Repeat after Me: I Like You. I Love You.

Digital illo from a graphite drawing: Love Letter #14Maybe it’s the approach of the fourteenth of February that does it, but I seem to hear relationship talk everywhere I go these days. Maybe it’s because the university (where my husband teaches, conducts, and works alongside singers and musicians of every level both as students and fellow College of Music employees) is in the midst of vetting and hiring a wave of new musicians and administrators to fill in the blanks as faculty and staff move to other positions or retire. Maybe it’s simply because I’m always attuned to what works and what doesn’t, as a person whose relationships shape my life in every way. Very nearly all of them for the better, thankfully!

In any event, whether St. Valentine is listening in or not, it strikes me that there are a huge number of three-little-word combinations that make relationships tick. Some, sadly, tick like bombs about to detonate. Those that tick along like a well-oiled machine tend to avoid the trios of words that begin and end with “I” and “you” but have negatives in the middle, even if that’s what the parties are feeling is most realistic at the moment. “I hate you” or any variant thereof has little hope of communicating anything other than that the speaker is not equipped to reason out of a problem, and whether that arises from sheer, stubborn, stupid self-centeredness or from lack of experience and skills, it would be wise for any of us to attempt to learn and use the necessary tools for genuine two-way communication. The risk of not doing so is far higher than the implosion of that one relationship, though surely that alone should be reason enough to try. Every being with whom we share oxygen in our finite little lives has the power to bring richness and beauty to our existence, or to crush our very ability to see and experience such things.

I know that’s a mighty far-reaching claim, but think about it: every successful interaction or failure on your part colors not only your mood of the moment or day but your ability to rise up on the next ready for joy or expecting disaster. You, in turn, reflect this attitude on those others around you, and while that poison or elixir-of-happiness is rippling away from you in concentric, if eccentric, rings, it is passed along in ever-increasing circles that will always find their way back in one sense or another. Some name this Karma, some Luck, some Destiny, and some, The Golden Rule. But if you can’t pull up your socks and look trouble in the eye and take pity on it with a rational yet heartfelt conversation or ten, you’ve not earned your right to complain about it.

Rational yet heartfelt, I say.

It does no one any good to have a weepy, foot-shuffling, embarrassed, or even joyfully conciliatory moment of rapprochement, no matter how deeply felt, if it isn’t given clear thought and the foundation for future prevention of recurrence. It certainly won’t fix any damage to plan it all out and chart the full course of the détente if it’s insincere or only marginally acceptable to one or more parties to the agreement. If your heart’s not in it, take the time to figure out why—preferably together—and fix the underlying problems before settling the current dustup.

An old but tried-and-true way of saying what one can’t seem to convey coherently in the heat of an argument or when just overwhelmed with emotions is to write everything you’re thinking and feeling down, set it aside for a short period (preferably overnight), and come back to review it. Clarify, edit, and make it say as honestly and fully as possible how you’re feeling and why you think that’s so. Consider whether your partner—at work, home, or play—would be able to understand your view of things better if that essay or letter were in front of him or her. Have you presented your thoughts as calmly and factually as possible, no matter how emotional the content? Did you state things with fair ownership, making sure that it’s transparent to anyone that these are your feelings and interpretations of the situation and that you take responsibility for them? Can you speak without assuming that all of the blame lies either outside or inside yourself, but realizing that perhaps both parties might need to concede a little in order to have a meeting of the minds? Do you admit that you might not even meet in the middle all of the time, sometimes needing to be the one who concedes more ground and others, being met more than halfway? Are you obsessed with being right or 100% satisfied, or can you allow that someone else with a wholly different feeling or goal might be equally entitled to those different emotions, tastes, or wishes? If you can add those recognitions to the ‘document’ before you, why not do it.

Then read again. Is this something that, if shared in humility and a genuine desire to find common ground, could become the basis for a kinder, more thoughtful and productive conversation? Maybe you’ll even want to share it with your counterpart, but unless you promise yourself never to do so as an attack on your partner’s integrity, personal sense of  worth, and human value, think first about how you’d feel on the receiving end. Isn’t that the point, anyway? To find a way to understand how your relations feel and what you’d want if you were in their shoes? If it isn’t, then I’d venture that it’s not a real relationship but the desire to make someone meet your needs and wishes. A person seen as a toy or tool for your convenience and pleasure is not a relationship, whether it’s pragmatic or romantic to you or, no, you’re actually absolutely lacking in empathy.

You probably wouldn’t even be reading this if that last were true. The only exception I can imagine is if you’re interested in developing empathy, or mimicking it, and frankly, either of those beats going without, in my estimation.

So what is the real goal in relationships? I would say that it’s mutual benefit. What are the possible benefits? Endless. In a work relationship—office, school, community, organization—it’s the ability to be more productive as a result of combining complementary skills and knowledge or merely by virtue of doubling or further increasing the work force. Yet more: it’s also the ability to grow and succeed in the business at hand because the combined companionship and efficiency of a strong, smoothly working team allows more creative and meaningful thinking as well as better energy for the moment.

In friendship and love, I tend to think the goals needn’t be all that different. If romance or lust is the only commonality, for a minuscule few that might be enough, but for most of us it’s a relatively small part of the daily equation. Temperate, even affectionate, converse is a fine place to start and end. If our words are considered for their impact on the recipients, the respect for their beliefs and feelings, needs and wishes, they will not only effect a positive response but can reinforce the alliance and mutual admiration. It doesn’t matter if the language if flowery and poetic, or if the thoughts seem original.

What matters is that you are willing to say, consistently and regularly, some positive form of “I _____ you” to your partner, with modesty, commitment, honesty, patience, and kindness. What does your partner want from you? Most likely, the same basic things you want from your partner: respect, liking, sympathy, empathy, care for one’s well-being. I like you. I admire your intelligence, your beauty inside and out, your accomplishments. I respect your ideas, your hopes and dreams. I am sorry for your sorrows, even the ones that I can’t fathom because they aren’t obviously situational. I recognize that your pain and joy are real, and that I am a part of them. I had my feelings hurt, but I forgive you, and I crave your forgiveness in return when I’ve been thoughtless or foolish, too. I want to protect you from whatever you fear. I hope that you will always be confident in my faith in our partnership and that what I do will show my desire to make your life better. I value your opinion and will ask for it when I’m contemplating a decision. It affects us both! If all of that isn’t crystal-clear, I hope that you will always feel welcome to tell me your needs and desires and to ask me about mine and respond positively to them. I love you.

And whenever you can summon the courage to do so, say it out loud. Trust me, if it’s true it never gets dull. I like you. I love you. I wish you well in all things. I am thankful that you and I are partners in this. Life is good, isn’t it.

The Truth is…

Photo: We All Have Stories to Tell 2I am 100% honest and 90% transparent on my blog. But I write a lot of fiction, and I’ve been known to edit or doctor my work like crazy. I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive. Maybe it’s because the intent is never to mislead and deceive, only to get you thinking (differently, perhaps) or entertain you. Maybe it’s because my own thinking is a rare, if not unique, blend of optimism, idealism, pragmatism, logic, guesswork, paranoia, fear, distrust, problem-solving, hope, and magic realism. Maybe it’s only because I’m a big enough fool to believe that I’m being honest and transparent.

Maybe, though, it’s at least a reasonable assessment because I operate with the belief that anyone who reads my posts is clever or intuitive or discerning enough to tell when I’m inventing characters and storylines, when I’m being deeply sarcastic, when I’m illustrating for comical effect, and when I’m trying to be a straightforward documentarian. Even when I’m making up ludicrous fairytales and spouting jocularities while recording my own little adventures and misadventures, I trust my readers to imagine with me the underlying bits of fact, to spot the universal truths and throw out the chaff of willy-nilly silliness. Foolish? Oh, quite possibly. But I prefer to think I’m just cutting everybody the same slack I deserve, the assumption that we’re not adversaries trying to subvert or enslave or otherwise ruin each other but rather fellow travelers and potential compatriots on life’s wandering way.

By the same token, I expect others to grant me grace when I speak my views about the good and the bad in the world, about what I think are healthy and reasonable approaches to understanding and accepting differences and where I think it important to draw a line and say, I can’t accept that idea or action as having any positive or non-harmful purpose in a world populated with imperfect and fragile humanity. Anyone who can’t allow my opinion to go un-insulted is entirely free to leave the room. Press EXIT and don’t look back! But I haven’t had anyone feel the need to do so in a rude way, and that’s the blogging world I find worth operating in; when I go to sites and blogs, to Facebook pages or zines or any other sort of forum, whether it’s one that invites the sharing of ideas and conversations or it’s strictly a pulpit for one person’s views, I am glad to be free to come and go as I please and, if the topic is one that in any way displeases or bores or offends me, to quietly depart and leave the rhetoric to those engaged in it.

On the other hand, I know that there are many (including friends and loved ones) whose thinking and whose opinions and beliefs are so dramatically different from mine that I find it difficult to refrain from civil comments yet I hesitate to leave what I think are slanderous or libelous statements, patent falsehoods, or dangerously misinformed “Facts” and “Truths” standing without challenge, feeling as though I’m slinking off ignominiously and leaving a ticking bomb in the middle of a train station by not offering a clear counter-statement to it. It is not, however, in my nature to enter into debate, no matter how civil. I find it very hard to form and articulate my ideas in a way that I find satisfactory, and am easily cowed into silence by bluster or bullying from opposing viewpoints, so I nearly always tend to “let the Wookiee win” rather than engage in what I’m almost always certain will be not only a losing proposition as a discussion but ultimately, demoralizing for me. Mostly, I’m jaded by past attempts into sensing that those whose beliefs are both loudly and firmly held have no interest in hearing my point of view, let alone considering it as having possible merit.

I was struck by this yet again recently when I encountered a long string of posts from a casual acquaintance who took boldly opinionated stances on several different issues of politics, religion, and social policy that he not only conflated into all being essentially one large conspiracy of evil, crime-backed, world-destroying intent that just happened to, as far as I could see, implicate me personally because the nefarious network he was outing as so hateful included (by name) many people and organizations that I am convinced have quite different, if any, involvement in the acts and policies of which he accused them, and in most cases, act on and endorse things that I find hopeful, helpful, healthy, and humane. But I didn’t think there was the remotest chance he would be anything but dismissive and angry if I were to express the least of my views there. And I was equally sure that he would be hurt, mystified, and convinced that I am not only cozened by the evil empire he hates but probably a brainwashed agent of their horrible intentions of world domination and destruction. So I sit and suck my paws sadly and feel sorry that such divisive attitudes can just bulldoze me like a runaway tank.

It cheers me more than you might guess to return to my friendlier neighborhood here, to be able to speak my mind and show my little pictures where if anybody disagrees, they just share what interests them to share and move on. Where if they question my veracity or accuracy, they ask questions and/or offer useful corrections kindly and without reproach or personal attack. Yes, I make up all kinds of stuff and tell stories that have sometimes have more whoppers in them than any single Burger King franchise. But I never try to hide whether I’m talking sincerely or pulling anyone’s leg for entertainment.

Yes, I edit virtually every photo I post at least a little. But the very act of taking a photo is an editorial process: the photographer chooses what her audience sees, how much of it she sees, from what point of view, and so forth, before ever fiddling with the picture for further artistic or story-driven reasons. And further, in the instances when I’m not making digitally doctored artworks out of the photos for what I believe are fairly obvious illustrations rather than factual expressions, any alterations I do make are attempts to help the photos show what I saw and experienced rather than merely what my camera is capable of capturing and showing, at least given my paltry technical skills with it.

So I stick by my claim: I’m honest and transparent here. But it is my truth, my sense of clarity and my perception of reality that I’m sharing here. I know that nothing I say or do here will change the minds of any who disagree, nor will my posts save any little part of the world. If they save someone from a bad mood for a little while, that’s pretty good. If they somehow manage to make someone who does disagree with me think about what I might think or why, that’s pretty good even though I know my chances of changing a mind are negligible if any. And of course, I could be wrong. If all my posts do is allow me a dash of release while I exercise my creativity and try to suss out my own point of view a shade more clearly, that’s not such a bad thing either. If you’re still here keeping me company when the post is over, now, that is a fine thing indeed. And that’s no lie.Photo: We All Have Stories to Tell 1

You Say Metanoia, I Say Paranoia (Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off!*)

(*…and here I go abusing another great song lyric for my own humorous-slash-nefarious purposes…sorry, Gershwin boys!)

Eschatology, doomsday, survivalism, hoarding, isolationism, and prepper lists. I’d say that Americans are world champions at fear-mongering and xenophobia, but if I take the slightest look at the news I can see countries and territories everywhere that are also writhing in terror and pain over not only who owns what but who can have access to it, ‘earned’ or not. The very concept of countries and territories, of course, derives from the native human us-vs-them identification/classification that lends itself so easily to the fright, anger, and defensiveness (or offensiveness) that never fades when it comes to insiders, outsiders, patriots, infidels, and our whole complicated scheme of morality and ethics, never mind of property and propriety. The online world is a reflection of the IRL one.

While my own experience of online life—and I thank you all profusely for this—is entirely positive, full of thoughtful, generous, and creative community regardless of our differing backgrounds and opinions and experiences, some of those kinds of differences are expressed at times with more than a little assumption that our natural finitude as humans is coming to a corporate conclusion in the near future. Not just those near futures that are already past, those implosion-and-armageddon predictions derived from interpretations of the Mayan calendar or spiritual texts or the signs in NASDAQ trends that have sailed away into the mists of history, leaving relatively small ripples in their wake, there are always financial, political, religious, social, or natural predictors and people who interpret them to mean that the End is [VERY] Near and only those who are well stocked with the prescribed stuff and attitudes will survive and prevail. I certainly can’t prove otherwise.

You can find online guidebooks and lists all over the place telling you precisely how you should think, act, and stock up your bunker in order to be among the safe, comfortable few who rise above the disaster, whatever each author assures you it is. What is strikingly absent in 99% of what I’ve seen and read in these benevolent directives that purport to teach you how to outsmart and outlast everyone else is humanity. When it does appear, usually in reference to buying or bartering, it’s often assumed that anyone else who survives the disaster is no more peaceable or non-threatening than the author of the present document, who often lists guns and ammunition among the first items to stock in quantity and only much later, if at all, includes things like rice and beans, a kit of medical emergency basics, or sewing supplies. I find it somewhere between mystifying and hilarious that many lists I see are full of things like power generators from people who purport to favor complete and off-grid self-sufficiency, and pitiful that highly processed fuels designed for machine use come to mind as people are compiling these lists far before they get around to mention of fishing gear, garden tools, cookware, or books, the latter of which are often specified only as the guidebooks that were written to prepare for previous world-ends that never happened.Digital illo from a photo: Metanoia or Paranoia?

All I can say in response to this sort of thing is, how sad. Wouldn’t my first and best hope be to find comrades and build communities of support? To rediscover the simplest and least dangerous tools, techniques, and materials for living that will secure us, feed us, clothe and shelter and comfort us? And especially, to find endless ways to make music together, ways to grow, strengthen, and enhance the ties that make us able to respect and care for one another, to find joy and hope and love, in whatever new version of reality we find ourselves occupying. Yes, that above all. It will seem idealistic and futile to those who are busy preparing themselves for all-out/all-in war and a last-one-standing universe, but that’s a world in which I do not choose to exist anyway, and if I am to continue, I will only thrive in a world where idealists still do live and love and the known best survival tools are information and communication, the best skills diplomacy, empathy, and compassion.

I Wish…

If you spend any time here, you already know how I fear any political, religious, social, or philosophical position that claims to have all of the concrete answers about who we are, what our purpose is for existing in the first place, and how we are supposed (or not) to accomplish it all. I, limited in my capacity as I will readily admit to being, cannot fathom how there would be any point to having invented creatures with brains and character like ours let alone the will and sense of individual privilege and/or responsibility that we humanoids have, if the astonishing Force that invented us didn’t expect us to actually use all of those incredibly complex and admittedly imperfect attributes to find our way forward from birth to death, from initiation to completion. That we are here as a hugely diverse populace rather than as one or two measly individuals says to me that it takes a whole colorful, widely differentiated, bunch of us to have any hope of getting the job done. Whatever the job really is.

I long for the day when the wider world will get tired of telling each other how a “normal” person must look, feel, and think, or what is “natural” and acceptable in one’s sense and definition of self. These judgements are based on generalizations that fit remarkably few with exactitude; the Sun King‘s male courtiers and any number of Victorian era boys grew up wearing frilly little white gowns very like their sisters’ and were no less, or more, likely to be LGBTIQ as a result; high heels and cosmetics and elaborate jewelry and clothing haven’t been exclusively feminine accoutrements from very early recorded history onward, any more than it was ever true that only men could build houses or repair cars, or farm, hunt, and fish. No gender or sexual orientation predetermines what one loves or is good at doing or automatically consigns the person to any magically specific role in the universe, any more than there is any clear rubric in any of the literature, scientific or religious, that I’ve read or heard discussed that proves to me with any conviction that our bodies are and must remain our destinies.

While not a scholar or living exemplar of Christianity by any measure, I did grow up in a mainline Christian household and do a reasonable amount of reading and study over the years, enough to convince me that anyone claiming to be a Christian but promoting the idea that any race, sex, age, intellect, or social status confers special Goodness and sanctity (or the reverse) upon anybody has conveniently forgotten that, according to what Biblical and historical records anyone has, Christ was not white, clean-shaven, conformist, English-speaking, well-behaved (according to the standards of his day and community), immune to anger and other human failings, or unwilling to consider the value, even the occasional urgency, of change in the longtime beliefs of his compatriots. I certainly didn’t see any injunction of his to Go Forth and Hate Others.

While not willingly a declared member of any political party—I suspect lots of politics have little or nothing to do with the good of the ruled masses—I consider myself a very tiny step left of center. Yet I don’t doubt for a second that anybody who assessed my lifetime’s voting, let alone the details of my actual personal views, would gladly challenge my self-definition, thinking themselves obviously more liberal, more conservative, more centrist, or more what-have-you, than I am. I don’t find much use in any of the labels so often applied for political recognition these days, any more than I do religious ones, social or cultural or intellectual ones. We are who we are, and I can only imagine we’d do best if we simply acknowledge it, try to keep learning, and move forward.

What a lot of pointless, counterproductive hangups and sorrows we design for ourselves. I think, wish, and hope we can, could, and should instead be experiencing the true Normal and Natural of differing and disagreeing without hatred, uniqueness without fear, and love and compassion without boundaries. Including the bounds of my own shortcomings.

Digital illo: Psycho-delic

Somewhere, rainbow or no rainbow…we might find a meeting point in a better place in human history. We’re wonderfully, wildly different. But different can be a great thing, if you ask me.

Short & Sweet

Digital illo from photos: Dark Waters

Waves of sorrow will pass soon enough…

The interlude between uneasy emergency-room visiting and the expected, probably not too fun, Expulsion of a certain little hunk of rock from the Paradise of my innards is a brief one, but it’s amazing how lovely it is to feel pretty good in between times. The stone has kindly opted to not move during this intervening couple of days, and I am grateful! It meant, among other things, that I felt well enough to deal with a heap of post-hospital laundry, tidying up the general wreckage of a house neither of us has been free to visit much in the last week, and just admiring how lovely it is to have an ordinary day. I fully intend to be a poster child for pain-free, speedy resolution to kidney stone fun, but I have to be fair and say that I’ve already had about the shortest and easiest passage through this little form of bedevilment anybody could have. And I am cognizant, more than ever, of how incredibly fortunate I am not to face the chronic or the deepest forms of pain.

Remind me of that when I’m whingeing about my suffering later. Because, being human, and being a pretty unspectacular specimen of the species as it is, I will. I apologize in advance. But I really, truly, and with all of my heart thank everyone who has been so stupendously kind and supportive when I do get all misty-eyed over my supposed sorrows and tribulations, because it’s you who make any and all of it bearable. And keep it, despite my foolish self-centeredness, in perspective.

Joy for the day!

Digital illo from photos: Time to Make Waves

Let the happiness and love wash over us all!

My Word on It

Photo: Early MusicBEMF. Road trip. Wedding. Dad’s Day. Arguments. Home. Adventures. “I love you.”

What do they all have in common? One word.

Family.

I’ll bet you were going for: Love. And of course, you would also be correct, because that’s the very definition of family for me, as you well know. It’s not biology; it’s not pedigree and legal contracts and historical ties. It’s love. And love is not, for me, dependent on any of the aforementioned characteristics and descriptors, though it may—and I hope it does—have a close relationship with them more often than not. It’s respect and trust, support and kindness, even in the middle of stress and disagreement, illness, injury, confusion, and chaos. I am so very, very fortunate and blessed and grateful to find myself in the midst of an extraordinarily big, rich family network that comprises biological and legal relatives, yes, but also much more than that: a wide range of dear friends and comrades who are more than mere acquaintances or colleagues can ever be, each one tying me further to the next.

BEMF [the Boston Early Music Festival] was the beginning of the most recent two-week series of family events for me and, as in my previous times there, a joy from start to finish. As an arts event, it has very few peers in the world, being a week-long gathering of superb artists and dedicated audiences who converge for the love and celebration of Early Music and all of its many concomitant delights and beauties, all in a magnificent city. This biennial visit was a typically lovely one, starting with the gathering of our Early Music family from around the continent and overseas, especially the wonderful singers, players, producers, conductors, and other aficionados of the genre; they hailed from the university where my spouse works, well-loved Canadian spots, and many of the states and companies in which we have connected with such marvelous people. On arrival in Boston, we settled into our rented digs with a pair of our dear adopted kin and began the week with the rehearsal and performance of the university’s Collegium Singers and Baroque Orchestra friend-colleague crew whose concert was the impetus for the BEMF visit. And a wonderfully successful one, at that.

What followed was a week packed with beautiful music of all kinds set into the interstices between superb performances of the trilogy of Monteverdi operas and his 1610 Vespers, one of the most significant and exquisite foundational parts of the whole Early Music oeuvre and experience. The weather treated us all remarkably kindly, the food was as always inviting, varied, and delicious, and the historic and aesthetic pleasures of the city and immediate area renewed my love of being a happy observer and tourist there.

Next came renting a car and road-tripping to the Maine and Connecticut coasts, places I’d never been before and my partner, not in many years. Wandering gorgeous little towns and seaside regions like Brunswick and Bowdoinham, Maine, and Stonington and Mystic, Connecticut, and all sorts of big and little cities and towns around them with little specific agenda other than the rooting out of great seafood and scenery (more about both will surely follow here in many posts to come) was great post school year stress relief and entertainment in large measures. Spending time simply meandering in the wonders of the American northeast with my beloved, even better. A great time to reinforce why I love the guy so much and feel immeasurably blessed to live with him for the long run.Photo: Traffic Jam

Was there stormy weather and bad traffic in our two-week outing? Yes, both real and metaphorical. Nature dictates the occurrence of these things around us, and human nature, within us. We’re all designed to need rebooting from time to time, if not a good boot in the booty. Just before heading home after the whole two-week extravaganza of beauty, wonder, love, happiness, and unbelievably good things, I got into an argument with my most beloved spouse—really angrily, ridiculously angrily. Over absolutely nothing. We were both very tired, at the end of a whole school year of huge commitments and busyness plus two weeks of (great and glorious fun notwithstanding) travel and social events and the demands inherent in both, and knowing we’d come home to huge lists of chores and catch-up tasks for both of us.

I’m not lying when I say we are not a fighting couple. But we do disagree, and frequently. One friend cheerily calls us the Bickersons for our style of daily communication, and I’m sure is not entirely feigning his worry that we’re going to don boxing gloves and just duke it out any minute, being an equally balanced pair of supremely stubborn and finicky people. Most of the time we equably agree-to-disagree, because what we do argue about is virtually always, as in the above case, nothing. Often, it’s mere semantics, each of us saying pretty much exactly what the other is saying but in such different personal language that it sounds like we’re worlds apart, and when we really are on different pages, it’s not about anything crucial to the foundations of our marriage. We share our core values, no matter how the day is going.

So by the end of the hour yesterday, tempers cooled down, and by today, I was firmly reminded that I would do well to keep my trap shut long enough to realize how petty and pointless the disagreement is before wasting any energy on arguing a non-point. I never feared that we didn’t still love each other or that a grave emergency was going to occur if he didn’t see the light and agree with me forthwith, but you’d not have guessed that from the way I was talking. How silly of me, and how pointlessly rude. How sorry I am.

I’ll at least give myself the concession that this is how things go sometimes with those we love the most, our family. We put on the proverbial boxing gloves because we love and care too much to just stomp off into the sunset and never get back to I’m Sorry and I Love You. It hurts, yes it does, to argue, and perhaps the more so pointedly when I know in my heart it’s over something idiotic and meaningless, but I suppose it’s far preferable to not having enough passion to vent and relent.

This misadventure was followed by not only reconciliation but remembering that it was, of all things, Father’s Day. We weren’t in one place (with cell reception, anyhow) long enough to call our two fabulous dads right on the day and give them the fervently felt thanks and love they deserved on the occasion—though, arguably (no pun intended), we could have made a pretty quick call to at least one in the time we wasted arguing. Being longtime family members of the truest sort, Dad W and Dad S will undoubtedly forgive our tardiness and just be glad we get around to calling tonight with belated greetings for the occasion. They are both past-masters at the whole Real Love thing, anyway.

Which brings me back into the middle of the story. I haven’t forgotten that way back in the first line of this post I mentioned a wedding. It was the excuse for our road trip after leaving Boston…why fly home to Texas and then back north within a week if a week’s holiday in between beckons? It was also, and no surprise, one of the clear and dazzling highlights of the whole fortnight’s expedition. Two other dear members of our extended family (both former students of my spouse’s) now uniting in the contract of marriage, in a fairytale sort of wedding held in the bride’s parents’ garden where the long threatening rain consented to abeyance, not because to do otherwise would have been a crime against the sweetness of the day but because it was probably more appropriate that the tears being shed were all joyful ones by various members of the wedding party and fond attendees.

There was visual gorgeousness throughout, just as with last year’s wedding of another such pair of adopted-kin sweethearts that took us to Puerto Rico, and as in that instance, also perfectly thought out and enacted to fit and represent the couple in question. The settings were spectacularly prepared, music exquisitely performed by musicians near and dear to the marrying couples, the wedding parties looking like some kind of ethereal Hollywood-designer versions of how wedding parties usually look, and the after-parties a couple of ones guaranteed to be recounted for ages by everyone who attended. And the friend who performed the marriage ceremony for this week’s bride and groom, for whom I am told this was her first such duty, spoke simply and eloquently in the most appropriate of ways for the occasion.

The centerpiece of her brief address of the bride and groom was recognizing their deep and remarkable commitment to family. To the community of care and comfort and love found in people who have chosen each other and stand together willingly, if not willfully, through thick and thin. Those present on the day were a clear part and example of this way of life. And it was impossible not to respond in kind, to acknowledge the connection and delight in it, and promise together to continue to seek it out.

I promise. You have my word on it. That word, you know—Family.Photo: The Family Dance

Motherly Love

It’s no secret that I love my mothers. I post about both the wonderful woman who carried me into this world and raised me and the marvelous woman who joined in mothering me when her son and I became partners for life. No amount of Mother’s Day posts, no matter how heartfelt, can tell anyone who doesn’t already know it how important these two superb people have been, and will always be, in my heart and in my daily existence.

Even telling you that I had to compose this post entirely from scratch twice, thanks to the joys of hiccuping technology, and was still willing to do it, can’t convey the height and depth of my affection and respect, of my love for them both. Though, if you know how technologically inept I can be, the latter might come close.

I’m here, though, to say thanks not only to Mom W and Mom S, with sincere gratitude and delight, but also to the innumerable stars in the sheltering sky of motherhood. Those who conceived (with a bit of help) and carried (with, or without) children and raised them from infancy. Those who have raised, or helped to raise, others’ children. People of all ages and socioeconomic levels; the educated and the self-taught; the mild-mannered and the most colorful characters on earth. Nature doesn’t guarantee aptitude or attitude, nor does nurture: like many people raised by outstanding, wise, and loving mothers, I did not feel the call to motherhood as a biological imperative myself, and of course many who do are not granted the opportunity.

I think men can mother. Youth can mother age. Persons with no genetic or legal relationship can mother. Anyone with the commitment to bettering the lives of those around them who may have a moment—or a lifetime—of need may be motherly material. I think that the truism “it takes a village to raise a child” isn’t far off the mark, but might be interpreted more broadly than some would do. History has handed us so many examples of familial bonds and gifts that extend far beyond an individual marriage or household or lineage that it surprises me we don’t celebrate the motherly instinct in any and everyone who is willing and able to exercise it for the good of others in their life’s path.

So I say Thank You with my whole heart to my beloved mothers. And I must add my deep appreciation, too, to every next-door mom, teacher mom, sports team coach mom, lady at the local convenience store mom, psychiatrist mom, librarian mom, delivery truck driver mom, classmate mom, and dive bar mom who ever counseled, taught, comforted, held, humored, read to, chastised, fed, and showed patient kindness to the rest of us when the time arose. My “village” has been a grand one, and good mothering is one of the best reasons it is so.Photo: To Mothers of All Kinds

Full Medical Coverage

I told you that I’ve had medical stuff on my mind lately. One of the reasons is that, among my collection of Adjunct Sisters (you didn’t know that was a Thing, did you? It is, and a very important one at that.), one member is battling a disease I’d never even heard of until her doctors diagnosed her: Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) or Devic’s Disease. Not funny, as you can tell if you look at the link. But the lady I know who is learning firsthand what that ugly condition is, she is funny. She’s fabulous in so many ways, and not least of them is her wildly adorable sense of humor, one of the many characteristics that has endeared her to our family since she joined the gang years ago as a friend and sometimes college-roommate of both of my younger sisters and laughed and loved her way into the whole family’s hearts.

So when I send her love and “advice,” since I am ill (no pun intended)-equipped to offer her anything of medical value, I try to give her, if not a belly laugh, at least a little smirk of silliness to help distract her way through the tough times. Today’s topic was medical masks and the myriad purposes they can serve. Perhaps those of you undergoing health challenges of your own can benefit from this utterly useless but well-meant meandering as well. And I do mean well. Forthwith! Here’s what I sent her today:

I think you know that Sister #3 is sharing your email updates with the other three of your sisters here, and I hope that you don’t mind terribly, because it’s so important for all of us to know what’s up with you and what we can be studying on your behalf and all of that. And of course, keeping you extra tightly in our arms, interwebbian though they may be. At least the latter makes us sound like friendly aliens, which of course is exactly what we are. You’ve known that all along.

Rituxan [the treatment proposed by her medical care team], as I understand it, is a chemotherapeutic drug. With that, I would guess it means that the intent is to kill off targeted invasive tissue, like those lesions of yours. I would also assume, especially with the liver toxicity warnings, that it means your immune system will be working extra-extra hard while you’re being treated, so I say, don’t be shy about watching out particularly vigilantly for your own health and protection during all of this time, whether it’s fending off a “mild” cold or dealing with any infusion side effects. Go ahead and take any old extreme prophylactic measure if your mood or the occasion warrants it.

Those who love you can and will support you in this adventure of yours if you let them learn how to be truly on your team by keeping them as informed as they can handle; I’m betting that those who do care about you deeply know or guess much more than they let on both that this is serious business and that it’s very stressful for you. No doubt everyone has frustrations and impatience that are surely exacerbated by seeing what stress you’re under. I can’t imagine there are too many parents, for example, no matter what the relationship with their kids, who don’t get a little extra crazy when they think their child is under attack and they can’t do that much about it.

As for protection, I can’t speak to the medicinal side of it, but I can offer my two (or two hundred) cents about some practical/tactical issues for protecting yourself from a few flying germs, and possibly, from a few unwanted attentions during the treatment and recovery process. Or how to get more attention, if that’s what you need.

In one word: masks. Medical masks aren’t as commonly used in the US as they maybe should be when what’s floating around us in our breathing air—whether of our making or someone else’s—poses a danger. Asia has been much more forward-thinking on this particular medical front, having had a couple of national crises with flus and other public health problems that resulted in some remarkably fashionable fashion shows, cultural events, and general public expressions of the usefulness of the mask.

A quick web search offers a wide range of options in this regard, and you may choose to consider using some of them either merely while hanging around in the clinic or hospital where you get your doses of Rituxan or as ways to visibly express your current state of being so you don’t have to make constant update reports to everybody when you’re already tired.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 1 If you want to go classic, there’s always the familiar rectangular style but with the slight upgrade of some dainty pastel colors for a little fashion flair. The shape and texture tell me that if you want to go classic but super cheap you could always find some vintage style maxi pads and tie them on around your head. This would, of course, have the bonus effect of startling others into leaving you alone.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 2

For the classic style with, well, more style, you can find lots of fashion prints online, or you could do as has many a stylish stagecoach robber or gang member of yore, and use your standard medical mask with a bandanna or scarf artfully covering it. This could provide an added benefit in making the nice people at the admitting desk respect you more, and possibly feel compelled to offer you a sudden, steep discount on your treatment, although eventually this latter effect could be hard to defend in court if the security cameras in the facility happen to show you in a poor light.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 3

Perhaps a more glamorous treatment of the above effect, and with good germ-averse coverage as well, this little combo can instantly turn you into the health-conscious chef/superspy you’ve always dreamt you could be.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 4

While designed to wear one at a time, these babies have the obvious secondary option of being combined as a uniquely-you bra or swimsuit after you’ve recovered from your illness, and for those of the younger set, the advantage of those screw-top central covers for infant-nursing convenience. Or a hot new pole-dancing uniform, should that be preferred.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 5

Sometimes just affecting a more cuddly mien (or meow) can help one to feel more cuddly. A touch of ‘kawaii,’ that delicate cuteness our Japanese friends treasure so deeply, could be just the solution. Hello Kitty is a good choice, although I personally would endorse the Hello Miss Kitty line in deference to my favorite writer-artist.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 6

There are lots of other cute options out there if you like the idea of others comforting you with a gentle pat on the head or scratch behind the ears, or perhaps a handful of immunity-boosting kibble.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 7

When you’re finding it hard to smile and put on a show of concern for your normal beauty regime, you can opt for the Marilyn look. Whether you choose Monroe or Manson is up to your taste and your mood, naturally.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 8

Other expressions may be more appropriate for some occasions than others. I like the bronze hat with which this is shown, as you can use it to bonk people over the head smartly if they should refuse to respect your feelings with appropriate alacrity. An alternative version of the hat would of course be one like the legendary bowler sported by Oddjob, who knew how to handle disrespect very directly and succinctly as well.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 9

Perhaps a little facial hair would serve to embolden you or divert attention from your sense of feminine vulnerability? Here’s your mask!Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 10

For those who might prefer to project other ideas than mere germicidal ones, there are numerous elegant choices on the market. Or the black market, depending on how other those ideas may be. The shaven head is not only a good-looking addition to this particular mask format but also offers an excellent location for attaching a temporary thought balloon if you have something on your mind but aren’t sure just how to say it aloud.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 11

Just want to embody a fierce opponent to your symptoms? Or to the nosy parkers who insist on offering medical advice like mine? A good wild beastie muzzle is sure to get you fired up and ready for battle.Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe 13

And you should never underestimate the versatility and expressive power of a full face mask, if you want nothing more than to keep your real facial expressions to yourself, along with the veil of separation from the viral vicissitudes of the world. A traditional Plague Doctor mask can be ideal for some persons, but there are numerous other beautiful variants out there. Photo: Jill's New Wardrobe, No. 12

This one comes complete with eye patch in addition to the full-face coverage, a plus for optical injury and illness care, and remarkably self-explanatory facial presentation that says, “Yes, I’m feeling Fabulous, thank you, and I do so appreciate your contribution to the beauty of my day today!”

Well, that’s enough high-powered medical advice for today. If I can ever be of actual support, I hope you’ll let me know, but in the meantime, I wish you amazingly speedy and thorough healing, and lots of love and laughter along the way. All of you!

Dear Ones All

Photo: Bouquet of the Day 1I have my own Theory of Relativity, and I hope you’ll find it useful, too, as you grow from the tiniest curl of humanity to a venerable old woman. No claim of scientific knowledge here, only an observation on what I think really matters in my small corner of the universe: relationships between people.

Relationships, regardless of economic or social, religious or political status, can be begged, borrowed, and bought; they can be stolen, stumbled upon, forced or freely given; there are also, of course, the clearly genetic sort or the biologically driven. All are valid, and many of them necessary, but none of those fully encompasses the best of what I think defines Family.

For starters, none of those aspects can guarantee a relationship’s ultimate failure or success. Human connexions, like living creatures, can suffer from Failure to Thrive, whether through damaging acts or events or mere neglect. Estrangement is, I think, the perfect name for a lost relationship: what was familiar has somehow changed, become alien. Whether birth, common interests or goals, affinity, or contract is its basis, a relationship can still fail. Or it can flourish.

Family is, for me, the height of relationship, the pinnacle of human interaction. Bloodlines, religion, and legal bonds don’t own it. My view of the ideal, when it comes to family, is that it should spring from an ongoing will to maintain and foster the connection; just keeping it plugged in is useless unless all involved see that it’s well-oiled, reboot it when in need, and occasionally, polish it to a high gleam and rediscover its original beauty.

In my heart and mind, family as that highest form of relationship is an earned status, a privilege. If it doesn’t work in mutuality, with both parties contributing, it’s a different sort of transaction. I don’t see it as a constantly equal balance; in fact, the level of need versus the level of resource and capability in any individual varies greatly over time and situational changes, and the more people in the equation, the more the possible iterations. Sometimes the crisis is virtually universal, everyone called to extraordinary service for each other’s good. The established bond helps bridge those gaps between need and sparse resource in the moment. Happier times and better circumstances, when life is more gracious again, will replenish the void for more balanced give-and-take in days to come. Ebb. Flow.

The crucial elements in all of this have, for me, much more to do with respect, mutual values, friendship, and delight in one another’s company than with lineage, contracts, or societal expectations. I’m a rarity in having both born relatives and married ones that do meet and surpass my standards for true family. Further, I’ve a remarkably expansive extended family, acquired over the years through shared ideas and experiences and the love and respect that grow out of them. I know that with all of these joys, I’m beyond blessed. I have a world-sized circle of good people, both related by DNA and not, surrounding me and, through that, one of the largest and most wonderful of familial relationships possible. I’ve spent years discovering just how wide caring arms reach to embrace me, and how deep open hearts’, minds’, and hands’ resources go, regardless of physical proximity, when anyone anywhere treats me like family.

It is a wonderful world, my beloved, and there is always room in it for more like us, if you are willing to take on the role and cultivate the larger Family too.Photo: Bouquet of the Day 2

Singing Our Song

Photo + score cover: Singing Our Song: Rach Vigil

The original ‘our song’ I shared with my true love, because he was in the midst of rehearsing his choir for its performance when we came together—so intensely rehearsing, in fact, that in pretty much the only time I’ve ever known him to talk in his sleep, he whispered dreaming sweet nothings to me in Church Slavonic. Good times!

The expression ‘they’re singing our song’ refers, generally, to recognizing a tune or lyric that carries particular personal weight for a pair or occasionally, slightly larger group of people. It’s our school’s version of Alma Mater, the theme song of our organization, the song that accompanied a memorable first date, first dance, first kiss. Because of its power as a connective tool in communication and in recollection, music is bound to evoke potent responses and pull us into the examination of them, regardless of their current context. I’m one of that lucky class of people for whom music is a pervasive and positive element of my daily life, but I still have some specific favorites not only for what I find appealing about them musically or in their mood, style, and character—and yes, those range pretty widely—but also for the few that stand out in mnemonic and sentimental ways.

There are songs that reconnect me instantly with my childhood, something I suspect is quite a different experience for the younger generations than for mine and earlier ones. Until my youth, childhood songs came not exclusively from radio, films, television, and other distant, anonymous, fixed, or recorded sources but first from the relatives, friends, and teachers who shared them with us and often expected us to sing along. When my family sang in the car on a road trip, it might have sometimes been along with whoever was singing or playing the radio’s pre-packaged tunes, but as often as not it was singing folk songs we’d learned by rote, silly playground songs and game-narrative ones, bits of summer camp songs, rounds, and easily harmonized songs that were popular long before I ever stretched my little pipes to sing. I don’t imagine there’s so much of a lingua franca of family and playground singing not derived from Disney scores and downloads nowadays. There’s lots of delightful and even sophisticated stuff in those, to be sure, but I would guess that there’s a whole lot less that would be in any way distinguishable as historic, traditional, or regional, let along cultural, landmark music that’s just sung for fun anymore unless it’s loaded with undercurrents of market- or message-driven content. Is Mrs. Grady‘s daughter even known, let alone adored, by anyone under a half-century of age anymore?

It’s not strictly old-lady cantankerousness or being prudish, prune-ish, and nostalgic for what may be rose-colored memories that makes me sad for this sort of loss, though there are assuredly elements of those. It’s also a bit of longing for the subtle societal glue that resides in knowing a song: if I spontaneously start to sing an “old familiar lay” under my breath, will there be anybody within earshot who will hear, remember, and join in the song? Are all such endeavors relegated to prearranged flash mobs now? I had a couple of reminders of this urge, recently, and they renewed my quest for an expanded casual-singing culture of the kind that doesn’t require sets, costumes, death-defying choreography, and Auto-Tune.

The first such occasion was, unsurprisingly, in a church setting. Western churches of many sorts are still places where communal singing is common and many songs known to many of the participants by heart. I was at a Protestant church service where, as is typical during communion, the church choir sang anthems and the congregation then sang a hymn or two as well; when the high attendance at the service made communion stretch far longer than expected, the experienced organist got right on the task of keeping the flow going by playing an old hymn. After a few seconds, choristers started softly humming or singing the lyrics along with him, then grew bolder and harmonized, and gradually a number of congregants in the pews were joining in as well. It was really quite sweet, and I certainly thought it perfectly appropriate to the whole concept of a Communal event. But even there, I quickly realized, the truly familiar old hymn couldn’t quite be carried in the old way, because even the choir members clearly only knew one verse by heart, and while it was a lovely bonding experience for everyone, it was fleeting; at the end of Verse 1, a collective dive for hymnals to search for the words (what’s that eponymous first line, again?!), then the resignation to repeat the first verse or fall silent.

Another reminder came in one of the places where such random burst-into-song things do still exist beyond the borders of the performance hall but are perhaps not exercised as often as they used to be: a choral convention. The regional and national gatherings of musicians devoted to choral music—the composing, conducting, rehearsing, singing, performing, and yes, enjoyment of music made for groups of singers—are a great source of education, entertainment, and vivifying energy for me as the partner and follower of a choral musician. And even at these, it’s not as though I hear people breaking into song together, unless they’re rehearsing to perform for each other. Attending an enormous regional musicians’ convention recently, followed ten days later by an equally huge national one, was both exhausting and energizing. And at such events, I don’t often find people gathering to sing together outside of the so-called All Sing sessions, which are of course organized, arranged, led, and regulated nearly as much as any choir’s regular rehearsals.

The point of such conventions isn’t necessarily to build ‘casual relationships’ with singing. But mightn’t it be a fine thing, really? I would guess that the expectation that singing just because, at unplanned moments, with other people, could in fact lead not only to greater interest in and better understanding of more formal choral experiences but also to a more connected social world than social media alone can provide. As the 1971 Coca-Cola advertisement—yes, a commercial jingle—encouraged such idealism and eventually did indeed manage to build into a hugely popular, ex-post-brand-name sing-along song, I [would] Like to Teach the World to Sing. But obviously I can’t do it alone.

Photo + score: Singing Our Song: Nance 'Seal'

This is, in a unique way, truly Our song, because Richard Nance composed it as an anthem for our wedding, and it both became widely popular as an exquisite modern choral piece and remains deeply personal as a gift to my beloved and me from one of our dearest friends.

I Dream the World

I dream the world will learn to sing ‘Til joy suffuses everything—

When peace and happiness abound, I dream a song will be the sound

Most widely heard by every ear Around the globe that longs to hear

A note of kindness, care; of grace, When melody wraps its embrace

Around us like an angel’s wing—I dream the world will learn to sing!

 

I dream the world will learn to sing And make earth’s darkest corners ring,

Will throw aside all warring ways, Mend brokenness, take up the phrase

That calls to harmony all souls The way a carillon bell tolls,

First, lone and softly, then a pair Joins in, and more, and then the air

Is filled with song, like bells a-swing—I dream the world will learn to sing!

 

I dream the world will learn to sing And this, the message it will bring:

We must not wait in silent nights, Unsung ’til happiness alights,

‘Til care and kindness, sweetness, peace, Miraculously buy release

And save us from our voiceless state: If we don’t sing, it is too late,

So let our song rise up and ring—I dream the world will learn to sing!