Monday, March 30, 2009
Being the middle of three little girls (we lost the “little” a while ago), and one of five sisters; and being that our dad left never-to-return when I was 13 years old, I am somewhat familiar with the workings of the female world. Our brother George was still at home when Dad left, but soon he also left for college, then a mission, so there was very little in our lives that spoke of the masculine. I considered myself the “man of the house” in some regards, when we needed one. I was the designated spider killer, and I made myself the guardian of open windows and unlocked doors, though no one ever asked me to be. Pretty much you could hang a bra to dry in the bathroom in our in our apartment and no one would say Boo. So when Dave Connors kissed me on that autumn evening, when we went hiking up Mount Timp in Provo, my feminine world shifted gears in one fell swoon. Three months later he asked me to marry him. Dave and I were engaged for 7 months. During that time I dreamt of being his wife; dreamt not just at night but while the sun was shining as well. He was working at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, teaching Italian, and going to law school. I offered to do his laundry, thinking it would be good practice. The truth was that I cherished handling his clothes. I recall ironing one of his white shirts. I had learned somewhere the correct order of ironing: collar first…out flat… then the yoke, then the cuffs and sleeves with a nice crease down the arm, then the body, then back to the collar for a stiff crease where it folds down. I remember holding that collar up to my face, warm and fresh scented with Niagara Spray Starch. I pressed it to my cheek, laying my head slightly to the side as I imagined his flesh against the cloth. I loved the image of him in his crisp collared white shirts, standing before young missionary boys, speaking in that romantic Italian language, his hair dark and trim, his French-Canadian olive skin contrasting the whiteness of the shirt, his Grandpa Roy’s full lips moving to the rhythm of the words he spoke. Oh he was so beautiful. And such a man. So wonderfully different from the gauzy Jessica McClintock dresses of our household. To this day, his birthday in fact, I think he is beautiful in his white shirts. Now days the collars peek out over the top of his Judicial Robes. And his hair is turning silver. But his lips are still as full and soft and beautiful to me as they were the day they first met mine, there in the amphitheatre at the base of Mount Timpanogos.
Happy Birthday, Love of my Life!
Tonight as I sat on the couch at Gram and Libby’s house, I borrowed Lib's laptop to Google the Random Word Generator I use for my word of the day writing ( http://watchout4snakes.com/creativitytools/RandomWord/RandomWord.aspx). I allow myself to look at three words and then I choose one of them for my exercise. Lib suggested I try writing something using all three words tonight, and I thought that was a pretty novel suggestion, so here goes (don’t look for any profound meaning in this, folks!):
KINGDOM – SHELF – SYNTHESIZER
There is a synthesizer on the shelf in the auditorium of the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall. It was donated by Carlos before he was disfellowshipped for repeated overt drunkenness. When Carlos was fully active he used to plug it in every Tuesday and Saturday night and stroke the keyboard with songs of praise. Everyone loved it. Young people attended meeting, and even brought their friends, so that the chairs ended up filled and the regular chill in the humid air warmed with the quantity of human furnaces singing full voiced in the large square space. By the end of the night that auditorium sort of smelled like the Jr High after their spring dance, stuffy and warm with the combined aroma of excessive perfume and aftershave mixed with adolescent sweat. There was a lot of joy on those evenings. They opened the windows and turned on the big commercial fan in the back of the room. The air flowed down the aisle and up the short two steps of the stage and blew through Carlos’ jet black hair, giving him the model rock star look that kept the kids coming back. Carlos fired up his synthesizer before the Bible reading began. RayAnn conducted the hymns, interspersed between the readings, her flap of an underarm swinging to the beat as she traced a triangle in the air. The words and the meanings and the music combined to create the rapture all good saints aim for. Carlos was a gift. So was his synthesizer.
When Charlene Dickson saw Carlos outside of Lucky’s Pub for the fifth time, stumbling as he crossed the street to his car, she could no longer hold her tongue and she made it known to the congregation. Broke their hearts to hear of it. They begged him to stop. Then they begged him to get help. Finally they told him to leave, which he did. But he left there, gathering dust in its silence, that slender black and white synthesizer, all potential and nothing more. Potential and remembrance, I suppose. A silent synthesizer on a lonely shelf in the Kingdom Hall.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
When the tips of the thinnest branches on the trees start to bulge with the faintest hint of green; when the morning dawns with an inch of snow, but the kids pouring out of the afternoon school bus have their jackets tied around their waists; when crocus breaks through the hard surface of a snow packed flower bed, then I know it is time. Time to open the last drawer in the locker room by the red family door and pull out the cleats and the compression shorts. Time for memories of a time, when our boy was still a boy, and his buddies were boys as well; when they woke early on Saturday morning and met at the dugout to groom the field. Wheelbarrows of fresh red dirt scattered one shovel at a time on the infield, raked over in one direction and then the opposite, bases measured and set, then a crisp new line of chalk dropped onto the deep umber of the field. There are few sights more beautiful than a newborn infield with its first chalk of the season, laid down in good straight lines. I am drawn to the busy hectic days of my younger motherhood, when all things waited until the game was over. When Dad found a way to get home before the end of the work day, when little sisters first wore out the big toy, their brown skin deepening in the afternoon sun, their own mitts softening with the tossing of balls back and forth. When the bleachers were filled with friends who were once only the parents of the other boys, friends I cherish as much as the boys. Cheering for Hot Socks and Hendu and Bucky, JK ..."Here we go now #7"...we knew them all by heart, like they were each our own. Indeed they were. Our boys. Our boys from little league through Senior year. Our boys in a sea of sleeping bags in the basement; in matching uniforms along the chalk line; in brand new suits at Ryan's funeral. In matching ties of various hues, at various wedding receptions with alternating grooms and stunning brides.
That day, when Fall ball was over and Saturdays were once again fair game for other things, when the first snow had fallen and our boys were here in the basement scheming, I heard Ryan pounce up the basement stairs two at a time. Saw him rush out the garage door and into his car. I could not have known this would be the last time I saw him. I would have grabbed him and squished him against my mother heart and told him to take care and that I loved him. I would have pursed my eyebrows at him and reminded him to behave! Instead I saw him next in a casket, fallen from grace when he had driven up Farmington Canyon in search of good sledding snow. The coming down did him in. Did us all in. Jason, Right Field, bore the casket beside his team mates, his school mates, his soul mates. He wore his brand new suit and a crisp white shirt, his shoulders straight and strong. Broke it in with a heart break. The hearse drove off and Jason turned to his mates one last time and bid them farewell. Two hours later he pinned a name tag to the lapel of that suit: Elder Jason Gardner, there with the name of his new team: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He continued, as the rest of them did, one by one, the whole team, running along good straight lines.
There could not be there without here. There would only be T, if not for here. I sit in the here and peer out of the tiny window on the side of the coach. Strain my neck to see if there are any better angles from which I might view the horizon, but the slit of an opening is so narrow I cannot even tell where the sun is, I can only see the light. The light or the not light. I sit in my here and rub my cold left knee, rub it to awaken it. My feet have fallen fast asleep so that if I were to stand, as if the carriage would allow me, I would surely topple over. It's not all that bad, this here-space. It is warm and safe and comfortable enough. Comfortable to a fault. I hear the laughter of the neighbor girls as they raise their dresses up over their heads and move naked and free to the water. I hear them, and I taste the salt in the air and I know the ocean must be so close, only I cannot see it. It is over there. And I am here.
I sat tonight in one large room with one magnificent flock of artists at the Mormon Arts Retreat. I sat in the back and handled the lights, flipping them off and on to match each performer. I sat in utter amazement at the gifts that floated out of their hands, their mouths, their brains and throbbing chests. It seemed impossible that the mere mortals with whom we share this here had created THAT, those "theres" which seem so unobtainable, almost unreal in their perfection. I imagine myself in their there, in their studios and dens, before their easels and pianos and computers and notepads. I feel myself turning the brush as I pull it through a wad of paint, twisting the red and the blue together to make the perfect lavender for that woman's gown. I feel the music in my belly rising up and floating out like Tammy's, sense the energy rising up through my shoulders and then down to my fingertips as they dance across the piano keys. I am sculptor and dancer and poet and actor. I can show you what I meant when I am done, instead of having to explain what I thought I could maybe possibly oh never mind do. I am here and they are there and there is so far away. So far, though he sits beside me in this room. I smile when he returns to his seat, patting his back and telling him how amazing he is, how I admire his work. I turn my head forward to partake of the next piece, wondering the while how long it has been since he was here.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
December 1969, I am a kid. Straight blonde hair in a tee shirt with a training bra and a pair of Keds. I have 35 cents in my pocket. I follow Mom up the steps outside Daniel’s Hardware Store in Broughton PA, take hold of the metal handle on the door and hear the bell clank against the glass as it swings shut behind us. I inhale an infusion of hardware shavings, petroleum and fresh cut pine from the Christmas boughs at the end of the counter; shuffle through the maze of aisles in the back, where the nuts and bolts and endless bins of nails are lined up like cots in a barracks. I thrust my hands into the blue plastic bins and seek the muse, imagining what this bolt might look like with this nut against this plate with that paint. To my thinking this was a feast of ingredients for the creative mind…so many possibilities. It would be so much more wonderful if I could weld, or if I even had a soldering iron. If I had those I could make figurines out of these metal parts. Instead I move over toward the laundry soaps and buy a pack of clothes pins and some model paint. Up front I drop my coins onto the rubberized ad on the counter and watch them spin to a stop. That Christmas Eve I lay my little wrapped presents of clothes pin dolls under the tree.
I am a shopper. I shop for things…and I shop things. I shop for bargains mostly. Emotion evokers at a deal of a price, that’s basically what I shop for. That and chicken bullion, which never goes on sale. I shop almost every weekday when we go on our outings with Gram. Don’t always buy, but we do look. For years I woke early every Saturday morning so I could shop the garage sales. I scoured the classifieds on Friday night, circling and numbering the path I would follow. Those were the days my heart raced with the thought of escaping into my own private space with no kids in tow. Dave stayed home and handled Saturday mornings. Everyone ran out to see what finds I had in my van when I got home. I had to put a limit on myself eventually, something like $20, and when that was gone I found my way home. Cheap thrills.
Those were also the days I shopped songs. Shopping songs is basically presenting them to a publisher, who would possibly offer a contract to represent the song, eventually getting it to some big name artist who would want to sing it on their multi-platinum selling album and put it in the next Brad Pitt movie. I shopped songs in Nashville once or twice a year, or in LA. Had some success. Had some rejection. Eventually lost either the nerve or the interest or the confidence or the trust. Don’t shop my songs much any more.
I suppose you could sum up my life in short little snips: She loved. She sang. She shopped.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Ah, now there's a word I know! Stiff. One might think that someone so squishy would be more familiar with a word like "pliable". Nay, not so. Under these layers of semi malleable flesh are some rather stiff old bones. When I was young, and might I add foolishly naive, I swore I would never no never ever waddle when I walked like my beloved Aunt Mary did. I loved her, no question, but I was not ever going to make my way down the sidewalk shifting from side to side like the robot in Lost In Space on Krispy Kreme Steroids. Alas.
The last month or so I have had issues with the pinky finger on my left hand. It started on a Thursday night when John and I were teaching barre chords in our guitar class. I do not like barre chords, and they do not like me. I avoid them as often as I can, which is partly why I write songs because I have complete control over what voicings I want in my songs. But in fairness to our fabulous intermediate/advanced students we had to play the neck and teach them about transposing, etc...so out came the barre chords sliding up and down the neck of our guitars. Of course the teacher has to make her strings ring as clear as possible, so I was really yelling at my fingers that night, insisting they suck it up and deal with behaving maturely. So my pinky finger on my chording hand, sweet thing that she is, kept trying and trying in spite of the fact that she is double jointed and really not happy stretching forth and reaching outside her comfort zone. By the end of the night I had to put her under hot running water just to comfort her. That poor finger has been in pain ever since. I thought it was just a result of the strain, but its been long enough and I am thinking that my whip snapping pushed her over the edge and Arthur took over. Arthur Itis. He always comes to visit people in our family. He's that greasy haired yellow toothed uncle with an obnoxious sense of humor and bad breath. He comes in and sits on the good furniture and turns on the TV and never leaves. Blasted old Uncle Arthur.
I think it ironic that they call someone who has died "stiff". Of course it sounds logical, since their bodies really are stiff. But the reality is that the timeless spirit that took shelter in that body all those years before is finally free to move without one iota of pain. We should really rejoice in that! I am for sure going to do a back flip when I am done with my old Stiff! The back flip I kept daring myself to do off the diving board when I was a kid. The one I never did have the courage to try. If I die guys, just imagine me doing that!
Monday, March 23, 2009
It is hairy vard to ite route ooner-spisms. It is uch measier soo tay them. Hi av ad ha fing thor ooner-spisms more fenny years. Thunny fings tome-simes um cout en why thoo dem. (Moo yust theak spese ords lout woud goo tet ut why sam aying.) Met lee owe niff coo yan stunder-and stiss thuff!)
And...kee bareful choo toose spore yoonerisms CAREFULLY... or finstance, noo DOT ooze yit on ruh thesteraunt FUDRUCKERS!
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Call it the effects of a lengthy Sunday afternoon nap, where dreams go askew with the abnormality of sleeping soundly while the sun is high, but when the word of the day popped up as "punctuation" I started asking questions. Stuff like:
If someone has surgery to remove part of their colon are they left with a semi-colon?
Why do the lives of women have so many blasted periods?
Does a dash have rules in its usage or is it the thing everyone uses when they know there is supposed to be some sort of shift - only they are not quite sure which punctuation mark is appropriate - so...you know...sort of like the dot-dot-dot.
Kate's room mate, Tiffany, also works for Teach for America in Houston. They both teach in low income Title 1 schools, both teach ESL students. Kate's in Jr High and Tiffany teaches Fourth Graders. Both Kate and Tiffany are in the cultural minorities in their schools. Tiffany is sort of accustomed to it, as she is half Navajo. Kate is still learning to deal, she being in the 1% of her school which is "white or other". Last summer they practiced their teaching with non-ESL students for a few weeks in summer schools in Houston. Tiffany taught first graders with her friend Simona. One day Simona was trying to teach punctuation, talking to the kids about those dots and lines and squiggles at the end of sentences. When she got to the exclamation mark she explained what it meant and asked if anyone could tell her something which might use an exclamation mark in it. One little seven-year-old raised her hand and hit it dead on. She stood up, lifted her hand and pointed her finger to the sky, waving it back and forth in front of her face while she cocked her hip to the side and leaned her head on her shoulder, practically singing the words: "Oooo, Girl, you KNOW you ain't pregnant!"
She got an A.
When I first started studying songwriting in earnest I discovered that a typed lyric generally does not use punctuation marks. This was a great discovery! Come to think of it, I probably sub-consciously turned to songwriting as a form of expression, not because I am particularly musical. I don't read music, and I don't play guitar particularly well. Seriously, I can't even jam with musicians very well, sad to say. And why in the world would anyone put such constraints as rhythm, rhyme, melody,harmony, counterpoint, limited length, chorus repetition, bridges and hook lines and singability on their literary checklist? Why? Because we do not have to punctuate! (This is probably obvious to anyone reading this and analyzing the punctuation usage...-:;!)
Heaven blessed us with crossroads. Meeting places; where strangers become friends, where future meets past, where fortunes come and depart. The thing about it, though, is that in order for one to reach a crossroad she must be moving. Motion. You think a crossroad is a place, but really it is a communion.
Yesterday we walked from this lovely house on the corner of Mulholland and Wells in Nauvoo IL, across the street and past the glistening temple, down the hill to old Nauvoo where we visited the blacksmith shop and the wheelwright; the printer and the post office and the general mercantile shops. For a couple hours we pretended we lived here, over 150 years ago. I was lean and able and devoted, sweating and smiling as I went about my chores, singing the hymns of the saints as I punched down the dough in the dough box and beat the rugs on the back porch. I knew the postmaster, I knew the newspaper editor, I knew each neighbor and they knew me. And we all knew our prophet. So in my mind, when that fateful day came that found him lifeless and twisted under the broken window at the jail in Carthage, I sensed the crossing of the road we were on. We shifted our weight on our unsteady legs, then made ourselves move. Tables were slid against the wall and we began shaving wood in the dining room, doing our part toward the building of 3000 wagons. Heads bowed in the labor, we prepared to leave this heaven of a place we had finally established after years of wandering.
I have no problem pretending. In this regard I suppose I never grew up. So it was natural that we pretended as we walked, arm in arm, down Parleys Street toward the Mississippi and beyond. Pretended we had left our cherished earth-things. Our tokens of memory and tenderness. Our dolls and our china and our instruments and books. We met where the road crossed the river and wept together for a moment. Then someone started up a song and soon we were all singing, united in our suffering and comforted in our sorrow.
Crossroads. Where one path, one road, one vein meets another. I am reminded of another crossing, the place where horizontal arms met vertical body. Where lungs were pressed flat from the weight of hanging. Where blood spilt and agony was laid finally to rest with these words..."It is finished." The crossroads for all mankind, there where His heart was stilled.
Friday, March 20, 2009
I have felt my hand lift the letters to a word I would rather avoid, and others I thought I might try to get away with. But truth ekes out there on the heart sleeve and whatever we are reveals itself sooner or later. Once I chose to make the headline say BEAUTIFUL and the letters jammed the press. We had to change it to NICE. That's OK I suppose, though I had to fill the room left over with empty spacers and it threw off the design balance. Interestingly, however, there was much more to write about NICE than BEAUTIFUL. I have edited this paper for so long now it is getting a bit stale. I think I'll bring back the comic section. And though it breaks my heart to increase the columns for obituaries, I am finding I have to cut some of the neighborhood happenings to accommodate the increasing death notices. Nonetheless, I believe these are the most meaningful words of the issue. I enjoy the travel section, and the news from the field; the almanac and personal interest stories. There is also a small sports section, used for little league or high school ball games and occasional Superbowl Sundays, but it is relatively small and would disappoint my husband. I would apologize maybe, except that this is my paper, my identity, and if I only have one anecdotal article covering Sophie's Blue Unicorns soccer game and nothing about the NCAA tournament he will just have to forgive me. He probably will, because in general I am....extra -extra-read-all-about-it... NICE. (usually)
In response to Ashley and Charmaine's questions in yesterdays post:
Yup, a promise is a promise. I am writing on vacation with a crowd of people and little kid noises and temptations like ice cream in the freezer instead of focusing on writing. I am so sorry for the disjointedness and the incomplete thought processes. To answer Charmaine and Ash, I allow myself to look at three words in the Random Word Generator and then I select one. As you can see I rarely remain focused on the word. Sometimes one would have to search needle-in-a-haystack style for the word to appear at all in what I write. As you can see, the word is mostly a jumping off spot. And Ash, this Blog is usually the place where I simply journalize, and it will return to that after my 40 days. For now the pattern is to write knowing I will publish (at least to my closest friends and family) SOMETHING based on that word. It applies a pressure to my writing that I think in the long run will have been a healthy exercise. As you can see in some pieces, however, what I do each day often creeps into that random word space.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
She stood before the mirror and stretched her neck to see above the crack in the glass. Pulled her fine toothed comb through the knots that kept returning, tug-tug-tugging until the hair either gave way or broke. Stretched her dark curly strands until they cooperated, then bound them in a black elastic band. Tight against her skull, revealing the crooked widow's peak near the center of her forehead. The comb was thick with unrepentant hair, so she pecked at it with her fingers until the black gathered in a wad in her hands, then she tossed it in the garbage. When all this was done she opened the drawer on top of the dresser and pulled out the crimson scarf her father had left for her, the one with frayed edges and permanent creases where the knot was tied day after day. She laid her shame atop her coal black hair, folded in the front, just behind the point of her widow's peak. Pressed it down against her hair and knotted it at the back of her neck. With all her wishing she wished it gone, and yet she could not imagine herself without it, this deep red scarf that covered her head. Silk, woven tightly with the sin she did not choose, with the pain she learned to swallow, with the smile she learned to paste on her face. Red, sorrowful, achingly sorrowful scarf of silken shame.
NOTE: Well, I am half way through my 40 days of Lent Word of the Day Writing. I have to say I don't always love doing this! Sometimes, actually most of the time, I just don't feel like doing it. But I made a commitment to sacrifice something for 40 days, and that something ends up being my comfort. Tonight I am sitting in this lovely old house across from the Nauvoo Temple. Kate is keeping her promise to sing to me before she leaves. I am weeping as she plays her beautiful guitar and her angel voice floats out the front door and over the Mississippi River. My writing tonight does not reflect the beauty of this day, sitting between two of my daughters in the Temple, walking where prophets walked and died, watching little grandchildren run across the greening hillside between the temple and the river. My "words" for each day are given to me from a Random Word Generator via the Internet. Shame is one of my least favorite things. It makes me sad, and mad at the same time. I think it is arrogant for people to say"shame on you", and it is sad when we say it to ourselves.
That's all I have to say tonight, since it is 1:30 am.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
In the morning, when I am allowed a lazy awakening, I let myself drift in and out of the crowd. Dave will lean over the large kingness of our bed and reach to kiss my hand. "Bye Love", he'll whisper, and I'll lay my hand against his cheek for just a moment, then let him go. Re-adjusting my pillow I will hunker down in the down of my comforter, pulling my knees into my chest and digging my head into my down pillow like my sister Sherry's puppy does when she decides she'll have a nap on Gram's soft pile of a blanket. Eyelids stretched like the awning over a window, I dance back into my dreams. There I walk with the crowds, angels or demons or whomever they be. It used to be when I tired of the crowds in my dreams I would, almost uncontrollably, lift off the ground and begin to fly. It would be wonderful, if only I had any control over it. I suppose most things are that way. I can even now, if I imagine I am asleep, feel myself weightless, my body tilted and aimless, whisking over Kansas with Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West weaving in and out of my path, my velocity changing for no reason at all. It is against all logic and completely natural feeling at the same time. I say to myself, as I hover over the crowd, that I should really try to enjoy this view. But too much of my heart-brain space is taken up by fear.
One time I went para-sailing with friends at Lake Powell. We one-by-one attached ourselves to a para-sail on our backs and a rope on our bellies.(Actually, I don't really remember the logistics of the attachments, but it was something like that.) The rope in front was attached to one of our friends' speed boats. Everyone took a turn. Because I was heavy, I thought I should start further back on the rocks when it came to my turn. I thought it would take more wind to lift me. I hadn't considered that a few of the men were as heavy, just a little taller than I. Nonetheless, I started back on the solid rock that bordered the water of Lake Powell and they revved the engine. The wind caught the sail sooner than expected, so when the natural dip came, which was usually over the water, before the big rise to the heavens, I was still over rock. The sail thrust me forward and dragged my legs across the sandstone. As I rose up above the boat; above the reservoir and the crowd of friends, I kept repeating to myself, "Wow, this is beautiful...Oww...Owww... Owwww." I remember telling myself I had better enjoy this because I would never in my life be doing this again! So I looked at the red rock, and the shimmering water, and my blood dripping into it. When I finally hit the water the coolness of it against my wounds was rather therapeutic.
I have never been para-sailing again. And, come to think of it, I really don't fly much in my dreams any more either.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Roman cathedrals do not bow to God. Instead they raise both hands to meet above the ground, rattling their bones with bells on them every day at noon and midnight. Whispers echo through their veins, traveling down narrow hallways with arched ceilings and marble floors. I shuffle my feet slowly through them, seeking the warmth I know in my heart the King of Kings would seek as well. He visits this place, surely. But I am not sure how long he stays.
Today, standing in the warmth of newborn sunlight, fresh off the wagon of a long winter, the breezes of Adam Ondi Ahmen ran their nurturing fingers through my hair. I stretched my shoulders out to greet the view, inhaling extra long. A shadowy spanse of fields wrapped around the place we stood, the thick thread of the Grand River lining the perimeter like the binding on a patchwork quilt. The choir of this cathedral echoed against the hills, a throbbing trill of thousands on thousands of frogs hidden in the trees and shadows. No marble floors; nor pointed steeples needling the sky; no wimpled women or thick robed men, nor organs nor candles nor wine. Only this cool Spring breeze, and a cluster of faithful saints gathered near an altar place. Armed with the word and a prayer under the arms of wakening trees.
The other day, when I sifted through a pile of junk on my desk, I found an old note to Sarah from Jenny. They were probably in Jr High when the note passed under the desk from one hand to the other. There are little stick figures and hearts drawn around the perimeter of the words. I let my head drift for just a moment to what a note between the two of them might say if it were written today. First of all, it would need a stamp, and the post office would reject it because it was not rectangular nor was it flat. It was instead folded into itself in the shape of a triangle. Last week I taught a couple girls how to fold paper like that, then hold it with one point on the table and another under the fingertip. I showed them, rather unsuccessfully, how to flick the middle finger on the other hand and send the "football" flying. These are the things I learned in Detention when I was a kid. Jenny's note to Sarah would still sound like Jenny, so kind and positive and flattering. She'd probably write something like; "Hey there Mama Doctor! How cute did you look today in your pony tail and white coat?" She'd use her chunky curly handwriting in the salutation, but by the end when she is running out of time because the baby is screaming to be fed so she will resort to cursive. I have no doubt that if Jenny and Sarah meet up again there will still be the same sweetness between them.
When I served in the Davis County Jail notes were not called notes. They were known as "kites" and they were illegal. Inmates could get time added for passing kites, but they did anyway. Sometimes I just looked away when I saw one being passed while I stood in the front of the room, flipping through the pages of a book. Every Wednesday night and Sunday morning for three years I walked through the series of thick metal doors into that sterile facility so I could talk about Jesus to the women inmates. It was such a great gig! It was so great partly because every Wed night and Sunday morning I also got to walk back out those doors into the fresh Farmington air and drive home. I understood that there, but for the grace of God, went I and every one of us, and I loved those ladies. In the three years I served there I saw ladies come in and go out of that facility multiple times. "Welcome to Relief Society, Sister. My name is Cori...oh, hey there Tanya, good to see you again." At 6:45 a Sherriff's deputy would tap on the window at the guard station in the Charlie/Delta/Echo pod and ask if anyone wanted to go to Relief Society. The women would line up in their bright orange "outfits", some of them pushing in front of others with their shoulders, their eyes avoiding direct contact. Someone would curse and a guard would grunt and the cluster that had formed would shift back into a line. Seventeen women were allowed to attend at once, since we met in the small Jail Library. Some of them came only because we met near the men's pod. Inevitably by 7:00 the small window at Alpha/Bravo was steamed over with testosterone and whiskers, the males of the species preening and gawking through the thick tempered glass. Sometimes our new arrivals would come in shaking from withdrawal. The more seasoned inmates would have their blue paper books of scripture with them. It was a random recipe of people gathered there, and I learned to love all of them. I know of one, out of all those women who passed through the door to the library, who successfully pulled her life out of the shackles around her legs and bound herself to goodness. Not the best record. She makes my heart swell when I see her, or get a funny email message from her. If we were in Jr High I would pass her a note. It would be written in pink ink and it would say this:
"Dear Jan- I heart you! "
Monday, March 16, 2009
The Bishop's counselor sat back in the settee and thought a minute. "Really? I guess I can go ask him if you want. I've just never done that before."
"Well," I said, " I just don't want to outright say no, and I have never said no to a calling before, but I just think he didn't have all the information when he thought of this one."
The conversation had started on a Sunday afternoon, when Dave Snow knocked on the door and said he needed to talk to me. We Mormons know what that means, when our neighbors show up on a Sunday afternoon in their suits and ties and say they wonder if we can chat for a minute. It means we are about to be invited to lay ourselves on the assembly line of a well organized church. I actually quite love that our church has a lay ministry, and that all of us take turns participating in what we know as "callings". Our bishop and his counselors ponder and pray over who should serve where when, and I generally trust their inspiration. But when Dave Snow told me the Bishop wanted to call me to be Ward Choir Director I told him he had to be crazy. It's a good thing Dave Snow knows me as well as he does, or he might have been offended.
"Don't you think a choir director aught to be able to read music?" I asked.
"Well, Ummm, I don't know. Maybe? But you do read music.", Dave said.
"But you are a composer. You write music." He said this as his left eyebrow scrunched up toward his hairline, shifting in his seat as he talked.
"Yes, I write songs, but not on paper. You don't have to read to talk do you?"
He shifted his book in his lap and thought for a minute. I'm sure he had never pondered this question before, and he probably didn't particularly care to ponder it that Sunday afternoon. All he wanted to do was get his callings made and get home to the dinner Margene had prepared. There was an awkward moment of silence. I waited for him to say something like "never mind", but he didn't. He just sat there. So I spoke up.
"Maybe you could go give this information the Bishop and ask him to pray again."
I was sure he would see the light and call someone who had at least stuck with more than three piano lessons when they were 12. Someone who could tell if the altos were coming in at the right time. Someone who could tell the altos what their part should even sound like. Someone who was ...not me!
So Dave did that. He went back to Bishop Simmons and told him the truth. I was sure the Lord would back me up on this.
The next week Dave came back and tapped on the door. "I told him what you said."
"Oh, good," I replied, grateful to have reasonable people as my neighbors and leaders. "Did he pray again?"
"OK, so now what would you like me to do?" I'm thinking I might teach the five-year-olds on Sunday mornings in Primary. I'm thinking I could be on the Compassionate Service committee because I like to make chicken soup and take it to people. I'm ready to hear what my new calling might be.
"We think you should still be choir director."
So I became our Ward Choir Director for two very long and troubling years. Every rehearsal I stood before the choir and bawled. "Sheesh, I am so sorry you guys." There were people in that choir who could read music with their eyes closed. They tried very hard to be diplomatic in telling me how to do what I couldn't do. A number of very dear friends sang in that choir out of pity-love for me. Reed Gardner, and my sister Libby; they came to every rehearsal not because they loved choir singing but because they knew I needed the emotional support. I am still touched by that.
Eventually Dave Snow came to my door again and offered another calling and things set themselves right in the world again. Nowadays I am most happy to sit among the small group of sopranos in our Ward Choir and follow the fabulous imaginary baton of Dave Thomas. Now there's a guy who can read music! And he's a composer to boot.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
On good, good days there is flour on my counter top. Flour and some sprinkles of sugar and the aroma of gingerbread. Flour with little hand prints angled like angel wings, the swirl of deep green granite underneath: Joy taking flight. There will be one big apron and two…or if I am REALLY lucky: four… little aprons hanging from the hook on the back of the pantry door when we are done. The little dancing ginger fellows we frost and anoint with raisins taste so yummy, but the most delicious of all life’s delicacies is the moment with my little ones. One generation down from the last batch I made.
My great- grandmother, a number of greats ago, was named Rebecca Rhodes. “Sister Rhodes” to the Brethren who had come to visit that night in their home near the water of the Mississippi. A hard, cold Nauvoo winter had left her cupboards nearly bare. No more bare than her neighbors, though. So when she heard that the children down the road were crying with hunger she threw her cloak around her shoulders and excused herself while the Priesthood huddled with her husband, discussing matters of survival in a hostile environment. She lowered her head as she approached the door, preparing for the wind that hurled itself against the house. Joseph stood and walked to her, leaving his conversation mid sentence. “Sister Rebecca, what do you carry under your coat tonight?” She kept her eyes fixed on the floor, her hands crossed around her belly, and paused just a moment. He had asked her a simple question, but the suddenness of it and the secrecy of her act caused the emotions in her to bump against each other and she needed a moment to think.
“Just a bit of flour, Brother Joseph.”
She unfolded her woolen wrap to reveal the last of their measure of grain. Her eyes scanned the floor, rose to the cluster of men gathered near the fire, then met straight-on the eyes of her prophet. He smiled when he saw it, and her cheeks flushed with heat. He opened the door for her and watched her push her way through the deep winter to the neighbor’s place. When she returned, Joseph Smith asked if he might pronounce a blessing on Sister Rhodes. Family records give the gist of that blessing as this; that the Lord was aware of the goodness and selflessness of Sister Rebecca Rhodes, and He cherished her as His daughter. It was promised that as long as Rebecca, and her posterity, remained faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they would not want for the necessities of the earth.
That same blessing was pronounced again to my mother’s generation when Uncle Fred was called on his mission to the Eastern United States in the first half of the last century. From what I can tell this is truth. I feel it in my own life. Not that the Lord thinks any more of me or my family than he does any other of His children. It’s just this little promise helps my faith reign over fear. I feel the goodness of Rebecca Rhodes coursing through my veins, like I feel similar traits of other ancestors alive in me and my family: the dedication of Henry Strong Parrish; the poetry of Elizabeth Mae Wood; the entrepreneurial spirit of George Parrish.
I lay the side of my hand in a scoop shape against the cold granite of my counter top. I sweep it across the layer of flour left over from our cookie making afternoon. I lift a paper bag to the edge and drop the dry dregs of our festivities into the garbage and realize I am tossing away more than she gave; a handful of flour on a winter night, so small, yet large enough to fill the bellies of her children, and her grandchildren and grandchildren’s grandchildren. I am the product of many good decisions made through the years by people whose names I share. I embrace the gospel, as they did, not because I want the prizes some people attribute to “being good”, but because it feels right to me; it makes me feel like I am being true to the me of many eons ago. I am the grand daughter of Rebecca Rhodes. How could I live otherwise?
Saturday, March 14, 2009
A pound of flesh. An ounce of wisdom. A pinch of salt. A ton of stuff. We sift and chip and weigh and measure. We lay our portion of life on the scale and ask the fates to put weights on the other side to tell us what its worth. Like a playground see-saw we watch the arrow bounce from one side to the other as the scale finds its balance. This earthly existence, with its weights and measures, is likely new to our very old souls. Relatively new, at least. Measuring usually involves comparisons, and that for sure is a thing of this realm. Not that this is evil. I know from the Word that we are to have darkness so we can know the light, and we have sorrow so we can appreciate joy. Contrast came with the separation of darkness and light on Day 2, after the gathering of Matter Unorganized. Way back When, before there was Adam and then Eve, before there was anyone with a body, we dreamt of today. I don’t remember of course. No one does, and we’re not supposed to. But I think a few things were across the board for all of us before we were born. We knew nothing about “time”, we had great hope in our potential when we did get bodies, and we likely did not even look at ourselves up there in our heaven space. It wasn’t until Eve looked into a glassy pond on the Western edge of Eden that she discovered she was delightful to look upon. People think it was the apple that was her downfall. No, it was that pond. Her reflection made her aware of herself (OK, I know this is random thinking, just go with it). She made note of which flower looked prettiest tucked behind her ear. It was the beginning of the fall. I have a theory about reflections. I think mirrors are actually tools of the devil (stay with me). Let’s say I am walking down the sidewalk, perfectly happy with my existence, when I happen to turn my head and see my reflection in a store window. “Eee Gad!” I say to myself, “Who is THAT?!” And I suddenly stop thinking about how I am planning to go to Ethiopia and build a school and start thinking about how pretty or not pretty I may look in the glass. When darkness is on the other side of glass, I see myself and what surrounds me in my little space. But if there is light on the other side of glass, say in a window, then what I see is the world beyond. To take the analogy further, if there is silver on the other side of glass, as in a mirror (silver representing worldliness) then we more clearly and completely see only ourselves. Light keeps all vision clear and pure. Darkness, with its shadows and reflections, makes us compare and measure. I vote for light. I feel so much prettier with light. And pounds don’t even matter.
Friday, March 13, 2009
I'm not sure when the word mod found its way into the dictionary. Modernizing has been going on since Eve first discovered fire and decided to cook the squash she pulled from the garden. To me though, mod was the hip word of the early 1970's. Maybe a little before then, it's all sort of a blur, not for reasons the 1960's and 70's were a blur for most young Americans, however. I was a clean and sober Christian girl. But I did know who Peter Maxx was, the artist who created colorful psychedelic posters that the coolest kids had taped to the inside of their lockers. And I had a midi-coat and a pair of red paisley fabric covered platform shoes that hid under the cuffs of my bell bottom pants. Our dad, in a moment of uncommon fatherly normalcy, took us to one of the big Pittsburgh Department stores like Hornes or Kaufmanns or Gimbles and not only bought us those beige midi-trench coats, he also got me a pair of black and white saddle shoes, just like the cheerleaders wore. Man, I loved those shoes, too. If I wanted to look cute I put my hair in a pony tail and wore my saddle shoes with a mini skirt. But if I was feeling mod, it was hip-hugger bell bottoms with my platform shoes, my midi-coat floating around my calves when I walked; my hair in a pair of braids hanging gently in front of my shoulders and my brother's flat brimmed boy scout hat pressing my bangs against my forehead. By 8th grade I had reached the height of my mod-ness. I think the last time I felt really hip was in the halls of Pleasant Hills Middle School, sitting on the floor near the choir room with Betsy Gerson, our backs leaning against the wall and our knees holding the weight of our guitars as we practiced Dust in the Wind and every Gordon Lightfoot song in Betsy's songbook. It's been downhill from there for me, in terms of coolness. But hey, I had my moment.
During that time we knew if we were hip by watching Mod Squad on TV. They were like the Peter, Paul and Mary of crime solving. One white guy, one black guy with a super afro and big dark sunglasses, and that laid back chick with long blonde hair that flowed in slow motion when she ran across the dark asphalt between the two guys. I secretly thought I was particularly blessed because my hair was naturally blonde and straight like that, though in the Pennsylvania humidity it got a bit frizzy and did not flow quite like that girl-whose-name-I-do-not-remember did. But I could pretend on Tuesday nights that I looked just like her, or at least I would when I got older. The hippest of the cool hip cats was Lincoln, though. The black dude. He was totally mod.
Here’s a link to the opening scene of the Mod Squad show. Coolness relived! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0-XrZoHj2k
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
You will know I am old one when I tell you that the phone of my childhood had a round dialer with 10 little holes around the perimeter of the dial. There was a number, along with some letters, assigned to each. You’d stick your finger into one of the holes and roll it toward the silver half moon next to number “1…abc”. It took a bit of time to dial a number, especially a long distance one, and any numbers that had excessive “0’s” took extra long. This is how we were taught patience in our generation. Some of us learned. Some didn’t. The sound of the phone ringing was the clanking of a metal hammer against a real metal bell somewhere buried inside the hard plastic casing. Phone cords hung like shriveled up Slinkies down the wall in the kitchen, stretched and twirled into themselves, so when you answered the phone and had to take it over to Mom who was at the stove, it yanked you back to the wall until you uncurled it with your fingers. We were taught phone etiquette as kids; things like: always answer pleasantly, but when the person on the other end asks for your parents reply with “Whom, may I ask, is calling?” And if someone asks for you, then you were to reply “This is she.” It was also against the law to call anyone before 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning., Even if you knew Sherry Payne was up and watching the Monkees on TV, it was illegal to call the Payne’s house before 10, or anyone else’s house. Certain hours of the day are sacred in their privacy.
Phone numbers sometimes had letters to help you remember them. You’d have to look at the dial and figure out what letter coordinated with what number, so that was always a pain. But you did tend to remember the numbers. There is a musicality to telephone numbers. They sort of sing when you say them, probably because of the rhythm of the pattern. I can still hear in my head the commercial from my early childhood…Eight Oh Oh… three two five….three five three five. Just for fun I just now dialed that number and lo and behold, it is still the number for Sheraton Hotels! I can’t believe it!!! I’ll bet Libby knew this, since she was over Sheraton's Reservations Training for seventeen international offices before she decided corporate life was going to eat away her heartstrings. So she quit and came home to us! Yay for Libby!
I’ll bet you Libby and George and AM can tell you the phone number of our childhood. Quick, do you remember your own childhood phone number? 412-655-4547. Before that I think it was 653-1864. I’m not sure why I remember that number, but I know it is a Pleasant Hills prefix. Now that is diving back. My kids could sing you their childhood phone number…ready kids…do you hear the music? Four five one two eight three one…repeated four times, following the song “I know my number, my te-lephone number….”
It seems the fate of the land line is currently in jeopardy. We live our lives in cells these days. Last night I was at John and Ashley’s and John mentioned that he saw on Facebook that it was Tom Shults’ Birthday. I picked up their phone and dialed Tom’s number to wish him a happy one. Some robotic voice on the phone told me that I could not dial long distance on this telephone without an access code. What the???? “We don’t have long distance on our land lines, Mom,” John said. We use our cells for those. See what I mean? Pretty soon every aspect of our lives will be so portable we will no longer need homes. We can pitch one of those tents outside of Sacramento and live with the homeless without skipping a beat. I can hear it now, out there in the community of a large tent city. No electricity, port-a-potties, campfires, and cell phones ringing through the wild night air.
We Mormons are a people of order. When Latter-day Saints in the British Isles were called by their prophet to gather in western America, they sold their belongings in order to purchase passage aboard tall ships. Lots and lots of them. Nearly 95,000, as a matter of fact. When a British newspaper set out to expose the "evilness" of Mormons they sent Charles Dickens to observe a group of them as they set up aboard their sailing ship. Dickens slipped through the crowds on the dock at Liverpool and made note of what he saw. Instead of decadence and chaos he saw a people who were clean and friendly and had established order even before they set sail. He wrote that they were, in truth, “…the very pick and the flower of England.” Yes, order is us. It comes to reason then, that we Mormons like programs. We like to create them, we like to follow them, we even perform them once a year with Primary kids in Sacrament meeting.
I knew for sure I would never be called to be Young Women’s President because I am not fully converted to the Personal Progress Program. Strike me dead perhaps, but I am one of those people who does not do particularly well when someone tells me I need to set a goal, in details defined on paper. I have goal issues. The second I say I am on a diet I am SO eating everything in sight! If my angels tell me it would be a good idea to do something, I keep it to myself and charge ahead. But when someone else is keeping track, some little demon on my left shoulder takes over and I run the other way. I am not proud of this. But I also don’t believe I am a bad person because of it. So I thought that, because I am not a big believer in requesting that all Young Women define their success by the award they get and a little gold pendant around their necks, I would not have to worry about getting called to lead the YW organization.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
I am a finder. Since I was small I have been known as the family shoe finder. Sunday morning, late for church, can’t find someone’s shoes…they called my name. It’s not like the shoes speak to me. I do not possess super psychic powers, though I did manage to make my teenage kids believe I did, which was quite the coup! I suppose I am able to think like a shoe. I simply say to myself, “If I were a shoe where would I be at this moment?” And more often than not the shoe and I agree in our thought processes.
I am also a finder of other things. There are legends in our family, at least among Ann Marie, Libby and me, that involve finding money in unexpected places. I am always finding coins in parking lots. I sense which coin returns have change in them. Heck, once I got almost two dollars in coins out of a single phone in Cheyenne. One wicked cold winter day we were walking to Pleasant Hills Elementary school and I glanced down at a mound of cinder pitted snow-ice and saw the corner of an envelope. The rest of it was imbedded in the ice, but when I tugged at it, it pulled loose to reveal a rectangular Seasons Greetings! I opened it up and there was George Washington smirking up at me. His face was framed with an ornate oval opening in a bank sleeve. There were two dollars in that frozen envelope, no name and no one to claim them, so we went to DiStefano’s Drug store after school. Another afternoon, on a windy summer day, we were playing up by the Presbyterian Church when I noticed a piece of paper fluttering in the breeze. I chased it down the hillside and in the bushes we found something like seven dollars strewn here and there in the weeds. I don’t know why I have this gift. I am not complaining! Unfortunately it seems to have lain dormant lately.
I find other things, too. Great finds! I have a garage and basement and closets full of finds! So many, in fact, that when I remember I have something cool I can’t seem to find it! Sometimes I’ll get a call from an acquaintance who has heard about my stache of finds. Then I find myself searching for that Indian head dress I know I bought at a Garage Sale. In the process of searching for it I find stuff all over again. It’s like a fabulous treasure hunt right in my very own basement! Sometimes, when I am in a grumpy and much-too-adult mood I get a little irritated by the multitude of finds in our house. I swear I am going to get rid of them next Saturday. I wake up and have a talk with myself about how we are going to sort through that stuff in the garage and make at least one trip to DI before the sun sets. But then Libby calls and tells me she is taking Mom for a ride to Bukoos or the 5 Hour Store and…oh…ummmm….well, I was going to clean the garage, but…maybe I’ll go with you. (You never know what you might find!)
Sunday, March 8, 2009
It is the comma; the moment between inhale and exhale; that space where words and shapes are not. I remember taking an art class from my friend and neighbor, Rebecca Mann. The basis for our lessons was a book called Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain. One of our lessons was an exercise that required us to draw the spaces around a chair. Of course, in drawing what is known as the “negative space”, the “positive space” of the chair emerged. It looked a little skiwampusy, and I certainly would not want to sit in the one that ended up on my paper, but it was indeed a chair. It was interesting to participate in the creation of it though, because my focus was so intent on capturing the chunk of air between the rungs of the seat back, and the painted wall behind the legs, that it took a blink and a shake of the head to re-focus on the spaces I was not drawing, which in the end became the chair. I remember sitting in Rebecca’s basement and thinking here was life, on this sheet of paper, and the pencil in my hand was my gift of choice. I can choose whatever I want to do…to think…to plan or imagine…it’s my gift from God. I wake in the morning and decide for myself if I want to talk to God. It feels like a one-way conversation, but I usually decide to do it anyway. It is my pause, my “negative space”, the portion no one sees in my life sketch. Only me and God.
I pause on purpose nowadays. Maybe it’s my age and out-of-shapeness. Maybe not. Maybe its wisdom. On the back of the door to my bathroom (maybe I am revealing too much here), in a place you would only see if you were sitting on the potty in your own private space, I have three little reminders to pause. It started with a teeny little red foam heart I found on the floor and stuck up on my door. Every time I see it I offer a prayer for my Sarah Love, because at the time she was struggling, and I was so far away and felt so helpless. But I knew God could do things her mom could not, so I figured since that room is used more regularly than any other room in the house, and it is certainly private, I would beg God’s forgiveness for praying to him in a non-traditional un-kingly setting and ask His help. When Kate came home from her mission and left for Houston to immerse herself in the agony of Jr High in an inner-city school, I added the sticky backed luggage strip from the Hong Kong airport to the door. It underlines the heart. Then, on a random day not too long ago, after Sophie had been visiting, I found little Post It Notes stuck all over the house. Some people would see them as a mess, but I saw them as love notes she left for me. As I stacked them back on top of each other, clearing some room in my bedroom and bathroom, I saved one and opened the door to my pause space. Above the Hong Kong luggage strip, and the little red foam heart, there is a post it note that says Sophie to me. It speaks of all my little ones, of Soph and Park and little Ruby, and of Timo and Anna who are so far away right now. When I see that Post It Note I pause and ponder. I let the angels tell me who needs a prayer for what; but it always begins with Sophie. I could cover the back of that door with a thousand little reminders of people I love and want to pray for. But something tells me to keep it to three. There are other places that bring me to pause for other people.
I could hurry and get things taken care of. Rush from here to there and have my life all figured out. I could focus on all the positive spaces as I draw my own life sketch. But what kind of composition would that be? The moodling moments, the afternoon dreams, the idling engine of my heart that leans on the kitchen counter and thinks of absolutely nothing in particular…these are the pauses that help define me. They not only give me rest from the do-ing; they set the really visible and well crafted moments apart. If Sophie were to draw the sun and she took the whole page, we would not see nor appreciate the beauty of it. It needs a large empty sky, save maybe a cotton candy cloud or two, to make it so wonderful.
Thank you, Rebecca, for teaching me about negative space. I needed that lesson as a songwriter, and I needed it as a mother and a wife and a daughter and a friend. In the end my life is defined as much by the pauses as by the music.
This is the bright red cherry on top of a super banana split kind of day. A day that starts as a dark chilly Idaho morning, slipping out of my sleeping bag and following my mother, tiptoeing, down to the stream; fishing pole in hand, a square cork container with mulch and earthworms, a Big Hunk and Chick-O-Stix in my left coat pocket and my old tenny-runners on my feet. My mom stands beside me in the stream and we speak beautiful silence to each other as the sun rises over the shimmering ripples of the Snake River. There is a tug on my line, and a tug on hers, and we know that with the rising sun there is hunger below the waters. All day long, that blessed timeless kind of day, we gave ourselves to the wild.
Here, beside the fire, tummy full and body happy-tired, I take my plate to the stream and wash it off. This is the gift of a day. I am warm, and I am loved, and I am safe, and I am fed. There is no sweeter memory. Truly, no sweeter memory.
Friday, March 6, 2009
Legend has it that the valley of the Great Salt Lake was known by ancient Indian tribes as the Valley of Smoke. Fog would rise from the lake and surrounding areas, held to the ground by inversions that were the result of air flow from the ring of mountains surrounding the lake. When the pioneers got here it became a true valley of smoke as the settlers used soft smelted coal to heat their homes. The rising smoke got stuck in the bowl of air that swirled in that same mountain basin. Nowadays it’s the exhaust from cars and the residue from refineries that make us have to strain to see lights in the distance. Tonight, however, as Dave and I drove home from Salt Lake City, the air was remarkably clear. We could see all the way out to the copper mines and the Oquirrh Mountain range to the west. To the east the Bountiful temple looked like, if we rolled down the van window and reached out, we could pluck it off the side of the foothill where it stands. Its white marble reflected in the moonlight, making it look like a glass nightlight we might have purchased at Deseret Book and plugged into our car. It was so clear, but it was also so far that it seemed it would fit in the palm of my hand. Relatively speaking, it was the size of the moon. Logic tells me that the temple is massively larger than a nightlight, and that the moon is massively larger than the temple. Without perspective they all fit together in the same little jewelry box in my mind.
Perspective requires a few things. I learned these things at the art classes Libby and I took every Saturday morning at the Carnegie Museum in Oakland PA. Perspective involves a point of view; a vantage point. It requires an origination point, where the eye of the observer is; and at least one vanishing point, where the observer can no longer see, past the horizon. Mr. Fitzpatrick stood in the front of 200 students from various schools in the Pittsburgh area. He placed one dot on the paper with his long paintbrush, then another on the opposite half of the sheet. “Here,” he said in that large Irish American voice, slightly graying in its timbre like the color of his hair, “is the corner of the barn.” He painted a long black line down the middle of the page. “This dot is your left vanishing point, and this other is your right” He proceeded to paint lines between the dots and the corner of the barn, adding more lines in perpendiculars and parallels, until there was a stunning arrangement of triangles out of which a barn emerged, looking for all the world like the real thing. This was not the barn of my childhood, a rectangle with a triangle on top. This felt correct because it understood and incorporated perspective. It was remarkable to me, and quite empowering. The other day I showed Sophie how to draw a house using perspective and, much to my surprise, it seemed logical to her. She has the soul of an artist, and the eyes of a painter.
I ended up, after years of Saturday art school, getting on enough honor rolls to receive a recommendation to the Carnegie Mellon School of Art. But I am not an artist. Not the kind that can draw very well, at least. The reason they called my name out for the honor roll every other Saturday was because I knew what I did not know, and I stayed away from it. What I could do…well, I used it. What got me recognition was not the science of my art, it was the creativity of my pieces. I had to compensate for not being very technically gifted, so I sketched and painted unique and symbolic pieces that caught the eye of our professors. The class is assigned to paint a self portrait…, I do mine as if I am looking into the scoop of a spoon. Everyone looks askew in the reflection of a spoon! That’s how I made it work. Even in my youth I knew I was getting away with something, that I was faking that I belonged in a room full of true artists with talent and skill. I wish I had listened more; that I had tried harder to do what they taught us and not what made me appear unique. Though I may not know exactly how to use perspective to interpret a scene on paper, I did learn that perspective is part of every realistic artistic work. The lesson bled over into my songwriting…into my parenting…into my personal life story, still being written. I am grateful to know about it, even if I do not fully understand it.
Here’s the day that comes round yearly
Where the past and future meet
Yesterday is bound to memory
And tomorrow’s bright and sweet
Here they gather round the table
These who share my heart and name
Birthday flowers, Birthday greetings
Birthday candles set aflame
Bless the woman here who bore me
Gave me breath and showed the way
Blessed as well, that I would bear
My own sweet girl on this same day
Here the night has come upon us
Starry preface to the dawn
Another year has come to meet me
And another year is gone
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
The word today is- Ditties. (I know you are wondering what this picture of laundry has to do with ditties...in fact you are probably wondering what ditties are. Read on. ) I cheated and did not use the Random Word Generator on this one because it is actually a response to a request from someone. Covenant Records is putting my song Broken on their Mother's Day album, An Angel To Watch Over Me, and they wanted a little piece about my mother for publicity purposes. So I made the word of the day work for this, since I have a heavy duty busy day and am not sure I would get my Lent writing in before midnight.
March 4, 2009 ditties
I was raised in Pennsylvania, where the winter air could be biting cold. Icicles would hang from the corners of our Tudor house, reaching all the way to the ground. Those were the days I most enjoyed the chore of helping my mother with the laundry. We'd trudge down the stairs with our baskets, into the cellar where the washer and dryer lined the outside wall and where a long wooden board laid atop a set of drawers was our folding table. The steel framed single paned window steamed over as we worked, the warmth and aroma of the room infusing into freshly dried clothes. My task was to pair and roll the socks. I can still hear in my memory, these decades later, my mother's lilting voice, making up little ditties about our task as we worked. Silly little lyrics, set to made-up melodies. Things like:
"This one's blue, but this one's black.
I think we'll put this one back.
Lay them in a little stack.
The rhythm of her songs set the pace for our chore and made it fun. We sang these musical snippets back and forth to each other, like little boys toss balls to their dads. If I was slightly under pitch she'd sing the note and urge me to meet it., always following with some comment about how beautiful it was.
All my life, even still at the age of 85, my mother has spoken love and laughter and sorrow in her little songs. I suspect she sang in the heavens to me as well... "Let's go down to that new world...you can be my little girl...."
When Mom laid my first guitar under the Christmas tree, in my fourteenth year, she sealed my fate. She has been the biggest supporter of my songwriting, from that first Mother's Day song I wrote for her back when I was 16, to my most recent recording, where images of her influence are woven into sentimental lyrics throughout the album.
A year ago my mother was very ill. We seven children gathered around her in her hospital room, our guitars ringing with familiar tunes. Mom hovered in that sacred space between heaven and earth, the doctors predicting that she would go and we children begging her to stay. For two weeks she teetered there. She did not talk. But when the strains to a familiar song came from one of our instruments, her lips quivered and soon the full lyric was wrapped in her comforting mother-voice. Thankfully and blessedly, Mom recovered.
Most of who I am I owe to my mother, and when I sing, I can feel her pleasure.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Distance. Distance is the key to seeing a horizon. Where I grew up it was hard to get a visual on distance. Too many hills and trees got in the way, so that when the sun set, it just sort of disappeared behind the hillsides, daylight sinking into the woods. In a matter of minutes the hairs on your arms could stand up straight with the humid chill of the dropping temperature. Cold and wet is so much colder than cold and dry. Same with warmth. Hot summer days in Pennsylvania could be tasted. Walking through the heavy brush under the eternal trees that hung over each other like snakes in a pit, you could open your mouth and chew on a chunk of air. It tasted green and muddy and sweet.
Where I live now there is need for lotion. For lip ointments and sesame oils and conditioning shampoo. When Dave decided to take the job in Salt Lake City we looked at every available house in our price range north of the city. We kept going until we reached this neighborhood in Farmington where the car strained to climb the hill and trees lined both sides of the road. I took a deep easy breath when we drove into our neighborhood. This would work, we thought, and so it did. And so it does.
Every time I drive down that hill out of our neighborhood I look out over the horizon. It stuns me still, nearly every time. I set my eyes in the sweet spot where I can see the road in a responsible driver sort of way, but still seek the horizon. I find the out there, the way out there over the lake; past the mountains to the west and on into eternity. Every evening God sets His easel out there and mixes umber with crimson, dips it in amber and gold, then sweeps His gloriously large brush over an azure wash. It swirls and runs, evolves and deepens with the elements until, finally, He covers it all with a ripe, wet indigo and lets it rest until morning. Some nights, according to His good pleasure, he will fill a stiff, short bristled brush with silver and flick it, shimmering, over the night sky.
Horizons need distance to be seen. Space and vision. I pity the poor soul whose eyes are set on the goal, so sternly and absolutely that he fails to look up at the horizon. “Here”, God says, “Here you go. I’m here now, see? Everything will be just fine.” Stock markets crash; fear rears its head, jobs are lost and panic sets in. We roll our shoulders in over our hearts and forget to look up; to look out. All we see is a double yellow line in the road, when up and out in front of us is a brand new creation every single hour of every single evening, whispering hope; regardless of the tragedies of the day or the pleasures of the flesh. Every single day, out there on the horizon. Look up.
Monday, March 2, 2009
The sign says PUSH, but the handle says ignore the sign and PULL. Thick tempered glass with a pull handle on it, and behind the handle is a red rectangular message saying PUSH. I suppose for a door to fill the measure of its creation it would need to be either pushed or pulled; though I suppose it could also slide to the side. But it needs to be openable. Otherwise, why be a door? I wonder to myself, why would they put a pull handle where a push plate would suffice? It contradicts itself. But it happens all the time. Check it out next time you go shopping. I suppose they might put a pull handle there in case there is a robbery and they need to let the negotiating cop in really quickly and then close the door from the outside. The handle is there so they can pull it shut faster than the hinges want to allow. I’m not sure. I think it makes for confusion in a world already excessively confused. Like those IN and OUT doors between the kitchen and the dining room in a convention center. Or like the page in the middle of my favorite Dr Seuss book, Go Dog Go…”One big dog going IN…Three little dogs going OUT.” I wrote a little poem when I was 15 about In and Out. It was published in the New Era magazine, but I don’t recall it at this moment. I know it ended with the words “I realized I had been going IN the OUT.” It was some sort of social commentary; a typical poem of a 1970’s teenager. Was I a typical 1970’s teenager?
Maybe retail establishments put PUSH on those PULL doors so rebellious adolescents will find their way in to spend their parents’ money.
I'm imagining a pioneer handcart with the word PULL painted on the handle in the front, and a big red PUSH painted on the back board. Some things just don't need instruction always being yelled from them. But to take it to a worse scenario, how irritating would it be if you were all day straining your back behind a handcart, pushing it through the sandy desert as you stared at a mislabeled sign that said PULL?
There are a handful of life moments which, when piled together chronologically, end up telling a story; whether one gets the full length novel version or the sonnet version or, perhaps for some a two line couplet is enough. Less than three months ago Ruby’s story began. That day she journeyed with her mother down the hill and through the valley of the shadow of death. They both rose, victorious, with one quivering cry in a small hospital room, her mama’s forehead dripping with the effort, and Ruby’s little body shivering in the newness of itself. That was a beautiful opening scene. Soon enough the holidays rolled through and she wrapped her little fingers around her mama’s pinky when she nursed and curled into her daddy’s lap when she was done. Winter sifted through the weeks, like powdered sugar on heart shaped cookies. It stayed this year, steadily white on the hillside and the mound in the front yard grew and grew until it became a magical sledding run that children played upon after school and where mommies and daddies slipped out to after the kids were in bed. This week, these past few days, the sun has made himself known. The sidewalks are almost all clear now, and under the scrub oak trees there is evidence of impending crocuses, little bumps of deep earthy green pushing their way up through the dirt. Thirsty primroses lift their withered heads to the sunlight. We push aside the curtains and let the warmth come in, and with it comes the hope of Spring. Of tomatoes in the grow boxes; of fresh snap peas; and of afternoons in Gram’s back yard watching the kids splash in the wading pool. Hope eternal.
It seems fitting, on this Springlike day, that Ruby made her fist appearance to the outside world in the little white cotton dress I found nine years ago in an antiques shop in Wales. Dave and I had journeyed across the ocean to retrieve our son, fresh with the spirit and sweetness and verve of a missionary. It was a sacred and precious time, being with him in his element, in the place he loved, with the people he loved, watching him in the final few days of doing work he loved. It was a precious time. I knew somehow these would be the last moments when my boy was just my boy. And I was right. Today that boy-turned-man stood in his Sunday suit and carried his third child, little Ruby to the front of the church, that long white 100 year old blessing dress wrapped around his precious angel of a girl. I watched from the pew where I was sitting and felt the convergence of powerful forces. The past, with its glories and sorrows, its moments of struggle followed almost certainly with wisdom if not joy; met face to face with the future of one little girl. Today… with all the beauty of Ruby’s father’s tender words of blessing, pronounced from worthy lips; with the joy of loved ones coming together in celebration and worship; with one sweet little family of five huddling together in prayer… I recognize today as the meeting place for all of Ruby’s tomorrows. What tomorrow brings to Ruby, on this her Blessing Day, is a brilliant bouquet of uncertainty. It is her gift. Uncertainty. It opens for her all the world of possibility: dances she will dance; still and silent moments; songs, and stories and kisses and tears. All is uncertainty and possibility and wonder! Take this and cherish it, little child of our hearts. Wars, on this earth and elsewhere, were fought for this gift alone.
The Maker of all good things gave our Ruby many treasures: a mother and father who love each other and who love their children; a household of warmth and candor and thoughtfulness; beauty for the world to behold in her father’s laughing eyes and her mother’s smile. All good and dependable things, which make her future likely and shining, but by no means guaranteed. Therein lies the beauty. The tension…that same kind of tension that makes her daddy’s guitar strings ring so sweetly…is in the uncertainty. It keeps us on our toes. It compels us to remain interested. We are wise to be aware of it. Uncertainty is the gift.