique way of expressing themselves, their particular art, just to serve some PR firm's idea of what will increase sales.

How about you? What's your take on the mass marketing of author's?


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-Dream Journey

I went on a bit of a journey last night, and I'm not quite sure whether it was a dream, or a nightmare. Perhaps I'll leave it until the end of the tale to decide...

Yesterday, Jim and I drove out to Marine City, a small town about 90 miles from our home, where the chorus Jim sings with was giving a concert. I always enjoy hearing the group sing, but I usually prefer to arrive right at concert time, instead of two hours prior, the group's usual call time. Surely, I thought, I could find somewhere to pass the time before the concert- a bookstore, a coffee shop. Jim did an internet search and located a shopping mall just 3.7 miles from the performing arts center. Great, I thought. Even I couldn't get lost in 3.7 miles.

It was a beautiful day for a little road trip. With minimal traffic to impede our journey, were reached the freeway exit in record time. The remainder of the trip had us winding down a quiet two lane highway, lined with acres of now fallow fields, glistening with mositure from the recent early spring thaws.

We pulled into the parking lot just in time to greet several of Jim's "brothers in song" who were unloading their garment bags, music folders, and water bottles. Jim hastily grabbed up the Yahoo maps he had printed out and carefully stapled together. "Look," he instructed me, "you just take this road out here up to Wadham's, which looks like a dead end, then turn left on King, hop on the freeway going east. I can't tell exactly which exit the mall is, but it's probably this first one." He tossed the map collection into my lap, and hopped out of the car. "See you later!" he called cheerily.

Before I go further, I must confess that (1) I am utterly hopeless with directions, and (2) terrified of getting lost. I can't read maps (no, really, I can't!) and my natural sense of direction is~well, challenged, to say the least. "I hope so," I said, now surveying the remote landscape I had enjoyed just a moment eariler with great trepidation.

Gathering up my courage, I climbed into the driver's seat. I found the first road on my itinerary without difficulty, and a feeling of confidence began to creep into my mind. I was breezing happily along, when I decided to check the trip odometer. Wait~how could I have traveled 6.3 miles already?? The mall was only supposed to be 3.7 miles away, and I hadn't even reached the freeway? Well, the map was wrong, that's all, I thought. Sure enough, here was the dead end at King Road, where I was to turn left. With no oncoming traffic in either direction, I swung onto King, glancing at the digital compass which indicated I was traveling North. Like Gretel, in the famous fairy tale, I made a mental breadcrumb note that on my return trip, I should be traveling South on King.

After another 8.9 miles, I finally reached the freeway. The first exit promised nothing more that a Speedy Gas Station. After another 4.2 miles, I reached the next exit, which I had completely passed before I noticed what looked like an outlet mall~could that be the shopping mall I was looking for? I kept traveling, determined to turn around at the next exit. Suddenly, a large blue sign loomed in front of me. "Blue Water Bridge/Canada Next Exit."

Panic. Bridge? Canada? I glanced at the clock - I had been driving for 30 minutes already, and gone nowhere. My head was spinning...okay, okay, just turn around and go back exactly the way you came, I thought. Forget the shopping - I don't even like outlet malls all that much.

Anxiously taking the first of several exits marked "Bridge to Canada," I wheeled into the parking lot of Ron's Harbor House Restaurant and turned around. Back to the freeway - west toward Detroit (oh, blessed Detroit!)

By this time, the sun was setting, a glorious orange fireball that I would have enjoyed tremendously on any other day. Right now, however, I was driving directly into it, and the damn thing was completely blinding me! Wait - there's the King Road exit! A quick veer to the right, a left turn, double check the compass (South, thank God!), a deep breath. I'll be allright now.

I arrived back at the performing arts center in plenty of time for the concert, and I spent several moments just sitting in the car, reflecting on my journey. In some ways, I had set myself up for failure on that trip. Feeling anxious from the moment I left, second guessing myself along the way, not preparing myself by writing out directions, which I know I need to do based on my inability to read maps easily. I have often made those same mistakes on the journey that is my life, turning things that should have been a dream experience into a nightmare. Ending up nowhere near the place I intended to be, giving up in defeat, and going home feeling relieved, but also feeling like a failure.

Dreaming is great, and I've already determined to set some dream goals for myself. But the journey toward making those dreams come true will require a positive attitude, and a realistic plan of action.

"So," Jim asked, as we were getting into the car after the concert, "did you find a way to keep busy?"

"Oh, yes," I replied, "no problem at all!"


Friday, March 9, 2007

It's My (Blog) Birthday!

Actually, it's both of our bithdays- yes, March 9, 1956, was the day I made my own appearance on the world's stage. One year ago on this date, I decided to do something to lift myself from the doldrums I was wallowing in because I'd reached the famous half-century mark, and Becca's Byline was born.

I've had writing dreams since I was just a little girl. I wrote my first "novel" when I was eight, and published a "newspaper" for my sixth grade class. I often played make-believe at being a writer for an international magazine, and my dad's big desk in our basement was "world headquarters" where I gave out writing assignments to all my friends, then edited their work. Words, and pages filled with words, excite me. I'm fascinated with the power words have of evoking emotions, informing minds, and changing hearts. I love studying words, playing with their rhythm, setting them out on the page and rearranging them like the pieces of an intricate puzzle. So, for my 50th birthday, I gave myself the gift of a word playground~this blog~a place to write and to share what I'd written with others.

My, what a gift it's turned out to be! I had absolutely no idea that by beginning this blog I'd be catapulted into a world filled with talented, courageous women, sharing their dreams, exploring their vision, healing their hurts. I've made friends all over the world who inspire me, educate me, and amaze me every single day. Because of this medium, I've scribbled every Sunday, delved into the new worlds of poetry and haiku, been emboldened to try some photography, and, wonder of all wonders, written a complete novel in one month!

I think I've stayed true to my intention when I wrote my first share my thoughts on life in general, and my own in particular. What I never imagined was how much my life would be enriched by the thoughts, visions, and ideas of the people I've met in cyberspace, the people whose blogs I visit at least once a day for a dose of humor, wisdom, inspiration, and hope that there is more to this life in general than one person's daily grind, people whom I've come to care about, and think of as a great extended family.

So, I'm saying a huge THANK YOU to each of you for sharing the gifts of your wisdom and insight with me over the past year. I'm looking forward to meeting even more of you, and to many more adventures yet to come!

**photo courtesy of stockexpert


Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Write On Wednesday-Moodling Along

I have a new word to add to my word pool~you guessed it~"moodling." Not only do I like the sound of it, I like the definition too. It means (according to author Brenda Ueland, in her book If You Want to Write) "long, ineffecient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering." I'd love to become more expert in all those things, so I'm happy to hear Ueland say that this ability to "moodle" is essential for a productive imagination.

Inspiration comes slowly and quietly, Ueland continues. It comes in long walks, in lazy days spent gardening or knitting, or early mornings baking bread, it comes from sitting at the piano and really listening as you play through a sparkling passage in a Mozart Sonata. In doing these things, in "moodling" along in a carefree way, the imagination begins to bubble and boil in a natural process that Anne LaMotte calls "composting." You can't will yourself to have inspired, creative thoughts. They will come to you, however, if you let your mind wander while your body engages in some other enjoyable activity.

Julia Cameron, creator of The Artist's Way, agrees. "An artist requires the upkeep of creative solitude. An Artist requires the healing of time alone. Without this period of recharging, our artist becomes depleted." Certainly this is the idea behind Cameron's advocacy of the Artist Date, a time you spend alone doing something of your choice to recharge your creative batteries.
I have experienced this concept in action many times, as I'm sure most of you have. I can be feeling completely overwhelmed by work or family resposibilities, my creative juices completely dried up, and I sink into a hot bath, light my favorite candles, put on some Chopin or Debussy, and slowly relax into the warmth and serenity. Suddenly, the perfect first line of a poem pops into my head, or I remember an incident from my childhood that could be the basis for a fascinating and funny story, or the music reminds me of a night spent with my first love that just begs to be written about. Would my imagination have been ignited so handily if I had been at my computer, hands poised on the keys, waiting for inspiration to strike? Probably not.

I've discovered too, that if my creativity is engaged in one outlet, it seems almost transferable to my writing. Spending time at the piano is one of the ways I get inspired to write~not necessarily at the exact moment I'm playing, but later on, when the music has had time to sift through my soul, blossoming in my mind and spirit. Playing music requires use of different parts or your brain than writing does, and it involves a completely different mind-body connection, one that seems to invite creative thought to flourish.

But I'm not good at making time for moodling. My "to do" list is always so long, that I feel terribly guilty if I take time out for anything that isn't seemingly productive toward accomplishing the long list of tasks I've set for myself. Even with this validation from Ueland, Cameron, and LaMotte, I'll find it hard to set aside my Puritan work ethic long enough to moodle my way toward recharging my imagination. But, for days now, I've been craving a good, long walk, just aching to feel my feet pounding the pavement, to set my legs striding briskly down the "big hill" at the park, or even (darn this winter weather!) clock off a few rounds at the local mall. Could this urge be more than my sedentary body nudging me to get moving? Perhaps it's my creative consciousness, desperately in need of an opportunity to ferment some marvelous new ideas? Hmmm, perhaps I'd better lace up my Reeboks and moodle along, give my imagination some time to spread to its wings.

How about you...what are your favorite ways to moodle?


Tuesday, March 6, 2007

One Deep Breath - Mud/Dirt/Earth

If there's one thing I have plenty of around my backyard at this time of year, it's mud. Of course, my two fluffy little white dogs always seem to find it. Magic in particular, will roar off the back porch on the trail of a squirrel or a rabbit, tearing circles around the trunk of the old red maple tree and sending huge divots of black mud flying in all directions.

in hot pursuit
four paws scatter
moist earth to the wind

Molly is a little more delicate, mostly because she abhors getting her feet washed. She tiptoes carefully across yard, trying to hop over the muddier areas around the trees.

preferring to stay clean
this tiny pooch
eschews damp ground

Nevertheless, spring time means keeping lots of old towels by the back door, since there's just no way to avoid the mud covered footprints :~)

why bother cleaning
during springtime's big thaw~
"shih-tzu" always happens!


Monday, March 5, 2007

Bookmarked-The Sunday List of Dreams

Dreams are the lively and lovely desires of the heart, soul, mind, and body that should propel us through every moment of our lives. ~ The Sunday List of Dreams, by Kris Radish~
Connie Nixon, 58 years young, divorced, and newly retired from a demanding career as an RN, is now ready to embark on a new life, one fueled by her Sunday List of Dreams, a list she's been keeping and tinkering with for "as long as she can remember." There are at least 48 items on this list, everything from "buy a convertible, something flashy, put the top down and drive someplace without thinking" and "start sleeping naked" to "stop doubting yourself" and "stop being afraid." Connie's journey toward fulfilling her dreams takes on some totally surprising twists and turns, as a reunion with her oldest daughter teaches her some amzing things about herself, and leads her to a completely new interpretation of her List of Dreams.
Sunday List of Dreams is the fourth novel from author Kris Radish (The Elegant Gathering of White Snows, Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn, and Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral), whose series of books about women in mid-life and their experiences with friendship, life journeys, and learning to accept the past and embrace the future, are "chick lit" at it's best. Normally (and I hope I don't sound like a book snob when I say this) I don't read this particular genre~it seems to formulaic to me, the plots often contrived and hackneyed, the characters somewhat cairicaturistic.
I enjoyed this one though, (probably because it was such a departure from Paint it Black, the novel from Janet Finch that I finally had to set aside unfinished just before I picked this one up.)
It was a fun read, with strong and humorous women characters. Most interestingly, it brought up some very intersting issues for me.
First, The LIST. It's the backbone of the book, this list of dreams, and it informs everything Connie does. Following her progress in ticking off the items on her dream list, I was suddenly horrified to realize that I don't even have a list! Sure, I have dreams ~at least I guess you could call them that~ but they're so amorphous and vague they don't resemble anything like the 37 concise dreams Connie has documented in her brown leather notebook.
Then, there's the WAITING. For most of my life, I've been postponing even thinking about life dreams because I've been waiting for something~waiting to get through school, waiting to find a job, waiting to raise my family, waiting until I had enough money, waiting until my parents didn't need me, waiting, waiting, waiting~ and what it all comes down to is that I've been waiting for life to happen to me, and not making anything happen for myself.
SO~~~ in the spirit of creating dreams to "propel" me through the rest of my life~~~ here, in black and white, are the first three items on what I'll call my Monday Morning Dream Directive...
1. Stop waiting!
2. Take charge of your life!
3. Decide what your dreams are, and then do #1 and #2!
*Beginning today, The Sunday List of Dreams, is a featured selection of the Barnes and Noble online book club, including conversations with the author.


Sunday, March 4, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-Superstition

Frankly, I tend to scoff at superstition. I don't go out of my way to avoid walking under ladders, or clean up my house when my nose itches because I'm expecting company. When a black cat crosses my path, I'll slow down, but only to give it an opportunity to get out of the way. And yes, I do curse when I break a mirror, but only because it's just one more mess to clean up, and not because I'm fearful of seven years bad luck.

However, I do harbor one remote and secret fear, but is has more to do with premonition than with superstition.

When I was about 13 year old, my older cousin took me to "the fortune teller," an old blind man who lived in the remote foothills of Kentucky. I sat anxiously on the broken down Lazy Boy in the cluttered living room of his rusty double wide trailer until my cousin came out of the little back bedroom and motioned me to go in. "Your turn," he grinned.

The fortune teller was old, but harmless enough looking. In my memory, I still clearly see him hunched over the rickety card table, a shoebox of dominoes in front of him. According to my cousin, you were to give him your own birthdate, or the date of someone you loved, and he could get "visions" about that particular person by feeling through this seemingly omniscient set of dominoes. Of course, I gave him my own birthday, and he rummaged through the box, clattering the little wooden rectanges around while he told me something that was obviously very forgettable. Then, I gave him my mother's birthday, since she had been ill that summer and I was worried about her. His fingers began clicking rudimentarily through the box once again, but the motion suddely stopped and he slammed all the dominoes flat with his hand. "That's all," he said, staring sightlessly into the gloomy room.

I left the 50 cents my cousin had given me in the little jar on the table, and rushed from the room, my head spinning, my heart sick with fear. I was certain this ominous reaction meant my mother was going to die. My cousin, the typical 16 year old male, had no idea I was upset, and I never told him - or anyone for that matter - about the fortune tellers behavior.

Well, my mother didn't die that summer - as a matter of fact, she's still alive and quite well, thank goodness. I've thought about that strange moment with the fortune teller several times over the years, wondering if what he saw in my mother's aura was that horrible time yet to come, the time of my father's infidelity and desertion after 40 years of marriage. In a way, I hope that's what it was~steel magnolia that she is, she has survived that time, and gone on with her life quite nicely for the past 20 years.

But there is still a little part of me that quivers inside when I recall that grizzled old hand slamming down those black dominoes, and the flat emotionless way he said, "That's all."


Friday, March 2, 2007

Flashes of Brilliance

This morning, while I was drinking my coffee, I purposefully sat where I could keep an eye on a growing band of orange spreading along the eastern sky, signs of the brilliant orb that has been making very infrequent appearances in these parts of late. I could spy some ragged patches of blue amongst the gunmetal gray clouds skidding across the sky, and in the time it took to write a sentence or two in my morning pages notebook, a burning orange ball was staring me in the face, a regular "full monty" of sun flashing through the overcoat of cloudcover. Alas, within the blink of an eye, the trenchcoat was wrapped tightly around it once more, and that fickle sun was gone for the remainder of the day.

What a perfect metaphor for my life this week, I thought, turning my head away from the window, and concentrating on the words flowing from my pen, for it seems that gray skies have been dogging me lately, with only an occasional flash of crimson brightness to clear the air.

Yesterday was such a flash - oh, certainly not the weather, which was a virtual deluge of icy rain, creating lakes of half-frozen slush everywhere, as if the sky were a giant slurpee machine run amok, overflowing onto the earth below. No, it wasn't yesterday's weather, which was definitely March coming in at it's lionhearted best. Yesterday, it was the music creating a mighty flash of brilliance.

It was choral festival yesterday, a performing competition for high school choirs across the state. Yesterday was one of those rare days when I was just "all about the music," as the kids would say, so on my game musically speaking, when performing is just about having fun and showing everyone what you can do. For that one brief shining moment, there are no worries about money, or chores, or old houses with leaky plumbing and damp basements ~ for just a few minutes it's all gone, disappeared in the words, and the rhythm, and the excitement of the music you're making.

When it's over~when the last chord (a brilliant, triumphant Hurrah! of a chord) has faded into the air, ringing clearly off the stage and into the ears of the audience, and you're swept up in the waves of applause and cheers~when you're slammed back into the cloud covered world of real life, you stand there blinking a little in the dim light of that reality. You take a moment to adjust, just a brief double take of the soul, as you remember~oh, yes, I'm really just a middle aged woman with groceries to buy and bills to pay and a family to worry about.

Somehow, though, that flash of brilliance stays with you a while. That one burst of lightning, and all the others little bursts so like it that you've collected over the years doing this thing that you love so much, they help keep you afloat in this cloud covered world we call reality, a world that's not always beautiful, brilliant, or even bearable. A moment of sunshine, a flash of brilliance, to remember and to cherish.

So how about you? Where do you find your flashes of brilliance?