Thursday, December 25, 2014

Light: 12/24/14

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. (Isaiah, 9:2)

Most years I cry at the end of the Christmas Eve service, while the congregation sings Silent Night by candlelight in a darkened sanctuary. This year I had two chances:

1) at the church I grew up in, with Parents and Kids and Husband. It’s not that the emotions didn’t hit hard as we started singing. It’s just that I looked at Youngest next to me and she had her head thrown back, glow stick aimed at the back of her throat, rock star/flame eater style, as she sang. And that kind of magic did not need my tears.

2) at the church later where I filled in for another violinist last-minute. The orchestra played two verses of Silent Night and then dropped out so the choir and congregation could sing a cappella for the third verse. I did not even try to sing. I closed my eyes and let myself float on the sound of the choir. And the sound did not break my heart. It lifted me out of myself the same way the waves did at Galveston Island many years ago. And that magic did not need my tears, either.

Leaving the church after my job I remembered I had no picture for tonight’s post. I also realized I still had presents to wrap. The post had no chance of being done before midnight. The luminaries curving along the path in front of me outside the church were clearly the perfect thing. But I couldn’t get a good picture. The best I got was what you see above, which I’m convinced is beyond perfect. Because I keep thinking I know exactly how I should go about doing this life thing, and I keep not getting it right but finding something better than I wanted despite that. Because I can’t stop thinking about how subversive a thing Light is, and how all it needs from us is our imperfections and our expectations and our plans, if only just to show us that this kind of magic does not need us at all. Just watch and wait.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Monday, December 22, 2014

Light: 12/22/14

Variation: Hwy 63 North

Of course all the light
is in the sky,
and reflected off the wet road
and in the headlights and taillights
smeared long
on the pavement,
but the heat—that is in the grass
along the sides of the road,
tall and tawny and gold.

It is three days before Christmas
and snow would be nice,
draped clean and sparkling
across these hills.

this is a variation 
on winter,
the same way the Nutcracker pas de deux
is a variation on a G major scale—
it may have started off as a riff
but what you get in the end
is a melody you can feel 
throughout your body—
a melody you can flow with
over and through these hills—
these hills that after seven years
have become like home
(and maybe home, too,
is a variation.)

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Light: 12/21/14

Today in Urgent Care I had a little bit of a rant: “It was January 2 years ago that I started getting sick all the time, and it’s been one thing after another ever since. I’m so fed up!”

To which Husband answered, “Ooooh, now all the germs are so scared! Every single-cell organism in the room just shuddered.”

It was worth a good belly laugh.

It has been a good day for levity. As in: we’ve had some good laughs today, and also: we needed some good laughs today.

I have felt good for one week since the most recent sinus/bronchial infection. Now I have shingles. Add the last 2+ months of kid’s illnesses, add all the hours of sitting in or driving to and from doctor’s offices with them, add the stupid asthma that four of us have, and the medicine that helps us breathe that costs twice as much this year as it did last year, add that while the pet mouse has been slowly gruesomely dying of cancer the pet hamster and pet fish died unexpectedly. Things could certainly be worse. But I’m really, really tired of acting like I’m patient.

I can’t say we laughed light-heartedly but we laughed a lot, and shot-through with all kinds of light. That is a levity I can trust , close to perfection.

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Light: 12/20/14

We decorated, at least part-way. The to-do list is shorter than it's been in months. I gave Oldest a haircut—one of the most improvisatory ever, and he trusted me. The weight of everything tonight is more moon-weight than earth-weight, which means it will float away before I can catch it, but for the moment feels perfect.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Light: 12/19/14

I live in a world where things like this sparkly bouncy ball just show up, possibly out of thin air. Also magical: the patch of glitter glue on the floor in the den (I left it there on purpose, a memento.) 

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Light: 12/18/14

Ran inside today, but no matter. It is unbelievably lovely when my lungs work the way they should. Sometimes I believe it might be possible to inhale light.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Light: 12/17/14

Today's light: sitting on the floor of my daughters' room, just being here as they fall asleep. It's been a long daynot terrible, but not easy, either. Being there was the best I had, but there was a sacredness to it.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Light: 12/16/14

As a child I was adept
at slipping my eyes out of focus,
making the headlights and taillights
on 35W at night
into strings of pearls and rubies.

On a sunny windy day
I could turn
the waves of Lake Harriet
into a mass of diamonds,
and I conjured pearls
out of rainy evening streetlights
(though on foggy mornings
I preferred opals.)

I sat easily with the fairies
disguised as dust motes
and in bed at night
I contemplated
the kaleid0scope
in my head,
fingertips pressed against eyelids,
moving color,
moving light.

I was a master of light—

not once did I recognize
or question my power.

Not once did I lose
my fear of the dark.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Light: 12/15/14

Every day I see this. During arrival/tuning/snack time, especially—they are experimenting, exploring, asking each other questions, teaching each other stuff. Every day I see this fire for learning igniting around the music room. Yes, they are tired and distracted after a long day at school. But still. I get to work with that fire.

Maybe one of these days when someone asks me what I do, instead of saying “I’m a violin teacher” I will tell the whole truth: “I am a violin teacher, a witness-er of miracles, a problem-solver, a counselor, a herder of squirrels, a maker of music, a fanner of flames.”

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Light: 12/14/14

This is a light that seeps, this music.

It’s not the most common thing anymore for me to practice solo Bach, but even after all this time it is something that seeps into the bones. Not at first of course, but gradually, as I discover the breath of it, and the shape (rise and fall, expand and contract.) As my muscles get used to the work, my body relaxes.

It is a seeking out of light, working on this music.

Each time I practice it, it is like this—the warmth and light working themselves past the tension. Why did I hate practicing so much for so long?

My goal for the performance is less about perfection than it has ever been—
        only speak—
        only follow the light through the trees,
        only show them what you see.

And the night of the performance, what does it matter if I’m fluttering inside? It is all still there to seek out. This is what I determine before playing.

While I’m playing, I remember the lines from Hafiz I read earlier in the day:

God wants to see
More love and playfulness in your eyes
For that is your greatest witness to Him.

Yes. That.

Afterwards, it doesn’t matter how I feel. I’m done. I’ve done the work. I can leave everything else to the light.

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Light: 12/13/14

The how is not so important, just the bare fact that these lights are threaded into the peace process that followed a long battle. For a while they were on every night—glowing, festive, perfect. And after a while they were not turned on every night, because things like that do not always become habit.

What has become habit: if someone is not home yet, if a visitor is expected, if someone in the house feels festive (or wants to feel festive) these lights are on. It has never been discussed, never been planned. Just happened.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Light: 12/12/14

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Light: 12/11/14

The way things come into the light—

Tonight I worked to extricate a truth.

Tonight I received a truth as it burst to the surface.

Both were deeply personal, told to me by children. Both are resonating now, in my heart.

They came at such different speeds, and they had almost nothing in common besides the need to be told. But that need to be brought from the depths into the light—there was no escaping it. And that bright moment of truth, it  sears.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Light: 12/10/14

Flashlight under the pillow, lamp on the headboard, portable book light, illuminated cell phone screen, flashlight app—

the books themselves should glow, for all the light they give off. 

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Light: 12/9/14

On a day like today when somebody asks if they can light candles for dinner (the silver candlesticks still out on the table from Thanksgiving simply because it’s nice to have them there), go ahead and say yes. It might seem like a very dignified thing alongside your macaroni and cheese, but somehow it fits.

The scrappier the day, the better.

Add the candles to the two cases of strep, and the tightness in Oldest’s chest that won’t go away, and Is there mold in the house? and your own dragginess, which, after more than a week is probably not just “fighting something” but more like a bad cold, and maybe bronchitis. 

Add the candles for sure to the moment in the doctor’s office when one of your daughters interrupts the conversation you are having about her health—Mom, you have a hair—picks it off your shoulder and holds it up for you to see (it is coarse and white), twirling it back and forth between her fingers a few times before dropping it on the floor between you and the doctor. Add the candles especially to that, because even though you may love your hair—unruliness and white streaks and all—this is not one of those moments you ever expect out of life, and even by dinnertime you don’t know how you feel about it, except embarrassed and not embarrassed all at once.

Say yes, add the candles, because there was a kindness, also, blanketing this scrappy day, some kind of sweetness attached to it. And somehow it all fits—odd and lovely and true.

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Light: 12/8/14

When the sun returns—

It’s not that I don’t notice the clouds/rain/snow/fog. It’s just that the day everything lifts, finally, I lift with it. It is the same feeling I had when each of my children was around three months old and I knew that I was emerging from underground. I had not quite known I was underground, except there I was, emerging.

I feel the light. I feel light.

And today, driving, I noticed first the glittering of the beaded bracelet Middle made for me. And then it was the glossiness of the lawns. And then the openness of the sky—sudden, bright. The sun.

Welcome back, old friend. I think I can accept your disappearances, if only to feel your return. 

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Light: 12/7/14

In a new light:

1. Tuesday night on our way to rehearsal I wanted to capture the shine of oncoming headlights on the raindrops all over the windshield. Then I saw what showed up on the camera’s display screen, and I wanted to capture that even more. Many pictures later (Husband was driving,) I had neither. But I had this, and I like it anyway, failed intentions aside:

2. This morning I tried to give Youngest some new words to counter what she runs into at school. To show her that “weird” is only one way of saying it—that there are other words, less barbed, more clarifying: unique, eclectic, special. Because those are things you want to hold on to, not bury.

If only my words can flood their words with light. If only she can grab hold of the power in retelling that story.

3. Later this morning, this on Alison McGhee’s website—this pulled it all together for me today.

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Light: 12/4/14

If there were such a thing
as a ghost of an insight,
our tired old car
would be floating
with flecks of fire,
burnings born
in snaps and flashes,
but ordinary
in the middle
of getting there on time,
picking that up,
picking them up.

It might be tempting
to feed them,
these ghosts.
One might even want
to learn to cultivate more
of them
(a delicate art
as they are shy creatures,
and prone to haunting
if neglected.)

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Light: 12/3/14

Sometimes light comes in the form of revelation. As in: buying shoes for your 12 year-old is not the same as buying shoes for your 11 year-old.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Light: 12/2/14

Driving home from a rehearsal or performance late at night on a rural two-lane road—we’ve done it many times over the last 18 years. Trying to keep each other awake. Almost always a 90-120 mile drive, and almost always I last until the last 20 minutes. Almost always Husband drives, for exactly that reason.

These drives are marked by light: the glow of painted lines on the road, the reflection of our headlights in the eyes of deer. The flicker of fireflies, of lightning, of stars. The spread of moonlight across a field, the spread of pink above a distant city. Shooting stars and Northern Lights. Snow and rain and fog pulled into and lit up by the tractor beam of headlights. These are the backdrop to many conversations, stories, arguments.

Maybe it’s just my tired brain, struck by this at the end of one of these drives, but here’s the thing: all that dark you move through, all you see is light. How obvious, how extraordinary.

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thankful, 2014: This Kind of Sweet

Early Thanksgiving morning, baking a pie. Pouring molasses, a whole cupful.

As the bottle empties and the pouring slows, time suspends. There is no visible movement, only connection, from bottle to bowl and back again.

In that moment of stillness the thought rises up that maybe molasses is the perfect kind of sweet. Hearty, unrefined, deep. You—who as a child loved to suck on sugar cubes, who as an adult has not managed to grow out of loving any sort of sweetness, whatsoever—suddenly you know that this is the kind of sweet to covet most. White sugar is vapid, has no depth. Brown sugar (as much as you liked to sneak hard little clumps of it when Mom was baking) is something of an imposter. Honey—yes, it is richer, deeper, but it seems to lack strength. The fake sugars—they are all cheats. But molasses—that is the kind of sweet you can desire all your life. The kind that is complex, and strong. It has a history to it, but unlike that unsatisfactory word bittersweet (upset you all your life, that idea of mixing bitter and sweet) it seems to consist of the sweetness left over after the bitter, or maybe the sweetness that rose up from it. A sweetness that triumphs, that gleams, that suspends time as it pours out—even if there is never a hint of glitter.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Thankful, 2014: Interlude

Sleeping in—soft bed—the slow presence of soft rain, the air itself softened, warm. Soft glow of stained glass, soft child who is not too old to lie across my lap once in a while. A whole morning of soft gray rest.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Thankful, 2014: A Chance to Watch

1. At my students’ fall recital, sitting finally—momentarily—watching and listening. These milestones—you hit them whether you feel ready or not, whether you are sick or healthy, regardless of what else is happening in your life. We work for mastery. We work to capture the spirit of the piece. But what is on display in front of us is always deeper than those things, broader than the performance.

 So many dramas at play, and most of it hidden.

My pride in my students, and the fact that I am on the edge of my seat for each person who walks to the front of the church and bows and plays and bows again has everything to do with knowing them. Their stories, their struggles, their triumphs. Working with them I have gotten glimpses of these things, and I promise you even Twinkle is never the same piece twice.

2. Sitting with the pit band on the opening night of Fiddler on the Roof. Technically my first high school musical, if you don’t count the All-City Opera production of “The Magic Flute” I played in ninth grade. It is an odd and beautiful experience at 42, and I can’t get enough of watching. 

I am here to play, but my heart is with Oldest, on stage. Stage fright for the people you love is almost worse than stage fright for yourself, and it has nothing to do with your confidence in your loved ones or their abilities. As we start playing “To Life” the only thing tempering the adrenaline is the fact that I am used to playing despite it. Besides, I have to focus on what I am doing. 

And then it is his solo, and he is standing on a bench, hand raised in blessing—hand with new angles, and handsome—nailing it:

Za vasle zdorovie
Heaven bless you both, Na zdrovie
To your health, and may we live together in peace!

I get to watch, and I get to be part of the music—his music. My pride in him, the fact that I am on the edge of my seat—you know what that is. I have been watching him since what must be the beginning of time, and the story is rich and complex and I know I will never grasp all of it.

But I get to watch.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thankful, 2014: I Was Wrong...

I was not too tired for rehearsal. The music brought me back.

We are not done with living room dance parties.

That is snow in the air, and not a cloud in the sky. (Look at all that glitter.)

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Thankful, 2014: Elderberry Juice

The color and shine of it, and the sweet/tart berry-ness. The friend at the grocery store who recommended it as an immune-booster, and who listened to the torrent of frustration and tiredness that emerged when she asked how things were going. The glass it was served in, how it caught the light. The hands holding the glass—the chewed-down fingernails, the fingers that almost always carry some evidence of an art project, the palms that are calloused from day after day of practicing on the monkey bars at school. Holding one of those hands walking down the hallway at the doctor’s office. Its warmth, its softness, despite the callouses. The extra time today spent with those hands, and with their accompanying eyelashes and cheeks and freckles.

Oh, the time. Of which there is never enough, but it’s still there—to press your ear against a chest to hear a heartbeat, to press one cheek against another, to hold hands, to talk, to listen. To realize you not only love but really really like these people around you, frustrations and moodiness and tempers aside.

Never enough time, and yet it sustains. Sweet-tart like elderberry juice, shining.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Thankful, 2014: This Day, As Is

Maybe you were hoping things would dare to go smoothly but the ride, as usual, is bumpy.

Maybe a child is home sick, and while at first this meant an added sweetness to the day, maybe now she is shooting you glaring dirty looks in a showdown over half a cup of herbal tea.

Maybe the toilet overflowed so spectacularly that one child ran away sobbing while the others froze in amazement.

Maybe you have been bumping into too much that you cannot heal, too much you cannot repair, too much you cannot change.

Maybe, though, you are more awake than you have ever been in your life. Maybe there seems to be a direct correlation between life being this messy and your awake-ness.

Maybe life-smooth lends a certain hardness. An expectation of more smooth. And with that expectation a lack of compassion. The bumps and jolts—yes, they leave you battered and weary, damaged sometimes in ways you don’t even understand. But those jolts, the big ones and little ones—they awaken something.

And every day, maybe, you are more awake. Every day the sun rises and sets, always different, always beautiful. Every day you get to try again, to see more, to soften a little.

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thankful, 2014: In-between

Earlier this week when three of our alarms went off at once, the sound for a moment was visible. Before I opened my eyes I saw glass shattering, the pieces glittering as they scattered. As I got up the image lingered. I wish I could have held it longer. Oldest sets two alarms for morning—5:55 and 6:00 a.m.—and when the first went off that morning I took this lovely comfort in the fact that we all had five more minutes before facing the day. I remember nothing else about those five minutes—the next thing I knew was that vision of sound as shards of glass, spraying out into the dark. I suppose I had fallen asleep just enough to dream.

This is one of the luxuries of life, I think: waking up and realizing you still have time left to sleep. The extra rest is a gift. But that chance to lie still in a place between two worlds—between waking and sleeping—that is also a gift. I love that kind of edge-place, and the way it breaks in on reality.

Maybe my love of those in-between places is a throwback to the myths and fairy tales I loved so much as a girl. They resonated deeply and caught my imagination. They filled me with wonder, and a part of me always believed they could be true. Maybe I was supposed to grow up and put aside all fantasy. But no. The thing I’ve learned, getting older, is that most of the time this world is stranger and richer than we expect it to be. Not that I don't have a grip on reality, and not that that reality isn't full of pain and frustration, sometimes.   But dreams break in on alarm clocks breaking in on sleep. Those things that we think of as larger than life or outside reality—the myths and fairy tales and flights of fancythey are braided all through life. And the wonder—it is there in the corners and edges and small hidden places, and it is more true than I could have hoped.

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Thankful, 2014: Going Off-Script

Sunday morning: Youngest is serving as an acolyte, and gets to help serve communion.

When it is our turn to go forward we join the line on the right side of the aisle, even though we were sitting on the left side. Communion is almost over and we came from the balcony, anyway, so we aren’t disturbing the flow of things. When Youngest sees us coming up the aisle on her side, I’m pretty sure I can hear a tiny little Yes! but I for sure see her grin. We are—of course—in exactly the right place.

The pastor breaks bits of bread from the loaf in his hand and offers a piece to each person who approaches. “The body of Christ, given for you.” To children he says, “The love of Christ, given for you.” The line inches forward. As each person moves to the side and takes a cup from the tray she is holding, Youngest says, “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” The three phrases are a quiet chorus, repeated over and over.

Except when I get to Youngest, she smiles brightly and whispers, “Hi, Mom!”

“Hi, Sweetie!” I whisper back. After a pause I prompt, “Are you supposed to say anything else to me?”

And she smiles brighter.


Without thinking I take a cup, put the bread in my mouth, and move to the railing to kneel next to Middle. Now I am grinning.

And then I remember what I’m supposed to be in the middle of.

Did I prepare my heart properly for communion? I had meant to. And really, is it ever properly prepared? As I hold the tiny plastic cup I admit that it’s not. But that’s what this is all about, isn’t it, the need for grace? I came to the table and was received in love. 

As I drink, I thank God with every deepness for this holy moment. For the holy words we expect, and for the others, too—just as holy. For the way the sacred breaks in, even on itself, sideways and unscripted.

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Sunday, November 2, 2014


Wednesday I brought the new violins to class, and the rest of the week was an even more pronounced mix of our usual brilliant moments and chaos. The anticipation building up to this week has been thick, and now that it has been released—oh. 

Wednesday pretty much everybody forgot about snack. They forgot to be squirrelly when we went to the bathroom. They were focused only on the violins, and for a certain amount of class I gave in to the noise and the spirit of discovery and watched them explore. My seasoned second year students helped the first year students, showing them how to put their shoulder rests on and how to tighten the bow, and then everyone just tried stuff. It was beautiful and loud, and I wish all of you could have witnessed it. The pictures, I think, tell the story well:

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Today is the Day

They have been waiting. And waiting. Practicing with box violins (mac and cheese boxes, stuffed with plastic bags and wrapped in turquoise duct tape, paint stirrers hot-glued in for necks) and dowel rod bows. They have been practicing, and singing and clapping and marching and dancing and listening. And waitingmostly patiently but not alwaysfor today.

It will feel differentthe real violins are heavier, and not as easy to get in the right spot on your shoulder. Today will feel like a step backward because the playing positions and bow holds will not be as familiar as they were yesterday. I promised them the ease will come back, and will arrive much sooner than it did the first time around.

Everything will be more breakable now, and we've had a few accidents in class, already. We'll deal with that when we need to.

Butsound. We are so close to making sound, and learning notes, and putting real pieces together, bit by bit. We are going to make music together.

Today is huge.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

No school today, no violin lessons, either.

Outside is foggy and damp, cool. The autumn leaves are bright, falling occasionally like leftover confetti. I had some serious writing goals for the day but they require uninterrupted thinking, which isn’t going to happen today. The interruptions are friendly, and welcome, but also on a furious pace. I’m trying to roll with it. Working through a list of goals that require less focus. It is good to have a relaxed day with my kids. It’s just that it is precisely times like this—when the magic is everywhere in pockets and flashes across an ordinary day—that I want to write the most.

Youngest is doing science experiments in the kitchen. I’m not sure it’s knowledge about chemicals and reactions she’s collecting as much as it is texture and color, fizzing-to-overflowing and glowing stuff and generally the experience of it all. She has moved beyond the instruction book to pure improvisation, singing each step as she works, recording her work in a flowered journal, sharing each concoction with whoever is close by. Oldest and Middle and I, we all had a turn in a darkened closet, exclaiming over the glow of zinc sulfide.

A morning like this, it seems so obvious that there is no need to be anything more than ourselves. No matter that this is something that needs to be learned over and over—the moments the knowledge comes easily have such a glow to them. That is our rest today, and there is a fullness to it, even with the frustrations.

And now it is night. It is quiet. Several test tubes and jam jars filled with the best of this morning's experiments have joined the row of treasures already on the kitchen windowsill. I never did get to the writing I intended, although in the end the words that needed to get out found their way out. I don't know that I'll ever know quite how to manage the ebb and flow of needing to be with people and needing to be alone. There is so much filling and emptying with each, and it is so easy to feel caught in the waves. 

The days you remember you can float—those are my favorite.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

One Thing: Handmade Scarf

On a bright day at an outdoor craft fair, the scarf stood out. Hanging up on one side of a booth full of things that were nice but not quite my style, it was the colors that called out, the unexpected combination of bright and soft that held on.

Handmade chenille, the maker explained. She described the multiple layers of fabric laid one over the other, how she sewed them together in long stripes up the length of the material and then cut between the seams—each layer on both sides of the fabric except a single middle layer. Delicate work, such constructing and deconstructing, the softness a result of deliberate fraying. As she spoke it became clear that the colors in my hand were not random; the fabric had been a bright madras plaid. She showed me how different fabrics took on different characters, how each became a slightly different sort of chenille. We touched other scarves, saw and felt both their origins and their new state. I bought the scarf—it would be soft and bright around my neck.

On another bright fall day the scarf finds its way out of my drawer, promising warmth and softness. Brightness, however, is the primary goal. Some days call for colors that give off a little of their own light. Sometimes they are a reflection, sometimes a reminder, but either way it matters, choosing them—wrapping them around yourself and stepping out into the world.

The warmth, it turns out, matters as well. On this particular day I am starting to break loose from the grasp of a cold-turned-sinus-and-bronchial-infection. Wrapping tender exposed parts is a comfort, and brings a certain kind of warmth and freedom to the whole body. I had not thought about this when I put the scarf on, but it is welcome.

There is also, I think, another comfort wrapped into this scarf. It is linked to the way the maker described how she made it, the love she had for both the work and the finished piece. I carried these things home with the scarf. I don’t know exactly what it meant to her to make it, but I know that it meant a lot. And I know that I have made things—in joy, in hurt, in frustration, in excitement, in sorrow—that carry something of me with them out into the world. 

These are things I am sure of: how necessary it is to make something, how a thing slowly becomes more than itself, how a thing carries meaning from person to person—growing in a way, even while it never changes shape. How this works is less important. Seeing is enough.

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