Sunday, December 26, 2010

Surgical Pencil

I have one valuable piece of china. The signature Haviland Christmas plate from 1973 was a gift from my son's late Grandmother. Until this evening it was a collector's item with a measurable market value. I had forgotten about it.

Feeling lonely on Christmas Day, I retrieved it from the shelf where it had been living, value intact, for the past 15 Christmases or so. Adorned with a few goodies it cheered me up. Snowbound tonight, and again feeling a wave of post holiday isolation,I filled the plate with snacks and sat down in front of my virtual connection with the outside world. Caution! Never wash a Haviland Collectors Edition Plate. I did and now the blackmarker signature on the back is smudged for all eternity, rendering it valuable to me alone. The soft blue background supporting images of brightly brushed wild birds and"Noel 1973" instantly summons a barage of visual memories of that Christmas spent in Sidney with my parents in their aging Victorian house.
Eric was 17months old and we had journeyed through the snow, ferrying our first born, my Mother-in-Law, and 2 beloved cats in our green Plymouth Duster.

Upon arrival, we discovered that the aging septic system in my parent's house had given over to a root too deep for my Dad's ingenious plunging system. Thus, Eric's Grandmother, an inveterate New Yorker, was faced with the daunting task of using a chamber pot instead of the plumbing we all take for granted.  I sent my tea-totaling Dad downtown to buy gin. He returned with 2 quarts.
Although they sometimes cause us pain, we rely upon these memories of Christmas past to unite us in a sense of the community of family.  A few tears shed for the times we cannot recreate are part and parcel of the emotional cement of the holiday season.

My own Mother's cement has cracked. The hand of God, or some deamon equal in power, has hit her delete button. All the memories that create our personhood are wiped clean for her.  I called her in Florida yesterday hoping that she might reconnect somewhere in cyberspace with memories of our Christmases past.
For her, I do not exist anymore. I am a name she does not recognize, a life she lived and forgot. Using an arsenal from my music therapy tool kit, I tried singing to her shattered braincells. Silence and more silence was the answer. And so she has become one of a myriad of my memories.

Next week my brother will put my parents' home on the market. It was gifted to him by my mother before her downfall. But, before any sale can commence, he will hire a professional estate cleaning service to erase the tangible vestiges of my parent's lives together. I am grateful the my memory holds intact, the images of where they lived and loved each other for so many years.

I opted to tell my aged Aunt, who lives a few blocks from where my parents lived, about the sale before she drove by and was shocked by the empty house.  Her last ties of family live in that house. It was a mistake to tell her. Although I was just the messenger, I broke her heart.

In a perfect world where families are not separated by distances so great that air travel is the thread uniting them, my aunt and I would grieve together. Social networking and telephones are the unification tools of today. A real hug and the wiping of tears is reality.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


My 5'7" Yamaha Grand has been fingerprinted.  The smudges left behind by hands belonging to my 9 year old Grandson, Ezra, have birthed her a new identity. A third generation of souls entranced by the power of musical expression has been born and my fondest dream has been realized.

We all nourish these fantasies of unity in the darkness of night. Sometimes romantic love is the vehicle. A vivid memory of one moment when the skin of timespace melts allowing a true sharing, union with another. Playing the piano is a solitary, intimate act, not unlike a ubiquituous act of lovemaking. The performer so wedded to her body that each stroke of a finger, each armful embrace evokes an expression from the heart made manifold in the sounds of strings, wood and felt. It is a private sanctification, rarely shared. When this holy liason is witnessed in another the sense of  separateness shattered is overwhelmingly powerful.  Such is the union that has been forged between Ezra and me.

The saga began in late August when I was babysitting in Minneapolis.  Ezra, who had been participating in a group piano instruction situation at school, asked me if I knew" Fur Elise", that piece of program music by Beethoven which is so routinely butchered by piano students. Ezra then played with only his right hand.  I showed him a few bars and, like Gaugain with a brush, he transformed it into a masterpiece.  Since that fateful day, a mere two and a half months ago, he has called me almost nightly. Through the ethereal goo of cyberspace, an ancient cellphone and a ramshackled keyboard he has created a repertoire which includes ALL of the Beethoven piece, Mozart's "Rondo alla Turk", complete with opposing octaves and grace notes and Pachebel's Canon in D.  At his Uncle's wedding he watched me like a hawk as I played Bach's "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring "as a wedding postlude on the Baroque organ in the church in Mt. Sinai. The next day he begged me to show him how to play it. A mere 24 hours later he owned it, it was both Bach's and his.
My heart swells to the breaking point with this visceral recognition that surpasses the bounds of student-teacher, Grandmother-Grandson.  Our souls have met I know him and he knows me.

Ezra has returned to Minneapolis where a scholarship at the MacPhail Conservatory awaits him.  I would be lying to say that I am not jealous of the teacher who will inherit his musical future.  Every night I pass by my Yamaha and bless, with abundant gratitude, those 4th grade fingerprints.  I will not polish them into memory. They are mine!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Flying Free

My friend is dead.  Twenty minutes ago her poor diseased lungs released her last breath in this world spiraling her spirit through mystical adventures unknown to us, the living. A mere six months ago Marianne and I laughed and made light of the daily minutia at LHS. She might have sensed that something was running amuck in her body but she was still radiant, innocent of the thief who was silently stealing her life's force.

Yesterday, at dusk, saddened by the hushed knowledge that death was about to take one of  us, I walked along the winding path which leads to my classroom in the woods. At the spot between two ash trees where, for some reason unknown,the veil between worlds has thinned I stopped.  The trees were filled with birds, varieties that I had never heard or seen before, all sharing the same two trees. Their combined calls were ethereal, not to be missed. Two young squirrels actually stood on their haunches and listened, eyes darting, ears perked erect. I notice all the creatures living in the woods near my classroom, they are my daytime companions. These creatures of the air were new.  It was 4:30. I sensed Marianne near, the essence of her that is real and will live on.  I noted the time as I truly thought that maybe she had slipped from her ravaged body and joined the world of spirit.  I now guess that she was just trying her fledgling wings for the next days' journey.
I believe in reunion, thus I choose to see her ecstatically greeting her husband who passed from her world many years ago, leaving her to raise her sons alone. I see them holding hands and walking, whole, renewed and in love again. I hope she is loving us as much as we are missing her tonight.

Godspeed on your journey home, Marianne.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

La luna

It is Saturday, October 16th and the waxing gibbous moon is standing sentinel in the southeastern sky. Bright, slightly yellow and showing just a hint of her shadowy  earth shine  she guards all the lovers on earth tonight.
For the first time in many years, both of my sons are together tonight and within a mere 20 miles of where I sit writing this blog. Each is sharing the  moonlit sky  with a  partner who loves them dearly. My youngest is about to be married to his soul mate and his brother has been blessed with a woman who loves and appreciates him.  Four lovers beneath the waxing gibbous moon, enjoying a party to celebrate the coming marriage.Thirty three years ago today, beneath a waxing crescent moon, I too was in love and celebrating the day of my marriage. Cycles wax and wane and so does love. I pray that they step firmly, but quietly, over the fool's quicksand that I didn't safely navigate. My deepest wish for my sons is that their loves wax permanent and binding, granting them companionship through all of life's seasons as La Luna, watches from afar loves lost. lingering, transformed and transcendent.

Friday, October 8, 2010

And The White Dove Sang

It is dark now. Quiet envelopes my personal space with her soothing blanket of white noise, my ears still ring from the previous hours of child noise. Friday opens her doorway revealing the paths of possibilities lurking in a three day weekend. The sigh of letting go, the lightness of step, enough time to shop in the far reaches of my psyche for something to feed the lean week which will loom ahead. Educating our youth is hard, often unrewarded work. But, occassionally the universe throws me a jewel of encouragement that it is all worth it i the end.

Selling a new piece of good choral music to middle school kids is a daunting task.  One needs a hook, a tale taunting enough to grab the adolescent attention out of the trenches of the habitual habitat of condemnation which lies in waiting for anything which might hint at up staging Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. I have used and discarded lots of "bait" in my time, but the right piece of music will attract it's own catch, given a lifetime long enough to survive the first "Lord of The Flies" knee jerk reaction of "I don't like this" and"Can't we sing some real music?"

I have found that the truth is the strongest salesperson. Four years ago I happened upon this partner song with straightforward lyrics about living in harmony and communication. "Can't we talk it out and learn to give?"
A beautiful melody and some simple American sign language greased it's way into my kids' acceptance zone and I was home free.  They sang it for a group of Persian War Vets and a local congressman at a Veteran's Day assembly and left grown men with tears streaming down their faces. Nothing like the angelic voices of children to deliver a powerful message of truth. The song ended our Holiday concert. I had included the lyrics in the program with a drawing of a dove, hastily attached and a little crooked, on the bottom of the page. A happy ending yes, but the story was not over. That song and I had a greater destiny.

Two weeks later on the last day before Christmas vacation, I rushed to my local bank to cash my paycheck containing a modest bonus. My son had recently lost his job and I had promised to arrive in Minneapolis with
the bonus money to buy gifts for my Grandchildren. I presented the check to the teller and was shocked and greatly enraged to find that my employers had left on an expensive cruiseship to exotica leaving my much needed paycheck unsigned. I was shaking with hurt and fury, as this was not the first time, nor the last, that this had happened. Retrieving my sad, signature less paycheck I turned to walk away and something jolted my attention to the bank wall in front of me. The insert from my concert with the sloppily pasted dove drawing was standing guard, witness to my ordeal . Someone had gotten my message and posted it there amongst the Christmas and Hanukkah cards. The all too familiar lyrics screamingat me to be heard:
                                          " Around the world, we could live together
                                             Happily forever why don;t we try?
                                            There's got to be a way to settle our differences without fighting.
                                             "Where is the peace on earth
                                              Can't there be peace on earth?
                                               Let there be peace on earth today"
Greatly humbled by the synchronicity, I left the bank vowing to be grateful and let go of the anger.

This week I decided to revisit that peace song with a new group of recalcitrant middle schoolers. Like Houdini in search for the right prestige my mind traced possible routes towards successful salesmanship.

I told them about James Twyman's experiment with peace concerts in Kosovo during the 90's and how violence had been reduced in cities where children gathered to sing with him about peace. They appeared mildly impressed. They were listening. Then something magical happened and I decided to tell them the story of my experience at the bank. Altering the details to eliminate details and the culpability of my boss, I simply substituted a computer error in my account for the unsigned check.They were spellbound. The universe had their attention.  Someone said "That is really cosmic!"
"Another said "I love stories about real magic!"  I was happy. I found the hook and knew I could use the song again.  I engaged the CD version in my ancient stereo and as the song was playing, for their first time, I looked at the newly winterized swimming pool in front of me. There, bathing in the water from last night's storm was one white dove. When the music stopped I said "Turn around quietly and look in the pool"
They all saw her.  The moment was magical. The universe smiled.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

In Search of Power Places


My father was a dowser, a water witch. He was sensitive, kind and loved to fish in the small streams of upstate New York for trout. Water drew him , spoke to him.  Using nothing but a forked branch from a fruit tree, he could walk over the land where he suspected a hidden vein to dwell. The stick would begin to vibrate in his hands until he could no longer prevent the end from pointing toward the ground.The bark would come flying off from the force of of his grip on the shaking stick. He was never wrong, and people from surrounding counties would consult him regularly before digging a well. He never took a penny for his services, it would have been a violation of his gift. He planted seeds, they grew into mighty fortresses. He trusted the earth.

I, however, harbor a dogged distrust of the fertility of Terra Firma. I don't know what spawned my inability to trust  such a ubiquitous act as planting a seed. Whenever something does sprout and grow on soil that I deem mine, I am amazed. My distrust extends beyond the sprouting of seedlings.  The garden centers ,which are more and more abundant on Long Island, fill me with concern for their resident plantings.  I can waste hours trying to decide what may grow on my 1/3rd of an acre. Even after I have adopted some brave, well nourished plant it may linger all summer in the black plastic container where it was born because I fear placing it in the soil. My friend's  compost heap , a veritable dumping ground, generates  tomatoes, squash and vegetation to drool over without the lifting of a finger. She gave me some tall, pink flowering plants several summers ago and swore that they would, like squatters, take over any garden I planted them in.  They are growing, but remain captive in the planter I brought them home in.

I have decided to blame my property . Before the house was built it was a nursery, filled with young trees. Hawthorns, spruce and Cedars, for which the street is named ,grew abundantly. Leveling them and building a house which needed "fill" in order to secure its existence was an ill conceived plan at best. The builders thought that two young academics wouldn't notice that their house was being built on sand and gravel instead of rich black soil.  This subliminal metaphor may have forecast the future. It was not fertile ground. Marriages withered, children left home, the neighbors too, fell into chaotic spirals of decay.

I did not inherit my Dad's gift for dowsing. My gift seems to present as an unexplained ability to sense power places, vortexes if you will, sacred spaces. Places where the veil has weakened or been torn enough to allow something nubious to peek through. I suspect that I always had this ability but only recently have I come to trust in it. There is a spot between two large trees on the property where I work. The veil there is thin..When it is open I can sense it and, I pay attention. My Uncle Loren, only 2 hours from the moment of his death, spoke to me on that path and told me to call my Mother, his sister, as she would be sad.  One of my little students had tragically lost his Dad in an accident which never should have happened. I was friendly with them and often thought I sensed Frank, the Dad's presence asking me to watch out for little Frankie.  One day when this happened Frankie was walking beside me and said" Who touched me? Someone touched me on the shoulder." I smiled and said nothing but knew his Dad had managed to slip a loving arm through the veil to touch his beloved, only son. On the day that my young friend passed on a tiny drop of water hanging from a piece of play equipment caught the sunlight and expanded into a big, glowing red ball of light. It remained for 10 minuets until I, needing my own confirmation of its existence asked my 5th graders to turn around and look. They all saw it. I, of course, said nothing but my cell phone immediately rang displaying a number I know would bring me news of Lisa's death.
I think the property is an old Native American sacred space.

Does the presence of a unique, human love oil the hinges of these power spots?  I  think it may. Several times in the past few weeks I have been invited to the homes of friends, once for dinner, once for a shared meditation on the beach. One couple is composed of two young men, the other, a man and woman in their late 50's.  The unifying factor, a palpable sense of true love and respect for each other. A powerful joining of matched souls. These homes are power places where rich vegetation , little frogs, fish and beautiful loving dogs thrived.  Both evenings I found it hard to leave. The peace, the ease of breath, the magical sense of being cradled by something larger than myself was nourishing and fresh. These homes are alive, open, inviting havens where human love thrives.

It is the last Saturday evening of summer. The cricket chorus has been diminished by an autumnal chill in the air. Summer's antiphons have already morphed into one great unison. I miss the strident staccato of the Baroque echoes. In the southwestern sky hangs a pregnant moon, nearly full term she casts a maternal light across the  darkened woods.  My small gray cat softly purrs in the Terra Firma of my lap.  He has found love. He is home.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Who Am I? (with thanks to Leonard Bernstein & Peter Pan)

It crept upon me like some unholy stalker.  For months some undefined uneasiness has grabbed me in the solar plexus upon waking. Somewhere between a gnaw and a gasp I ease back into consciousness intuiting that something is askew. It makes its acquaintance in the physical yet, I know that this culprit has no form. Ghost of my past or premonition of my future, it has my attention.

I never expected to enter my 6th decade confronting an identity crisis, but here it is, full blown and menacing. We all adorn titles, social structure demands them of us. "What do you do?" quickly becomes "who you are?" For decades I proudly would display one of three when the question arose. It was a given. I was a mother, a teacher, a pianist. I could produce products and progeny  in proof of my function. Later, when my eldest gifted me with 2 little boys, I proudly added Grandmother to my list of identities.

Sometimes we can't mark, like a Birthday, the exact date when our lives alter. The uneasiness was taking on a life of its own and one day this summer I knew that I was not who I thought I was anymore. I woke up and realized that I, the I that  I always recognized as me, was lost, gone ,vanished like a vapor. Now, yes, there were mitigating circumstances lurking in the ethers. My youngest son is about to be very happily married and his older brother has found a partner who compliments his existence and loves him dearly. Although the biology of mothering never changes, the practical, everyday manifestations of motherhood do change, especially for those of us who birthed boys. It is inevitable that another woman will take our place and most of us take great joy in this. However, I am betting that the alteration of this familial relationship bites harder into the identity of a woman who lived most her life as a single parent. There is no marital relationship to reignite, no one to share with or bounce off.  The restructuring  is a solitary act.

There are isolated moments when imparting knowledge to someone else, in exchange for monetary reward, is still satisfying.  But one does not teach in a vacuum. No child left behind has left many teachers, especially those of us who work in the creative arts, in a delicate state of survival of the fittest. A good teacher has to carve her connections carefully without expecting respect, or recognition as rewards of the trade. Paddling upstream gets quickly old.

It is treacherously dangerous to go where I now tread, confronting my lifelong relationship with the piano.
I once met author Peter Matthieussen at a party in the Hamptons. I didn't know who he was and he struck up a conversation with me, decades his junior. The conversation ambled towards writing and he said " Oh yes, I write. I summarily go into my studio , shut the door and slit a vein."  And thus I, thereafter, had words to describe that tortuously perilous process of using an art form to release the torrent of emotional responses dammed up inside. The piano has been my muse and we have had a stormy marriage. Like a lover she has provided moments of rapture and moments of utter terror.I should have recognized a bad bout of tendinitis in my late twenties as a semaphore, a warning that the beast was bigger than I. I did conquer the physical aliment, thanks to my wonderful teacher Lucy, but the real disease was in my thought process.  The voices that warned of failure and humble beginnings were just too loud.. I was an accompanist, a place that I thought fit.  I did it comparably well, enjoying the challenge of being an invisible support structure.  I am not ready to file for a divorce, severing forever the connection with my muse. But I have stopped fighting with her. I had my own piano rebuilt last year. She is not the same as she was, but neither am I. WE still have our days of mutual satisfaction. I play, but I am not a pianist. God, those words hurt so much!

At 63 it remains to be seen what I shall become. Or maybe I am already there.  I'll chose to be mindful and watch.                                  

Monday, September 6, 2010

Child of Paumonauck

Long ago my parents bequeathed their blond haired, hazel eyed child with a Native American name. I had to wear it for many moons before it began to fit comfortably on my psyche and speak to my soul.  Little did I know that I would reside on the back of the great fish with split tail , Paumonauck which has become my home and, as such, part of my identity.
Every Labor Day the Indian in me yearns to be part of the Shinnecock Pow Wow celebration on the East End of the fishes tail. Every year I try to convince the rational me that it is not a good idea to go to the Pow Wow alone and every year I lose the battle and arrive there amongst the "real" Native Americans.  I actually do possess Iroquois blood, about 1/4 on my Father's side of the family, but it is my nubious spirit which really gives me the feeling of belonging there.
I have had several bizarre experiences at that Pow Wow and I always hope for the Great Spirit to provide me with another.  Last year I was moved to tears by an Elder Woman of the Shinnecock Tribe performing an interpretive dance to the familiar Baritone voiced version of the Maillot Lord's Prayer.  I was sure that in a 3 day Pow Wow I would have missed it this year but, like a gift from the Heavens, as I was walking to the gate to buy an entrance ticket I hear the beginning arpeggios of that hauntingly beautiful piece of music and arrived just in time to see the magnificent woman, again do her dance. The roughneck behind me quipped "Oh, so did I arrive just in time for the born again revival?"  I shot him a look that would have melted his gold chains and said "It's the Shinnecock's version of The Lords Prayer, be respectful". He tipped his hat to me and was off in search of less aggressive female fare.
John Running Deer is the prophet of the Shinnecock tribe. He has had visions of earth changes which harken to those seen by Edgar Casey, the sleeping prophet.  I wandered to his booth near the back of the field to see if he had updated his maps. But really, I was hoping that the veil would lift and provide me with  another validation that we are more than the illusion we appear to be. Several years ago, in the same place I was innocently sampling some exotic oils when a young Jamaican man walked past me and I was almost knocked down by the power of the energy that was created.  I looked startled, and so did he and he said "Wow, did you feel that too" I had and was moved in places I thought were long dormant.  Mr Running Deer witnessed the  whole thing and told us that we had been together for many lifetimes, most notably on Atlantis.  I never saw the young man again but still feel a sense of loss at the power of that connection.  It is the kind of thing that the rational mind refutes but the heart is not so easily fooled.

I am not a consumer by nature and thus it takes something really special to make me open my wallet at these affairs.  An exotic Mayan Man was selling these paintings made on handmade paper.  I was very drawn to them and spent time with his broken English trying to ferret out the meaning of what he had created.  I wanted one and picked 2, one large for $60, a fortune, and a smaller one for $10. After paying him and walking away I later realized that I had taken 2 smaller paintings, one was very thin and had ridden as a parasite on the other.  I had walked a full mile before I made the realization and fought with myself to return the stoleaway. The heat and my feet were deterrents and I came home with all three. I hope he knew that it was an honest mistake. He is probably very accustomed to barterring andI am not comfortable with that fare.

My less than agressive driving style and consequent fear of the tailgating SUVs behind me often leads me to discover back roads and quiet spots. Dune road runs along the slippery side of the Great Fish. Today it was badly pock marked by Earl's enormous wave rollovers. But I braved it anyway and drove in the little gullies between the fierce Atlantic and the inlet. The sky was so intensely blue today that its reflection upon the water was startling as I crossed the bridge which connects the mainland with Dune Road in Hampton Bays. Even the clown in the SUV behind me slowed to a crawl taking in the grandeur.
Tonight the azure sky will feed one of those autumnal sunsets that turn the horizon fiery, silhouetting the Great Fish briefly on a brazier of searing pinks and reds before he sleeps in the shadowy brine of the sea. I will bid summer farewell in my usual manner, perched on the gray, aging benches behind the nature center at Cedar Beach. There I will wait for that magical moment when the two Ferries from Bridgeport and Port Jefferson make their trek across the Sound , drawn toward each other like those magnetic Scotty Dogs my Grandmother had on her refrigerator when I was a child. I will wait until they merge into one against that fiery backdrop and then ubiquitously slip past each other pursuant of their separate quests. But it is that second when they appear to be but one ship that speaks to me so strongly.  Are all our moments of unity but illusions?

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Big Storm that Wasn't

I am a resident of a fragile island, it affords me endless access to breathtakingly beautiful sunsets, lonely beach walks and forty years of my own fragile footsteps in the sands of time. Born in the landlocked ruggedness of upstate New York I never cease to find wonder in this jetty of sand where I have raised my children, loved and begun to grow old. But there is something about an approaching storm that hones my love for this island home and fills me with anticipation of things forceful and yet unknown.  For days we have been warned of his approach, Earl, a category 4 storm in his heyday has now arrived diminshed to a category 1.  Last night, exhausted from the first days of school, I gathered all my beloved potted impatients plants, my tall gardenia and the few sentimental pieces of statuary that I own and brought them inside where nary a gust would break their tender stems. The trees, yawning a good 200 feet into the sky around my house have been here since the house was built. Like me, they are not as strong as they once were and there is an honest respect for their age which will cause me to bless them quietly tonight before  the storm settles upon us.  Even the sustained 35mph gusts could be dangerous.
Gloria's memory is still pretty fresh, 25 years ago she permanently bent the trees behind my deck and left the 3 of us huddling under my Yamaha Grand . My dear friend and neighbor, John had gone home to put away his picnic table and surfaced only after the wrath of the storm.  For 10 days there was no school. WE cooked on an hibachi over my recycling can. A huge frozen fish, gifted to me by a member of my church choir kept us in ice longer than anyone else.  When the fish finanally melted John and I roasted it on the fire and fed it to my cats.  It is these moments of shared fragile intimacy that make the approach of a big storm so enticing.  When the power goes out we are all vulnerable and a little scared by what might be.  The usually isolating environment of Long Island occassionally bends towards this intimacy in the face of disaster. September 11th was, sadly one of these times.  For 3 weeks people were kind to each other, walked on the beach and talked.  It is this break in the cold and austere which always quickens my sense of longing for community.
But, alas, Earl is a nonevent. It is Friday night, it is raining and I remain lonely.