I was in a mood. A little pouty and weepy, my inner 4-year-old whining, “I just don’t feel special!” God, why does this keep happening every month? It’s so ridiculous. Okay, rather than stuff it and wait for it to go away, I will wrap that little girl in my own arms and listen to her. She wants to feel loved. She doubts her self-worth every once in awhile and wants someone to show a preference for her and please her. “Little One, you are precious,” I tell her. I am taking responsibility for caring for this vulnerable one. Me. Passing that burden on to anyone else is manipulative and fosters a kind of co-dependency. I don’t want that any more. Oh, but I used to rely on it pretty routinely. I had a husband who, for 24 years, lavished me with gifts and compliments and love letters. I have been with Steve now for 4 years. He has never even bought me a greeting card. I do not want him to be other than he is, and I believe he loves me profoundly. So, what is the love letter game about? “What’s in a love letter, anyway?” Steve asked.
Six parts flattery to one part youth…or is that a martini? So I began tomake a list of the elements of a love letter, Cat Stevens’ song “Two Fine People”running through my brain.In one column, I put the parts that I know Steve would never embrace. In the other column, I put the bits that I think he does communicate, albeit in person and not in writing. The list began to resemble another amusing song: “Title of the Song” (by DaVinci’s Notebook), which you really must click on and listen to if you never have before. …Now, wasn’t that fun?
So I showed Steve the little orange Post-It note that carried this weighty list. On the left, I’d written “flattery; promises: to rescue, for future, to provide; declaration of desire”. On the right I’d written “honesty, appreciation, gratitude, description of how I love”. I told him that his description of how he loves is unique and authentic to him and doesn’t resemble Cat Stevens’ (“…though Time may fade and mountains turn to sand…’til the very same come back to the land”). He walked to one of his bookshelves and took down his “Bible”, a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. “How’s this for a love letter?” he asked and read from “Song of Myself”:
The smoke of my own breath;
Echoes, ripples, buzz’d whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine;
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs;
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore, and dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn;
The sound of the belch’d words of my voice, words loos’d to the eddies of the wind;
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms;
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag;
The delight alone, or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hill-sides;
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.
Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Stop this day and night with me, and you shall possess the origin of all poems;
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun—(there are millions of suns left;)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books;
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me:
You shall listen to all sides, and filter them from yourself.
The little girl opens her wet eyes and looks wide. Wondering, feeling alive, an equal to the sun and the trees and the birds in the sky and every playmate in the Universe. Is this not Love, this embrace? I reckon that it is.
In my post a few days ago, (Oh! The Humanity!) I sent out a plea for examples of admirable human beings as an antidote to the kind of internet sensations who fail to inspire and instead make me nauseated. You know what I’m talking about, right? The rampant dumbing-down of our species, “urgent” stories of greed and fear and violence and stupidity and pettiness and the like are probably a dangerous toxin to our culture. Where are the role models who will help us do better and why aren’t we using our advanced media to promote them more often? For every “Who Wore It Better?”, we could be viewing 5 “Who Lived It Better?” stories. Why not?
I have enjoyed a morning at work in the kitchen and with the book business while listening to the music of my Mensch of the Day. This is an artist who has inspired me since my pre-adolescent days, and I’ve only just discovered this live recording from 2 years before his death. He is the recipient of the 1993 Albert Schweitzer Music Award and the only non-classical musician to be so distinguished. His humanitarian efforts supported the National Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Earth, The Cousteau Society, and the Windstar Foundation. The CD I have was a concert for The Wildlife Conservation Society’s 100th anniversary. Ladies and gentleman…….John Denver: a singer and songwriter whose lyrics ring with authenticity and passion, whose music spans genres from country to pop to blues to rock, and whose commitment to peace and preservation permeated his career. As a cultural ambassador for the U. S., he visited China, Viet Nam and the Soviet Union and recorded a duet with a Soviet artist, becoming the first American to do so. In my mind, he follows in the footsteps of another hero of mine, Pete Seeger, who, at 93, is still active in the same kind of musical ambassadorship that promotes cultural tolerance and environmental responsibility. I did have the privilege of hearing him give a concert for children when I was in my single digits.
A song from “Miss Saigon” is running through my head… ‘a song, played on a solo saxophone…so hold me tight and dance like it’s the last night of the world’. Not that I seriously think the world will end tomorrow. Aside from the darkness and the rain (instead of snow) here in Milwaukee, all seems fairly normal.
But it raises a good question. What would you do on the last night of the world? What would you want to be doing any or every night of the world?
My husband sang that song from Miss Saigon on a recital one February, a snowy scene visible through the plate glass window behind him. The tune was a tad high for him; his sweet tenor voice seemed a little strained. He lived only another 7 years after that day.
I would want to dance with him and Steve and my children and my mother, to hold them tight and look into their eyes until there was nothing else to see.
My mother serendipitously re-sent me a video that I had been searching for amongst my 4,000 saved e-mails. I am in need of this video on a regular basis, and once you see it, you’ll know why. I think I may have posted it before, but like looking up to see the horizon, it must be done often to stay sane. Enjoy, re-blog, share…repeat. (Not like shampoo instructions, which are entirely bogus. Who lathers twice in one shower?)
Last night, we saw our first Lyric Opera of Chicago performance of the season: Simon Boccanegra by Verdi. An appropriate story for an election month, dramatic and political. Two opera megastars were featured in the leading roles: Thomas Hampson and Ferruccio Furlanetto. The story and the music are captivating. (This performance was rather a disappointment, stiff and unimaginative. I much prefer the La Scala production starring Placido Domingo in the title role, even if his voice is not as resonant as a baritone.) The point is that Simon Boccanegra is a man who spends his life and loses his life in the pursuit of peace. The Italian political scene is characterized by vendetta, family feuds, curses, treason, and rebellion and peopled with villains. The story shows, though, that everyone is a villain. We all harm each other in one way or another. Forgiveness and reconciliation is the only way to make a difference. How many people must the Doge pardon by the end of Act III in order to die peacefully in his daughter’s arms?
This morning, I logged on to the internet and began a conversation with my blogger friend, Helen, of 1500 Saturdays. Her post was about brutal killings in Nigeria, titled “How did humanity get so lost?”. How do we respond to suffering, to the villainy that surrounds each of us? Which stories do we listen to; which do we tell? How do we make a peaceful Sunday in our world? Please click here to read her post, the links, the comments and spend some time considering your own response. “May all beings be happy; may all beings be free from suffering.”
How does anyone keep up with Pop Culture? I used to watch the Olympics; now I don’t have a TV, so I’m not even going to attempt to know who is making the sports news. I’m also not attempting to keep up with movies and music. Or social networking: no Facebook or Twitter for me.
Steve just asked me, “How much calmer would you be if you played in a string quartet every day?” Right now we’re listening to Haydn. I proposed an idea a few months ago that I thought would contribute greatly to creating political harmony. I think every member of the President’s cabinet as well as all the representatives in the House and in the Senate should learn to play in chamber ensembles together. Think of how good they would become at listening to each other!
So now I’m going to shut down the laptop and resist the “tyranny of the urgent”. I will not learn one weird trick to reduce belly fat or make a chocolate cake in one bowl or find out which celebrity wore the dress better. It’s not important, and it’s not worth my attention. Steve and Haydn are. ‘Night!
I have been given the day off from my job at Old World Wisconsin. When the heat index is over 100 degrees, we expect few visitors to the outdoor living history museum. With my time, I imagine accomplishing all kinds of things, but in truth, I am simply sitting in front of a fan in the living room, drinking cold water. I am surrounded by books. “Savor” by Thich Nhat Hahn is right at hand, bringing mindfulness into my view, but what I am mindful of is the sun beating down on the roof next door, angling through the windows despite the mini-blinds, heating the air so that any breeze coming in feels like the blow-dryer set on High. I imagine all the sweet corn that I want to be eating next month shriveling up in the fields. The loss of that treat – roasted in the husk, dripping in fresh butter and seasoned with salt and pepper – is probably not as devastating as the loss of an entire crop to a farmer. Dust Bowl conditions may be just around the corner at this rate. We are all connected to the changes and conditions on this planet. How can we be mindful and act compassionately as a community? How can we become “solid, peaceful, whole, and well” and improve the well-being of the world through collective compassion? And can we cause a sea change on the planet before our brains are so baked that we can’t think at all? I retreat into distraction and immediately think of this song…
We’re closing the museum early tonight. Bands with modern sound equipment, street vendors with FOOD, and other period inappropriate shenanigans will materialize in the Villagefor a midsummer festival (and fund-raiser). Staff members get to mingle, eat, drink, and dance for free! Guess where I’m going to be after hours! Here’s a link to show you more.
Today’s date is reserved for a blog about my mother-in-law, who was born on this day. However, I just don’t have time to do Marni justice, since I didn’t get home from work until 6:30, made dinner, walked to the market and am now eagerly anticipating the arrival of my oldest daughter and her First Mate for a sleepover visit and Sunday breakfast, after which I go back to work until 6pm again. I apologize for the disappointment, but promise to do my best to honor her at a later time. Here’s a teaser about this beloved person: she was a concert pianist. She played for Rachmaninoff when she was 16. Yeah. And as a grandma, she was a computer game geek. You’re gonna love her.
After the living history museum closes and I’m finished my work for the day as an interpreter in St. Peter’s Church, I’m changing out of my corset and bustle and into modern day country dancing togs! There’s a barn dance tonight in the octagonal barn. Square dancing is something that I’ve enjoyed since grade school when Mr. Maghita, the gym teacher, would call out the squares and teach us to promenade, doe-see-doe, and allemande leftwith our classmates. I didn’t even mind the boy cooties. Even better, though, was the Girl Scout square dances when I got to dance with my father. Which reminds me of a funny story….
On my 15th birthday, my older sister Sarah and I were staying with my father at the historic Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. We had just delivered my sister Alice to the University of Colorado, Fort Collins and were heading back to California. As we checked in, I noticed a sign in the lobby advertising that there would be square dancing on the patio that evening. It sounded like a perfect way to celebrate my birthday, so after dinner, we made our way out to the terrace. I noticed that there were a lot of people dressed in square dancing outfits – ladies in ruffled skirts that stuck straight out, gents with string ties and cowboy boots. I lamented the fact that I hadn’t really packed for this occasion. I also wondered why all these people had pinned on name tags with the same logo. As the music started, people started squaring up, and my father promised me the first dance and asked my sister to wait her turn (since it was MY birthday). When all the squares were completed, I spotted a rather disgruntled couple in costume sitting on the sidelines. The caller and the dance started up, and the other couples in our square, in professional regalia, started ushering and dragging my father and I around to the dance steps being announced. Finally, I started putting all these clues together and realized, to my complete teenaged humiliation and embarrassment, that my father and I had just crashed a Square Dancing Performance!! I had always thought of square dancing as a teach-as-you-go, anyone-can-play kind of thing. It never occurred to me that the hotel guests were supposed to be simply spectators! My sister was so happy that it wasn’t her birthday, allowing her to be spared this special treatment. Ah well, Daddy. It makes up for there not being enough room for us to dance together at my wedding reception in the parish hall of the church 6 years later.
So tonight, Steve & I are dancing. I’m pre-posting this because I intend to get home from Old World Wisconsin all hot and tired and in need of a shower and sleep. Enjoy your Friday night, friends! I hope you DANCE!!!