Monday, September 24, 2012

We Have Heaven

I don't know if it's family tradition or something elemental that runs in our genes, but my two brothers and I communicate via email often entirely through the lyrics of songs. Music is simply in our heads, day and night. Instead of the typical greeting: "what's going on? how's the family?" I will get a one-liner like this:

son #2
"I will now proceed to entangle the entire area"...what song is this from?

Oh, that's easy, I answer. Almost Cut My Hair, by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, from the Deja Vu album. And then I'll crank one back to them...

"When you see something that looks like a star, and it's shooting up out of the ground.."

Yep. You're right if you guessed The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys by Traffic.

It's a game we play, with lines of songs that go back 40+ years. I love connecting with my brothers in this way. It's our playful common denominator, a shared entertainment. And it brings back powerful memories, as music often does, by winging you back to a time and place in your past, and instantaneously uplifting your mood.

All three of us routinely wake up to songs in our heads. We are amateur guitar/harp/keyboard players, and go about our days working at our jobs, raising our kids, and a million other mundane activities...but always, there is music in the foreground...and in the background of our daily lives. We sing in the shower or in the car with the windows rolled up. We sing along with our favorite bands, and can't get lyrics out of our heads once the songs spring from our lips.

My brother once said if he were forced to choose be deaf or blind, perhaps he would choose blindness.

Because he just couldn't imagine a world without music.

Here's your brain on music: Listen to inspirational music and calm your thinking mind. Listen to classical music and improve your concentration. Jazz uplifts and inspires, and releases deep joy. Rock music is a reliable motivator and invites me to vacate the computer to get up and dance.

Overall, music makes us feel good (our brains release serotonin, the happiness hormone); it energizes us, and can even create a flow state of mind.

When I'm working on art projects, I often listen to podcasts (On Being, Ted Talks and others); it's stimulating to learn new things and to think about books and poetry and technology, but switch over to music and, mood changes instantly; I feel lighter, my productivity shoots skyward, and I'm happily dancing around the room and belting out tunes as if no one is watching.

If we have music, We Have Heaven.   We Have Heaven, by Yes is a short song, almost a chant.

It can, and does engender many different interpretations in various listeners, like so many of Yes songs do. I listened to them in the 70's and enjoyed their musical mastery, but it is only recently that I paid any attention to the words and realized the ethereal themes that dominate their lyrics.

Sometimes you don't appreciate things when they're right there under your nose.

Sometimes you don't understand things fully until a gazillion years later.

Now I see the richness and brilliance of their lyrics (listen to And You and I) and am spellbound and captivated...once again.

Spiritual seekers often advise us to stay in the present moment; to let go of past and future thoughts. But sometimes memories are uplifting, if you choose the good ones. Music brings back memories, visceral memories deeply embedded in our physical bodies.

So I hum Brown Eyed Girl while cleaning the house, or sing Jesus, Take the Wheel in the shower when I want to enjoy a robust flood of contentment.

And I've been known to play air guitar with brooms to lighten my cleaning-mode mood.

sweeping the deck

We Have Heaven.

Through dance, and through art, and through nature.

We Have Heaven, here on earth, right now

through music.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Make a Running Jump

Fall sidewalk in Santa Fe
Delicious autumn.
My very soul is wedded to it.

If I were a bird, I would

fly about the earth, seeking

the successive autumns.

I hear these words, by George Eliot, with renewed familiarity every year around this time.

I pause and notice.

It's a poem I've memorized, and it re-emerges in my thoughts when I look out the window and notice the leaves sandblasted from the trees by heavy-handed winds, or

when I'm driving down the road and a vortex of brittle leaves lifts up and sweeps elegantly across my windshield.

Ah, September.

At the same time, I notice a heaviness beginning to layer itself in. A gradual loss of sunlight is turning in the northern sky. The decay under my boots will soon be heaped over with snow.

I'm starting to feel the cold biting my neck on morning walks. As I slow down, all those months of thinking and feeling and doing will coalesce, and all those half-hearted projects will be harvested.

Well, sort of harvested.

I've been working on a glass mosaic for over two years, and it still isn't finished. The pattern is fairly complex, requiring the cutting of many pieces that need grinding and repositioning...grinding some more, and repositioning. It's a tedious process; slow, requiring constant re-adjustments as I plod my way forward. I felt myself hardening around the project, wanting to just get it done but unwilling to take any necessary shortcuts.

The whole thing felt heavy.

Then yesterday, a friend's daughter came over to visit. She joined me in the shop, watching the whole tedious process of maneuvering pieces to fit where they weren't cut as precisely as they should have been (in my impatient haste). And since she is, for a seven year old, quite handy in spontaneously recognizing color and texture with a lot more giddiness than I could muster, she suggested changing the design. She plopped down a pre-cut circle of yellow glass, a sun, and placed translucent fish swimming around it (fishing swimming around the sun??) Well...OK, I reasoned. And shooting out from that, she imagined long striations of leafy greens cut from a milky cat's paw glass pattern.

Coral's self-portrait
What? What about my lines?

This is getting off-course. We have to stay within the lines. We can't change the pattern; ride off the rails, so to speak. We just can't do that.

Or can we? (She does, after all, own an anti-coloring-within-the-lines, coloring book).

my teacher
My heaviness was starting to lift. I liked her ideas, her innocent eagerness, the joy that bubbled up in her from nowhere. She was a gust of wind. She was a burst of fresh air.

This wasn't a commissioned piece so I could do anything I wanted to do, if I just gave myself permission to have fun with it.

And just like that, I threw out my perceived authority, my hardened stance on how things are supposed to be. No need to intellectualize the art, make it fit into dead ideas.

Art is supposed to evoke emotions, that's its only purpose.

Those beautiful fall leaves swirling in the sky, reminding me of decay and a dormancy yet to come?

I just needed a little girl to help me rake them all up so we could jump into the whole messy pile.

So easily we forget that life is play. Or that it can be.

If we make a running jump into it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Octavia Bit Into the Apple

Octavia bit into the apple.

Its core of ancient seeds peered out at her.                        

We are here, they whispered.

Eat us or bury us;

either way, we live on 

to nurture you as ancestor.

Be both alive and dead

no matter what.

We survive eternally

here and there.

All possible futures 

exist now.

I let out a small gasp upon hearing this poem read by my friend, Barb Finkelman. She & I were attending a Writing/Riding workshop at the Vee Bar Ranch in Laramie, Wyoming. We were riding the seasoned horses, steadily bringing up the rear, quiet in our observations, completely present for the next sensory experience...the sound of hoofbeats, the swish of a low flying eagle's wings, the running water of a clear creek.

Back at the ranch, Barb read Octavia. A streak of recognition swept over me; the perception that we survive eternally, in alternate forms, struck me as true. The acknowledgement of all possibilities existing simultaneously connecting all possible worlds throughout time was a thought entitled to my consideration.

My mind stretched further. What is the connective tissue that binds us inexorably to our ancestors, and to those beings yet to come? 

Is the answer found in simple apple seeds? I thought: If one were to create in science an apple seed that exactly matches a natural apple seed in structure, appearance, and elemental properties, how would they be different? 

Perhaps the answer is this: Upon planting both seeds, only the natural seed would sprout and grow because it is infused with a life force that science cannot re-create (yet).  This life force may be God, it may be spirit, it may be what is known as soul, it may simply be cosmic energy that binds together near and distant universes. This is the great mystery.

The re-created seed is dead until infused with the invisible energy of the life force. 

And then another thought came. A concrete, down-to-earth observation. When I was a kid, my mom used to eat the whole apple, seeds and all. I thought this peculiar.

She didn't explain why, but my metaphor for this action came to be: East the whole sweet apple; bitter seeds and all. Allow all experiences to penetrate our lives, whether deemed good or bad, for they all serve to convey and shape our fundamental and all-encompassing, wholeness. 

Thank you, Mother, for planting this thought.
Thank you, Aevea, for this compelling poem.

Your spirited reactions to Octavia are welcomed here.

*Poem by Barb Moder Finkelman (Aevea); written at the VeeBar Ranch, Laramie, Wyoming June 2012.

Monday, September 3, 2012


Not the Ginsberg "howl"
not the hootin' and hollerin' howl,
but an eager craving

rippin' through spent leaves, howl

awake and wild,
 soft nerves on fire.

      An unrestrained howl,                  
     like wolves, the ground quivers under his nose, voles
  scurry in desperate directions, and

squirrels dash up trees
  in his lashing wake, howl.

A husky howl, he
shies away from water but

runs strong on slivers of fast ice

jumpin' floes, leapin' over leads
like a jack rabbit fleeing for it's untamed life, howl.

                                                                  A hungry dog howl

powerful, sleek with
a perfect stamina and a perfect gait 

to match his Top Dog of all dogs howl,
the card-carrying member and leader of a team
singin' the blues, carryin' a tune

soulful and uncivilized Howl of
All Howls.

*My dog, Quinn