Monthly Archives: November 2014

Seaworthiness

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On a pale yellow morning, I watched the people sell their wares, wash their clothes, and perform religions rituals on the banks of the Ganges River.  I only knew this river from books, so I was surprised by its lack of magnificence and holiness; the wide tan water barely moved.

After sketchy negotiations with a boat owner, a friend and I ventured onto the river in a questionable rowboat. We prayed he’d return us safely in an hour.  Funeral pyres burned on the temple-dotted shore.  I kept watching the boat bottom for leaks.  Though an accomplished swimmer I wasn’t interested in swimming to shore in the muddy, though holy, water.

Back on solid ground I wandered the shore, pondering the sites, and taking photos lest I forget a moment of this experience. Beyond the crowds, I came upon another boat, one that must have been spectacular in its day. It must have traveled this river, it must have journeyed long, it must have carried people and animals to other places.  Now she sits abandoned on the shore, waiting to be robbed of her timbers while she rots into oblivion.

77230025But what if…

What if this boat is me?  What if this is the only vessel I have for my life’s journey?

No matter that it doesn’t look seaworthy.  No matter that others have sailboats, speedboats,  and yachts.  No matter that others have captains who know the way.

But what if…

What if I choose to journey anyway, even though I’m not ready, I don’t know the way, and my seaworthiness is questionable?

What if I am determined to travel, though it makes others uncomfortable? What must I do to begin my journey?

  • I will set aside my comparisons to others.  If I wait until I have a vessel like theirs or my imagined one, I will never begin my journey.
  • I’m checking my expectations.  Perhaps they are misplaced or unreasonable.  This boat, this river, this time are my only reality.
  • I will ready this vessel for the journey.  I’m taking buckets, duck tape, and chewing gum —  and setting out. Years in dry dock attaining perfection only delay my travel.

That  Ganges morning continues to impact my life nearly fifty years later.  I remember the water, the heat, the people, the aromas, the colors, the temples, and the boats.  The memories and photos trigger my learnings:

  • Holy is not always what you expect.  Be open to the unimagined.
  • You have what you need for your journey.  Don’t wait for perfection before traveling.

Until next Tuesday…

Who ya gonna blame?

We’re nearing the semester’s end in freshman music theory.  Dr. S is frustrated because half our class is failing.  In his other theory section half the class has an A average.

Last week Dr. S addressed us with the following:

  • Many famous musicians and composers never went to college to learn music.  But you have chosen an academic track for your musical education.
  • I have office hours.  Come by any time for help.
  • Free tutoring is available; take advantage of it.
  • Online sites can help you with music theory.

He ended with, “If you’re not learning, it’s your responsibility.”

He was factual and level.  His words sounded brutal, but he spoke the truth.

With over twenty-five years of experience teaching college music theory, he’s perplexed by our non-learning.

He reminds us frequently that he’s on our side; he wants us to learn and he wants us to pass. He reviews all pertinent information prior to homework assignments. He prepares us for quizzes, telling us exactly what we need to know. He makes the complexities of music theory seem easy, especially compared to our textbook.

And yet half the class is failing.  Five class sessions remain, including two assignments and one quiz, before the final exam.

I suspect Dr. S cares more about our progress than some of us do. But beyond Dr. S. who cares?  Who really cares?

Half of us are studying, engaging in class discussions, and receiving passing grades on our assignments and quizzes.  He’s not worried about us. The rest of the class is a puzzlement.

Perhaps the others are deluded by their own wishful thinking — that learning occurs by osmosis, or that staying awake and warming a seat in class feels like engagement, or that carrying the textbook around looks like studying.

During my own years of teaching and supervising, I realized that often only a few students or team members really cared about our subject or project. I yearned for everyone to care as much as I did.  Yet I never figured out how to make that happen.

Passion and caring come from a place deep within ourselves, that place of wanting to know more, to do better, to push into the unknown. Some of us are like the oyster who uses the irritant of a grain of sand to create a pearl. We experience our dissatisfactions as a call to action; we’re working to create our own pearls, our own growth.  Others of us work to remove or avoid the irritant so we can maintain our place of comfort, where little is required of us.

After pondering Dr. S’s comments for several days, I am acutely aware of his concern for our academic success and his inability to make it happen. The shortcomings are ours, not his.  My ruminations have gathered his concerns into three simple questions:

  • Are you satisfied with your situation or do you want something different?
  • Are you willing to own your choices that have brought you to this point?
  • Do you care enough to work toward change?

It’s up to you.  You can continue complaining about life’s inequities or you can put on your hip boots and slog through the swamp, determined to create a better place.

Show up.  Do the work.  Claim your life.

Until next Tuesday…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fence

Last Tuesday I awoke to sawing and hammering out back.

I dressed quickly, forgot my morning coffee, and began investigating.  As it turned out the fence that separates my yard from my backdoor neighbor was coming down.

No one asked me.  No one even told me. My world was changing without warning or permission.

I now have full view of the neighbor’s house, their back yard and heat pump and patio.  Because their house sits higher than mine, they can see straight into my living room and study.  No shades or blinds or drapes cover my window wall because I love the light — it’s the reason I bought this house.

The privacy I have treasured for the last year is gone.  My backyard and patio are tiny but the fence secluded my little corner of the world. My patio chairs cease to feel inviting.  The  squirrels no longer scamper across the fence top. The birds have no place to perch while they wait for their chance at the feeder. Even the ivy has been robbed of its climbing place.

I’ve since heard the fence was rotten — and potential home buyers don’t like deteriorating wood. I rather liked the fence’s weathered character on my side.

With every glance out my windows I dislike the view more and more. I seriously ponder my options, though I make no decisions.

Several days later, I awoke again to sawing and hammering. A new fence was going up, even taller than the last one.  Perhaps by spring its newness will have turned to wintered grey.

The view from my writing window has been restored.

Until next Tuesday…

 

 

Getting Started

What’s so hard about starting? About showing up? About putting pen to paper?

Writing non-fiction, specifically memoir, comes easily for me after many years of practice. Even though I’ve dabbled in fiction writing,  it is not my place of comfort. For me, writing fiction feels like I have to create something out of nothing.  While that’s not entirely true, it’s how I feel — and that feeling often keeps me from writing.

“And the earth was without form and void…” — my fiction is without form and void! I don’t know how and where to start.

Sometimes our creativity needs to be primed like an old hand pump — you have to pour some water in before you can pump water out.

This week, to get my fictional words flowing, I borrowed a sentence from Alice Munro’s Dear Life:

Of course it would have been quite different, my mother said, if they’d had children.

Then I practiced making her sentence my own by keeping her structure and rhythm but changing the context:

  • Of course it would have been different, my husband said, if they’d quit fighting.
  • Of course it would have been different, my brother said, if they’d never had Anna.
  • Of course it would have been different, my daughter said, if they’d moved away.
  • Of course it would have been different, my sister said, if they’d skipped school.
  • Of course it would have been different, my uncle said, if they’d joined the army.

Of these I chose the second one for my fiction writing.

Of course it would have been different, my brother said, if they’d never had Anna.

This single sentence raises a slew of questions:

  • What would have been different?
  • Who is your brother in relation to you?
  • Who are you?
  • Who are they?
  • Who is Anna?

A story is waiting to be told.  Questions need answers. With ponderings in the night and some butt-in-the-chair time an untitled story began to emerge.

* * * * *

Of course it would have been different, my brother said, if they’d never had Anna.

Anna.

Our sister, the one between us.

“Never had her?” I ask my brother. “How could they not have ever had her?”

“I just mean our life would be totally different if she weren’t here,” he says, twisting the quilt binding.  We’re sitting on his bed, just the two of us, trying to stay out of the ruckus downstairs with Mom and Anna.

“Yeah, but she wouldn’t have us, if she wasn’t here,” I reason.

“She wouldn’t even be, if she hadn’t been born,” he says, with his fifth grade logic.

“But babies have to be born,” I say.  “They can’t stay in the mom’s belly and never come out.”  That’s all second graders know about such things.

“I hate Saturdays,” he moans, “’cause we’re all home.  I’d rather be in school.”

“Me, too, but I don’t like school as much as you.  It’s too hard.”

“At least we get to go to school,” he says.  “Anna won’t ever be in school.”

“You mean she won’t learn about the Clue Crew or Fudge or add numbers or have recess?”  I say.

* * * * *

This is a work in progress so I’ve only shared the first page with you. Now there are even more questions begging for answers:

  • What does the brother’s upstairs room look like?
  • Why won’t Anna be going to school?
  • What happens with Mom and Anna on the weekends that makes life difficult for the other children?
  • Do the children interact with Anna?  If so, how?  If not, why not?

You get the picture.

Borrow from the experts.  Try on their style.  Use their words to get started.

It’s worth a shot.

Feel free to finish the story I started or borrow one of the other sentences.  I’m hoping you’ll share your creative efforts.

Until next Tuesday…