21 September 2014

Heart to Heart

J is the only boy student currently in the piano studio. He's 7 years old and, though I often wonder about the origins of the phrase, he is "cute as a button." He's tiny:  preparations for his lesson include placement of a big red dictionary beneath the bench as his feet don't yet reach the ground. I traced
each of his hands during the second lesson. "Now we have a snapshot, a reference point," I told him. "We'll look at these again in a few months and see how much you've grown."

His mother called in response to an advertisement I placed in the newspaper. "He's been saying he wants to play piano since he was old enough to talk. I been playing it off 'cause, you know, I don't want him to turn into a sissy. But when I saw your ad and saw that you teach 'keyboard' I thought, well, maybe he'll be satisfied with that."

He loves playing. He works hard. He has some intriguing cognitive challenges; he still has to count
his fingers when I ask him to place finger #3 on Middle C, for example. He's sensitive, tenderhearted. When he makes a mistake that he feels he shouldn't have made, he grows very quiet, his face turns somber and sometimes he cries.

I grow more fond of him every week.

His parents rarely return on time to retrieve him after the lesson. We fill the time by strolling in the yard or conversing on the front porch. Last week, seemingly out of the blue, he asked me "What time do you get up in the morning, Miss Alex?" "Oh, it varies. Usually somewhere between 9 and 10," I told him. "Why?"

"Because my school bus goes right by here in the morning and I always think maybe I'll see you sitting on the porch drinking coffee."

This is the kind of thing that melts my heart. I can just imagine this tiny person on a big yellow bus each morning. The anticipation he's feeling as the bus approaches my street. His face. The associated memories evoked as the stone pillars at the foot of Johnson Park come into view. Maybe he has boasted to a fellow student "That's where my piano teacher lives."

The culture romanticizes "the innocence of children" but, for me, it is the vulnerability of children, their willing transparency, the absence of masks that impresses me more. They don't know yet to hide their hearts. And so, heart to heart communication is possible.

Oh, for more of this among my adult peers.





23 August 2014

Returning to Myself



  

I woke up with these words in my head and on my lips:

So now I am returning to myself, these things that you and I suppressed...

Somewhat surprised to discover I have somehow failed to include the full lyrics and recording of the song that includes that line -- "Hejira" from Joni's 1976 album of the same name -- on this blog previously. It is a big song for me; extremely high personal resonance with the sentiments and ideas expressed in the lyric. One of those songs that knocked me off my feet when I first heard it because of the specific way it fit my life at the time.

Almost 40 years later, it still fits like custom-made gloves.

There's comfort in melancholy
When there's no need to explain
It's just as natural as the weather
...
 
I see something of myself in everyone...
 
You know it never has been easy
Whether you do or you do not resign
Whether you travel the breadth of extremities
Or stick to some straighter line

I seem to turn the same corners over and over again in my life. The same realizations dawn with blinding brilliance repeatedly. Over and over, I learn that my life is mine...that nothing is permanent...that life is short. I forget, then remember, that breath and death are the only remotely non-negotiable aspects of existence.

Those of us who were brought up properly bear the weight of responsibility and obligation like a ship's anchor. I forget, then remember, that anchors must be pulled up when it is time to move forward. I stand at the bow of my life ship today, facing the horizon and ready to sail. It is time to weigh anchor. While the anchor rests on the sea floor, assessment of here and now is possible. "Ah, here I am. Here's what I have...here's what's been lost. This sustains me and this can be tossed overboard -- don't need it any more."

 Sometimes it seems safest to remain anchored, to stay in a place -- metaphorically or literally -- that we know well. There is a kind of comfort in familiarity. We might even delude ourselves and believe that we have control while we are in a place whose contours and colors and cycles have become predictable and old-hat for us. "I'm safe now. Nothing can get me here. I know this place."

But it is an illusion. It is impossible to be both in the ever-changing World and protected from change
at the same time.

I am hoisting the anchor to "return to myself." I embrace two readings of the phrase:  coming back to myself after wandering far afield AND reclaiming abandoned or sacrificed essentials.

Revitalizing Holly Springs MS is not my mission. I relinquish all attachment to that goal now and return to myself.

Joining the community of warriors against racism and injustice is not my mission. I relinquish all attachment to that goal now and return to myself.

My mission is the nurturing and advancement of the evolution of consciousness -- my own and others. I return.

I am not committed to building a personal and professional network of human resources to facilitate the blossoming of my "career." This will doubtless happen, peripheral to pursuit of the aforementioned mission but it is not a central intention.

I care about my blood family and wish them always the best that Life has to offer. And, though I have walked and talked as though I accept a responsibility to actively promote this, in truth, I do not believe I have a responsibility to promote their well-being at the expense of abandoning the path toward "awakening," to which I am unconditionally committed.

I care about my friends and wish them always the best that Life has to offer. And, though my ego has been flattered often enough by the dreams that they dream for me, in truth, it is impossible and unnatural to attempt to lend my life to the fulfillment of someone else's dream. "I am not your dream of me..." (from "Getting to Know You," my first SpotLife performance, February 2011).

Admitting to myself that I believe in prayer (sorta) the other day ("Thinking It Matters") felt like "coming out." I'm having a similar experience with the present "returning to myself" post.

It is both daunting and invigorating contemplating next steps, lifting my foot -- and eyes and heart -- to take up the journey from here. Beginning again....








22 August 2014

Coon Time

They're not afraid of me. I'm afraid of them. It's my problem to get over.

I live in a smoke-free house so I spend a lot of time on our enclosed-by-screen back porch, smoking as I do whatever else I'm doing. In the months since the neighbors moved away the raccoon presence has steadily intensified. The neighbors had three dogs.

In the beginning, I only saw them occasionally, usually around sundown, a quick scurry under the hedge a the periphery of my vision. They were cautious and seemed to avoid being seen or confronted.

Then came the afternoon when C and I were sitting on the back porch and a raccoon sauntered across the yard. Hours before sundown, completely unconcealed, and untroubled by the sound and smell of human beings less than 30 feet away.

Since then their boldness has only increased, to the point that they now frolic nightly in the
branches of a tree less than 15 feet from the porch. They aren't in the least intimidated by my presence, smoking...talking on the phone...James Brown wailing on my computer.

Unanimous local advice when I've asked about strategies for controlling them is "Get a gun" and everyone has a raccoon story (or three) to share. I spotted raccoon traps in the hardware store the other day. "What would I do with them after I caught them?" I asked. The store owner looked at me like I was ten kinds of crazy. "Well, you shoot 'em," he finally replied. "Waste of time and gas to drive 'em out and let 'em go. They'll just come back."

After half a century of being adamantly anti-gun, something is shifting in me. There are no light fixtures in our deep backyard. Sitting in the light on the back porch it's impossible to see beyond the screen. Last night, I listened without being able to see while raccoon scurried and crashed about in
the yard and door-less storage shed. When I heard the ping of the chain link fence they use as a springboard into the aforementioned tree, I turned on a flashlight and threw the beam on three large raccoon. They looked at me. My imagination or were they annoyed?

I cannot imagine myself pointing a gun at a caged raccoon and pulling the trigger; but I admit I wished that flashlight was a shotgun last night.

They're only going to get bolder I predict. They have no fear of me. I'm the one with a problem...

Thinking It Matters

It's not yet noon and I have already learned something new about myself. Writing about it feels like a coming-out of sorts.

I believe in prayer. Sorta.

Not the talking-to-an-invisible-father-figure variety. Maybe "telepathic empathy" is a more accurate term.

My friend Y called last night to let me know he's having surgery today. (I am noticing the language around this:  having surgery...undergoing surgery...going into surgery...  It reminds me of "Estou com problemas" in Portuguese which translates literally to "I am (temporarily) with problems" but is understood as "I'm in trouble.")

He was actually in the hospital all last  week for a serious condition he'd already suffered for weeks before that. He didn't call. I didn't know.

He lives two states away so I can't sit in the waiting room and wait to hear how things turn out or stop by his hospital room this afternoon to check on him. What I can and did do is set my alarm for 6:30 a.m. so I could be awake and thinking of him through the hours of the procedure. And as I prepared my morning coffee, I remembered setting an alarm a few weeks ago to be awake and thinking of my father during his back surgery.

It would seem I believe in prayer. Sorta.

What I'm actually doing when I am "thinking of someone" in this way is swinging between mental states of something like meditation -- where I detach from formal thinking and just "follow my breath" as they say and let go, dissolving and merging into an ineffable, pervasive, univeral resonance that I sometimes call Life Force -- and a focused, intentional empathetic stream of thought, being with the person in thought to lend them all of whatever conscious and unconscious vitality I have.

The ah-ha moment, the moment when I blushed to realize that I sorta believe in prayer, came when I sent C a text, urging him to be thinking of Y today. C and I are housemates and I'd hoped to tell him in person last night but he got home after I'd gone to bed and left before I got up today. Texting seemed a possibly crass and inappropriate way to share such news but I could not ignore the urgency I felt to marshal all available energies on Y______'s behalf.

The urgency I felt is proof of my belief in the power of telepathic empathy.

It is perhaps an evolution of social consciousness borne of necessity. I do not live in proximity to the people I care about. Miles and hours and days lie between us. Distance prevents us from witnessing the majority of our life events. We are too far apart to offer in-flesh comfort, counsel, encouragement...


"I am thinking of you" 

and believing it matters.




21 August 2014

Lights, Camera....

Two years in Holly Springs MS. Yesterday was the official two-year mark.

I arrived with a dream -- but no plan. And the dream fizzled.

I might describe my experience here as a "sluggish adventure." Random House defines "adventure" as "an exciting or unusual experience" ('unusual' fits...), "a bold, usually risky, undertaking...of uncertain outcome," and, when used as a verb, "taking a chance."

I did not know -- and, of course, still don't know -- how long I will be here. As an improv artist and inveterate sojourner, "not knowing" is the operative premise for my existence. All that is certain is that something will happen, wherever I am.

Now Brazil beckons. Every day brings a new development in my...planning. I use the term insecurely. Although the present intention is vacation and reconnaissance, my experience in Holly Springs has led to a more cautious approach to traveling to new places. Not speaking the language here, for example, has proven to be a formidable obstacle; I am diligently studying Brazilian culture and the Portuguese language in advance of my trip to Brazil.

The opportunity to move to Holly Springs arose as someone else's bright, shiny idea. I was lured by the gleam and began to spin my own dreams from it. Several bright and shiny Brazilian ideas have shown up in the last few weeks. I greet them with some reserve.


Reserve but not resistance. It's a fine balance. What I'm striving for is an attitude of curiosity and willingness. I am open. And asking questions. Learning what I can about everything so that, when I finally say "Yes" and step onto the plane, when I finally reach Sao Paulo, the surprises that threaten spiritual and physical well-being are minimized and I am ready to dance with those that offer personal expansion.

This is the way we approach improv performance as well. A great deal of study and practice precedes the soaring improvised saxophone solo or the thrilling comedic riffs the late Robin Williams was known for. You pay your dues, hone your chops; observe and experiment and polish the essential fundamental tools...  And then the curtain goes up and the lights come on. You take stage and the show, of Life, begins.
 

19 August 2014

Back Ground

We are each mysterious specimens. I am thinking about the complexity of the "background" of waking consciousness. The curious and unpredictable triggers -- and the similarly curious and unpredictable thought-and-feeling process they inspire.

In the car. Driving to Kroger's in Oxford. A flying insect inside the car lights on my hand and as I wave it away a memory springs forth, of my now-deceased maternal grandmother's hands, and a day half a century ago when offered me frozen grapes as a treat. Suddenly there's the smell of the house where she lived then, catty-corner to the church I attended as a child.

Which was not the church that Mother (that's what we called her) attended. She attended Galatian Baptist, where they sang with more fervor and passion and services were noisier. The church that S_______ attended, too. She and I attended the same junior high school. Everybody thought we looked alike and, in the absence of any actual communication between us, our fellow students pronounced us in competition with each other.

One spring day in eighth grade the rumor mill scheduled a fight between us after school. I grew more and more anxious as the day went on. I'd never been in a fight. I didn't want to fight. S_______ threw
me threatening looks each time I saw her in the corridors between classes that day. I was terrified. She lived in the housing project and everybody knew the kids in the housing project were formidable fighters. Several housing project girls in my class bore visible combat scars.

I avoided the fight--stayed later than usual after school in the choir room and then took the long way home. S__________ remained "enemies" through high school. I never understood why.

Nor do I understand why an insect on my hand triggered memories of Mother and S___________ that moved me to tears that day in the car.

I make my way, day to day, with latent volatile memories and emotions just beneath the surface.


12 August 2014

Robin Williams: Reflections on His Apparent Death by Suicide




I've been told -- and also heard it said to others:  "Just know that you are loved."

We do not understand Love. Why do we feel it sometimes and sometimes not? Does encouragement -- "just know that you are loved" -- bring love any closer, make it any more vibrant when we feel ourselves estranged from Love?

Often, the person saying it to me has been out of touch for a long time. Long enough that I've begun to wonder:  whatever happened to....? Or maybe long enough that I have steeled myself against ever thinking of them because remembering triggers longing and longing hurts.

Our reunion is awkward. I am out of practice. I've spent days, months or years learning how to live without their love, building barricades around my heart and burying memories. Dismantling my security system is not accomplished quickly or easily.

It's an invocation -- "Just know that you are loved" -- that may or may not work. It is attempted hypnosis."Keep your eye on the swinging pendant....you are growing sleepy..." The objective is to forget the long slogs through dark nights of the soul, the wretched cries for Love or Grace or Touch that went unanswered...

Coming from someone I see more frequently, the prompt to "know" that I am loved is humiliating and embarrassing. I wonder if they are saying it because I look like I am suffering or if it is an expression of their own guilt, their feeling that their affection for me has not been evident.

**********************
I believe that Love is felt, not known. But what do I know? I may be conned by your eloquence to embrace an illusion, to accept your view of yourself as a person who loves me but the felt proof is born in the inarticulate dialogue of our hearts when we look at each other, or stand side by side at the kitchen counter slicing fruit. It's there when I come home after a long journey and find fresh linens on my bed.

Longing by Kinga Britschgi
But this kind of love is not Love with a capital L. Love is impersonal. This "love" that we speak of, that we give each other or encourage each other to feel is something else altogether. It's an amalgam of need and lust and envy, pity and inspiration and gratitude. It is as close to real as any human emotion can be. Still, it is, as is all emotion, transient, changeable, ultimately unreliable. The lucky ones enjoy this kind of love for long stretches of time. But no one takes it with them unto Death.

I am thinking about Robin Williams today. I am wondering if his suicide had anything at all to do with Love.

I am well acquainted with what They call "suicidal ideation." As best I can remember, on each of the four or five occasions when I felt done with living, it had something to do with Love.

In conversation about suicide, people have said, "I love life too much to ever kill myself." And I understand this statement because I am also well acquainted with moments of supreme ecstasy, feeling full of gratitude or satisfaction or wonder and appreciating that these feelings are only available to me because I exist, I live and breathe.

But such states of consciousness represent the far end of a spectrum of perception and feeling, the other end of which is extreme and excruciating angst. 

The desire for death can occur at either end of the spectrum.

I think about the final scene in the film "Thelma and Louise." Thelma says "Let's just keep going" and I hear her saying "We are free. We are strong. We are together. Let's just keep going." They are feeling the ecstasy I mentioned previously but it is unattached to living and breathing. 

[The contemplation of Thelma and Louise opens the door to a vast and wandering line of thought. Best saved for a separate post.]

A spokesperson for Robin Williams said the artist had recently been dealing with depression. If this is true, he was living at the other end of the aforementioned spectrum and likely harbored a desire not for more of the same -- "Let's just keep going" -- but rather for a change, relief, a new direction. 

As the Final Frontier, Death offers everything -- more of the best of Now or something new and better than Now.

Robin Williams had a spouse and kids and a house and a career and possessions and acclaim and friendships and income. None of these are Love. Did he "have" Love? Did someone say to him at some point during this last bout with depression "Just know that you are loved"? Perhaps he wasn't convinced?


Rest in Peace, Robin. Thank you for the many gifts you brought us.