Thursday, March 31, 2011

On Being a Work in Progress

I tell myself I should know better. I remember the tantrums I had as a child, trying to draw something, or play something on the violin, or write a story or poem. I expected perfection on the first try. I thought the final product was something that came out of artists shining and intact, and here all I could produce was stick figures. It took years for me to learn that the process was messy. That learning a relaxed, effortless vibrato would mean hours upon hours alone with a metronome. That getting the nose to look like it belonged on a real face would mean using up all my erasers. That finding one right word would mean weeding out countless wrong ones. That everything I put in—all the hours, everything discarded, would wind up at my feet around the finished product.

I am looking around at a mess. Books everywhere, crumbs on the table, paint brushes by the sink, laundry stacked in piles, waiting to be put away. I treasure pictures of neat homes—paper neatly stacked, paints organized, bookshelves alphabetized, pantries straight. I aspire to calm and order, and regularly realize that it is beyond my grasp.

And yet. If my life is my final testimony, I should expect it to be messy right now, shouldn’t I? I should expect mistakes, and learning, and the tools for learning scattered everywhere. If there are books lying around, somebody has been reading. If there are paints left out to dry up, and paint brushes scattered around the sink, somebody has been painting. If there are crumbs all over the table, waiting to be wiped off, somebody has been eating their fill. If I’ve made a million mistakes, I’ve most likely learned a thing or two. If I need a rest, it may be a sign that I’ve been hard at my work. Maybe the mess all around me only looks like chaos because I haven’t seen the end product yet. And maybe I can trust that the end product will be something I love a lot more than a glossy photograph in a home and garden magazine.

Monday, March 28, 2011

10 Bits of Magic

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

1. A tree full of birds
2. A child quoting Shel Silverstein
3. Lingering over dinner
4. A whisper, warm and tingly on your ear
5. Acid-yellow forsythia
6. Alone in a room, laughing out loud over a book
7. Sugar snap peas
8. Saturday afternoon, opera on the radio
9. Seeing your child higher in a tree than you ever dared to go
10. Bright sliver of moon at dawn

What bits of magic have you seen or experienced recently?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Notes from a Children's Concert

Oh, what a busy week! We had a full schedule of school and violin lessons and everything else, but on top of that my husband and I played three children’s concerts on Wednesday with the Quincy Symphony Orchestra (or "Quinceny Symphony," as Youngest likes to call it.) I enjoy these more every year. Maybe it’s seeing my own children in the audience, maybe it’s the energy in the auditorium, maybe it’s that I’m getting old enough that I don’t feel like I have to say that certain music is cheesy and I can just enjoy it for what it is, but I think these concerts are fun.

Some notes from those performances:

• When it’s the tuba player’s turn to hold up his instrument during the “meet the instruments” part of the program, it will always create a stir
• A harp really does sound like magic.
• The lowest note a bass clarinet can play? Just plain funny.
• Low notes in general are hilarious.
• The louder and more exciting the ending is, the louder everyone will clap, no matter what else happens.
• The best sound to hear from onstage is the collective gasp of recognition when the orchestra begins to play something familiar. Hearing the kids saying the actual title is a bonus.
• Re: above—excitement trumps perfect concert etiquette every time.
• (Every single time.)
• The music from Star Wars still rocks.
• The more brass and percussion you have for your hero theme, the better.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

It All Starts with a Name

Youngest has learned to write her name. This is a huge deal. For one thing, she used her newly-acquired skill to get her first library card last week. She marched out of our local library, carrying her own too-heavy bag of books borrowed with her very own card, and I suspect she felt she had practically achieved womanhood.

Our family recently started keeping an online chore chart. Along with keeping track of the jobs my children do, I send them encouraging messages. The kids send messages back—things like, “Why does everybody else have more points than me?” and “When will this job chart be done?” and “Thanks, Mom. You are very encurageing!!!!!!”

My four year-old is the most prolific message-sender (she is not going to be left out of anything.) Most of her messages look like this:

sdnl’bl’sdpo9jnc/cv’’;;;;;;;;;;;DNMSEFCMKDFGNfg;lcvmr cvlkz vfgne49ogrnz/z/

Every once in a while, though, now that she can write her name, she sends me this message:


It is an excellent message to get. Those nine letters hold so much.

Her older sister, Middle, used to always be the first kid awake in the morning. She would find me writing, and often crawled into my lap and asked to type her name into whatever I was working on. It struck me at the time that together we were on to something big. On some level we were sharing a desire to create, both of us learning to put a piece of ourselves into the universe, wanting to see it solid before our eyes.

Sometimes I wonder if that is all I am doing with this writing thing—finding new ways to write my name, naming the people and things around me, grasping ideas or the tiniest shreds of what happens in a day and trying to make them stay a little longer by giving them names, too.

I was here. This is what I saw. Do you see it, too?

Like some sort of cosmic graffiti. It all starts with a name.

Monday, March 21, 2011

10 Bits of Magic

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

1. Elf shoes made from Peeps
2. 72˚, windows open
3. Read-at-the-table meals
4. “’Cause you’re my best!”
5. A boy trying to carve a heart out of shale (for his mom)
6. Getting your first library card
7. Dancing in the kitchen
8. “Mom, my life is words!”
9. Balsamic vinegar
10. Holding hands

What bits of magic have you seen or experienced recently?

Friday, March 18, 2011

The People You Meet

Call Me MarianneCall Me Marianne by Jen Bryant, pictures by David A. Johnson, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2006

There’s a little story I get to hear from time to time—part of my family lore—which my father and uncle like to tell as a way of describing the matter-of-fact way in which they rubbed shoulders with some pretty extraordinary people as children. To them, these people were friends of their father’s, house guests, dinner guests, visitors. Ordinary, albeit interesting, people, who, it turned out, just happened to be pioneers and experts in their professions. My uncle, who was 7 or 8 years old at the time of this particular story, was out in the back yard playing in a pile of dirt. He was trying to make a tunnel, and I imagine it was going about as well as when I tried to make tunnels as a kid. After some time he was joined by his father’s current houseguest. The man saw what he was doing and offered his help. They worked together, the man offering all sorts of good advice and practical explanations, and pretty soon they had a very satisfactory tunnel. Apparently it was many years before my uncle found out exactly why he ended up with such a good final product: the houseguest was Ole Singstad, civil engineer—the third and final chief engineer overseeing construction of the Holland Tunnel, as well as designer of the Lincoln Tunnel, Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel.

This book, Call Me Marianne, quietly, beautifully, tells the fictional story of a boy who goes to the zoo to see a new lizard exhibit. He meets a kindred spirit of sorts, a woman he notices on the bus on the way to the zoo because of her odd, tri-cornered black hat and the fact that she is holding the same newspaper clipping about the exhibit as he is. He later finds the hat at the zoo, remembers the woman, and returns it to her. They visit the lizard exhibit together, and as they are watching and talking, he discovers that she is a poet, and asks her what poets do. She explains to him, shows him her notebook, and towards the end of their visit together gives him a gift as a thank you for returning her hat. “’You could write poetry,’ Marianne whispers.” What powerful words.

The story is fictional, but the poet was a real person. Marianne Moore studied biology in college, and spent a lot of time at the zoo, studying animals and using them in her poetry. She could often be seen around Brooklyn, dressed all in black with a black tri-cornered hat on her head. I love the quiet power of the way the boy and the famous poet interact in this story—how their encounter is both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.

Here’s the wondrous thing: my own children have never been to Brooklyn, never met a famous poet, never built a tunnel with an important engineer. But they have nevertheless met some pretty amazing people, themselves. For one thing, ordinary people aren’t really ordinary, at all, once you get to know them. But beyond that? They read. It’s no empty cliché to say that you meet people and go places in books. I think about the books I read, the music I listened to, and the concerts and operas and ballets I attended as a child, and those things are as much a part of me as the people I knew “in real life.” Every personality my kids meet in a book, every story they hear, every experience they vicariously have, weaves itself into the fabric of their being along with the flesh-and-blood people they know. And all of it works together on a life. Just last night, Middle (who was reading about a girl who chooses to make her own doll because her mom refuses to buy her a Connie doll) said to me, “Mom, Fanny is a very creative girl…I think I should make a doll, too." What powerful words.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Derek Sivers on "Why You Need to Fail"

“While this quantity group was busy just churning out work and learning from their mistakes, the quality group, the one that was being judged just on one pot, had sat there theorizing about perfection, and in the end had nothing but grandiose theories and one mediocre pot.”
Really, really good stuff here. I don’t know about you, but I constantly need to be reminded of certain things. Much of what Sivers talks about in this video is familiar to me, especially all the examples he uses from music school. Not only that, but the section where he talks about “fixed mindset” vs. “growth mindset” sounds like pure Suzuki philosophy—the idea that any child can learn. He’s coming from a slightly different perspective, though, and these ideas are powerful and insightful. They gave me something fresh to work with this week, and I needed that. In fact, I think I'll add the entire video to my imaginary mental file titled, “All the Stuff You Learned from Violin That You Need to Apply to Parenting.” It’s a pretty thick file already, but this is a welcome addition.

I was going to lay out all the points for you, but honestly, doing that might tempt you to skip the video (it’s almost 15 minutes long) and go with my watered-down version, and that would be a shame. Take the time to watch it, and let me know what you think!

Monday, March 14, 2011

10 Bits of Magic

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

1. Sunlight shining through a glass of water
2. The freshness of cilantro
3. Hitting snooze just one more time
4. Realizing that those boy-hands will someday belong to a man
5. A child sharing something she loves
6. Buds—hard and fuzzy on branches
7. Children outside
8. Too many books
9. Strangers who smile
10. Spring peepers

What bits of magic have you seen or experienced recently?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sharing Day

Thank you all for your comments after Wednesday's post. Thank you, too, to those of you who became official "followers." All of it did my heart good.  Mostly, you told me that you like what I'm doing, so I guess I'll try to keep on doing it! Maybe with a few more pictures (thanks, Amy!) And if you want to "follow," there is an option for that down a bit on the right side-bar.

Sharing Day today--I ran across some pretty nifty articles this week, and thought I’d pass them along to you:

My friend shared a link to this article from The Atlantic, Caring for Your Introvert, by Jonathan Rauch on her blog this week, and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading it again. I sort of wish I could hand a copy of it to everyone I meet/have ever known, along with an interpretation of my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test results.

This article about giving books—real, physical ones, really struck a chord with me. I’m still not sure how I feel about electronic books. Having any book at your fingertips, being able to carry a whole library around with ease—those things seems appealing. But this children’s book seller over at Shelf Talker appeals to "The Romance of a Real Book," and she makes a lovely case.

For you Suzuki people out there, I’ve been enjoying Suzuki News, recently. The Suzuki Association of America is posting reprints of their best articles from past Minijournals for parents’ benefit, along with current news, announcements and other good information. Just this week there have been tips on practicing, note reading, and taking notes in your child’s lessons. Go take a peek!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Talk to Me

I love that you come here and read what I’ve written. I adore getting your comments, and I try to respond, although sometimes at the end of the day I just don’t have any more words to share. To those of you who stop by here on a regular basis, thank you so much! Your visits and comments are so encouraging!

If you haven’t already done so, would you consider becoming a follower? It is so lovely to know you are out there, even if you never comment. I, myself, follow several blogs on which I have rarely or never left comments—chalk it up to shy-girl tendencies that die hard. It’s something I am forever working on. But if you see fit to just let me and others know you are out there by becoming a follower, I would so appreciate it.

I’d love to go a step further, too, and do a bit of an informal survey. What do you see here that works? What doesn’t? (I’m here to learn, so be honest.) What would you like to see more (or less) of?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Using the Time

Spring Break. The week is spread out before us with so much promise. The kids, I think, are planning for complete and unrestrained freedom. (I’m already bursting bubbles by saying things like, “Spring Break doesn’t mean eating junk all week,” and “Just because it’s Spring Break doesn’t mean you will be playing Wii the moment you roll out of bed.”)

We aren’t planning to go anywhere, but the promise of things that could be done with all our time is a treat in itself. My own imaginary list is extensive, longer than I could possibly complete. Get a haircut, clean out the kids’ rooms, start running again, carve out extra writing time, have coffee with a friend, paint the back porch, practice violin, watch some movies with my husband, finish stripping wallpaper in the upstairs bathroom, entertain my parents for a couple of days, completely organize my life—these are a few of the things I’ve toyed with doing this week. Getting even some of them accomplished will feel wonderful.

I honestly hope I never retire. Funny thing for a stay-at-home mom to say, I know. When my kids are grown I expect to be working more in other ways, but I hope there will always be a good variety. The idea of long stretches of time with nothing to do makes me uneasy. I enjoy being busy. I like my pieced-together life, and I want to use it well. Projects, activities, and plans keep me moving, active, growing. My faith tells me to hold those plans loosely, because God may very well have a different idea of the course my life will take. But having the plans—facing each day, each week, each month, each year, with hopes and dreams—I hope I never lose that.

How about you? Have you ever had a time in your life when you were without plans or dreams? What was that like?

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Words to the Music

Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa, story and haiku translations by Matthew Gollub, illustrations by Kazuko G. Stone, calligraphy by Keiko Smith, Lee & Low Books, Inc., 1998

Every once in a while during my high school and college years somebody would find out I played violin and make this cognitive leap: “Well you must love math, then! Because music is all numbers, isn’t it?” Well…I can’t argue that there are many aspects of music that are math-related—rhythm, scale degrees, the harmonic series, sound waves, music theory in general—but those things strike me as the mechanics of music. Numbers may be related, but to me, language is a much closer relative. And no, I don’t love math. I’ve grown to appreciate it, and I enjoy a certain satisfaction when the numbers all work out just so, but to this day, if you give me a word problem I will sort of want to smack you. (Just a little—I hate confrontation. But believe me, I will feel animosity.)

Music as language, though—that makes sense to me. And poetry—poetry is like the words to the music. Both are ways of seeing and sharing. Both use rhythm and sound, and both are attempts to get at the abstract through a concrete form. (How many times during a violin lesson have I been told, or have I told a student, “let this part sing,” “you’re telling a story,” “here comes the climax,” “this is just the introduction, don’t give it all away at once”?) As a teacher, as a performer, as an audience member, I approach music as language. Not as equations.

Cool Melons - Turn To Frogs!: The Life And Poems Of IssaIt was interesting, then, to read in Shinichi Suzuki’s book, Nurtured by Love, that among other things, the young students at the Talent Education school he started in Matsumoto spent time daily memorizing and reciting the haiku of Issa. Not only were they using music to cultivate fine human beings, they were using poetry, as well! That little tidbit came back to me when I stumbled across this book recently: Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs, is the life story of Japanese haiku poet, Issa, accompanied by thirty of his poems. In a life marked with sorrow and loss, Issa found solace in nature and poetry. His ability to see and share eventually made him one of Japan’s most famous poets. The author’s notes in the back of this book offer more information about Issa’s poetry, calligraphy, and the art of haiku. It’s a lovely book, and I personally found it to be a wonderful, if serendipitous, link between the worlds of music and language.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

10 Bits of Magic

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

1. Fresh bread—the smell, the crust, the softness inside
2. Anticipation before the dance
3. Watching flowers bloom indoors
4. A tote bag overflowing with new library books
5. Playing Brahms
6. Snowball fight-induced laughter
7. “Mom, look what I made!”
8. The smell of fresh air on my skin and hair
9. The look that says, “I did it! I did it!”
10. “Daddy’s home!”

What bits of magic have you seen or experienced recently?