Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What I've Been Up To

(Besides taking pictures)

I find teaching a difficult thing to write about, but I daily feel my brain churning away at the mystery of it all. I start to feel a little lost when I take too long a break from it, and I feel consumed by it by the middle of each semester. I dream of having a secretary to handle the details—scheduling, snacks, fundraising. But the actual teaching part—being part of and witness to so many lives, so many struggles, so much growth—I am all at once thankful and stretched and puzzled and energized and drained. The Violin Project, especially, is intense—7 kids and several wonderful volunteers and I—we have spent many hours together. The time and work are turning into something special. (Much of our year together is in pictures on our Facebook page.)

Last week my students performed with our community string orchestra. Everybody worked hard, prepared well, played beautifully. 

Non-blog writing:
A couple of projects that have needed more than I’ve been able to give. It was good to give them more of my time, even though they are not yet finished. The bit of momentum behind them is encouraging.

On the blog:
There are a number of new titles on my Music Resources: Picture Books, Etc. page. There are so many good books out there. Let me know what I've missed!

Oh—and making stuff:
These are slow-moving projects but I refuse to give them up completely. At the very least they are good for the soul.

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Friday, April 25, 2014


“Mommy, what are you reading on your phone?”

“I’m reading about a word. Every day I get an email with a different word, telling me what it means. See? Today’s word is tractable. It can be used to describe a person. It means ‘Easily handled, managed, or controlled.’”

Brief pause.


Another brief pause. 

“You are not tractable. You are not at all tractable.”

And I had been smiling to myself because it seemed awfully ironic, reading this definition to Youngest, of all people.

*     *     *

It can be a bitter thing, coming up against what you cannot control. 

*     *     *

Husband and I took a walk Easter evening. It was warm, the sky moving from dusk to dark. The lights along the walking path and along the street lit up the new life on trees and shrubs in magical ways. Buds like jewels, white-flowered trees like ghosts, all against a deepening blue sky. And I stopped more and more often to try to capture what I saw. And few of the pictures turned out.

We agreed that this is maybe the most frustrating and wonderful thing about a camera, at least from the skill-level from which we both operate: you cannot always get the camera to see what your eyes see. But sometimes the picture you end up with is still beautiful, and so much more than what you were trying for.

If this is not art and life all wrapped up together, I don’t know what is.

The lack of control we have in our lives can be painful and frustrating and harsh. I rail against it and exhaust myself fighting it. And yet when I can find the art in all of it—when I can pull the beauty out, or discover it shining in the middle of a stinking, heaping mess—that is grace and beauty and everything Best. Everything I love and want most. This is a mystery I both struggle with and want to sink myself deeply into.

*     *     *

This brings me back to Lent, and the Wordless series I recently finished to mark the season. This was the third year of this project, and each time I enjoy it and stress about it all at once. It is welcome in that so often I arrive at a point where I am sick of the sound my own voice—whether spoken or in writing. I want a break from it, and from subjecting others to it, at least for a time. Even though I know from experience that not speaking is a form of death.

And so, the pictures. This, people. I saw this today and it was beautiful. Or hopeful. Or full of meaning. Can you see it, too? Every day wondering if maybe this was the day I wouldn’t discover something, or if I did, that I wouldn’t be able to capture and share it. Finding one picture a day is not the biggest act of faith there is, but every day it tested me. Some days I couldn’t show you exactly what I saw, but the camera found something better. Many days I wondered if I was communicating anything at all. Every day I put whatever I had out into the world with a mixture of feeling compelled to do it and also unworthy. I’m not sure why I keep feeling surprised by that mixture of hope and hopelessness, but I do.

I know that the important part is acting on the hope. Pulling out the beauty. Seeing the light when it shines out from, or into, dark places. Walking right down the middle of tractable and intractable. This has to be what art is and what life is, all wrapped up together. 

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Best

I thought several times Sunday about getting a family photo. Or at least a picture of the kids in their nice Easter clothes. But it was an incredibly busy day, and at some point I just made the decision that we would all be happier if I let the day move on without it.

I am not that crazy about family photos in the first place. Yes, they are absolutely great for marking time. Yes, I may someday regret the fact that I didn’t insist on more of them. But their penchant for looking unnatural, or the kids’ penchant for making faces, or my penchant for getting incredibly grumpy trying to get the deed done—those things get in the way. And it strikes me that the more I try to get everybody to pose, the less of a story gets through.

But then I got on Facebook today and saw so many lovely pictures, so many friends and their loved ones smiling. I wholeheartedly clicked “like” on picture after picture while at the same time thinking to myself, “You missed the boat again. You are such a dork.” I’m good at that, missing the boat and engaging in negative self-talk.

But here. There is a story I want to tell, and as great and busy and also not-without-squabbles Easter itself was, it comes from the day before:

Saturday after dinner we colored eggs. And the windows were open, and the light was starting to dim. We used eggs bought from a friend, a dozen and a half in many shades of brown. Seven colors, rich and vinegary, the water heated extra-hot in the microwave, gathered in glasses and mugs at the center of the dining room table. Between the dimming light and the brown eggs it was hard to predict colors, but egg after egg rose out of the water a deep jewel-tone. We were in awe, focused on color. Uncertain of outcome but certain of our work.

There are so many things I hope I will not forget from these years: staring at my children in awe of their beauty, holding hands, talking, laughing, I love you. Noticing the fall of eyelashes on soft young cheeks.

And this, too. Coloring eggs and deciding that these are absolutely the best ever. 

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