Grief's pain is emptiness. Memories fill the hole. What I first experienced as a jumbled overload of images quieted, the new calm bringing perceptible sensations to my memories. Sparked by a sound, a taste, or perhaps a rustling of fabric, memories send me time-traveling. In the minutiae of a typical day two wires touch and I am "unstuck in time." And I enjoy the journey.
Sometimes I feel her. Not spectral yet just as startling. Not a dream yet just as intangible. It's more like her essence. Palpable. It happened the other night. Up late to read a book, I turned a page and there she was. I gasped, "oh, Mom, you're here!" What word, what thought triggered such a feeling? I'll never know. Just as quickly, she vanished.
I incorporate her. After I lifetime of hearing I favor my father what a surprise to find I resemble my mother. After she died the face I saw looking at me in the mirror was hers. Reaching for my morning coffee with two hands I noted, "that's just the way Mom held her cup." Now even my language duplicates her as I integrate her old sayings into my speech. It's a comfort to celebrate our similarities.
I honor her with family rituals. Today, Memorial Day, is the day we pick mums from the front yard, put them in coffee cans and drive across town to the cemetery. For as long as I can remember we cared for the family plot by trimming overgrown grass and leaving cut flowers at each grave. I still see a vivid picture of my grandmother in her flowered dress and sun hat, kneeling in the grass, tidying headstones with a pair of scissors. Years later, I took my sons along and cried with mother while we tended Grandmother's grave. And today we care for Mom's place.
I see her in the margins. Two Mother's Days, a birthday, the better part of two Memorial Days and an ocean of tears have passed. Instead of fighting an aching loss I've welcomed her back. Instead of grasping at distant memories I see her right here, every day. In a hand-written envelope addressed to her grandchild. In a Post-It Note with her trademark greeting: "Hey Babe, I Love You!" And in my favorite, a worn collection of cookbooks and recipe cards, Mom's notes penned in the margins. My connection to the past that brings a smile to the present.
For students and teachers everywhere, it is time to move on. Changing schools, growing up, graduating, retiring. There is change in the air for all of us. There is laughter and anticipation. There are tears and goodbyes. It's a bittersweet transition.
I remember graduating and leaving my private teacher of seven years. He was my mentor, my guide, one of the most important figures in my young life. Yet when the time came to move on I never looked back. Thrilled at the prospect of college, a new city and new musician friends I couldn't wait to leave. Now I understand the conflict of pride and loss.
My newest endeavor, teaching elementary orchestra classes, has a special significance for me. Ages ago my 4th grade orchestra class shaped my life. I threw myself into playing the viola with a fervor. That experience started me on my musical path. The path which led me to this very spot. As I bring these classes to a close I wonder about my students' futures. I know I shared my passion and caring. Did I make an impact? I suppose all that matters right now is they made an impact on me.
This weekend the Philharmonic said farewell to our Music Director. Lawrence Leighton Smith and I joined the orchestra the same year. I was glad to win a contract. He was ready to start something new. His passion and joy in music-making was just what the orchestra needed yet he shared more than music with us. He became part of our lives. He stood by us when the orchestra declared bankruptcy in 2003. He married the second flute player. In recent years our quartet performed piano quintets with him and working with him was revitalizing. He coached us like a teacher and he treated us like equals.
After 11 seasons it was time for him to move on. He announced two years ago that he was stepping down. We didn't see Larry much this season. We were busy auditioning Music Director candidates; he was busy writing his autobiography. In January Smith revealed that he had been diagnosed with a form of dementia, Binswanger's Disease. Scheduled to conduct our last two concerts, he was able to lead us in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in April but declining health forced him to cancel his farewell concerts last weekend.
The community threw him a formal party to say goodbye. Two hundred friends, colleagues and patrons were there to honor him. Memorable food. Grateful words. But there was a much more touching tribute. I bumped into Larry during the cocktail hour. He greeted me warmly, took my hand in his and wanted to know all about our quartet concert last month. He told me what a pleasure it had been to coach us. It was a moment I'll never forget. Utter humility. And I'll bet he was just as charming and attentive to everyone in the room.
I've come full circle. I remember how effortless it used to feel to move on. With each May I experience the pride of seeing young musicians taking the next step. Today I feel the solemnity of a goodbye. Farewell Maestro, you will be sorely missed.
I like art that surprises. Art that engages. Art that winks. I want to be let in on the joke. I want to be led down the secret path.
I love finding art in unexpected places. And I love the contrast of an unexpected object that becomes art.
My grandfather's saws hang alongside
my dad's artwork.
Whimsical art for the kitchen.
A chronology of breakfast cereals.
A mural painted on the side of a barn in a tiny, rural town. Seen only by the owners and their occasional visitors, this giant canvas celebrates Dusty, the llama and Dali.
The side of an abandoned building covered in chalkboard and outfitted with chalk and an invitation to dream. Created by Candy Chang
, public installation artist.
A number of years ago when I was newly separated, I had no idea how to be alone. After countless miserable nights and days I finally made a list. My list was a poster written in crayon entitled:
What Makes Me Feel Happy."
On it were things like "listening to music," "expressing gratitude," "dogs" and more. It hung over my desk for years as a daily reminder. Secure in my contentment the list now hangs in the studio closet where I rarely see it.
This morning I encountered two triggers (an email and a Facebook post) which suggested "Happiness" is a goal. A target. "If only….then I'd be happy." That really got me thinking. I wondered if this hit a little too close to home. I realized if I'm not happy until I've reached the destination then I had better switch paths. Maybe it's time for me to redefine my happiness. A personal mission statement if you will.
I came up with a draft--at the very least it's a new start. My happiness: provide sufficient self care that I will have the reserves to give to others when they are in need.
I do my daily journaling in a utilitarian, college-ruled, spiral notebook. These ritual morning pages
are really meant to blow off steam and negative energy. Once I've vented I'm freer to exercise my creativity and to journal for pleasure. I love this fun, colorful and artistic format--the artist journal. This kind of journal is an ongoing process which can involve as many layers of creativity--bookmaking, painting, collage, writing, illustrating, journaling--as you like. A no-rules journal for your doodles or dreams. It is a journal of improvisation--a true creative playground.
My introduction to Artist Journals was a journal-making session at one of Teesha Moore's amazing Artfest
retreats. We learned to make our journal from scratch by removing the pages from a used book, re-covering the book boards, and binding in sets of blank pages. However, it is not essential to build your own journal. Try using an artist's sketchbook or making an altered journal by painting, pasting and journaling right over the pages of a used book. Whatever you choose, it's important to make it beautiful. This is a treasure you're making for yourself!
My journal. Repurposed book covered with printed paper. Collage of music paper, transparency, ribbon, clay medallions and gold leaf
I love to layer my pages. I usually start with a base of water soluble crayons or pencils and blend the colors. After that I'll paste photos or magazine clippings, add more layers of paint (modeling paste creates great texture) and 3D objects. And sometimes I add words, quotations or even fortunes from last night's take-out dinner. After that the entire page can be antiqued, glazed or glittered if that's your thing. Creating one page can take a couple of days with all the layers and drying time. That's OK--because you get a chance to create every day.
Scribbles and layers
I've included some of my favorite journal artists in my library
like Dan Eldon and Sabrina Ward Harrison. If you're intrigued by Artist Journals look for their books in the library. Here are a couple more inspiring artists.
Karen Michel's are artfully concise and often include some of her altered photographs. Read more about Karen here.
Teesha Moore's journals are explosions of color. See more samples of Teesha's journal pages here.
A few weeks ago a colleague and I were in the green room preparing for a concert. "I don't think I could ever wear skinny, white jeans" she said, "they would show every bit of cellulite." This woman is tall and reed thin and makes clothes look fantastic. I managed to mumble an agreement all the while thinking she would look stunning in skinny, white jeans. My mind was racing, "I wear skinny, white jeans and I don't look anything like her. Maybe I don't have any business wearing them."
Oh dear. It was a meeting of inner critics disguised as girl talk. Actually, I think we have similar image issues. We obsess over the imperfect details--our own details
--and trust that's all anyone
sees. To have a positive impact on your body image I believe in a two-step process--accepting yourself and dressing the body you currently have.
In January when I noticed my extra pounds I took another look at myself and my routines. My fashion attitude had taken a turn towards comfy sweats. It may sound trite but I had let things go. During the holiday break I wore roomy sweaters and baggy jeans. I skipped hairstyling and makeup. It was time for a pick-me-up. The internal shift towards acceptance is gradual--but it gets a boost from taking care of your outward appearance.
Feet hide from view in winter boots and cozy socks. Why not do something just for me? My first step-- a pedicure. Even if I'm the only one who will see my pretty toes. When Valentine's Day rolled around I wondered how to do something sweet for myself. I made an afternoon date at the Nordstrom cosmetics department where I had a Bobbi Brown
makeover and tried a new perfume--Grapefruit by Jo Malone
. In a few hours I looked and felt delicious and it didn't cost me a dime!
Next, the clothes. For me, clothes are creative expression. They reflect my mood, my sensibility, my whimsy. Putting them together is a little art, a little technique and a little more disguise. I'm a huge fan of makeover shows like "What Not to Wear
" and I have been for years. I love to see the positive and empowering transformations. Their advice "dress the body you have," is repeated on every episode. My current favorite resource to dress the body you have is the blog and so much more, YouLookFab
. On this excellent website you'll find body type guidelines, style advice and a welcoming, supportive forum. Using YLF tools
I went back through my closet to find the clothes that worked together and followed rules for my body type while making me feel my absolute best.
Newly accepting and freshly adorned I'm back to myself again, inside and out. And feeling confident allows me to support my gal pals too. Next time I see my friend I'm going to tell her to go shopping--because she would rock a pair of white, skinny jeans!
I stood up and walked across the room. "I sure do like to look at you," said my husband with a smile on his face. Did I say thank you? No. I made a face. "I look terrible," I protested. No make-up. No shower. Still wearing filthy clothes for walking the dogs and working in the yard. Not only did I reject the compliment, I felt irritated. "Well, I still like to look at you." Does he see something I don't?
My weight had been creeping up since January and I felt self-conscious. I started the year off on the wrong foot as far as forgiveness goes. Proud of a minimal holiday weight gain, I had resolved to start right in on a diet and exercise plan January 2nd. Well, my normally foolproof system didn't work this time around. After a couple of weeks I was holding tight to a couple of pounds. But I had let go of my resolve.
I decided to let my weight be for a while and redirect my focus. Since my unsuccessful diet attempt I had spent a few weeks in a serious funk. I wanted to make a change--what about accepting myself the way I was? Accepting that winter might add a few pounds. Accepting that I may have to explore another way to shed weight. Accepting that the timing wasn't right. And so I turned to my morning pages
. I started every day by writing the words--accept yourself
. My mantra. A persistent reminder to be gentle.
Well, that's easier said than done when your jeans are cutting into your waist. March's gorgeous weather finally had me running again. On the other hand, March's celebrations had me eating birthday cupcakes and an insidious deep fried Twinkie. Two pounds grew to 6. I stuck with my mantra through the sweets and the celebrations, the sweat and the pavement. And by the time April rolled around I was absorbing the change. Buoyed by physical exercise and positive reinforcement I finally felt ready to shed the weight.
A month later exercise is working. A healthy diet is working. Accepting myself? I'm working on it. Accepting compliments
in spite of my perceived appearance could be a new mantra. Yet...this is still a challenge for me. I wonder how much more accepting I would feel if I saw myself through my husband's eyes?
Happy Mother's Day! This is my traditional weekend to start working in the garden. Gardening is an excellent form of creative play. Digging in the dirt triggers memories of the sandbox and mud pies. The rewards are plentiful. Flowers delight with color and texture. Herbs awaken our senses. Vegetables nourish. Beauty and fertility--what maternal symbols!
My parents always had a garden with a border of strawberries. My brother picked quart after quart and logged the production on a piece of notebook paper. The faded page remains on the side of my dad's fridge to this day. My mother took up herb gardening once her nest was empty. I loved to walk through the garden with her, brushing the leaves and inhaling the scents--spicy, pungent, floral.
My first garden was also an herb garden. Built in a far-away town, it was an homage to my mother's herb gardens. My way to throw toil and creativity into a living connection to my mother. The crescent-shaped garden bordered with stones was brimming with basil, chives, chamomile and scented geraniums. The path was lined with thyme and lamb's ear. Tending the perfumed herbs shortened the distance between us.
These days I grow veggies in a set of raised beds. Garden boxes built by my son--a Mother's Day present given 5 years ago. What a lovely gift! He built them in an afternoon so you know it's an easy project. We bought the materials at Home Depot where they even cut the lumber for us. Each box uses four pieces of 1 x 12s. The corners are joined with deck screws. We cleared and leveled the area and put down landscape fabric, placed the bottomless boxes on top and filled with soil. My husband helped with some additions over the years. We now have five boxes which he enclosed with chicken wire to keep out the rabbits. Gates make it easy to work inside the boxes.
A favorite gardening book is one my father gave me, In the French Kitchen Garden
by Georgeanne Brennan. Full of ideas for a year-round garden, this book also features charming illustrations, garden plans and recipes.