Sunday, January 14, 2018

Little Feathers: Turns From The Corner, Lullabies, A Pen, A Paint...

Little Feathers: Turns From The Corner, Lullabies, A Pen, A Paint...: Balance', balance', pique (single), pique (double), prepare and triple (honor demands you try again if you fall out of the first tri...

Turns From The Corner, Lullabies, A Pen, A Paintbrush

Balance', balance', pique (single), pique (double), prepare and triple (honor demands you try again if you fall out of the first triple pirouette, but if you do not pull up sufficiently the second time, you will double the next go round), glissade assemble' derriere (if you eat up enough floor with this, you can add a whole combo to your turn), inside pirouette (single), soutenu. Repeat as many times as you can fit in your diagonal run.

When I think of my teenage self in Miss Van Valey's studio, this is truly my favorite "turns from the corner" sequence. It must have resonated in my bones to be with me 50-some years later. I can hear Mrs. Erhardt playing the modest upright piano in the corner, Miss Van Valey calling out corrections, which were adamant and loud when we missed a position. Never was it an option to finish a pirouette in a questionable position other than the assigned one. I still long for the feeling of exact balance, the string from the crown of my head, a taught helper lifting, lifting, lifting me out the standing hip that can fool one into sinking into the floor, away from the sky that we aspired to inhabit.

I loved to dance. It snuck into my dreams, snuck into my identity. It was ballet only until I went to college. Then I learned that the sky I had longed to inhabit en pointe was open to new, creative, limitless ways to dance.

One day, I traded my dancing for mothering. Another love. Another way to see beyond myself. A gift.  Though there were hard days, tired days, confused days, heartbreaking days, I was a mother to my bones. Maybe my favorite part was singing lullabies, reading to them, praying with them at bedtime.

Another day, in a bid to let the kids grow up to be their own people, I took up a pen. Or, more accurately, a keyboard. I wrote stories. I wrote devotions, and books, and poems and songs and emails and facebook posts and and and and. I was a writer. In my soul. Words made pictures, made conclusions, made unanswerable questions, made me stop stop stop and think.

Last summer, a day came along that put a paintbrush in my hand. At 63, I suddenly saw color and composition as an opportunity to seek that same sky, that rarefied air that called to me as a teen age ballerina. Now I'm painting everything that catches my fancy. I am a baby in the school of art, a novice of the first degree in all things art. But that is not a stumbling block for me, because I have the absolute luxury of learning something new.

I was so blessed that my parents worked hard to give me dance lessons. I was incredibly blessed to mother three of my favorite people. I was blessed to have the time, and support of my husband, and the means to learn to write. And I feel the same now with painting. And I am grateful.

Turns from the corner will inhabit the long-hallowed halls of my memory. Mothering lives on in my heart, long after the children are grown. Writing still calls to me, giving me voice. And painting is an exciting journey into new territory. Hello sky. I see you up there. Waiting.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Little Feathers: Of Garth Brooks, Poets, and Gifts

Little Feathers: Of Garth Brooks, Poets, and Gifts: If you haven't listened to The Gift, you must. Suspend your desire to be sophisticated, suspend your worldly cynicism. Listen to a story...

Of Garth Brooks, Poets, and Gifts

If you haven't listened to The Gift, you must. Suspend your desire to be sophisticated, suspend your worldly cynicism. Listen to a story that is, and is not merely, about a poor girl, a bird, and a gift on Christmas Eve. Because there is so much more to this story.

Now that you've listened, I won't worry about spoiling the ending for you. Because I want to talk about the gift. On first glance (or hearing), the gift is the little bird the girl brought to the manger on Christmas Eve. Garth can make you see the trembling fingers of the sweet one who desires to honor the Christ, but who is intimidated by the offerings of the wealthy. Garth can make you cry (if you are a weeper like me and Jude Law in the Holiday) as he reveals the pure, sweet power of willingness.

Willingness is the loud-striking sound in this soft-hearted song. Because none of us can ever experience the fulfillment of our own gifts without the courage to lay them out there. To open the door where they are kept, confined by the cage of our own device; to lay them next to the riches of other offerings.

Willingness comes with a cost. We have to risk rejection, risk failure, risk everything really. Because the kind of willingness I'm talking about leaves no pretense, no walls of pride to hide behind.
What gifts have we been given that can make life easier, if only for one other person we may never meet?  Sometimes artistic gifts are the ones people think of first. But they are only one kind. There are researchers, engineers, honest and dedicated people in every field who put their souls into the offering of their gifts.

There is a secret hidden in this song, The Gift. For me, in my own mind, I hear the promise of reward for willingness. Not rewards as we may think of them. Not everyone who is willing to give their gifts becomes wealthy or renowned. They don't use the phrase "starving artist" for nothing. And we know even The Bard died penniless. But how much richer is the world for his gifts to us?

If we are the collective-if all creation pulls together in one intertwined river that flows to the sea, then every person who uses their strengths, who is willing to put them out there for the world to see, draws us all forward, upward into the rafters of the ancient church to sing as nightingales. Okay, I'm mixing metaphors all over the place. That's okay. I'm risking it. Hoping you'll listen with open hearts.

My mother first read me these verses by Robert Frost when I was a child. I had no idea at the time what a complex, difficult world this is. I only knew that the cadence, the rhymes, the quiet beauty of the poem spoke to me.

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

After I was grown, I learned that Robert Frost was desperate to find Christmas gifts for his family,
and could not afford them. The sorrow of that now informs the verses for me. I wish he had been paid
for the beauty he gave to the world, and to me. 

I wish the world always rewarded good, always recognized sacrifice, always understood true value.
But even if the world does not, we can. 

Half of the value of a gift is in the giving itself. In the willingness to open the door. And half of the
value is all we will know as the giver. But it is enough. More than enough.  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Little Feathers: The Most Surprising Thing

Little Feathers: The Most Surprising Thing: Everyone I know is looking for freedom. Freedom to be themselves. Freedom to work toward goals formed by hopes and dreams. And freedom from ...

The Most Surprising Thing

Everyone I know is looking for freedom. Freedom to be themselves. Freedom to work toward goals formed by hopes and dreams. And freedom from things, like self-doubt and the mashing thumb of the disapproval of others. I've been talking about how this affects our willingness to "put our selves out there" with my friend Sherry Dill. And this morning I thought about the most surprising thing.

You would think that emptying myself of ego, freeing myself from expectations to be good enough, might leave me without defenses and self protection. And that is actually true. But the surprising part is that the very willingness to be defenseless, to be vulnerable, gives me the power to learn to paint. To learn to write. To learn to sing. To learn to design. To get better at Math!!! Because, by letting go of the need to be talented, I make way for inspiration, I make way for improvement. Letting go of needing others to like my (fill in the blank- stories, blogs, paintings, songs etc) sets me free to fail spectacularly. And what a gift it is to be okay with that. If I don't need to be good enough for others to approve of me, I can be free to try new things. I can start at the beginning and see each stage as a wondrous adventure.

If every opera student quit when they didn't sound like someone from the Met, how many opera singers would there be in this world? You get what I'm driving at without lots of other examples. But I am in love with the notion that being free to be bad at something until I'm good at it is empowering.

The key to all of this is an elementary self love. An elementary willingness to let the world in, to be vulnerable. For years, I felt humility at war with self confidence. I believed I could do things, could learn things, could accomplish goals I set for myself, but I thought I needed to keep up a guard of humbleness to make sure I didn't get a big head. But the most surprising thing is that setting myself free to fail is the most empowering thing I can do. A huge piece of that is shrugging off criticism, beginning with self-criticism.

There's a great book that talks about this, called The War Of Art. Josh Beglau gave me that book when I started writing. A theme in the book is that what we tell ourselves about ourselves becomes our reality. This morning a post on facebook said, "The words you speak become the house you live in." Same idea. What we tell ourselves about ourselves becomes our jail, or our freedom.

Freedom comes from letting go of my defenses. Who would have guessed, all those years while I was honing my excuses, my limitations? Now I don't have any. I will paint bad pictures. I will write bad poems. And I'm good with it. I will have learned something from the effort. I can say that without hating myself for failing. I can see it, nod at it, put it in the pile of paintings with a grin on my face. How can I not smile, when I get this amazing chance to learn something as wonderful as the self expression of painting? I guess maybe it's that particular smile that is the most surprising thing.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Little Feathers: Going To The Sun (Cabin) Road

Little Feathers: Going To The Sun (Cabin) Road: There's a road in Glacier National Park in Montana that has the most beautiful name. Going To The Sun Road. When I hear it, I feel nosta...