Monthly Archives: August 2016

Zorba and the Weeds

The movie, Zorba the Greek, was introduced to the world in 1964. I was mesmerized by the music and the dancing and by Zorba’s passion and unbridled exuberance. Since then I’ve read the book twice and seen the movie again.

I used to play my Zorba soundtrack when I cleaned house. I found it’s utterly impossible to be in a bad mood when that music filled every room. In my mind I danced with Zorba — free and unselfconscious. While I was a little too buttoned up to let go and dance, absorbing the music was the next best thing.

Years later, when the stereo and the record were long gone, I could dredge up Zorba’s music most any time, even without actually hearing it. I could see Zorba dancing in the sand. My mood changed for the better immediately.

About a month ago, I ventured (with a little kicking and screaming) into the 21st century and am now the proud owner (and often frustrated user) of an iPhone. In a recent learning session, my son taught me to download music. Even after many years, he remembered how I loved Zorba’s music so that was my first download. Since then I’ve put other music and podcasts on my phone and am creating the habit of listening to such things when I go to the gym or work in my garden.

Today it was Zorba — all morning. I didn’t mind the weeds today. In fact, I hoped the weeds didn’t run out before the music ended. If anyone had been watching they might have wondered why I was smiling as I worked. You see, smiling is not the norm for me, under most circumstances. I suspect there was a spring in my step as well. My behavior this morning could have roused suspicions among my neighbors.

As it turned out, the soundtrack played multiple times while I worked. Actually it felt more like enjoying a cool summer morning in my backyard. Being with Zorba energizes me and removes my burdens. I want to be more, to do more, to have a bigger vision. Here’s a ponderable quote from the soundtrack:

Alexis Zorba: Damn it boss, I like you too much not to say it. You’ve got everything except one thing: madness! A man needs a little madness or else . .

Basil: Or else?

Alexis Zorba: . . . he never dares cut the rope and be free.

That’s what I like about Zorba. The madness. The vision to dream big. The courage to cut the rope.

With no doubt. No apology. Full steam ahead.

That’s the magic of doing mundane chores with Zorba. He expands my vision and bolsters my courage. He cheers me on as I cut the rope to set myself free. Then we dance together at the edge of the ocean.

Something holding you back?

Perhaps you need a little Zorba time.

Until next Tuesday . . .

Letters and More Letters

Back in the day, I wrote letters to my parents while I was away at camp or college or summer jobs and after I was married. I discovered a few years ago that Mother saved many of my letters.  The letters were filled with details of things I had long since forgotten — providing valuable information for my memoir. In turn, my parents also wrote to me, though I regret I saved few of them. We wrote everything in letters, putting pen to paper, every week.

My parents also wrote letters to each other, during their courtship from 1936 to1939. They lived less than 100 miles apart but neither of them had a car. They relied on the bus or train for weekends together. And due to the cost of long distance calls, phDSC00464one chats never happened.

Then my dad moved nearly 1000 miles away for a new job. Their engagement was announced shortly before he left.  They were apart for four months and the longer they were separated the longer the letters became. Pages and pages and pages, front and back, written with a fountain pen.

For most of my life I knew the letters were safely stashed in a steamer trunk, buried beneath her wedding dress and other vintage clothing. The letters came to my house when Mother relocated after Dad’s death. They remained untouched until years after Mother died.

I’ve spent the last six months reading their 300 letters, all in their original envelopes, complete with postmarks and stamps (3¢ for first class, 6¢ for air mail, 10¢ for special delivery). The amazing part is that both my parents saved all the letters they received, so their courtship story is nearly complete. They wrote of their work, their families, moonlit nights, the beach, their growing love, movies and concerts, boarding houses, rent, medical issues, every detail of their upcoming wedding, and their frustrations and hopes and dreams.

Three hundred letters in a box are just letters in a box. The reading is tedious, even though the handwriting is neat and legible. I’m typing them to make them accessible to my brothers and their children and grandchildren. I envision them sitting someplace private and becoming lost in the life that belonged to our parents long before we were born — just as Mother sat and read the letters again after Dad’s death. She needed to hear again his words of love and commitment written fifty years earlier.

I’ve been pondering during these months of letter reading and I wonder — what record of our lives will be left for our children and grandchildren? They only emails and texts that disappear with the push of the delete button and phone calls that vanish with the wind.

Writing letters takes time and effort — time and effort that tells the receiver they are worthy of your words on paper, folded, enveloped, stamped and mailed. Words they may need to hear again, long after they were written.

Until next Tuesday . . .



Fast Tracking

At my last piano lesson, Dr. B and I conversationally reviewed the status of my music before I actually played for him. “I’ve got the third movement of Ravel’s Sonatine, the second movement of Beethoven 109 — it’s memorized, I’m just trying to increase the speed — and I have three movements of the Grieg sonata — the last two I’ve only had a few weeks and I’m trying to memorize the first movement.”

“So, what shall we hear first today?” he asked.

“I have a question first,” I replied. “I want to know if there’s a fast-track way to DSC00192memorize music.” He looked a little quizzically at me, or perhaps he wasn’t sure exactly what I was asking.

“Have we ever talked about the different ways to memorize?” he asked.

“Yes, we did once.” He quickly reviewed them lest I had forgotten some.

“But memorizing, for me, is such a slow tedious process. I want a faster way to memorize.”

“Tell me what you’re doing now,” he said.

“Memorizing is a separate process for me, after I’ve learned the music. And in my struggle to memorize I also analyze the music, as a means of remembering it better.”

He nodded in agreement as I talked. “For me,” he said, “the music nearly memorizes itself while I am drilling on the notes.”

“That could happen for me, but it doesn’t,” I said.  “I’ve actually thought about trying to memorize while I drill but it’s like my mind can’t do two things at once. But some passages I have to memorize in order to play them at all.”

“So how do you memorize those passages?” he asked.

“I work on them a few measures at a time until I can play them without delays or searching for notes.” Again, he nods in agreement.

“What you’re doing is exactly the way to memorize. There is no fast track.”

No fast track. So much for my wishful thinking. So much for the silver bullet. So much for the miracle.

“When I’m drilling difficult passages,” I say, “I generally don’t think about memorizing them at the same time. Memorizing is what I do later. Perhaps I need to change my mind set; the same effort and time could accomplish two things. That might make a difference.”

“It might,” he said.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m always looking for ways to improve what I’m doing, whether it’s swimming, or painting, or writing, or reading. I was hoping Dr. B. had further enlightenment for me on the art of memorization. I wanted to skip the tedium, the repetition, the mental struggle. But, alas, he said there was no fast track. No easier way.

So it is with so many things we want to accomplish. We want to get there without the work. We’re impatient with the process. We often try shortcuts or believe empty promises, only to arrive at another disappointment.

“Work slowly,” Dr. B. said, “on the smallest amount of music you can memorize at a time — even if it’s just a measure or two. Then drill slowly.  Eventually you will get it.”

I know he’s right because I’ve done it before.

Stop looking for a fast track. Show up. Do your work.

You will get it.

Until next Tuesday. . .


On some days, on some very ordinary days, I lose my edge. I lose that part of myself that feels vital and alive and excited about the work I’m doing or the art I’m creating or the music I’m making or the conversations I’m having.  Some days there is none of that. Some days I’m wandering with no plan in mind, no direction to go, no work I want to do, and nothing I want to create.

It’s not that I’ve forgotten what I’m about. I still know. But I can’t get there on some days. I can’t engage with the projects or the people that energize me.

Perhaps you know such days.

Sometimes we need fallow time to rest and regroup and regather our energy and restore our vision.

Sometimes we need to step away from our “blinders on, full steam ahead” mode of working. Perhaps we need to check the scenery and our direction. We may need to assess our journey from our starting point to where we are now.

But sometimes we just drift, because drifting is easier . . .

  • easier than showing up and being present in our work
  • easier than putting out butt in the chair to practice our craft
  • easier than doing the difficult, too-hard things

When we’re in drift mode, we allow others to distract us and pull us off course. And we create our own avoidances for the very work that brings us life. Our list of excuses can be creative and long, rivaling the length of our grocery list.

The difference between fallow time and drift time is critical.  The first is restorative. The second is avoidance as we live in a robotic state, just going through the motions. Fallow time gives us perspective; drift time keeps us in a steady state far from the edge.

I like the words of Kurt Vonnegut:

I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.

He’s right. Edge living is not life as usual — safe, secure, predictable.  The view from the edge heightens our senses and sharpens our vision. Possibilities begin to play out in front of us. We see our work from a different angle. We ask: what if . . . and what’s next . . . could I . . .  A tinge of excitement stirs when we courageously look beyond the edge. And at that very moment our fears and anxieties and discomforts show up to sap us of what we might do or who we might become. Their mission is to keep us away from the edge.

Living on the edge means we won’t settle for life as usual. From our perch on the rocky bluff we snag a new vision, see other paths, consider a different venture, search the valley and the far horizon for opportunities.

Edge living is not for the faint of heart, the timid, or the fearful.

Edge living is for those who want their inner spark to burst into flame.

Until next Tuesday . . .


Today’s Birth

In his book, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet, Matthew Fox writes:

To choose life means to choose to give birth every day.

I read his words years ago and wrote them in my journal, lest I forget. The pondering begins anew whenever I re-read his words.

I focus on two words: choose and birth.

We know a lot about birth, especially those of us who have borne children.  But beyond that, perhaps we’ve witnessed the birth of a baby, the crocuses forcing their shoots through the frozen winter ground, the struggle to let our music or our words or our creativity come forth after decades of silence, the launching of nearly grown children, the creation of a different life after the death of a spouse, or the venture to new places and new experiences. All of these come with their own pains and fears and discomforts and uncertainties and anxieties. That’s the way it is with all births and beginnings. The process involves struggle and intentionality about growing into a new way of being.

Then there’s Fox’s word “choose.” Perhaps this is the most difficult and challenging of his words. To choose means I have to do something.  It means I can no longer be a victim of my circumstances. It means I can no longer blame others for the life I don’t have. It means I have to get off my physical or mental duff and do something different. To do otherwise is continue life as I have known it  — and miss the birthing, the becoming new. To “not choose” — because of fear or anxiety or discomfort — is also a choice. It’s a choice to avoid change and pain and not knowing.

The questions of this day are:

♦ What birth is waiting within you?

♦ What is preventing the birth from beginning?

♦ How long have you resisted the birth?

♦ What choice can you make toward beginning the birth?

As Matthew Fox says, to choose life is to choose to give birth every day. It’s up to you.

It’s up to you to make a different choice.

It’s up to you to make a change.

It’s up to you to begin anew — every day.

Show up. Do the work. Claim your life.

Until next Tuesday . . .