Thursday, May 30, 2013

Crawl Inside

Last night, cleaning up in the kitchen, I caught the tail end of Bruckner 8. I didn’t know about Bruckner until college, but the first time I read through his 7th Symphony I knew I had been waiting to hear and play this music all my life. It is music I wish I could crawl inside of, especially those big, glorious endings.

I wanted to share it with you—this ending I heard at the end of a long day, after casting about with  a prayer that amounted to show me something beautiful. Remind me.

The music was beautiful. I got to crawl inside it just a little bit, and then I finished loading the dishwasher and  got on YouTube. And I found this version. The coda (ending) starts at 4:00, and the piece ends about 2 ½ minutes later, and there’s a moment when the music stops, before the conductor lowers his baton—watch his face. Do you see it? Something of a crumbling, a moment suspended between two worlds, and  finally release—it is done. He was deep inside that music. I have felt what I saw on his face, although not as often as I'd like. Making art doesn’t always work like that, not in my experience, at least. There are too many things that can get in the way. But sometimes it does work that way and you find yourself deep inside, and that is a wonderful, soul-feeding moment.

I’m thinking now of a favorite passage in Winnie-the-Pooh when Pooh gets stuck half-in, half-out of Rabbit’s hole. Christopher Robin tells him they will have to wait until he gets thinner for his friends to pull him out:

     “I’m afraid no meals,” said Christopher Robin, “because of getting thin quicker. But we will read to you.” 
      Bear began to sigh, and then found he couldn’t because he was so tightly stuck; and a tear rolled down his eye, as he said:
     “Then would you read a Sustaining Book, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness?”

I figure I can look at art as an escape, or a distraction, or even just background, but I know better. I think in reality it is more like water or air—sustaining, life-giving, essential. A reminder. A place to crawl inside of. Whether we are Wedged Bears in Great Tightness or not.

Next time you find something beautiful, show somebody else. And maybe tell me about it, too.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Sunday, May 26, 2013

As Your Perception of Note Value Develops

Note value referring to how long, how many beats, a note is held. But of course there’s always more to it than that.

Take the whole note, for example, held for a full measure (4 beats) in 4/4 time. The simplest note on paper—elegant, rounded, full of space. It looks empty sitting there on the staff, and when you are young it seems like a place to wait until you get to the more interesting notes. Soon you learn to count out the beats instead of merely waiting—1, 2, 3, 4. Later you learn to subdivide, one and two and three and four and, to give each beat its due.

It is quite a bit later that you learn to think of this as a note to shape, as sound that has dimension. After the beginning of the note (and how does it begin? with a consonant sound? a vowel sound?) it does not have to move through time completely flat, although it can if you choose. It can mimic its own shape, soft at the start, gently swelling through the middle, rounding-out to soft again at the end. It can start strong and fade away. It can start strong and grow louder, too, or fade and grow again, or start quiet and increase in volume all the way to the next note.

No matter how it is shaped, a whole note rarely stands alone. Even this takes time to learn. For years it is something you do automatically, but gradually you learn to be intentional about it: every note either moves toward or away from something. Each note has shape, yes, but each note is also part of some larger shape. The whole note seems to know this best. That time it requires from you can either help or hurt what you are trying to say with the music; phrases die within this note, or are sustained and strengthened and soar.

A whole note is rarely flashy. It does not dance or march or run or tumble. Often it accompanies the (faster) notes that do, offering support, or color, even sometimes a shimmer of silver from tremolo violins. But despite its non-flashiness, you would not want music without whole notes. You need that grounding for everything else—a canvas, a base color. Broad strokes that rise and fall slowly, like hills or plains or mountains. Not the opposite of movement, but a counterweight, something to hold against the sharpness of 16th notes, the fluttering of 32nds and 64ths. Something to ease the progress of halves and quarters as they move through their melody. A place to rest, or build, a chance to suspend time.

This is not a note to be gotten-through on your way to better things. This is a noble note, with noble things to show you. 

You resolve to never overlook its wholeness.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


I will start with this. There are days when it seems impossible to focus on beautiful things. Or heartless, maybe. What kind of denial is that, to hide yourself in prettiness when you know what you know about this world? And yet those are the days I most need to hide. My only thought is that maybe it's not always denial. Maybe sometimes it's more like the opposite, when you agree to hold the hard things in one hand, and the beautiful in the other and refuserefuse—to deny either one.

I know I will keep hiding myself in what is good. I want to rest there, draw strength, share what I find with others—not in denial of what's hard, but in spite of it. 

Here’s one place I hid today:

Not in the actual place, but in the memory of it. By now everything in this picture is older, more uniform, less delicate. But the picture remains. The day I took it, the scene took my breath away. Green—all the many shades of it—takes my breath away. New glowing chartreuse, translucent lime green, fresh grass green, still water green, shadowy woods green, emerald leaves against a blue sky green. The variations are unending. Spring green isn’t a single color from the Crayola box, it is its own whole spectrum. Delicate, but vast.

Over and over I find myself drawn to what is delicate.

Delicate  [del’i-kat] adj fine in texture; fragile, not robust; requiring tactful handling; of exquisite workmanship; requiring skill in techniques.”

But here is what strikes me: something that grabs me, takes my breath away, changes for a moment how I see the world—what do you see in that?

I see power. Fragility and beauty and something-beyond-grasp that somehow equal power. The kind that surprises, sustains, holds the whole world together. This is where I want to stay.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Saturday, May 18, 2013

What Did You Learn?

"Seed, flower, flower stem, we do not no"

Youngest is busy being a nature detective this morning. I think she’s been working towards it for a while, considering the piles that have been accumulating by the front steps all week. Her energy is unbridled. It looks like we may have figured out the cause of her months-long stomach ache, and this morning she woke up pain-free.

And so she is busy out in the sunlight—exploring, collecting cataloging.

She called me out to see the pile of dandelion heads she gathered a few days ago.

“Mama, look—they bloomed!”

“Well, yes. They did!” The more I think about it, the more I have to agree.

Still she turns my world upside-down, and I am thankful.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Friday, May 17, 2013

Violin Project Update

The Violin Project has a Facebook page! Come visit and "like" it in order to receive updates and information, as well as to make donations*. And to show your support--I need people behind this, just as much as I need money.  And please share it with others. You never know who this is meant to reach.

*You don't need a Facebook account to make a donation there or get updates. The yellow Fundrazr "Give" button will take you to a page where you can make donations and  also sign up for updates by email.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Make it Beautiful

Saturday I bought a long thin loaf of stale French bread. Sliced it up, drowned it in eggs and sugar and cinnamon and raisins and coconut milk (Youngest is going dairy-free for a time, as we try to ease her stomach pain.) I poured it all in the pink speckled baking dish that belonged to my grandma, and nestled the pink baking dish in a pan of water in the oven. The whole house was warm and sweet with its baking. Yesterday we ate it for dessert.

Sometimes I call this cooking, sometimes I call it an act of war. Against stale bread, against the things I cannot control, against darkness in general.

It is profoundly comforting and hopeful to me that stale bread can be turned into something good. Maybe not exciting-good the way some desserts are, but still. I love that you can take something nobody would really want and turn it into something soft and warm and sweet. There’s a kind of magic in that. Or maybe art is a better word.

Of course, stale bread is nothing compared to what frightens me and angers me and breaks my heart. But to be able to do something, right there in the place I’m in—to use my own two hands to make something good—is powerful. Sometimes it is an outright act of faith.

If stale bread can have new life, what else can be transformed?

If there’s one streak of light in this place, maybe there’s more to be found.

And here you thought it was just bread pudding.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Yeah—I’m not Supermom. There’s plenty of proof of that just in how much I have to apologize to my children. And in conversations like this:

“Honey, I’m sorry. I got distracted for a moment and totally didn’t hear what you said. Would you tell me again?”

“Sure, Mom. But you’re always distracted.”

Stated as fact, not complaint. And it’s an exaggeration, but we both know my tendencies. I appreciate that most of the time he gives me credit for trying. Besides, when he announces that he’s the king of spacing-out he knows how well I get it.

But that’s not what I want to share with you right now.

I want to share what happens when my kids try to tell me I’m Supermom. Because even though by now it’s a well-established fact that I am not perfect, they can still make me feel like maybe I have a few superpowers.

Friday afternoon we ran errands. Last minute, of course. Oldest needed to buy a corsage for the 7th and 8th grade spring dance (still processing that one.) Middle needed accessories to go with her Genesis “Invisible Touch” tour t-shirt for her school’s Decade Night (still processing that one, too.)

Middle was excited-to-overflowing by her $5 white fake-Keds and clusters of black and glow-in-the-dark rubber bracelets:

“You’re the best mom in the world!”

Oh, big smile.

“Before I was born I went to the Mother Store and chose you, because you were the very best.”

Quick glance to see if I was eating it up. I was.

“You were the very last one there, and I bought you.”


“Honey, if I was the last one there that might be because nobody else wanted me.”

Oldest jumped in. “You were too expensive.”

Good save.

“Yeah. I paid a hundred dollars for you!”

I love when my kids get all encouraging.

I love even more that when we have a conversation like this, even as it descends into absurdity/reality, I know without a doubt what they are really telling me.

And in that moment? Watch me fly.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Middle picked these flowers on Wednesday, when it was sunny and warm. I love these spontaneous bouquets—their delicate size, the translucent colors, the smile that came with them.

Thursday it was cold again. Raining.

And Friday—I told myself it was rain I was running in, early in the morning, but what hit my face was hard and biting, and there was sleet on all the car windshields.

The world around me is very, very green. Tender green leaf-lace on the trees. Tulips, magnolia blossoms, even a few first lilacs. But the air is winter-cold. I hold on to the reminders of spring around me and tell myself I can hold on, as well, for warmer weather and open windows and best of all that feeling that comes with it. It will come. We’ve had tastes of it. The flowers are proof. The warmth will come.

*     *     *

On the way to school yesterday, Youngest and I had a conversation we’ve repeated many times. She does not feel well. Her tummy hurts, has been hurting for months. We don’t know why. She is not too sick for school—she actually functions beautifully. But still it hurts, and we haven’t been able to stop it.

Often she thinks nobody believes her. She doesn’t talk about it much anymore, but when we ask nothing has changed. I tell her over and over that we believe her.

“The hard thing about this is that we don’t have any answers,” I said, trying to address the frustration.

The hurt itself is hard. But it seems doubly hard to feel or offer comfort when all you have is “I don’t know.”

I don’t know how long you’ll have to wait.

I don’t know why.

I don’t know how to fix it.

There are some strong words for how I feel about “I don’t know.” None of them are strong enough.

*     *     *

What I do know is that there are seasons for this kind of thing. I know people—so many of them—who have either been in this place recently or are in it right now. Walking through the cold and dark, waiting for the warmth to come back.

It strikes me that this endurance walk is a very quiet thing. But when I see others doing it I find strength. Little things bear witness—a hug, a handful of flowers, a note from a friend—they all testify that the warmth will come. And every person holding on to that belief gives me strength to walk it, myself.

There’s more out there than this cold.

What if we could actually see all the ways we keep each other on our feet?

*     *     *

Friday the sleet on my face made me fast—it made me fight.

This morning—Saturday—after a long night with a child who not only has a constant tummy ache but also now an infected tooth, I had no fight left. But I had a friend running beside me. I ran mostly because she was running. And together we covered a lot of ground. It’s still cold outside, and the tummy ache remains, and other things too, but there are flowers on the table, and I had the loveliest hot shower when I got home.

And we are still on our feet.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email