Advent Day #16 – Sleep

Reblogging my list of free gifts from the Universe:

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.
~D.H. Lawrence

Now, blessings light on him that first invented sleep!  It covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak; it is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot.  It is the current coin that purchases all the pleasures of the world cheap, and the balance that sets the king and the shepherd, the fool and the wise man, even.  ~Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605

All men whilst they are awake are in one common world:  but each of them, when he is asleep, is in a world of his own.  ~Plutarch

I imagine that sleep is a gift for all, but some may disagree.  They might attribute sleep to the just, the innocent and the carefree and argue that it is refused to many who would try to attain it.  I propose, then, that it is meant for all, for health, rest, and restoration.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, “New evidence shows that sleep is essential to helping maintain mood, memory, and cognitive performance. It also plays a pivotal role in the normal function of the endocrine and immune systems. In fact, studies show a growing link between sleep duration and a variety of serious health problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and depression.”  Two of my family members were diagnosed with sleep apnea, one with the addition of Periodic Limb Movement Disorder.  For each of them, a CPAP machine was prescribed.  That’s a Constant Positive Air Pressure mask which blows air into their nose and mouth all night long to keep their airways open.  How anyone could sleep with that thing on is a mystery to me.

The CPAP seems like a very scientific approach to something that may be more of a spiritual process.  Sleep, relaxation, the natural cycle of repair and regeneration can be picked apart and studied, but will chasing it down and corralling its components help us to enter into its presence?  If we approach it calmly and reverently, will we be more likely to be invited into its sanctuary?  It seems like such a gentle grace, a benevolent angel of mercy.  I’d be afraid to scare it off.

Many people contend with sleep.  I do a bit.  I gave up my super-comfy, air-controlled, king-sized bed to my daughter, and now I sleep on a futon mattress with a sleeping bag and a suede comforter tucked under the sheet to make it a bit more yielding.  It’s not really the same, but I could do worse.  I’ve always been a light sleeper, a result of having 4 children, but I’ve always gone to bed pretty early.  I’m not good at sleeping late, and I do enjoy napping.  Sleep is not elusive for me, simply delicious.  And I dream.

I was thinking this morning that I live in two alternate universes, something like Plutarch mentions in the quote above.  In the world of my sleeping dreams, my dead husband keeps popping up.  He very calmly occupies a place beside me, and eventually in the course of the dream, I will mention that he’s supposed to be dead.  Last night, he was driving when I mentioned it, and then suggested that I take the wheel.  I have the feeling that he’s supposed to vanish when I say that word, but he didn’t.   He just slid into the passenger side and kept talking.  This is my brain working on “what’s right” and “what’s real” about death.  I still don’t have it figured out.  I have a lot of anxiety dreams that also have to do with this preoccupation of mine about “doing things right”.  Performance anxiety is a big theme.  I’m often onstage, backstage, in front of a classroom, or trying to get to a class.  When I was married to Jim, the worst nightmares I had were about the two of us being angry or false with each other.  I feared anything that would threaten our togetherness, and it was manifested in some social context.  I never had a big monster carrying me off or something adventurous like that.  I suppose you could call that a “girlie” nightmare.  My son has huge, plot-driven adventures in his dreams.  He’s got to fight, to battle and overcome in his dreams.  I just get upset and wake up.

I did have a nightmare two nights ago.  I had indigestion when I went to sleep, and I dreamed a horrible dream that ended in watching someone eat their own limbs.  “Someone” in that weird way where you are everyone in your dream.  So I was eating myself.  It was unsettling for my brain.  My stomach was already unsettled.  Peculiar how the sleeping mind works.  I do have a favorite phrase to throw in when someone is describing a dream.  The disjointed narrative goes on and on, and then I interject, “Oh, I know that dream!  Yeah, that all happens, and the next thing you know, the pope comes in with a tray of enchiladas and…”   Yup.  Absurdity.  It’s pretty entertaining, really, this alternate universe.

I feel lucky to be able to sleep when I am tired, to dream when I am perplexed, to regenerate every night and wake to a new day each morning.  Wagner describes it musically when Brunhilde wakes to Siegfried’s kiss.  Listening to it is like going through the resurrection, weeping tears of joy and wonder.  Once again, music gives voice to life’s mysteries.

Well, the sun is shining through the west window making puddles of warmth on my bed.  Think I’ll take a catnap.

Advent Day #15 – Music

The sun is rising in the east, lighting the low clouds with a brilliant pink-orange glow and silhouetting a raven in the large oak next door.  We awake this Sunday morning in a gloriously celebratory mood.  This is the only day in the week that Steve doesn’t wake at O dark 30 to get out the door to work.  He goes to his 7-foot stacks of CDs (did I tell you he collects and sells CDs as well as books?) and selects a favorite.  The timpani boom out the announcement of Christmas. Boom-bo-bo-bo-bo-boom Boom!  Bach’s Christmas Cantata is a great, rousing morning piece.  Now we are at the Grand Canyon, listening to the bird flutes and the donkey hee-haws of Grofe (accent on the ‘e’).  Music is a truly wonderful gift that we enjoy every day.

I’ve Got Music

How to unwrap this truly spectacular gift?  It pulsates and glows and pulls you in, as your heart resonates and your soul throbs.  Music received and believed regenerates like faith.  I cannot think that it is merely a human construct, yet I cannot prove the music of the heavenly spheres.  Is it invented?  Is it natural?  Is it free?  Perhaps it is everything.

All deep things are song.  It seems somehow the very central essence of us, song; as if all the rest were but wrappages and hulls!  ~Thomas Carlyle

Without music life would be a mistake.  ~Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.  ~Ludwig van Beethoven

My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us; the world is full of it, and you simply take as much as you require.  ~Edward Elgar

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.  ~Victor Hugo

Is there a culture on earth without music?  Rhythm: sound and silence are as basic as biology.  Heartbeat, breath.  Melody is anything with a voice.  Do animals make music?  Do plants?  Does the earth itself sing?  Sound waves flood space.  Is that music?

Does music have an important part in your life, in your living?

Steve has a mental invention: “the sound pack”.  He imagines carrying around a device that would provide a soundtrack to your life as you live it, matching music to your moods and experiences.  It differs from an iPod in that it is all original music.  Of course, he hasn’t actually built a prototype. I have never gotten into the habit of wearing ear buds and listening to music constantly.  My arachnoid cyst would probably explode if I did.  It’s more comfortable for me to take my music in without other distractions, especially as the white noise in my head increases.  Imagine that you lived 200 years ago, before recorded sound.  What place would music have in your life then?

I sing to myself when I drive, making up lines and verses as I go along, like the Spirituals of the south, especially if I’m anxious.  Driving up to Steve’s house from Illinois, I’d get off the Interstate at Swan Blvd and hum, “Here I am on a street like a long-necked bird…”, the murmur of a bluesy minor key calming my nerves.  I would sing to my little brother on the drive home from the beach when he was a boy.  He’d be asleep by the time we reached the driveway, damp head on my shoulder.   I loved singing to him.  When he was an infant, I would reach into his crib and lift his sleeping body so that I could take him to the rocking chair and sing him back to sleep again.

Of course, I sang to my own children.  And they sang back.  Harmony is an amazing satisfaction.  I am looking forward to my kids visiting me on Christmas Eve.  I’m hoping we can take a stroll around the neighborhood and trot out some of our favorite carols….and maybe some Beetles.   Have you ever heard people singing in the streets?  Do you look up in delight?  Wonder why they seem so happy?  I do.

One morning, I awoke to the sound of my sweetheart singing beneath my window.  “Michelle, ma belle, Sont des mots qui vont tres bien ensemble….”  Instead of the melody, though, it was the baritone part of a barbershop arrangement.  Didn’t matter.  It was in French and warmed by a May breeze.  I opened my window and drank it in.

I have not experienced oneness with an instrument except my own voice.  I am truly impoverished by that fact, I think.  I did buy a harmonica this year with high hopes, but I am just too impatient.   My mother-in-law was a concert pianist.  My mother is an accomplished accompanist as well.  I wish that I had been more disciplined and practiced the piano more.  I wish that I had spent more time with the guitar, too.  I suppose having a good voice tempts you to be lazy in that way.  If Jascha Heifetz could sing, would he have been the violinist that he was?

What if we required our politicians to be experienced ensemble musicians?  Would they come to office with a better understanding of unity, of teamwork, of collaborative leadership?  Imagine a string quartet of President, Vice-President, Speaker of the House, and Senate Majority Leader practicing long hours together on an Adagio by Schubert.  Perhaps the entire country would be in better shape.


Advent Day #14 – Time

It’s About Time

Marching on in the parade of days is today’s icon: time.  Ever seen George Carlin’s stand-up routine “Does the time bother you?” from 1978?  He goes into his typical absurdity rant about time, and as usual he asks a pertinent question in an impertinent manner.  We get obsessed with time, we humans.  It’s a construct we invented to cause ourselves anxiety, it would seem.  Animals have no sense of time.  They have seasonal behavior, but they’re not checking their calendars or pocket watches to know when to do something.  We have this ability to conceptualize past, present, and future and make decisions about what to do when.  What are we doing with this ability?  How are we spending our time?

Coincidentally, Steve woke this morning to say that he had been dreaming that we were having a fight.  “About what?” I asked.  “Small fires,” he replied.  To Steve, “small fires” are the things that take up our time or distract us from the important things in life.  We have spent a lot of time discussing what we consider valuable and how we want to use the time we have.  I consider it a big part of a working relationship to have those conversations that clarify how you will spend time.  The trick is to have them in a way that doesn’t waste time.  “Where are we going to spend Christmas Eve?” could cause you to fall into a vortex of possibilities and consequences.  “What do I want to be doing at this time?” is a bit more specific.

For what do I make time?  On what am I willing to spend a lot of time?   When you ask yourself these questions, does a sense of obligation begin to settle on you?  Are there a lot of things you spend time on because you feel you have to, even though you don’t want to?  How much of that have you accepted unwillingly because it’s easier than making changes?

Years ago, I went to a workshop that focused on a book called “Unplug the Christmas Machine”.  My church sponsored this event because there were a lot of women in that affluent community that took on an incredible burden of expectations and effort around the holiday.   I would often be asked, “So, have you got everything ready for Christmas?”  This was a conversation opener that often segued into a litany of tasks and obligations that they hadn’t completed and a lament of how stressed they were and how little time there was.  It was a victim’s complaint.  It’s taken me years to realize that victimization is often a choice.  There is a way to live that includes deciding what you will and will not spend your life’s time doing.

Some things I will not spend time doing: watching TV.  (I don’t own one, I don’t want one.  I have plenty of things to look at and listen to that entertain me.)  Networking on Facebook.  (I already have e-mail and a blog, so this seems completely superfluous.  Apparently, I am now in the minority in this country.  Hurrah!)  Working in a cubicle 8 hours a day.  (Been there, done that, then lived without any employment for 11 months so far.  I prefer being unemployed.) Showering and putting on make-up every day.  (I shower a few times a week.  I wear make-up to the opera.  I still feel hygienic and pretty.)

I might spend time taking a TV apart. The insides are cool!

Some things I will spend time doing:  cooking and dining.  (The worst part about feeding a family of 6 when everyone is employed or a student full time is that no one has time to enjoy this necessary and basic part of being human.)  Washing dishes by hand.  (It’s reminds me of camping.)  Doing laundry.  (Going to the laundromat for 2 hours every 3 weeks actually takes less time than owning the machines and doing a load whenever I felt like it.)  Sleeping. (I have always been a napper and a morning person.  I go to bed by 10pm most nights.  Did that even in college.)

What I really want to spend time doing: being outside, hiking, camping, traveling.  Reading books and listening to music.  Writing.  Being aware.  Being present, especially when I’m face to face with another living being.  Learning and loving and being happy.

We don’t any of us know how much time we will have to be alive.  We all have the responsibility and the opportunity to decide how we will live in whatever time we have.  That’s an awesome gift.  Jim’s sister quoted Abe Lincoln at the memorial service we held: “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, but the life in your years.”  So maybe there’s no such thing as ‘time’, only ‘life’.

Advent Day #13 – Touch

This morning, I happen to be the featured writer at Into The Bardo (or The Bardo Group), and my post for Advent Day #19 is showing there.  If you’re a follower here, I encourage you to check out Bardo; I guarantee that you will be edified by the writers in the group.   If you’re visiting here from Bardo, you get an extra gift to open today (and Divinity will show up again on the 19th).  The idea is this: in lieu of an Advent calendar with a little icon or chocolate or something to count down the days to Christmas, I am posting reminders of the fabulous free gifts that we enjoy every day in this marvelous Universe.  Who says that Christmas comes once a year?  Every day, every moment is full of the incarnation of sacred Life.  I’d like to be in a “holiday mood” every day of the year and reverence every day as a Holy Day.  I created this daily series two years ago, when I had a handful of followers.  Today, I have more than 500.  So I’m re-gifting!  (for someone in the used book business, you have to expect some of that!)  Here’s the original post for today:

I’m Touched

I have an image in mind as I parade out these gifts for each day of December.  Described beautifully by D.H. Lawrence in The Plumed Serpent, it is that ritual wherein the devout remove the icons and statuary from inside the Catholic Church, bedeck them with flowers, and hoist them onto portable platforms so that they can move about the throngs of people and allow them to worship, touch and reverence these symbols of their blessings.  So here is the thirteenth symbol of a holy experience – we write it ‘touch’.

It occurs to me that taste involves a certain amount of touch.  Foods caress your lips and taste buds.  That involves direct contact with substance, as opposed to sight, hearing and smell which seem more indirect.   Touch is all about that direct contact with substance, and it can happen anywhere on your body.  Fingertips are often the first touch sensors that come to mind.  They are sensitive and yet resilient.  They detect temperature, pressure, texture, shape and probably a million other bits of data.  The temperature sensors are interesting.  I remember an exhibit station at the Exploratorium in San Francisco that alleged that you could not tell the difference between intense cold and intense heat by touch.  It sounds like nonsense, but here’s how they proved it:  two metal coils were intertwined evenly.  One coil was extremely cold.  The other was vaguely warm.  When you touched them individually, that was evident.  When you touched them together, you immediately drew your hand away because it felt like it was burning hot!  Apparently your brain combines the intensity message with the heat message and warns you right away to back off.  Of course, I wanted to test how long I could endure the sensation, knowing that I wasn’t being burned.

My sister and my daughter are both certified massage therapists.  I think they are perfectly suited to this profession.  They are caring, intuitive, kinetic, and highly skilled.  They are also whip smart at math and able to comprehend systems and memorize terminology.   You probably don’t think about that as you enter a spa, and maybe you have stereotypes of “massage parlors” somewhere in your consciousness.   That’s the mystery of the grace of touch.  It transcends all that scientific knowledge and meets you on a very intimate level.  “How’s this pressure?” they ask you, and you only need to respond by relaying your comfort.   “I don’t know what you’re doing or why, I just know that it feels good.”  And I’ve also learned that it feels good to them, too, in a different way.  They get in touch with their own bodies, how they perceive what’s going on beneath the skin, how they balance their own weight against you, how they move down a long muscle or manipulate fascia.  It’s very rewarding work.  It’s also tiring.  Schedule a massage, enjoy the experience, and tip your masseuse well!  If you live in San Francisco or DeKalb, I have one to recommend.

Intimacy.  Touch is a wonderful conveyance of feeling and thought.  It may take a while to trust it for many of us.  It’s sad that in our society it is often manipulative, dishonest and damaging.   The touch of someone I truly trust can instantly change my mood.  When I was in labor for the first time and about to deliver, I was approaching a very intense experience of the unknown.  I knew that I would have to surrender my control in order to get through it, but I was scared.  Jim was very interested in all that was going on down at the doctors’ end, the episiotomy, the vacuum forceps, the bells & whistles.  I felt a bit abandoned by my “coach” until he came close to my face and laid the back of his hand on my cheek.   I relaxed completely in that instant, and Susan was born.  I will always remember that touch.  When I stand at the sink washing dishes, I love it when Steve comes up behind me and kisses the back of my neck.  It sends a shiver through me every time.   To be in contact with someone I love gives all my labors meaning.  My body doesn’t live in a vacuum; I am interconnected with everything in the universe.  I like to be reminded of that.


Pinkle Purr: warm, furry, soft, silky

With all the holiday greetings being sent around the world this month, it’s nice to know that people “reach out”.  It would be my hope that we also get the chance to really touch.  I’d take a hug above a twitter every time.   And I miss having a cat to stroke, big time.  I admire animals for the way that they instruct us humans in some basic lessons in touching when we are often too uptight to understand what they know instinctively.  For all the cuddles that they elicit from us reluctant brain-heavy types, I am in awe.  Especially from men who are often not permitted to indulge in touching.  I love seeing my son being physical and affectionate with the dog and cat he lives with.  It reminds me of when he was young enough to have stuffed animals.  He had quite a collection, and he enjoyed their softness openly, frequently nuzzling into a huge plush dog named Buster.  Today, he is interviewing for a job at a kennel.  I think it would be great for him to have an opportunity to spread that gift of loving touch to some lonesome boarders.

I am grateful for the ability to feel the universe around me in so many different ways, externally and internally.  Thanks be!

Advent Day #12 – Taste

Today’s Advent door opens up a world of heaven.  Taste is something that I appreciate with my whole being, like a baby wriggling in delight.  I baked bread twice this week, and made turkey soup and deep dish pizza from scratch.  I am looking for Whole Foods markets within driving distance so that I can taste their Truffle Gouda one more time.  I get really excited about food!  My Christmas magic is gradually boiling down to simply cooking and eating good food.  I’m not decorating or exchanging gifts or going to church or to parties, but I am going to enjoy being busy in my home making tasty things for people I love.  

You’ve Got Taste

And what a gift it is!  Today is the 12th day of appreciating things we often take for granted, and our sense of TASTE is on the docket.  If you can, grab something to snack on while you read.  You might suddenly feel hungry.

Taste and smell go hand in hand, but there are foods that smell better than they taste.  Movie popcorn for instance.  Vanilla extract.  Coffee.  Lavender.  (Steve and I debate whether this can really be a food.  I say it is, and lavender/lemon cookies are delicious.  He thinks they taste like old lady soap.)   Cinnabon rolls.  McDonald’s fries.  Feel free to add from your list.

Last night, Steve & Emily & I ate at an Algerian crepe restaurant.  Oh. My. Goodness.  Flavors exploding all over the place.  Fresh mint tea with honey, served in tiny glass mugs.  Lamb stew with chick peas.  (Lamb fat is a flavor that will always be a comfort from my past.  It is distinct from all other meat flavors and tends to polarize people into two camps.  I’m definitely in the ‘thumbs up’ camp.)  Roast garlic, brie and escargot. (Yes, together in a crepe.  Tres decadent.)  Sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, caramelized onions, olive tapanade, pomegranate seeds.   And strong coffee, poured from a copper pot with a long handle into a demitasse cup that made me think of the film “Notorious” (Alfred Hitchcock).  After sipping my cupful, I found a substance at the bottom that I could have used to make adobe.  It smelled of allspice, I think.


Fried Chicken picnic at Ravinia on my birthday

Taste and texture are also inseparable experiences.  “Mouth feel” seems a totally inelegant way to communicate the pleasure, but it seems to be the term of choice.  Creamy, crunchy, grainy, watery, smooth.  I’m not sure how to characterize ‘fiery’ spice.  Is that a taste or a texture or a mouth feel or a chemical reaction?  “Tastes like burning!” as Ralph says on The Simpsons.  In the documentary “El Bulli” (about the famously avant garde restaurant in Spain), they experimented with serving a cocktail that was simply water with a little hazelnut oil floating on top.  It was all about feeling the smoothness of the oil on your upper lip while the clear, cold water glided below it into your mouth.   Ah, concentrating on a singular sensation.  How wondrous!  How hedonistic!  How delightful!  Why not?  “I’ll have what she’s having!” the old lady says, pointing to Harry & Sally’s table.  Have you ever had a taste experience that bordered on climactic?  I have.  I savor them.  Here’s one that pops in mind: my sister’s homemade Mexican chocolate ice cream.  The first time I ate it, I almost passed out.  Chocolate ice cream has never meant the same thing to me since.   Hungarian fry bread rubbed with a garlic clove at Paprikas Fono in San Francisco.  I was pregnant for the first time and STARVING.  Seriously, I hadn’t been able to keep food down and I was depressed.  I craved that bread with goulash for nine months.

I could probably go on forever, but I won’t.  I am so appreciative of my taste buds and the way they enhance my life every day.  I did know a guy who’d suffered brain damage from 2 car accidents and couldn’t smell or taste much.  I feel much compassion for his predicament.  Not that it is insurmountable, but I’m happy to be able to enjoy the sensations I have.   Thank you, Universe.

Advent Day #11 – Smell

Inhaling deeply, through the nose.   A breath meditation and a sensory celebration.  Smell is a marvelous gift!  Pleasurable, informative, playful and useful — something for which to be grateful as we count our Advent blessings. 

You Smell

Well, at least I hope you do.  I knew a young man who lost his sense of smell after a motorcycle accident.  I had periods of olfactory disability when I had chronic sinusitis.  I found those days flat and uninteresting.  I have always enjoyed the stealthiness of fragrance; it can surprise you and delight you and make you suddenly aware as if playing a game with you.  “Wow!  What is that?”  Your mother’s favorite brand of perfume, the beach grass from your childhood vacations, the star jasmine that bloomed beneath the porch.  It’s amazing how specific smells are.  Many animals identify their own offspring by scent alone.   So today, I am challenging you to become aware of and appreciate your sense of smell.  What is this season’s particular redolence?  Cinnamon.  Allspice.  Pine.  Onion.  Sage.  Vanilla.  I stopped at a spice shack the other day to buy Chai Tea Spices.  The place was a heaven of smell.  Pungent pepper and cinnamon.

There are place odors that are painful.   Hospitals and vets’ offices, for instance.  The stairwell of the parking structure in a big city.  The landfill.  Gary, Indiana in the late ’60s.  You know a few, I’m sure.

Garlic.  French fries.  Chocolate chip cookies baking.  Okay, now I’m just getting hungry.  Breakfast and then drive to Chicago for the Lyric Opera: Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss.  Dinner with Emily at the Algerian crepe place.  Never been there before.  Looking forward to smelling that!

Advent Day #10 – Hearing

And what’s behind door #10 on the Advent calendar? 

Do You Hear What I Hear?

“A song, a song, high above the trees with a voice as big as the sea, with a voice as big as the sea.”

As a little girl in chorus, I loved that Christmas piece.  There was something majestic and homey about the conversation passing from the night wind to the mighty king.  I liked the imagery of the sky and the little lamb and the star with a tail as big as a kite.  I sang it with all the passion I could muster at the age of 9.

Today’s gift on the parade of days in December is hearing.  Sound.  What are your favorite sound memories?  What’s the first thing you enjoy hearing in the morning?  How do sounds change your mood?

Today I woke up to the sound of chickadees outside my window.  The sun was shining through the frost making rainbow diamonds of pink and green.  I tried to take a picture of it, but the colors didn’t come out.  I realized that even when I put my glasses on, the prism effect disappeared.  I Googled “frost” images, and none of them have the colors that I can see with my naked eye.  I wonder if the lens thing destroys the refraction?  Okay, that’s a sight digression.  Sight was yesterday.  Today, I want to concentrate on sound.

It’s funny how you can be totally familiar with a sound and not even know that it’s in your repertoire.  For instance, I can sit upstairs in bed while Steve goes down to the kitchen to make a snack, and I can figure out exactly what he’s fixing, just by listening.  My kids used to hate this skill.  “How did you know that I was doing that?”  Sneaking snacks, tiptoeing out the front door, playing music on your headphones when you should be sleeping, they all have a particular set of sounds.  Even silence.  Silence to a mother with toddlers communicates alarm louder than a French siren.

Favorite sounds from childhood: the ice cream truck (why do they always play The Entertainer by Scott Joplin?) is a cliche.  I’ve got one: the sound of my mother calling us in for dinner with an alto yodel at a major third interval.  I was the most embarrassed kid on the block.  Couldn’t we have had a bell or a triangle or something that wasn’t her voice?  Okay, in all fairness, the sound of her singing Brahms lullaby to me at night made up for that.  “Lullaby and goodnight, with roses bedight (archaic form of ‘bedecked’, I suppose), with lilies o’er spread is baby’s wee bed.  Lay thee down now and sleep, may thy slumber be deep; lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed.”  Or her other standard: “Now the day is over, night is drawing nigh, shadows of the evening steal across the sky.  Jesus gives the weary calm and sweet repose, with his tend’rest blessings may thine eyelids close.”  “Night-night, d’good girl”, she would always say, kiss me on the forehead and tuck me in before tiptoeing out of the room.

Music; have I had music in my life!  I am a walking encyclopedia of silly camp songs that crop up at the most mundane cue.  I am still learning to be as familiar with “serious music”.  Even after attaining a BA in music, I have to say that I feel I know very little about classical instrumental music.  This is where Steve is educating me.  He began collecting albums as a teenager and can cite off the top of his head how many symphonies, concertos, operas and other works were composed by a plethora of artists.  As a voice performance major, I know more about songs.  I even make orchestral works into songs, mnemonic devises to help me remember the composer.  “Sergei Prokofiev could barely read the treble clef until he was past 47″ sung to Peter’s theme from Peter & the Wolf, for instance.   (I got that from a book, actually.  I didn’t make it up.  But you get the idea.)

White noise.  There’s a scene in Tarkovsky’s film “Solaris” where they tape strips of paper over the air vents of their space station to simulate the sound of rustling leaves.  Noise that makes you feel at home.  The elevated train down the block.  Sirens.  Owls.  Coyotes.  The dishwasher.  I have my own white noise going constantly in my head.  I’ve had it since 2005.  It’s called an arachnoid cyst.  So I am a bit hard of hearing, but not so’s you’d notice, really.  Except when Steve mumbles something in his low register.  “Did I fake a rainbow trout? No?  Oh, ‘did I take the garbage out’!”  I can live with it.

My favorite sounds, off the top of my head:  Susan’s voice saying, “Hiiii, Maamaa!” on the other end of the phone.  The whistle of a cardinal.  A barbershop quartet.  “Unforgettable” crooned by Emily.  Josh and Becca laughing.  The pop of a cork from a bottle.  Coyotes and hoot owls and wind.  Red-winged blackbirds.  The loon at Woodbury Lake.  My mother’s voice.  Church bells.  The bell of mindfulness.  Frogs: spring peepers to be exact.  I hear them every year.  They’re deafening, practically, but I can never SEE one!  It’s a taunt.  One day, I’ll get lucky.

What is music to your ears?  Tomorrow, we’re off to the Lyric again for Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos”.  That’ll be some music.  Then we’re having dinner with Emily at an Algerian crepe restaurant.  Can you guess what the gift will be for that day?

Advent Day #9 – Sight

Reblogging my Advent appreciation countdown from 2 years ago: we are rich beyond measure in “ordinary” assets!  Today’s gift is Sight.

The Eyes Have It

I started a little tradition this December as a stand in for the Advent calendar.  I am sending a text message every day to my kids, reminding them of a gift that they have.  The first one was sunshine, the next air, then water, soil, snow, movement, memory, imagination, and today…sight.

I am a very visual person.  I have a visual memory.  A teacher once told me that there is an easy way to assess whether a child is a visual learner.  Ask him to tell you the contents of his closet.  If he looks away from your face and off to a neutral space in order to list things, he’s probably visual.  He’s removing his eyes from distraction so that he can “picture” his closet.  I heard this little trick and remembered all the boring afternoons I spent as a freshman at college picturing every detail of my room at home.  (Yes, I was terribly homesick.  Mostly for my sweetheart.  Finally married that hometown honey on Christmas break my senior year.)  I could still do it 30 years later.  I close my eyes and see my room exactly as it was.  (Where did my mother get that faux velvet wall hanging with the peacock on it?  And why did I bring it to college with me?)

Things I love to see include landscapes, sunshine, animals, trees, the sky…anything natural.  And people.  Faces, bodies, those odd architectural places of form and shadow and contrast that only your intimate loved ones allow you to look at to your satiation.  I can never get enough of staring at people I love.  That’s why I’ve always been fascinated by photography.  My sweetheart bought me a Canon AE-1 camera the second Christmas we were together.  My mother asked me, “Are you going to accept that gift?!”  Hell, yes!  Why wouldn’t I?  Oh, the relationship obligation thing.  No problem; we’re going to be together forever, I told her.  Jim died a year before the camera’s shutter gear got stuck.  So, basically, I partnered both of them for the same amount of time: 30 years.  Now, it’s the digital age, and I can’t afford to get the Canon repaired.  I’m saving for a DSLR.

Visual images are so powerful for me.  I don’t like the rapid, frenetic pace of graphics on TV or in movie ads, though, because they give me a headache.  Fortunately, I don’t own a TV, so I don’t get subjected very often.  We saw the Super Bowl at a sports bar last year and decided that we could make a drinking game based on a few visual cues: something exploding, rotating text graphics, and morphing forms.  Everything was moving.  Whatever happened to the timeless grace of a beautiful still shot?  I get my fix on National Geographic’s website under “The Daily Dozen”.  And I have to say that my sister’s photobucket is also a superb repository of stunning visuals.  Thank you for those “prezzies”, DKK!

Appreciating sight.  What are your spontaneous choices for favorite images?

My sweetheart, courtesy the Canon AE-1, 1980

Advent Day #8 – Imagination

The countdown of free gifts continues – Imagine!

Imagine That!

Do animals have imagination?  Do they think in concepts or toss ideas around?  Or is that strictly a human thing?

Animals have some pretty incredible artistic skills.  I think of weaver birds or bower birds, birds that display their expertise in foiling predators and attracting mates.  Does that indicate imagination?  Cats, chimps, elephants and others have created art with paintbrushes or paws dipped in colors.  Is that imagination?  Maybe.

What good is imagination?  Why is it a useful skill or a precious gift?

It keeps us from getting bored.  It motivates us to engage in possibility.  It fuels hope.  But I suppose it could also be said that it fuels depression or despair.  So, it’s a tool that we have in our skull-shaped kit box.  We can use it however we want.  We get to be creators.  And it’s free.  You don’t need electricity to run it; you don’t have to have an account or a password.  This is one of the greatest gadgets ever!  Do we celebrate it?  Encourage it?  Teach it?  Or do we try to corral it, censor it, mold it, sterilize it?  Well, historically we have done all of these, to be truthful.  What have you done with yours lately?  Do you have a secret place where you put the workings of your imagination?  A journal, a sketchbook, a doodle pad, a workbench, a tape recorder, a music staff, a photo album?  Do you unwrap these presents for yourself sometimes?

When I was in college, I worked summers at a Christian camp.  I was in charge of the arts & crafts area.  It was called “Imagination”.  Over the doorway in blue paint and gold glitter, the name hung like a talisman.  Each day, I wondered which kid was going to come in and blow my mind with something s/he created.  I remember one tall, skinny, shy kid with a speech disorder, named Devin.  He was 14.  He would come in and look bored.  I gave him some clay and googly eyes.  He joked around, embarrassed, and then made a pretty good likeness of E.T. from that summer’s most popular movie.   The next day, five campers came into the shop asking if they could make an E.T. head.  Not that the art was original, it was completely derivative.   But the idea to create something started a fad, like the kids were just waiting for someone to allow them to explore their own imaginations.

Steve came up with a book from his bookstore collection called Artful Jesters by Nicholas Roukes.  “Innovators of Visual Wit and Humor” it says.  Here’s the cover:


The artwork is by Willie Cole; it’s called “Burning Hot I – Sunbeam iron with yellow and red feathers”.  I would love to raid all the recycling containers on my block, set up a workshop in my garage, and make “Imagination” come to life again.  I’d invite all those shy, awkward kids and the ones who pay too much for entertainment, and see if they’d engage in this wonderful ability we humans seem to have inherited from somewhere.  We are co-creators in this world.  It’s a pretty nifty gig.  I appreciate all my blogging friends, my musician friends, artists, knitters, chefs, actors, gardeners, sculptors, photographers, architects, designers…thanks for opening up your shops and showing us it can be done.

Advent Day #6 – Movement

In the Christian Church calendar, today is the sixth day of Advent and St. Nicholas Day.  In my Advent countdown, today is the day to celebrate the gift of Movement.  We live on a moving planet.  Impermanence surrounds us in increments from nanoseconds to evolutionary ages.  Steve’s revelatory phrase about his identity is “I am the joy in change and movement.”  If this is reality, why fight it?  I am re-blogging a post from two years ago that illustrates the grace and artistry and discipline of movement – ballet.  Watching movement can be magical and mesmerizing and put us into a “dream mind.”  But waking up to the present moment puts movement back into the realm of consciousness.  Our hearts are beating, our lungs are breathing, we pulse and move and live.  It’s not a miracle, but it sure is something to celebrate!

Fairy Princess Dreams

Last night we went to see the Bolshoi production of Sleeping Beauty on the cinema screen.  The newly restored Moscow theater features gilded woodwork and royal red upholstery, a royal box and no “cheap” balcony seats.  It is Old World magnificence  and romance in itself.  Add Tchaikovsky’s  lush orchestral score (which includes not one, but two harps!) and the lavish beaded, satin costumes and tutus of classic ballet and you have a Spectacle of epic proportion.  We sat in the 5th row and felt like we were actually on the proscenium during the close up camera shots.  It was breath-taking.  Princess Aurora showcases all her most difficult moves in Act I at her 16th birthday party, partnered by 4 elaborately dressed foreign suitors.  Cymbals accentuate each technically challenging pose, and she becomes the prima ballerina superstar of all my girlhood dreams.  Suddenly, I am 10 years old and sitting next to my father at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago.  The ballet is so beautiful and I am so lucky and so loved and I miss my dad so much that I can’t hold back the tears.   My heart is too full.

My dad proudly attended to the cultural education of his 4 charming daughters.  We had classes at the Art Institute and ballet lessons at a studio on Michigan Avenue every Saturday.  He had season tickets to the ballet for the whole family and to the opera for my mother.   I was absolutely stage-struck as a kid and couldn’t resist trying on poses and gestures in the lobby during intermissions.  I was the youngest of his daughters and probably tried the hardest to please him.  I suppose I felt like a princess in many ways.  I counted on my father’s kingly protection and generosity.  I sometimes slept through life, waiting for Prince Charming to appear and carry me off to a dream of happiness.  I met my prince when I was 15, married him when I was 21, and almost lived the whole freakin’ fairy tale.   But no, I lived a real life.  And I’m glad of it.

I found out that grace takes a lot of hard work, that fathers are imperfect people, and that love is stronger than death and more powerful than beauty.  And it also requires a lot of hard work.  Discipline and commitment can be more lovely than romance.  Facing reality is more invigorating than dreaming.  Pinch me when the spectacle seems overwhelming; I want to know I’m alive.

And David Hallberg is my new fascination.  Not only is he a supremely graceful human being, he blogs, too.  Yup, he’s real.

David Hallberg

photo copyright Andrea Mohin