but what does it mean?

Some of you already know of my struggle(s) with religion.

I believe in collective spiritual powers, I believe in searching for a meaning to life beyond meeting my and my family’s basic needs, I believe in the divinity in each of us, and that there is energy and joy and light beyond that which we can always understand. I believe that ritual and ceremony and community help us to remember that we are humble and human and part of whole which is bigger than the sum of each of us.

But I don’t believe in a Divine Creator, and if there is one, and he, that is, He, wanted “permission” to forgive us for our humanity, I can’t figure out how or why he needed someone to die to make it happen. I don’t believe in “one, true God” or that any one religion has the right answer and everyone else is either misguided or doomed.

I was just downstairs folding my laundry, and pondering the nature of the Christian religion — which I, as a music director in a Christian church, “partake” and “participate” in. This is one of the existential things I struggle with daily — the people at this church are good people doing good things in the community, which is really what I think of as religion at its best. But does my music help bring meaning and expression to their lives, or does it contribute to perpetuating a myth in which I don’t believe and which has on more than one occasion done more harm than good?

So, I was downstairs folding my laundry, and thinking about what this

oldruggedcrossmeans to people, and why it’s “necessary,” and wishing I could find a metaphor which would balance the barbarous and unnecessary act which it commemorates with something other than “He lives!”

And I came up and checked my email. One of my sisters had sent a copy of some writings for Easter week by the priest who had officiated at my father’s funeral in February. It reminded me, a little eerily, in fact, of what I had just written about it never being the end, about light being just around the corner.

He is writing about each of what is called “the Three Days.”  Specifically here, about what Saturday means as the day between Good Friday and Easter. I’m paraphrasing, because I think hope, and healing, and finding a new direction in life can happen without being bestowed upon us by God but through our own ingenuity, creativity, and strength.

We’re in a terrible position, but we have a promise that we only half believe. It’s after the doctor tells us we have cancer, but before we’re cured or find a new courage to cope with it. It’s after the marriage breaks up, but before the grief is healed. It’s after we’ve been laid off, but before we have found a new use for our gifts. Most of life is Saturday. No matter how bleak and dark Saturday gets, Sunday is coming, and it may be coming sooner than you think.

So it’s this, then: hope.

finally, a sign!


The crocii have finally appeared! I had despaired of spring, and here they were this morning, peeking out between the oak leaves in my back yard (notice the light frost on the vinca leaves).  It’s been a long winter.I’ll let Blake say the rest, except for this: no matter how dark, or cold, the world you find yourself in, there may be light, waiting, just around the corner.

To Spring

O thou with dewy locks, who lookest down
through the clear windows of the morning, turn
thine angel eyes upon our western isle,
which in full choir hails thy approach, O Spring!

The hills tell one another, and the listening
Valleys hear; all our longing eyes are turn’d
up to thy bright pavilions: issue forth
and let thy holy feet visit our clime!

Come o’er the eastern hills, and let our winds
kiss they perfumèd garments; let us taste
thy morn and evening breath; scatter thy pearls
upon our loesick land that mourns for thee.

O deck her froth with thy fair fingers; pour
thy soft kisses on her bosom; and put
thy golden crown upon her languish’d head,
whose modest tresses are bound up for thee.

William Blake (from Poetical Sketches, 1783)

too many words

can'tshutupHave pondered going on a silent retreat on some quiet isolated island somewhere. Husband says my head would explode, which just means that I can’t take him with me.

I wonder, often, how much we conform what we are thinking, or think we are feeling, to the words we can find to express it. Like when the world or our mood is colored by a dream we can barely remember, and as soon as we try to tell someone of the dream it all disappears.

Perhaps one of the reasons I like music, or poetry that suggests rather than itemizes.

So only a few words today, and they’re not mine, but Ann Carson’s, on the challenge and evocative nature of translating:

Prowling the meanings of a word, prowling the history of a person, no use expecting a flood of light. Human words have no main switch. But all those little kidnaps in the dark. And then the luminous, big, shivering, discandied, unrepentant, barking web of them that hangs in your mind when you turn back to the page. . .

All those little kidnaps in the dark.

The barking web of them.

Just, yes.

where to find it. . .

Part of my thought process, and of conversation with some of my followers, has been regarding where “Happiness” can actually be found.

I think there are things in our lives that we would say “Make” us happy — our life partner, successful children, satisfying work, a good meal, a nice Barolo.

But we also know that this isn’t really what I’m talking about.

I’m trying to find the happiness that lasts, that persists despite an outer circumstance that would not be of my choosing.

I don’t want to be Pollyanna, necessarily; but maybe  B. K. S. Iyengar.

He writes: To feel is a verb; it is something that happens. We all feel.  Emotion is a noun, a thing. To feel is beautiful, belonging to both the animal and the human condition. When we allow feelings to harden and coalesce into emotions, which we transport like overburdened slaves, we deny ourselves life’s freshness, its ever-present potential for renewal and transformation. We waste so much energy through allowing our emotions to govern us. . .In a healthy organism, feelings should pass like clouds over the sun.

So I’ve been thinking about this feeling vs. emotion, happiness vs. “Happiness.”

I think the answer is in gratitude, and in just living. (Just. As if it’s just that easy.)

Even if we have lost something dear to us, we had it. And even if we lose something that matters, we have other things that we were once really grateful for and probably have still, and maybe keeping that in front of us, within us, can balance out the pain of what we’ve lost.

When I fell in love with my husband, I felt myself wake up after what seemed like a really long time spent walking around like a somnambulist. In all those years before I was doing stuff, I was productive, I was meeting my obligations, but it was all like playing a role in a really long play (Synechdoche, NY comes to mind).

I sent him this poem once, and had an acronym of the last line engraved inside his wedding band:

Siehe, ich lebe.
Weder Kindheit noch Zukunft werden weniger. . .
Überzähliges Dasein entspringt mir im Herzen.    (Rainer Maria Rilke)

Look, I am living.
On what?
Neither childhood nor future grows any smaller. . .
Superabundant being wells up in my heart.

I had it, which means I could lose it. But I had it, and because I had it once, I have it all still.

cheating, aka I should probably save this for tomorrow

My brother posted this recently on our family blog — the one we started right after we lost our second parent at the end of January.

I’m not a big fan of the musical style — a bit too much screaming guitars for my taste; but the words are powerful, and the images even more so. If you don’t like the music watch it with the sound off, and then read the poem.

I cry every time I watch it.

Life is short. Too short. Get out there and live it, and keep your eyes fixed on the sun.

Shake Me Down

Shake me down, not a lot of people left around
Who knows now? Softly laying on the ground,
Not a lot people left around.

In my life, I have seen people walk into the sea
Just to find memories, plagued by constant misery
Their eyes cast down, fixed upon the ground
Their eyes cast down
I’ll keep my eyes fixed on the sun

Shake me down, cut my hair on a silver cloud
Broken sound
Softly laying on the ground,
Not a lot people left around,

In my past, bittersweet, there’s no love between the sheets
Taste the blood, broken dreams, lonely times indeed
With eyes cast down, fixed upon the ground
With eyes cast down
I’ll keep my eyes fixed on the sun

Turn back, now it’s time for me to let go
Way down, had to find a place to lay low
Lampshade turned around into a light post

Walk around the corner, never saw it coming
Still I try to make a move, it almost stopped me from believin’
I don’t wanna know the future
But I’m like rolling thunder

Even on a cloudy day, even on a cloudy day
I’ll keep my eyes fixed on the sun

Shake me down
Not a lot of people left around

here it comes. . .

Since I quoted Fiona Apple yesterday, I listened to Extraordinary Machine and Tidal in my car today driving to and from my “big” gig.

Many great songs, many great lines, but the one that caught my attention, as it has many times in the past is:

Here it comes, a better version of me.

Such a layered line. Cynical voice comments:

  • Promises, promises.
  • What’s wrong with the present version?
  • Ah, yes, the continuing striving for self-improvement. Good for you.
  • Yeah, yeah, heard that before.

And it reminds me of what I’m writing about here.

When is what you see as your “issue” YOU, and when is it the rest of the world?

If other people misinterpret what I mean, or what I say, or the expression that I wear, is that my “problem,” or theirs?

When do I take advantage of “learning from my mistakes” and when do I take the lesson to be one of self-acceptance?

I spent a lot of years with my head down, trying to keep my mouth shut and the voices in my head* clamoring with all of the reasons I should be happy. What I’ve learned from it is that one should hesitate to pass a verdict on how “happy” one is, or how much of a “waste” a certain job or situation might be — because really, unless you’re dying, you don’t really know how it’s going to turn out, and if there’s a possibility that you might learn something valuable, or let something unfold, there might be something really really amazing this particular crappy situation is leading you toward, and you just can’t see it yet.

Now I’m certainly not saying that we should all sit around with our heads down and our hands folded — I only managed to find happiness by initiating a divorce from a kind and responsible man (with whom I had nothing in common, and for whom I still feel a great deal of affection and fondness); buying a house in a town I really wanted to live in; building a career that could support me and my family; and then eventually marrying the man I had been looking for in my 20s and had decided didn’t exist. A lot of upheaval, a lot of tears in pools on the floor in the back of my closet (I used to think this was just a line in a song, but I have actually done this, cried pools of tears; the good news is I haven’t cried in the back of a closet for at least 5 years),

Happiness, peace, contentment, joy, all need to be fought for; but sometimes the “fight” consists of waiting, and sometimes it consists of throwing everything you know into the air and reorganizing it all as it lands.

But EVERY day I will strive for a better version of me.

*I hope you all know what I mean by “the voices in my head.” I am not suffering from any diagnosable mental illness, although I have been heard on occasion to say: “The only difference between schizophrenics and the rest of us is that we know all of those voices in our head are ours.”

with a little help from Yeats. . .

A Coat

I made my song a coat
covered with embroideries
out of old mythologies
from heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
wore it in the world’s eyes
as though they’d wrought it.
Song, let them take it,
for there’s more enterprise
in walking naked.


I started a poem late last night, about an occasional wish to weave myself a new skin to wear — for those days when I wish I were someone else, when I worry that years of loss and disappointment and, well, just age, maybe don’t “hang” so well on my face; when I believe that the face I show the world does not reflect that which is really inside.

And dreams can be deceiving,
like faces are to hearts. . . (Fiona Apple)

My poem’s current state is a lot of snippets with nothing coherent to hold it together yet. But then I ran across this today, and it reminded me of it. So this will stand in its stead, at least for now.

talking with strangers

Husband claims that I can, and quite likely will, talk to anyone.

He also wonders, on occasion, if I’m not performing, just a little. Going for the big laugh, or maybe a little bit of extra attention.

The laugh definitely, the attention, maybe. (I am the 6th of 8 children; “Me! Me! Pay attention to me!)  (Hmmm, maybe it’s the other way around.)

But really I just enjoy talking to people.


I was looking through a catalogue once on an airplane, of flowers and plants. A striking, beautifully dressed, elderly woman was sitting next to me, and asked me if I liked to garden. We chatted about perennials and annuals and vegetables and butterflies, and when the plane was approaching our destination she reached into her carryon and brought out a beautiful tropical flower (hibiscus? gardenia? I’m afraid I don’t remember) that she had clipped from her garden as she left her Florida home behind to head north for the summer. This bloom was resting on a dampened square of paper towel and lovingly zipped into a ziploc bag. She handed it to me, with a sweet, gentle smile, “From one gardener to another.”


From when First Son was first aware of people around him until around preschool age, he was quite gregarious. Sure that everyone we met would be delighted to meet him, and to hear what he had to say. He walked smilingly up to a grumpy looking old man in a mall once, caught his eye and said “HI!” And the man grumbled at him, and turned away, and First Son looked both puzzled and completely crushed. The first time in his awareness that he wasn’t met with absolute welcome and joy.


I was waiting for the “accessories” battery in my car to be replaced today (the one that starts the car, and which has been failing me way too frequently and way too easily lately). It was taking a bit longer than I expected, and people were coming and going, ebbing and flowing. One woman commented, as another of the customers was brought the bad news (Ma’am, I hate to tell you, but your water pump is leaking. Oh, and by the way, your brakes are bad) that it was a bit like sitting in the waiting room at a hospital waiting for the diagnosis/prognosis. Then another started talking about her dogs, and her now-gay ex-husband, her daughters, her saggy neck. . .

It continued from there.

I was greatly amused.

We had a veritable kaffee-klatsch going, but without the coffee. (There had been a man there, but he had left; I think when I left there were 6 women in the room. It did give me the opportunity to quote the Morgan Freeman tweet: “Women pay attention to what they hear, and men to what they see. This is why women always wear makeup, and men always lie.”)(I did get the big laugh.)


I’ve been thinking all day about how easy it is to close ourselves off from people. People are inconsiderate on the road, inconsiderate in lines or blocking entrances into buildings or texting while you’re stuck behind them in auditorium seating so that you can’t get out while the entire rest of the audience gets between you and the exit door. We stop smiling, stop chatting, stop meeting people with the expectation that they will be happy to meet us; and there is so much to lose.

I’ve heard the joke made that “There’s only one kind of person I don’t like. . . (Wait for it). . . . Others.” And everybody laughs. But I think it’s maybe a bit more true for most of us than we would like, or at least than is good for society, although I suppose if you’re a complete and hopeless misanthrope, keeping to yourself might be better for everybody.

There was a study done recently, where a change in policy was presented in two different ways — in one description, it was good for YOU, your freedom, your choices, your liberty; in the other description, it was good for society. The one that is good for you always wins.

This doesn’t necessarily surprise me, but it does sadden and worry me just a little. Even questions regarding environmental policy, or gun control.

Maybe we don’t look out for, or to, each other because we don’t feel anyone is looking out for us.


I had a long and tedious and frightening recovery from head surgery 17 years ago. It was at least 8 weeks before I felt anything close to normal. I had few visitors to my hospital room, where I was stuck for a week; no meals delivered to my house by any friends or students or neighbors. My mom and one of my sisters came and helped for a couple of weeks. That was nice. My husband-at-the-time felt an incredible obligation to put his 10 hours in at work every day no matter what the situation was at home, and my sons were 3 and 6.

I have never felt so alone.


We need to reach out to people. Yes, sometimes it’s easier to stick our noses in our book or pretend to talk on our cell phone or not volunteer to help at the spaghetti dinner.

But think about what that costs.

There are people out there to talk with, to laugh with.

And who knows, (and even though it goes right back to the “but what’s in it for me?” question), they might even give you a gardenia.