Monday, August 30, 2010

Good Advice

“One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

(Read this quote a couple of days ago, as I was getting my daily poetry fix from The Writer’s Almanac.  It's a good thought to keep in mind as we start the school year.)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (And What the Neighbors Thought)

by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993

When I was in my early twenties, I had a very sweet single friend who wished she wasn’t single. I offered to introduce her to a nice guy I knew from school, but her reaction threw me: “But—well, you know.  He’s a musician.” I only partially understand why that’s an automatic count against a person, seeing as musicians come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties. But I think as a group they often bear the burden of being "different".

The older I get and the more people I meet, the more I am convinced that everybody is both more ordinary and more strange than one might expect, once you get to know them. There are fascinating stories everywhere you turn. Musicians and other "creative types" though, by nature of their work, do seem to have more than their share of interesting stories.  How often do you find yourself thinking, “Wow, that (insert name of extraordinary person here) lived a really mundane life!”, anyway? 

Kathryn Krull does a beautiful job of capturing the extraordinary aspects of the 20 musicians in this book, but she also portrays them as people. Highlighting musicians as varied asVivaldi, Clara Schumann, Stephen Foster, Tchaikovsky, Nadia Boulanger, Stravinsky, and Woody Guthrie, each biographical sketch covers a lot of ground in a brief 3-5 pages.  She hits all the essentials of what each person did, but also digs in to who each person was.  That approach makes fascinating reading, and I love having that extra insight into the music they produced.

Monday, August 23, 2010

"Let us go along together"

When I listen to Mozart, he seems to envelop me in his great love. Mozart’s love for mankind is not merely a pious kind of love that points to hope in the next world through religious ecstasy: “All right. Life is sad. But if there is love, see how beautiful life can be. The sad life that we all must live—let us go along together and comfort one another.”

This is what Mozart says to us, and I affirm it with all my heart.

Shinichi Suzuki, Nurtured by Love, p. 82

This quote wasn't new to me, but I came across it again last week while doing a session for parents of prospective violin students, and it really struck me.  It makes me think of another response to Mozart that I read more than twenty years ago but have never forgotten—I don’t think I’ve encountered a better description of his music, ever:

There was one special fellow’s music that made her heart shrink up every time she heard it. Sometimes this fellow’s music was like little colored pieces of crystal candy, and other times it was the softest, saddest thing she had ever imagined about.
Then, two pages later:
She was trying to think of the name of this fellow who had written this music she heard over the radio last winter. She had asked a girl at school who owned a piano and took music lessons about him, and the girl asked her teacher. It seemed this fellow was just a kid who had lived in some country in Europe a good while ago. But even if he was just a young kid he had made up all these beautiful pieces for the piano and for the violin and for a band or orchestra too. In her mind she could remember about six different tunes from the pieces of his she had heard. A few of them were kind of quick and tinkling, and another was like that smell in the springtime after a rain. But they all made her somehow sad and excited at the same time.

She hummed one of the tunes, and after a while in the hot, empty house by herself she felt the tears come in her eyes. Her throat got tight and rough and she couldn’t sing any more. Quickly she wrote the fellow’s name at the very top of the list—MOTSART.
(from The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers, p. 29 & 31)

Just wanted to share.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Learning Curve

When I imagined myself as a mother, I pictured a sweet, gentle woman, making use of every teachable moment, nurturing her sweet, adoring, compliant brood of children. I knew just how I wanted to do things, and I had Great Plans. We were going to do fabulous art projects, go on nature walks, make music together, attain spiritual maturity, always get along. And my children would never, ever make a scene at the grocery store, because I was going to raise them right.

Well. I knew so much more before I had kids. And actually, I have really, really fantastic kids. They can be incredibly sweet. ( They would probably tell you I’m sweet, too, but I have a sneaking suspicion that’s because I’m the only mom they have.) The fact is, like every other parent in this world, I brought a whole bunch of flaws and fears and sins with me into this calling. And my beautiful children, like all other children in this world, each came with their own set of flaws and fears and sins.

When Oldest was just a baby I told a friend, an experienced father of four, that I was afraid of not doing this whole mothering thing right. He told me, as gently as possible (and probably trying to hold back sympathetic laughter), “But Karen, you’re going to do lots of things wrong.” Intellectually I knew he was right, but it was knowledge that was hard to understand or even to bear at that point.

So I read lots of parenting books, and I figured it all out. Ha! I actually don’t read parenting books at all, these days. There is plenty of good advice to be found in them, but the whole experience of reading an entire book that showed me all the stuff I was doing wrong was overwhelming. I ended up feeling defeated, discouraged, and condemned.

I’m trying something different. I look at my children. I try really hard to listen to them, (or at least I try to start listening again when I realize I haven’t been listening well.) I try to look at myself. I pray. I dig deep in my faith. I talk to other moms and find out that I’m not as insane as I thought I was. I pray. I eat chocolate. I try to admit when I’ve messed up, and I apologize a lot. I think about what I’ve learned and try to apply it.

I find this works better for me. I have to deal with who my kids are and who my husband and I are. I have to look at who we are as a family. I have to live my own life in the context of faith instead of trying to make my life look like someone else’s. This is difficult, but it has also been necessary. And while I still wish I looked a lot more like that mother I imagined ten or so years ago, the real experience of being a parent has proven to be a lot richer.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Artist Needed

A second poem of mine is up at Project OpenBook, but you can't vote on it yet because it doesn't have artwork.  Take a look at it anyway, let me know what you think, and if you know any brilliant illustrators, send them by, too!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Net Worth

I was filling out some paperwork this morning, and was asked, among other things to provide my “net worth.” I’m stumped. I have no idea what the number is, but I’m guessing it’s pretty low. I firmly believe in the importance of what I’m doing, but I have to say, it doesn’t look good on paper. Same thing with my Social Security statement. I got one a few years ago that sent me into a minor tail-spin. I’ve earned that little in the last ten years? What am I, some sort of lazy mooch?

Later I was greeted online by this article with the lovely opening line, “If you want to avoid the worst-paying college degrees, think twice before choosing a college major that involves children.” (By the way, I didn’t choose a college major that involves children, I chose two degrees in music, which also made the list of worst-paying college degrees.)

Clearly I’m not trying to get rich, or even to impress anyone. And I’m going to avoid getting on my soapbox to talk about how insane it is that working with children is so lowly-valued in our culture. Part of me wants to write a seething, self-righteous diatribe that tells you how important mothers and educators and people who work in the arts are. But plenty of other people have done that already, better than I could. Besides, clearly there are a lot of people who don’t think these things are important.

But here’s the thing: today is the anniversary of my grandma’s birth. She was born in 1912 and died this past May. The third daughter of a photographer and a homemaker who had dreamed of being a writer, she went to college where she focused on art, music, and education. I believe she worked for monetary compensation one year of her life, when she taught fourth grade. The rest of her life was spent in the traditional role of wife and homemaker. And while she lay dying, surrounded by her family, she glowed with love. She took my hand and talked to me about family, and told me that what I was doing was important, and she said it from the perspective of someone living on the edge, where life is stripped of everything except what is important. She did what she was put in this world to do, and she looked back on her life and saw that she was fully compensated. I believe what she believed, and God help me if I forget and start looking only at how things look on paper. My cup overflows.

Monday, August 9, 2010

10 Bits of Magic--Vacation Edition

Remembering that grace and wonder abound if I’m willing to see it:

1. A new knitting project
2. Staying up late talking to my mom
3. Pain au chocolate and coffee
4. Finding old friends just as familiar as ever
5. Manitou Island
6. Finding agates and what a friend once called “Lake Superior pretty-stones”
7. Looking up just in time to see a shooting star with the longest green tail ever
8. Thimbleberries
9. Taking our kids to the places we dreamed of bringing them before they were even born
10. The warm, salty squeak of fresh (really, really fresh) cheese curds

What bits of magic did you see or experience last week?

Sunrise on Manitou Island,  photo by Brian Kubin

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Little Something I've Been Working On

Last time I mentioned Project OpenBook, I said I was getting involved.  I've submitted several poems, and the first one has been posted with a great illustration here (check out the expressions on the toys' faces!).  Vote on it if you feel so inclined, and check out the other poems--this is a really neat community project, and there are a number of ways to get involved.  My kids and I have enjoyed reading the different poems and rating them.  Check back often for more poems--this is a work in progress!