Friday, April 27, 2012

all balled up

All balled up - that is what my piano teacher, Mrs. Carson, used to say whenever I was in that place of intense emotional response to a piece of music and my technical skill set was lagging behind.  All knots and desperate attempts to unravel and spool myself out being  hampered and I am left hopeless confused.

I haven't thought about Mrs. Carson in a long while.  I took piano lessons for the four years of high school and always felt behind because my image of kids studying piano involved 7 and 8 year olds playing Brahms Lullaby with their teenage selves far beyond simple chords and notes.  During my senior year my teacher somehow talked me into participating in this formal evaluation; it wasn't a recital per say, but I had to perform before some judges who would rate me.  I'm not even sure I understood what it was all for - my mother only recently explained to me the evaluation could have been used to apply to music school.  All I remember is my teacher wanted me to do it and I went along albeit quite fearfully.

I think I played something by Schubert.  I can't really play anything on the piano anymore but my hands almost almost remember the movements of the piece I performed.  I can recall the movement of the music in my fingers, in my body and in my soul.  I can hum a few notes and I still sway, 33 years later, when I think of it.  I loved that piece and I performed it with all of the emotion I dared to leak out which is to say, a fair amount for me but probably restrained by more musical standards.  I don't remember flubbing up and I am still here so I survived.  But I never believed I could be a pianist and so it didn't occur to me to ask about my scores afterwards.  I mean, if Mrs. Carson didn't tell me then theyI must have been embarrassingly low and she was sparing me by not bring the matter up.

After that year I left for college and briefly considering resuming my piano studies but decided against it because, well, it would be a waste of time, right?  In my mind the time had passed for me.  I was too old, too late in my ripe age of 17 to amount to much.

It never occurred to me to consider that I really enjoyed playing the piano and that I might continue my studies purely for my own pleasure.  

A year or so ago the whole topic came up with my mother and husband.  My mother expressed her regret that I hadn't continued playing, that she and my father held onto the piano for years hoping I might start up again and that reluctantly they sold it when it became evident I would not play again.  I confessed that the evaluation process was the final proof that I was wasting my time at something I would never be very good at.  My mother sat stunned.  "You scored very high ... in the 90s ... Mrs. Carson wanted you to apply for a scholarship ... she thought you should study music but you seemed to have decided upon art and we didn't want to push you."  

In the months since my mother relayed this bit of information to me, I have reexamined the string of decisions made afterwards over and over in my mind.  It pains me to realize the number of times I abandoned something - myself really - because I compared myself to others and felt I was lacking and should quit.  Piano. Photography. Writing. Foreign Languages. Teaching.  All things I enjoyed but never pushed myself to pursue too seriously because, well because ...


And now I've returned from The Makerie Retreat and two full days of painting and I want to immerse myself in it.  My first day back at work someone asked me how I was and I broke into tears sobbing "I don't want to be here, I want to be painting!"  

I want to be able to devote more time and attention to what I love; to what opens me up to passion and engagement and presence; to feel utterly alive and awake in this life.  I want to dare to say "This matters to me and that is reason enough to pursue it."  

What holds me back - the nets that block my leap from the cliff and into the colorful abyss - are notions of responsibility, selfishness and good old-fashioned guilt.

listening to crow who has been insistent he has messages I need to hear ... and heed

So here I sit, all balled up.  I know which ideas I can dismantle but others are harder to evaluate honestly.  And while all of this has been on my mind this week, today is my day to paint and play  and to let all these thoughts drain away.  Right now I can commit this chunk of time to following my bliss and my curiosity.  That may be the best I can do for awhile which isn't to say I am abandoning myself again but rather committing to this moment and what is possible.  And that's a good place to start.  

Stay tuned.  

she always helps me to find clarity and purpose albeit often with a healthy dollop of chaos and distraction

Monday, April 23, 2012

journeying & arriving

I've been on a new adventure which is why I've been quiet lately.

It started in the usual way ... 

With lots of road to cover ...

 The usual amount of detours, road construction and rain ...

 I arrived at the Makerie Retreat in Boulder, Colorado ready to let go and let the paint flow in Flora Bowley's Bloom True 2-day painting workshop.  

Over the course of those two days I tumbled, tussled, tangoed and finally submitted to the whispers of forms awaiting arrival, feelings and expression demanding colorful presence upon my canvas's stage.

We moved between two paintings the entire weekend and it was exhilarating and exhausting to be so attentive to both painting's demands.  We painted layer upon layer upon layer and I felt myself pushed to delve deeper and deeper within myself and within the paintings.

 I was grateful for my yoga training which has mentored me in the practice  of riding a wave of experience and watching for that moment when I tend to want to jump off and out of the process.  What I discovered this weekend was my habit of settling; that I have often times believed myself to be content with riding the smaller waves, maintaining that those little ripples are satisfying and more than enough for me and my life.

I am now entertaining more dangerous thoughts, one of which being I am content no more to play it so safe, to stay on the inside edge of the forest in sunlight, comfort, gentle breezes and birdsong.  I stepped into the wild, the dark, the unknown this past weekend and while I was often frustrated and more often perplexed and confused as to where to go next, I do know I no longer want to settle for the easy and the known.  

More is brewing within me ... fox traveled with me these many miles and I am anxious to follow her back into the brush, my whiskers twitching, tail swishing, eager for more. And more. And more.   

The 8+ hour drive home was not enough time for me to even begin to resolve what is shifting within my thoughts, nor can I begin to bring into focus this expanded sense myself and who I am and how it is I want to grow. 

 I just know I am grateful to Flora for the windows she has opened within me.  

Her work, her teaching, her voice are sunlight and Spring rain and fresh breezes inspiring within me a confidence that change is possible, thriving likely and blooming a surprising and unexpected reward for hanging in when the ride gets wild.  And the process is chaotic, the outcome uncertain but the possibilities beyond my imagining.

I believe things are about to become very interesting now that I've returned ...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

cycles and trends

Confession: I envy Cowgirl's ability to launch herself full throttle into her obsessions. She is so unselfconscious and totally enthused about whatever is her current passion be it HotWheels cars, Beyblades, dragons, airplanes, whales or penguins. Whenever I pull out my sketch book or art journal I catch myself over thinking what it is I want to create. What I need a healthy dose of playfulness along with a heaping helping of undiluted mania .

Each day I go through her backpack pulling out the pieces of her latest craze: whales and sharks gave way to dragons which in turn morphed into snakes, then airplanes and now birds. Eagles to be precise (and she is nothing if not exacting in her choices). It is not just the variety that fascinates me but how day after day after day she works on these forms. In her spare moments - waiting for breakfast or dinner - she will go to her table and like a miniature Dr. Frankenstein work on her creatures.

At last count, she had over 50 dragons with multiple heads.

And she doesn't just draw and color these creatures, she cuts every one of them out!

So yesterday I pulled out evidence of a new trend: birds (along with some snakes).

I'd say (and this is an educated assessment given my -ahem - training as a professional art historian) she has moved out of her more leisurely rose and blue periods and is in the midst of a fertile and fevered explosion of creativity. Think Picasso and cubism - analytic, synthetic and hermetic. (I know, forgive my lapse into mumbo jumbo; my mind is like a mix master blender - hit puree and see what comes up!)

I am in awe of the continued variety of colors and forms and the details she includes - girl eyes (signified by eye lashes), fancy claws, lightening bolts, teeth and yes, blood!

It is fascinating to watch her process unfold and has me thinking about my cycles and trends in creating. As I flip through my Book of Days (what would the weekly equivalent be?) I am aware of my continued interest in making mandalas.

Awhile back I was in an online group exploring mandalas and it was there that I learned about the process called The Great Round. To me, it is like the Medicine Wheel with the 12 stages mapping out an archetypal process of development and growth. Creating the mandalas and then reflecting upon them through journal writing has been an insightful process in understanding my own cycles, trends and growth. My first circuit through the Great Round has inspired me to create a mandala each month of the year to provide insight into seasonal changes.

It all dovetails with the work in SouLodge as the group circles together each season for 6 weeks. I am gaining perspective as I allow myself to fall into rhythm with Nature, the Seasons and the cycles of the moon, replacing instant gratification with a more measured approach. Space and time opening up it seems as I slow down and allow insights to come rather than chasing madly after them.

As if to confirm all of this, I discovered on my front lawn what feels like an important teaching about cycles and process.

I was horrified to find this sweet baby bunny, reminding me that April is indeed the cruelest month as new life is so very vulnerable and Life really a miracle and not the norm. At the same time, I was drawn in by the incredible beauty of this creature and was aware of its presence as a gift reminding me that the cycles of life/death/life turn quickly and we are always experiencing some aspect of that process. Honoring this gift, I devised an impromptu burial ceremony in our backyard, offering lavender, yarrow, cornmeal and tobacco to Mother Earth along with her babe. I sang to it a sacred chant invoking healing for all, myself included. And at some level beyond my ability to explain or describe, I felt myself settle into a state of peace that had been eluding me all week.

Later that night as I was washing up dishes, I looked out the window and there was the confirmation I needed that indeed, all is as it should be and I am exactly where I need to be in this merry-go-round of life.

Meanwhile, my girl is moving into her eagle phase. I can't wait to see what comes next.

Friday, April 13, 2012

some days (and Eggy memories)

Oh Friday! I had such aspirations for you - a day busy with relaxing! Some yoga, a little meditation, painting, time outdoors to sit and gather navel and brain lint. Alas, it was not to be.

As U2 so aptly put it: some days take less but most days take more, some slip through your fingers and onto the floor.

Heading out for what was to be a quick oil change and then jaunt to the grocery store, I was stalled for three hours waiting for my car which meant dashing home, no lunch, walking the dog and then zipping over to the school to pick Cowgirl up. And it got worse.

Yes, on Friday the thirteenth I took on the most dreaded of all errands: grocery shopping with a young child in tow. A hungry, end-of-the-first-week-back-to- school- after-break child.

And the dollop of whip cream on top of that: said child and mother both tired and cranky after a night of thunderstorms which involved multiple waking ups to cries, claps of thunder, pinched shoulders, boney limbs thrashing, hot bodies squeezing in upon me, returning child to her bed only to have the entire scenario repeated hours later.

All of which means I went grocery shopping, dropped some serious cash and came home with nothing to eat. What we do have: pretzel bread, cinnamon toast crunch cereal (purchased for the Star Wars pen inside; Cowgirl will eat one bite and say she's finished which means daddy gets the entire sugary box), a HotWheels car (I'll pay you back when we get home mommy - promise!), fudgesicles, an apple pie (I thought I was grabbing black cherry), watermelon and a surplus of spinach and spring mix salad greens.

I forgot to buy the wine I very much want to be drinking right now.

So here I sit ... a Friday night and we've been to martial arts class, walked the dog (again) and Cowgirl is almost almost in bed. For a few hours before the next wave of storms is set to move in.

Good riddance to you Friday. I am ready to try again tomorrow ... except tornadoes are in the forecast and now I really wish I had that bottle of wine.

Here are some recent memories of better days.

Do note: our children do not need parents to help them score some major Easter Egg booty.

The moral of this whole story (because I want to find meaning in this otherwise squandered day): some days you find your eggs are rotten but other days they may be marvelously multicolored or even - gasp - chocolate!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

retreating from ... or to?

The day my father died, I took Cowgirl to the zoo.

Cowgirl - September 2006

We had been home from China only a few weeks and the zoo was a weekly trip those first months home. I was packing up the gear for our outing (remember how much stuff we used to tote when our children were little? If an morning out should turn into Armageddon, I was prepared with snacks and drinks and divertissements ...) when the phone rang. It was my mother. She had found my father lying on the floor by his bed and had called the ambulance. The paramedics had just revived him and were headed to the hospital but in her words, "It doesn't look good."

Not knowing what else to do - at the time my parents lived 2 plane trips away - I continued with our trip to the zoo. We visited the gorillas, the big cats, had a snack and by the time we got home, my father was dead.

Today being Cowgirl's last day of Spring break, I requested a vacation day so we could go to the zoo to see the newly renovated aquarium. Cowgirl loves the penguins. Each time we visit she will point out which penguin is me (a nice, plump, slow moving one), which penguin is daddy (not as big as me), which one is her (always small and zipping around) and which one is Moose dog. I haven't figured out the deeper psychological implications of her identifying our family within animal groups; perhaps it is comforting to imagine ours is the template for all family structures? Whatever her reason, she repeats this activity with fish, butterflies, gorillas and always, the penguins and she has done so for as long as she could talk.

I was looking forward to this zoo day. And then my mother called to tell me the results from the biopsy of what we thought was a persistent rash or scratch on her cheek is really a malignant melanoma. And she needed to go in the next day - which was today - to have it removed.

So I decided we should go to the zoo anyway, before the doctor's appointment, although the symmetry of it all was a bit eerie. Bad news - off to the zoo.

Which got me thinking about all those zoo trips in the early months with Cowgirl - the months when I was adjusting to my new role as a mother and processing the loss of my father. I've never really thought about the one impacting the other but now it seems so obvious to me.

Those weekly zoo trips were my shaky hold upon routine. What no one had told me about being a mother was just how incompetent I would feel all of the time. Or maybe it was just me or maybe I am just more transparent about how I feel and/or less skilled in pretending otherwise. I took a long adoption leave from work and was alone much of that time. Well, alone with my child.

The other thing no one tells you is how lonely it can be being with a young child. You are - or I was - a slave to their schedule and coupled with my focus upon our attachment, I rarely was separated from her. I remember watching Mr. Rogers show and weeping every episode. His easy, gentle, patience and loving presence spoke of a comfort I longed for in my life and longed to model for my child.

Instead I was tap dancing as fast I as could to get up to speed on this whole mothering thing. One night I forgot I had left a glass pyrex dish on a hot burner until it exploded with an impressive bang! Two heavy pieces of hot glass landing on the floor by me and my surprised child. Another night I ran out to buy a pair of pants - I had lost 10 pounds in one month - and the saleslady kindly informed me that I might want to button my blouse. I looked down to see one lone button holding my shirt in place.

I couldn't run away and join the circus, so I ran to the zoo instead. For whatever reason, it was my haven. I felt anonymous and free as I rolled the stroller and Cowgirl around the unusually deserted paths and halls. The zoo early on a weekday morning in cold weather is a treat indeed. And while I rarely prepare for anything (tornado survival kit - hello?!) my bag was packed and loaded whenever we went to the zoo. Snacks and clothes and band-aids and toys galore.

I was thinking about all of this today while also worrying about my mother. Another thing no one can prepare you for is the care of an aging parent. There are the practicalities of it all - navigating health care and finances and decisions about home or retirement centers - and then there are the emotions involved in having to be in charge of your parent. There is the uneasy and steadily sinking realization of mortality and the finite nature of all relationships. As a parent, it is painful for me to consider my child being without my presence in the world; as a daughter I am grappling with the eventual loss of my last parent.

I wish I could say I discovered a soothing insight while watching the Andean bear nap on his bed of straw. Part of me felt like I was retreating from life for those few hours but another part of me is thinking that actually the zoo animals reinforce an understanding of my relevance in the scheme of it all. That my dramas are exactly that - stories in my head and the reality is I and Cowgirl and my mother are all just one facet in an infinitely complex and beautiful web of life. Not profound, but practical. We live our lives but really, life moves through us all until we are used up and then it moves on. And on. And on.

My mother's procedure went well. The doctor is optimistic that he got all of the cancer. Today, we are all safe and well. Cowgirl is sleeping in her bed after a week of sleeping in her tent in her bedroom. The plants are covered in case of a freeze tonight. Tomorrow who knows? New butterflies will be in the pavilion next time we go to the zoo and we will enjoy them just as we enjoyed the ones we saw today. This life is both marvelous and very ordinary and my intention is enjoy every moment given to me.

In the end, perhaps it is the ordinary that we seek but with eyes attuned to the preciousness of it all.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Spring play

We are having fun here:

Playing with flowers and making garden mandalas (Herb camp fun!)

Ready for our next Mighty Girls Art Camp project

Today's to-do list includes:

-reassembly fairy circle (the Husband lay new bark mulch in the flower beds)
-make more sun tea

-finish hard boiling eggs
-boil onion skins and turmeric; blueberries; coffee; cranberries - cool and dye eggs

-clean kitchen
-get outside and play!

To this list Cowgirl has added: go out for YoYoBerri Yogurt
To which I say - Of course!

Happy Easter! May the Easter Bunny bring you your favorite treats. Or a Beyblade Pegasus Galaxy toy if you are Cowgirl. Guess that means I have to add to the list - figure out what in the world is a Beyblade Pegasus Galaxy!