Category Archives: Q3 — open to beauty

(365) Breathe It In

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A year ago I visited the beach after reading Parker Palmer’s Five Questions. I had this idea to write a blog based on the Five Questions, and I went to the beach for discernment. It was there I felt the move to do the blog.

This past week I have been looking forward to getting this done. But then today, coming on to the site, going to click “Add Post,” I was overcome with sadness. It is the end.

There are many things I will miss about writing here every day. It was hard at first to be “out there,” but I have gotten used to it. I have appreciated my followers and the comments I have received. I have loved that this was a place I could struggle with the issues of aliveness-vs-fixed answers; what it means to dare to be human; the moments of human and natural beauty; looking forward to what to love next; and to uncover and discover and explore what creations are waiting to be birthed. The Five Questions will continue to travel with me, as they have become a part of me now.

WordPress sent me a review of my year. Here are some stats from them:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,000 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

There were 625 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 433 MB. That’s about 2 pictures per day.

The busiest day of the year was December 19th with 86 views. The most popular post that day was(353) Best Day Ever.

The stats don’t tell the full story, of course. Besides what I have learned from the Five Questions, I have learned a lot about what it takes to write every single day. For those thinking of starting your own daily blog, here are some insights:

  1. Don’t be afraid to write short.  At first I thought it all had to be long. It is impossible on a daily blog to write long all the time unless it is your only job. Don’t even try.
  2. You will feel like giving up.
  3. When you feel like giving up, keep going.
  4. Create categories to fall back on.  For example, I had my Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, Parallels, Tributes, Lyric Series, and Micro Memoirs. These can help be having a frame to fill when you aren’t feeling particularly inspired.
  5. Know that whatever you decide to do with your daily blog, it is leading you somewhere you weren’t aware you were going. Words are a river that carry us. Your blog will carry you to unseen territory. Relish the journey. Know when to end, and gratefully disembark to a new destination.

This project has been extremely fulfilling to me as a writer, a teacher, a friend, and a human being. I have considered all kinds of directions from here.  I am committing myself to my music on a more structured basis. Just like with my writing, I’ve diddled around a long time not getting serious about music. Now that I have this fine year of blogging behind me, I can move forward on making music. And, as already discussed with my music teacher, I can use blog posts as fodder for songwriting. Win-win!!!

For some reason today, the song “Beautiful Like You” popped into my head.  I feel it is a good send-off for my blog. I will miss coming here and writing for the 2-100 of you who happen upon my blog. At the same time, I am looking forward to putting my time and mental energies into other areas. Meanwhile, remember to breathe and take time to look and listen to the world around you. It will reflect all the beauty you need in the moment.

I know. I’ve learned it through the Five Questions.

If you could only just stop, stop, stop running
If you could only take a second to breathe it in
Everything that you know would be beautiful like you

You know they’re never gonna stop, stop, stop your love
Let’s pretend that the world is waking up
Everything that we see is beautiful like you, like you

 

(363) Don’t Fence Me In

When I was a kid, my dad gave me a record player and two 78 RPM records that I could keep in my bedroom.  I listened to these records over and over again. One was Jimmy Durante and the other was a western artist — Gene Autry or Roy Rogers most likely. That record had my favorite song: “Don’t Fence Me In.”  This was before I was allowed to listen to my dad’s stereo kept in his bedroom, where I later played The Music Man cast album over and over again. That is, until the Beatles hit the scene.

But when I was 4 or 5 years old, “Don’t Fence Me In” –written by Cole Porter — was one I listened to again and again. It is the reason I love western music. I recently downloaded a whole album of western songs sung by Emmylou Harris, although sadly, she didn’t do “Don’t Fence Me In.” The main lyric of the song really spoke to me as a kid. It evokes a real sense of freedom; it goes beyond being a cowboy. I think it is about losing yourself in the natural world with nothing to stop you, certainly a favorite activity of mine.

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies,
Don’t fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don’t fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze
listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don’t fence me in

When I searched YouTube for the song, I was amazed at how many versions came up. Not just Gene and Roy, but Bing Crosby, the Killers, David Byrne, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Harry Connick Jr, and Bob Hope with the Muppets. By far, my favorite is the Ella Fitzgerald version. Not only is her voice wonderfully smooth, but she sings the complete lyrics, which is rare. “Don’t Fence Me In” is a narrative about Cowboy Kelley, who at the beginning of the song is about to be carted off to jail. Thus, he begins to sing the song to the sheriff. Later, he is being roped into marriage by his sweetheart. Okay, a bit sexist and cliche, I suppose, but still…

Here is Ella’s version with lyrics. Listen for yourself and see if it doesn’t take you somewhere far away, where there are no fences and no one to straddle you into situations you don’t want to be in!

 

 

(353) Best Day Ever

I went to school yesterday with apprehension. Typically when we have a day where the schedule is askew and/or is right before a holiday break, it is extremely tough to deal with students.  Given that they also are eating way too much sugar on these types of days..well, it has often been a recipe for disaster.  I’ve seen even the best kids off their game.

But yesterday was different.  It began when former student, Isabella,  stopped by and gave me a box of chocolates, a “Best Teacher” ornament, and a huge hug.

Then I went into my room and found the following note on my computer keyboard:

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This is from a student who is really too old to be in 7th grade, but has been held back because of missing a lot of school. He often has to stay home to take care of younger brothers and sisters. He wrote me the note/poem because he is moving and is still unsure on whether he will be coming back to our school after break.  I cannot even begin to describe how it breaks my heart to see this intelligent boy reduced by his circumstances over and over again, living with such uncertainty, yet applying himself day after day. I truly hope he does return.

My students are almost all with my double blocks, so the plan was to spend some time outdoors letting the kids play; rain set in making it impossible. I quickly pulled together a game of “What Am I?” After we did Author’s Chair, where several students and myself read our personification poems to the class, the kids played the game.  It was so wonderful to see them all engaged and having a good time, trying to figure out, through questions only, what each person was.

Because of our winter concert assembly, our schedule was discombobulated, bringing my 3rd period to me with the promise of them returning later when it was finally 4th period. All week we had worked these kids, promising them recess during 4th if they completed all their work. This is the same class that has caused me to cry twice in the last month, I mean really cry, like for hours. They put up every resistance they can, are fairly cruel to each other and to their teachers, and simply will not comply with the simplest instruction — such as “get in a quiet line to walk to lunch.”  Even into December it is still a daily battle with this class. They have flummoxed me, my co-teacher, other teachers, and even the administration.

So when they arrived 3rd period, and it was raining, and the forecast still said it would be raining when they returned later for 4th, I knew we needed a miracle. I asked them if they believed in magic?  Some said they did. So I pulled out a “magic” technique I had witnessed work at a conference one year.  We went out on the bus ramp and we used our fingers as scissors to “cut away” the clouds. While some cut away, others danced a “reverse rain dance” in the sprinkling rain, asking the clouds to go away for 4th period.

We came back in the room and some of the kids performed their poems, which were more like raps and were a lot of fun. Then we sent them on their way until later.

My 8th graders came in, and we revisited an idea I had brought them from the Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference. I suggested we put together a book of our own personal “Top 10” lists, which was something done at SIWC to celebrate the 10 year anniversary.  We brainstormed all the ways they could do their lists, put our resident artist to the task of creating the cover, put on some Christmas music (with permission of the Jewish and Muslim students in the room), and projected a fireplace fire video onto the smart board. This was the quietest I have ever heard these students work when they are still allowed to talk! They were deep into creating their top Ten lists, among them the 10 best EDM music genres, 10 best restaurants to get chicken dinners, and 10 pieces of advice for surviving middle school.

top 10

We went to lunch late in the period, and after that played the “Who Am I” game, which ended up involving this one girl who usually is pretty checked out and doesn’t say much. It was fun to see her personality shining through as we played the game.

Then the 4th period students returned. It was still cloudy outside, but the sprinkling rain had stopped. This was a special day in this class because it was the last day for one student, Prentice, who is moving to Houston.

My co-teacher, Shannon Richardson, took most of them outside, and a couple of girls stayed behind. I put them to work cleaning my white boards so they would be fresh and ready for the new year. Soon, some of the other students started trickling back into the room, and they proceeded to write on the freshly-cleaned white board. I looked to see what they were doing and lo and behold! I was surprised — they were writing some very sweet “good-bye” messages to Prentice.  A girl named E’Nazhae was running the show, and everyone was doing their part. We put a student on “watch” for Prentice to return, and when we saw him and the other boys coming, E’nazhae snapped them all into a line.  Miracle upon miracle!  They DO know how to form a line. (I’m being sarcastic, I know, but really…I had never seen this phenomenon before.)  They yelled “Surprise” when Prentice walked in. We took some pictures. He was totally overwhelmed with love and affection.

prentice

When I told Shannon about E’nazhae getting them to line up straight, she said, “Maybe we should just have her do that from now on.”  It’s a thought.

By now I was totally in love with all my students again. I had some time during 7th to finalize all my preparations for when we return.  I’m never this “on it.”  I knew when I walked out at 4:00 that I was totally ready for break.

My 8th period students came in — this is a small class with many English Language Learners. They had a blast playing the “Who Are You?” game. I got to see them in action in new and different ways. One boy that had been really struggling has taken a leap in his engagement and ability to answer questions. We went to the concert and they gave me a million hugs before they left. My heart was glowing like E.T.’s after this day, I swear.

And I’ve learned something, too. I went with my gut a lot yesterday. I rolled with whatever was thrown at me. I persisted a little where I thought it was important. I gave choices. In other words, I did all the best things teachers can do. It can be so difficult when constantly barraged with mandates and hammering of standards to take this approach. I got to see again how truly effective it can be when students can have some time and space. I saw love, connection, engagement, empathy, connection, and downright FUN.  This is why I say it was the best day ever!

 

 

(352) Angel

It was the summer of 1997, the month I was told I might have ovarian cancer. My friends and I had tickets for Lilith Fair, the first year, and nothing was going to stop me from being there. I recall Sara MacLachlan, Paula Cole, and Mary Chapin Carpenter were on the bill.  I don’t remember who else.

I was in the throes of getting several tests before my scheduled surgery, and the day after the concert I was to have a procedure.  I needed to be cleaned out for this procedure, so had to bring a huge plastic jug of stuff to drink while at the concert, in order to maintain the proper timeline. I was fortunate they let me into Blossom Music Center with the jug, as they were being very picky about what was being allowed into this outdoor venue.

At one point of the concert I left our seats and made one of many treks to the bathroom. I decided it would be better to park myself on the hilly grass rather than keep going back into the pavilion. The moon was out and Sara was singing. I didn’t know her music that well at this point. I rested on the grass, looking at the moon, and realized she was singing about an angel.

In the arms of the angel

Fly away from here…

You are pulled from the wreckage

Of your silent reverie.

You’re in the arms of the angel

May you find some comfort there.

This was the first time I would hear her soon to be hit “Angel.” There, alone in my own reverie, future uncertain, I heard these words for the first time. And yes, I “found some comfort there.”

After my surgery, this was the first song I would have my friend play for me in my hospital room. I had brought my CD player with me specifically to listen to certain music that I believed was helping me heal that summer: James Taylor’s Hourglass, Sara’s Surfacing, and Gabrielle Roth’s Ritual.

Less than a year later, I would hear the song at a significant time. I had just left my father’s hospital room and was heading toward the parking garage. I had this thought that my prayer for him was to be in the arms of the angels, perhaps because the last prayer we had prayed together was the Guardian Angel Prayer. I heard “Angel” as I was getting on the highway.  Not long after I got home, I would get the call that he had made his transition.

Sadly, I feel “Angel” got overplayed, and it is really hard for me to hear it with any of the feelings I used to associate with it. Regardless, it is still a lovely song, and it helped me tremendously through a difficult time.

Here is a beautiful version with Emmylou Harris.

 

(350) Where the Light Shines Through

I took a lesson off the Writing Fix.com website that uses Run-DMC’s song “My Adidas” as a writing lesson on personification. My students have been writing poems based on the lesson. This morning I finally wrote mine to share at our Read Around Friday.

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Where the Light Shines Through

I went looking for you on a rainy day, June

in North Carolina.

You were easy to find, perfect oval shape,

and deep color and graceful setting.

More than I ever dreamed.

You had a place in the back for the light to shine through,

for spiritual courage to find me.

My stone, my heart, my strength.

 

You have been with me, a partner,

through my many journeys.

After surgery, you were gently placed

back around my neck.

You held me through my father’s funeral.

You calmed me through our move from Ohio to Florida.

You were in every college class I took,

reflecting to me all I could be.

You encouraged me in those early days of my teaching career,

heart-wrenching and stressful and bewildering.

My stone, my heart, my strength.

 

Then November of 2014

I realized you were gone.

It was a time of anxiety and illness, and you went missing.

Hiding from me, unexpectedly.

I searched far and wide, asked around.

Yet somehow I knew, through the long months

you were gone, that you were still somehow nearby.

My stone, my heart, my strength.

 

I never doubted. I just didn’t

know when I’d see you again.

 

And then the magical day

You reappeared to my husband,

Who left you on the counter for me to find.

Joy filled me that day,

as you were mine again,

reunited to pursue more dreams together.

My heart.

My stone.

My strength.

 

(348) My Personal Favorites 2015

All the lists of top books, songs, albums, etc. are permeating the media right now, so I thought I’d weigh in on some of mine.

Favorite Concert: Smokey Robinson at Barbara B Mann in April.

It is hard to choose when having been to Nashville for some shows, but Smokey’s concert was a real standout in my mind. His smooth vocals and dynamic stage presence marked me for life!

Runner Up: Grand Ole Opry  with Vince Gill, Chris Janson, and Bobby Osborne

Favorite Museum: The Birthplace of Country Music in Bristol, Tennessee.

A totally engaging experience for the five senses.

Runner Up: The B.B. King Museum in Indianola, Mississippi.

Favorite Historical Site: Dockery Farms in Sunflower, Mississippi.

The land, the buildings, and the very sky are soaked with the sound of the blues.

Runner Up: Robert Johnson’s grave, along Money Road north of Greenwood, Mississippi

A place where fans of the blues pay their respects to the enigma.

Favorite Event: Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference

Surpassed my expectations which were pretty damn high!

Runner Up: Women’s Writing Retreat at Lover’s Key Resort

Favorite Book: Chinaberry Sidewalks by Rodney Crowell

Not a new book this year; an exceptional memoir that is hard to forget. Right up there with other favorite memoirs: Glass Castle, Angela’s Ashes, and Wild.

Favorite Movie: Woman in Gold

Fine acting by Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds  as they re-enact this true story of stolen art

Runner Up: The Intern

Favorite Television Show: Catastrophe on Amazon Prime

The main characters Sharon and Ron are my new favorite couple.

Runner Up: The Grinder

Favorite Restaurant while traveling: Blue Biscuit in Indianola, Mississippi

Out of this world barbecue and beignets

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Lunch at the Blue Biscuit in Indianola was fabulous–unbelievably good barbecue and complimentary beignets. Harlan Malone, the owner, made us feel welcome and toured us around his place he worked two years to create.

And now for the music, which was incredible this year!

#1 Favorite Album: The Blade by Ashley Monroe

Largely overlooked, but maybe finally getting some recognition with the Grammy nomination, I have not been able to stop listening to this fine collection of lyrical perfection and musical production. I continually recommend it, yet I don’t think anyone listens to me! (Hear title song below.)

#2 Cass County by Don Henley

If I’m not listening to Ashley, I am probably listening to Don. I figured his album would be good, but I had no idea it would be this good!  Lots of competition for my listening time, yet Don wins out over others time and time again.

#3 Angeleno by Sam Outlaw

Another overlooked artist.  Love the Mexican influences in the very SoCal sounding album produced by Ry Cooder.  (Hear one of his selections below.)

#4 Pageant Material by Kacey Musgraves

One of my favorites back with a fine collection of her wit and cynicism and yes, even some hope.

#5 Traveller by Chris Stapleton

If you haven’t caught on by now, there’s no hope for you.

Other artists with great collections worth checking out:

Coming Home by Leon Bridges (Sam Cooke reincarnated…lots of soul. Hear him below)

Something More Than Fine by Jason Isbell (just as good as Southeastern)

25 by Adele (needs no explanation)

Daytime Turned to Nighttime by Patrick Sweaney (not even sure how I found him…Ohio boy…country blues…listen over and over)

Heartbreaker of the Year by Whitney Rose  (just discovered last week. Sweet voice, old time sound like Patsy Cline with some other influences.)

Favorites who never disappoint in no particular order:

Before This World by James Taylor

The Traveling Kind by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell

Hoody by Dan Bern  (Hear him below)

Django and Jimmie by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard

Here are some choices for your listening pleasure:

 

 

 

 

(345) Recharge

 

 

arrival

Back to my Power Spot this morning, nestled in, 68 degrees and bright warm liquid sun. A few birds calling here and there — it’s a New Moon; I have come to ground myself in knowing I know the truth. To ground myself in trusting that truth.

Tall grasses sway

I turn my face to the sun.

Water still below

ducks

Allowing what is.

Oblivious to my thoughts,

two ducks troll by me.

P.S. It was a perfect day.

(344) Dangling Conversation

This morning I stepped out onto the lanai at around 5:30 a.m. to say my prayers. I listened to the frogs conversing across the lake. One would croak, and then across the way another. After a bit I realized there were three frogs involved. Sometimes there would be a break in their croaks. That brought to mind the phrase “dangling conversation.” I would be eagerly awaiting the next croak that would not come.

“The Dangling Conversation” is a song written by Paul Simon and performed on Simon and Garfunkel’s album “Sounds of Silence.” I looked up the words today and, although it has nothing to do with frogs, it certainly has a lot to say about relationships. I have contended for many years that Simon is our greatest American songwriter, and this is another example of why. You don’t even have to know the song to appreciate the poetry in these lyrics. How he could evoke something like this at such a young age is truly marvelous.

Every year I think I am going to do a lyric study with my students on Paul Simon’s songs.  Reading these words makes me think once again what a great unit it could be. This song along is so full of subtle metaphor and hints of who these people are. My favorite: “And I only kiss your shadow…”

It’s a still-life watercolor
Of a now late afternoon
As the sun shines through the curtain lace
And shadows wash the room
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference
Like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar
In the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
The borders of our lives

And you read your Emily Dickinson
And I my Robert Frost
And we note our places with bookmarkers
That measure what we’ve lost
Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm
Couplets out of rhyme
In syncopated time
And the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
Are the borders of our lives

Yes,we speak of thing that matter
With words that must be said
“Can analysis be worthwhile?”
“Is the theatre really dead?”
And how the room is softly faded
And I only kiss your shadow
I cannot feel your hand
You’re a stranger now unto me
Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
In the borders of our lives

 

(340) Wood Stork

In the middle of the night a couple of evenings ago, I heard this line of poetry in my head:

There comes a time you leave a place…

I made myself get up and write it down because I knew I would forget.

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wood stork
Photo via Sarah Kaizar’s blog, 2013

Yesterday morning on the way back from my music lesson, I saw a wood stork flying above the road over Harlem Heights. I felt there was a poem there. Ever since my workshop with Nick Flynn, I have been paying close attention to images that stay with me. This wood stork is one. Not only that, but my friend Laurie and I had a short conversation about wood storks yesterday.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so!

Today I combined these into a poem, which  includes a lyric from a song that naturally seemed to fit right in.

There comes a time

you leave a place

of knowing.

And instead

take time to just listen.

Look:

The energy swirling around you

has a purpose.

The wood stork wafts over the road

intent to fly against the draft,

and is pushed back.

Be one with the wind,

and let the spirit take you

where your heart wants to go.