Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Paper Flowers

It starts because the “Easy Origami Giraffe” is decidedly un-easy. Or at least the directions are. The lily, though, with its detailed instructions and clear pictures—it has a lot of promise.

The first time through the pattern works like a puzzle. But after making a few you discover there’s a rhythm. The paper dances a little. All the preparatory folds, the ones that seemed so fussy at first, become clear, and things happen under your fingers as if by magic.

It’s amazing how quickly your fingers are able to learn the distances—how far one point must travel to meet up with another, how far an edge must go to reach the center crease—soon it becomes a smooth motion. Something felt, no longer calculated.

Of course they are only shadows of the real thing. But the colors, the motion, the neatness of the folds, all draw you in. The delicacy of this thing that used to be flat but has been folded into something with dimension and substance—it calls out a certain feeling in you, to hold it in your hand without crushing it.

This is no longer about making decorations for the kindergarten classroom at day camp. This is about color and form. This is about making pathways, and mirroring something you couldn’t possibly re-create.

It is about a small gift to the world, adding beauty to beauty, seeing possibility.

It is about trusting that there is meaning even to the things that don’t make sense at first.

Clearly you need to make a whole bouquet.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012


I first encountered the word as a word-unto-itself because it is written in bold print at the top of page 222 in the Webster’s New Dictionary and Thesaurus, Concise Edition my mom bought for me to take to college. The idea of a jester’s hat wasn’t new to me, but the idea of the word, all the letters squished together into one thing, was.

The definition seemed maybe a little disappointing at first:

[fōōlz’kap] n a size of writing paper 13 by 16 inches, in the US, originally bearing the watermark of a fool’s cap and bells.

Maybe it’s because I keep running into it, flipping through the fs in search of definitions and useful/beautiful/magical new words, but it turned out to be a word that captured me fully, after all.

Because what would it be like if every page that I put words to bore that mark, reminding me of the possible foolishness of my words?

There is always the danger that what I am mistaking for art or communication is really my pride, my immaturity, my blindness—my complete foolishness, in fact—screaming from the page.

Would I put words on a page like that more carefully? Would the mark serve as a disclaimer to readers, warning of the danger in thinking words could pose as truth—that they could adequately express something as elusive as a thought or feeling? Would it serve as a sort of visual caveat lector—“let the reader beware?”

It is something good to remember—the possibility that I am really only a fool trying to dress up as something I’m not.

There’s another aspect though, to a piece of paper like this, that captures my imagination.

Because what would it be like if every page that I put words to bore this mark, reminding me that there is more than one way to speak the truth?

Sometimes it’s the one dressed as a fool who can say the things that otherwise might not get said: the child who doesn’t know any better, the entertainer who’s there to console, the naïve younger son.

If I had that image right there to remind me, would the words come out more boldly? Would I worry so much about what others thought? Would I have more confidence that true things could speak out of a story, out of something beautiful or humorous—that maybe they had the power to penetrate more deeply that way?

It is something good to remember—the possibility that I might be able to say more dressed as a fool. 

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Standing Still

I consider it no small miracle
that while traveling around the sun at almost 67,000 miles per hour
and also spinning on the earth’s axis at something like 1,000 miles per hour
a woman walking in the woods
trying to carry on three separate conversations
and simultaneously sort out her thoughts—
a woman who also, by the way, has a head full of music
and maybe a line or two of poetry as well
can stop and look up


and feel absolutely still.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012


A summer schedule is eyeing me, and there are days to fill, and I want to completely ignore the fact that I could easily fill them with laundry and cooking and cleaning and organizing.

There is so much I want to do.

I’m almost done with homeschooling, but I am nowhere near done with my children’s education—I want to focus on being the reader of books, the provider of creative space and art supplies, the encourager, the one who says, “Let’s look that up,” the listener and conversationalist, and—oh yes—the music teacher (or in Oldest’s case, the practice enforcer who promotes regular metronome use.) I’m looking forward to my new role of education supporter-and-supplementer, of focusing more on the stuff our family thinks is magical and fun, and of course I know I’m romanticizing it (I always do, that’s part of my M. O.) but that’s okay.

We could easily fill our days with all that.

But I also want to read this summer. Dickens and E. M. Forster, and Neruda, and Brontë, and Dillard, and Marilynne Robinson, and T. H. White, and Hemmingway, and Didion and so much more.

Also poetry and fairy tales and picture books, which in my mind are sort of all in the same category.

I want to read history voraciously, even though when it comes to reading history I am actually a slow careful nibbler, and an undisciplined and distractible one at that. But still.

I want to make music—I even have some music-making planned, which makes me feel like an honest-to-goodness musician again—and enjoy every second of it thoroughly.

I want to plant things, and run hundreds of miles, and have a thousand good conversations.

I want to take my kids to the pool and feel hot and lazy in the sun.

I want to take them to camp and to concerts and on picnics.

I want to play games and visit family.

I want to walk through the woods and get distracted by bugs and flowers and streams and rocks and whatever-is-rustling-in-the-underbrush and hunting-for-arrowheads and not ever worry about getting back in time for The Next Thing.

I want to write—poetry and blog posts and magical, tender stories that will touch and connect and maybe even make you ache a little.

I know I will have to be practical and responsible—at least sometimes—and I know I want way more than one summer can possibly provide.

The laundry will pile up as always, and rooms will have to be cleaned and organized and kids will get bored and I will want to say, How child? When you grow up you will see how unnecessary boredom is—how what’s lacking is time, not ways to fill it.

But some of this will happen.

I can’t wait.

Oh, summer.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Beyond the Things I Knew I Didn't Know

My kids called me into the den Sunday afternoon for a Mother’s Day surprise.

“Okay, just sit here and put your feet in the water. You can swish them around to mix up the bath salts.”

“You can sit there for a while if you want.”

“Is the water warm?”

I sat for a while, and we talked, and when I took my feet out I managed to avoid a fight by letting everybody take turns drying them. Oldest even gave me a foot massage. I hadn’t even realized my feet were tired.

I think what they treated me to was a combination foot washing/spa treatment. None of us have ever been to a spa, so none of us were quite sure. But it was sweet and generous.

I like that we keep surprising each other.

Would it matter if the forgive-me-I’m-new-at-this feeling never went away? Along with the constant shifting to try to find my bearings, there are these beautiful moments as a mother that simultaneously stretch and level me. Not only are there all the things I knew I didn’t know about life with children, there are all the other things—large and small—that I never would have imagined:

That my children would hesitate to tell me about their nightmares, because they did not want to frighten me.

That they would introduce me to strangers at the grocery store.

That they would pity me for being the only non-blond in the family.

That they would sometimes put their arms around my shoulder.

That influence goes both ways.

That all of it, in fact—not just the tough stuff, but also grace, affection, insight, love—all of it flows in more than one direction.

May we always keep growing and always feel new.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012


Resonance [rez’on-ans] n resounding; sympathetic vibration; sonority; the sound heard in auscultation; (phys) (the state of a system in which) a large vibration (is) produced by a small stimulus of approx. the same frequency as that of the system. (Webster’s New Dictionary and Thesaurus)

When you play a fingered note on the violin that is the same as an open string—a “g,” for example—you can get the open string to vibrate without even touching it. The trick is that you have to be perfectly in tune with the open string. A little flat or a little sharp will dampen the sympathetic vibration or even make it nonexistent. Knowing this is extremely helpful because if you are in tune with your instrument the whole thing responds with a more ringing tone. Good intonation sounds different, and not just in a way that various pitches match each other. Your violin literally speaks back to you.

*       *       *

When a book, a work of art, a piece of music touches you deeply—something happens. You respond. That book or image or melody resonates with you, sets something into motion deep inside:

“Sympathetic resonance is a harmonic phenomenon wherein a formerly passive string or vibratory body responds to external vibrations to which it has a harmonic likeness.”  
(Wikipedia, "Sympathetic resonance")

You could think of it as the sympathetic vibrations between two souls.

*       *       *

This, I suspect, has a lot to do with why we keep trying.

I stopped by a friend’s practice room once, in college, to wish her luck before her recital. She was sitting at the piano crying. Really crying. “It’s okay,” she told me. “I always do this before I play.” On stage she was calm, accomplished. She played beautifully.

Performing shakes me up, too. As far back as I can remember, I have looked toward my own performances with anticipation. Excitement about the music. Eagerness to share. But right before I go out to play, miserable with cold sweaty hands and a fluttery stomach, I wonder why in the world I do this to myself. Maybe some people are sharpened by adrenaline—I tend to feel stiff and withdrawn. And at the same time out of control. My vibrato is too fast and my bow shakes. People often comment on how calm and collected I appear on stage, but that is rarely how I feel.

When I write I can remove myself from the performance aspect—at least partly. There is still a certain amount of self-loathing connected to every blog post I publish, every story or poem I send out or show to somebody. Plus a certain amount of fear that I’ve said nothing of value, and a certainty that I’ve shown myself for the true idiot that I am.

And yet there is this drive to share. The trembling hands and desire to find a dark hole someplace where I can hide—they are nothing compared to the desire to reach out. To be heard.

To connect.

*       *       *

When a painting haunts you for years and years—

When a five year-old listens to “Dido’s Lament” with tears streaming down her cheeks—

When a sentence strikes your soul and echoes for days afterwards—

Something has moved beyond the image or notes or words and come to life inside another person.

Knowing someone heard—isn’t that as cool and nourishing and good as water?

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Monday, May 7, 2012

A Few Things I Never Tell My Students (Plus a Few Things I Do)

When I was 10 I wrote an essay for school thanking my parents for giving me a violin and teaching me how to play. ”You have no idea how much that violin means to me,” or something to that effect. I remember the feeling of love that rose up inside of me when I wrote those words. Then there was the time I threw my violin on the floor out of frustration over practicing.

There’s a kind of listening that right now you don’t even know exists.

Sometimes I would really rather just hear about your day. Plus your big brown eyes are killing me and I can’t not let you sidetrack me.

If I could magically make you understand how worth it the work is, I would do it in a heartbeat. Except that you really have to just experience it.

Think I was easy to practice with when I was a little girl? Think again.

Thank you for not needing me to talk to you in a high, cutesy voice. I just can’t do it.

Someday I hope you’ll discover there’s more than one way to say the things you thought you could not say.

I really do know how hard it is sometimes, just trying.

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Why I Rarely Bother With Posed Family Photos

I should have stopped right here.

Because the situation quickly dissolved.


Oh, the pain!

The horrible, smile-induced pain!

They bravely persevered,

But, alas! No dice.

Thankfully everybody recovered


(The End)
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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Words to Love

"I wish I could take this morning and put it in my pocket and keep it forever."

from Toot & Puddle: Let it Snow, by Holly Hobbie, Little, Brown and Company, 2007

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