The Shape of Things to Come is Squiggly & Crumpled

Photo: The Shape of Things to ComeMy inability to foretell the future seems to become more pronounced as I get older. Is this because I’m more aware of the potential diversions and distractions, thanks to my ever-increasing wisdom? Because I’m more attuned to Other Worlds as I sneak ever closer to the time when I’ll dwell in them, and lose focus on this realm? Is it because I’ve already forgotten what I was talking about at the beginning of this paragraph and have no room for pursuing any larger thoughts than sentence-chasing?

More likely, it’s just that the forces in this universe are much wilier than I am and outfox me at every turn, and as I age it only becomes more apparent to me, and to everyone around me. I’m okay with that. In fact, I learn, with every revolution of the solar system, more of how much adventure and delight can lie in the unexpected places that life takes, leads, or pushes me. All the prescience in the world wouldn’t necessarily have better prepared me for what lay ahead, and being clairvoyant couldn’t possibly have convinced me that the many fabulous extravaganzas of mysterious tangential journeying sprung on me were the right path or worth the risks. Yet it’s all gotten me Here. A twisting, bumbling, contorted tour, yes, but one with a lot of happy happenings along the way.

What tomorrow will bring is anybody’s guess. Anybody’s but mine, that is.

Morning and Evening

Digital illustration: Happy New Year

Year In, Year Out

The year begins with ice and fire at dawn

As January draws the curtain high,

Revealing what is written on the sky

To turn our vision forward and move on—

Into the year ahead, awake, renewed,

To see what can be done, what holds the key

That everything required of you and me

Will help fulfill the prophecy we viewed—

Move us with hope and joy through dark and light,

Through time that tests us as it passes by

Until we see another evening sky

Leading the way to that December night—

When once again we’ll come to gather here

And mark the changing to another year.

Digital illustration: Happy New Year Again

The Magic of Books

Photo montage: The Magical BookIlluminations

A leather-covered volume with its pages edged in gilt

Slipped from the deck into the sea but, cradled in the silt

Where oxygen could not intrude, nor prying eyes descry

Its ancient glimmer in the mud, a century did lie;

One century—another—no, nine centuries of dark

It passed in sleeping silence after falling from that bark.

And then one day, a ray of light passed through the waves above

Just at the perfect moment for a mermaid, as she dove,

To catch a glimpse of gilded pages in that sea-deep sun

And swim down to investigate this treasure—only one

Quick sparkle of that golden edge brought her so close to look,

To brush aside the lazy silt and so, reveal the book.

Nine hundred years in darkness had it lain in quiet wait

For just this passing moment to wake up, illuminate,

And catch the passing fancy of an unsuspecting maid

Who’d bring it to her grotto in the deepest ocean’s shade.

In dappled dark, her opal eyes lit up the page, and next,

She read it, eager, mesmerized, the calligraphic text

Transforming, leaping from the book, becoming swiftly wild

And glorious, and telling tales that moved the mermaid child

To bend with sorrow, weep with joy; to palpitate with fear;

To live the story as her own; and, as the end drew near,

To grieve that such a magic fable had to end at all,

For it had seemed so rich and real, had held her in such thrall

That she’d begun to think it true, this tale of mythic men

And women wondrous wise and brave—she turned to read again—

Thrice through, in fact, she read the tome, and every time the more

Believed its great, compelling tale of life beyond her shore.

Full hearted, then, she closed the book, but never ceased to wish

That other mermaids, other seas, and other sorts of fish

Than those she knew in her own place were, as the story’s, real,

And though once happy, now she longed to see and hear and feel

What was beyond her native coast. One day she must return

To where she’d found that magic book, and see what she could learn.

One day, indeed, an older lass, but nonetheless enthralled

By the old book (she’d read again six times, if she recalled),

She caught the rolling afternoon’s most fearsome wave and rode

Under its lashing, crashing crest to where the book was stowed

Within its silken, silty bed so long, so long ago,

And knelt down on the ocean’s floor, and watched the water’s flow,

And saw the ripples up above, a thousand fathoms high,

And wished a little inward wish that something from the sky

Up higher still would pierce the waves, would light for her one ray

Of visionary hope the way it had upon that day.

Out of the darkness streaked with kelp, the passing sea life came

To look at her, this pearly lass, but swam off just the same,

For curious though she appeared, they’d naught to give or tell

That would assuage her longing or relieve her of her spell.

For days she hovered in that place, to gaze with fading hope

And heave a soft and bubbling sigh, and comb the gentle slope

To see if some small, overlooked companion to her find

Would rise to hand and help explain; but none was left behind.

At last she turned, quite woebegone, to drift for home, undone,

Her childhood fantasies all dashed—but wait! A ray of sun,

One faded spear, had pierced the deep; it beckoned her to draw

Back to the place her book had lain, and in its light she saw,

But faintly, now, another book, this one yet older still,

And as she took it in her hand, she felt a silent thrill

Race up her spine. She sailed for home as swift as mantas fly,

Gripping her treasure to her heart, this book dropped from the sky.

There in the grotto, as before, she read with trembling care

The prologue to her favored tale, the key unlocking there

The meaning of that history and mystery so grand,

The explication of her longed for never-ever-land.

Page One of this tremendous tome opened the secret wide

And startled her to drop the book, for there she saw inside

The preface to her deepest loved tale of that mystic place

Began with an engraving of her own familiar face!

Around her portrait, mirror-like, the title read, in part,

“The Story of Our Lady-Queen, the Owner of My Heart.”

Her own heart skipped a beat or two ere she once more to read

Took up the opus in her hand, to see where it might lead—

There in the shell-lined grotto sweet, she pored over the lines

Telling her life from this day forth, as writ by kingly hand:

Who authored this spoke of his love, and how she ruled his land

Long years to come, and how, in sum, her people throve as well,

And in the book, she met her love, who had such tales to tell,

And read them through with eager joy, to see what else she’d learn,

‘Til by the end-page she loved too, and had begun to yearn

To know this King and how it came that time had backward spun

So that these books of things yet dreamed fell from the present sun.

The end-page held, as she had hoped, engraved once more, two eyes

Whose gaze made her young, beating heart in recognition rise!

She dashed outside into the swell, and ne’er looked back again,

To find that place the boat was moored, to greet the sailing men,

To follow them to distant seas where they in their bark would roam,

And find the heart that from its start had known she would come home.Digital illustration from a photo: The Mermaid's Tale

Tell Me Not What Lies Ahead

digital illustration from a photoEven if I could I would rather not see the future. If it’s not to my liking, then I’ll despair and give up all attempts to improve upon it; if appealing, it will tempt me to live in constant yearning and not invest my heart and hands in my own present.

That doesn’t stop me from persistently trying to scry any hints of what’s to come in whatever handy crystal ball I can conjure. We’re curious creatures, we humans, and impatient at that. I wish and want and hope and dream, along with all of my fellow mortals, thinking that if I just knew what lay around the next bend of the road, surely I would be content, or at least if not content then prepared. But few who have access to dates and deadlines, foresight and certainties actually prepare in full, and once the approaching events are known they so often become the sole focus of the journey, not a point along the way, in fact distracting us from all of the possibly meaningful points that do exist en route.

I would rather not give myself any excuses for being even less attentive than I already am, and to be honest, I think it would take a fair measure of the charm out of discovering my life with a degree of surprise as it happens. Do I hope that what comes will be pleasurable and kind and fulfilling? Naturally. But whatever it is, I will let it keep its secrets for now; there is a lot to be seen and felt and done long before I get there, wherever there is and whatever it holds.

Seen There, been That

Here in the shade I need no shades. Every corner of the copse is cool and watery green, the shoots of grass streaking up toward those glints of sun that peep between leaves, sparkling without heat and calling me to rest. The world outside can keep tearing around like a cyclone, overheating and undermining calm and joy and peace of mind, but here in the clearing, in the sweet gloaming, I can ease back and close my eyes, and all that is, was and ever shall be washes over my memory and my soul. Shuttered thus from sight, events and people and places and gifts pour by like rivers, refreshing and kind, and in my mind I am rejoined with all that I have ever known and been. Accompanied by the delicate bubbling sound of their passing flow, I return to myself, my full self, whether with my eyes closed or open, glasses on or off–because everything I need to know is right here with me, here inside the deepest cool green shade.photoThe temperatures have returned to their normal just-this-side-of-hell Texan summer levels, the hot flashes are not cured, only moderated, and I shall just do my best to keep fending off the heat with a modicum of inner cool. It’s the only place any of us can hope to keep well in the shade anyway. Now shoo, go on, y’all, and let me chill down a bit.

From Here to There and Never Back Again

So far there is no generally accepted evidence that life can be lived anything but forward, or that we get more than one shot at it. That hardly slows down anyone choosing to believe in prescience, reincarnation or an afterlife, of course, let alone explains how anyone could sometimes have a pronounced sense of déjà vu, experience the inexplicable, quite ephemeral notion of Faith as a concrete thing, or believe he has interacted with angels or ghosts. We each start out as something barely beyond an inkling, swimming blissfully in the finite universe of a womb until birth, from whence we are expected to follow the norm of progression from infancy to whatever age we get to achieve, then die. Only in fiction does anyone regularly foretell the future, begin life as an elderly person and work backward to ending as a baby, or consort with beings from past, future or other worlds. photoMany people seem to find that a sad state of affairs. The desire to know more, to be more, is apparently a strong one, and perhaps one that (unlike us) does transcend time. What we do know of our species’ history shows that the idea of things beyond and outside of our lifespans and the confines of our temporal and terrestrial location has been around and popular probably for as long as there have been people to have the ideas. Some of these notions are strangely similar to each other despite impenetrable separations between the peoples and cultures where they sprang up–despite the evident impossibility of their having been communicated by any currently known means.

Though the concept of such miraculous forms of Otherness intrigues me, too, it is in no way necessary to my sense of adventure and peculiarity and glamor. Isn’t life itself quite bizarre and magnificent and convoluted and intriguing enough just as we live it? The very improbability of our existing as a collection of beings, able to live such distinctive, densely woven, unpredictable lives–and to be in community and communication with countless fellow beings doing so as well–seems quite remarkable enough to me.photoI suspect that if I’m lucky enough to grow very old and remain at least somewhat sentient, I will look back with some surprise at the way my life casts its shadows: where I have been and what I have done will amaze me just as much in retrospect as it did in the happening; the people I’ve known or met and the way our stories intersected will still astound me with its depth and variety. I will peer into the equally misty future with the same degree of hunger and uncertainty and curiosity that I always had, but perhaps with the sharp edge of its immensity somewhat worn soft by the knowledge that there can be fewer truly new things ahead of me except for death itself. I hope that, whenever that comes, I will gaze on it with a bit of equanimity not only because it is the one inevitable passage–whether out of all existence or into some new realm with a whole new set of adventures–that I will travel like every single one before me, every one yet to come, and the one doorway whose threshold I will not cross twice. And I think that’s not a bad thing at all.

Money, Mayhem, Madness

Someday I will retire. Ah, but how does one retire when one hasn’t been employed for pay outside of one’s home for a longish time, eh? How, to be more to the point, does one retire when one hasn’t been productive or purposeful or a contributing member of society?graphite drawingThe very idea is preposterous. Crazy, really. But let’s be clear here: I wasn’t really that impressive and significant a member of the workforce when I was under contract to my various outside employers. Heck, some of them might conceivably have wished to put out a contract on me. But I digress. The thing is that this idea of retirement stems not entirely from my personal lack of a job-related work ethic (a.k.a. lazypantsitude) nor even, strictly speaking, from the retirement-contemplation infection I may or may not have caught from any of those near and dear to me, who may or may not include close friends and family members–it’s simply that Issue that so many people begin to contemplate with a bit of trepidation nowadays when the world of personal finance is so volatile and the future as unpredictable as it could possibly seem. It’s the persistent and slightly frightening specter of what will become of me, of any of us, when we opt out of the workaday world entirely and attempt to live a post-employment life. Retirement, as (or if) experienced nowadays, is a mighty scary mistress, sweet as sticky toffee pudding one minute and in the very next one, raving like a latecomer to the sale at Filene’s Basement.graphite drawingYou will not be the least bit surprised that, no matter how modest and unconventional my work life has been, I am enamored enough of non-work-related occupations to desire the life of a retiree if (and when) I can lay my hands on it. So I consider, now, what it will really require in the way of planning and saving and earning and arranging between now and that magical date, whenever it may be, and am plotting a course through the intervening period that I hope will set me and my beloved up as well as can be for that eventuality. If any billionaires should happen to be reading this and simply itching to offload some of their excess samoleans into my personal coffers, of course I am willing to shoulder that happy responsibility. If anyone should be looking for some fantastic artworks to purchase for home, office, gift or birdcage-liner, I have stacks of material available for the buying. But I suspect it will take some other, further, additional and/or different approaches to actually put me in a reasonable position to retire.graphite drawingDon’t mind me, in the meantime, wigging out just a mite over the whole process. It’s how I handle mysteries and challenges. And yes, I am very well aware that worry about such a thing as retirement is entirely a rich person’s problem and thus not exactly worthy of much sympathy.  Still, I do fuss over it a bit. Since I don’t have regular skills that have kept me gainfully employed (and even when I was employed, it was mostly in academia and selling art, so you can guess how gainful that all was), I shall just have to take my own tack, no matter how tangential it is to the norm. That is definitely how I tend to operate, and I can’t imagine that my life as a retiree will be any different in that regard.




digital collage + textThe time that passes, like a heart,
ticks on, clicks on with pulsing beat,
and with the future in retreat,
returns our spirits to the start,
reborn; we open up our eyes
and see tomorrow and the past
the shadows that we cast
today will fall on ancient skies
and too, on stars not named
as yet—             as distant as
new stars can get
from where the human world
was framed—
All this, because we know, we care
we love and hold deep in our souls
the faintest embers, banked like coals,
of sensing, taking all we share
in lineage, in land, in ties:
ancestry, marriage,
friendship, bonds—in every gene pool
and its ponds,   in seas of learning,
truth and lies—
The last imagined second’s hum,
in passing, will remind us all
that only love
makes evening fall
and makes another morning come . . .

Place Your Bets and Get Moving

Much as I’m drawn to wondering what lies ahead, guessing, inferring and even betting on probabilities, am I in danger of defining-by-divining? It’s easy to get so immersed in the practice of my prognostications that I start to believe in them as the appointed future and let them become my default reality. What a pity if by over-enthusiastic crystal gazing and navel gazing and pseudo-scientific extrapolations I manage to constrain my life to what I expect it to be rather than letting it unfold and taking full advantage of what I’m able to create out of those things with which life presents me as I roll along.graphite drawingCandling eggs and reading ultrasounds of one’s innards and charting historic patterns–divination by trusted means–that’s all well and good, but only as a thought-provoking guide for what may be, and after all, if I don’t like the sound of the predictors, why on earth should I sit around and mope instead of defying the gravity of the situation! If I am to have any true resolutions for the future–the new year now unfolding or indeed, anything more than that–I’d like to think they will be about living that future in full, about being present in my present as it comes. I hope to be sometimes engulfed in the sweep of current life and sometimes embracing the immense and bracing Possible contained in every living moment with openness and imagination, hanging on for truly dear life. Let me dare to be fully, wildly, passionately alive while I live and not entangle in what-ifs more than is actually useful.graphite drawings x2Everything we do with our days and with our hearts and minds and skills and nerve can be spent on worrying and wondering, if we take ourselves and our powers of prediction and over whatever mysteries lie in wait too seriously. Or there can be enormously exhilarating challenges and opportunities and blessings blooming in abundance, scattered around and waiting for recognition and engagement. I hope that I am growing wise enough at long last to let go of fear and inhibition and the fungus of fatalism encroaching on assumptions of a fixed and implacable future, to instead spend much more of myself on the kind of work and action and play that happen gladly in the moment of their discovery. Time, I say, to get moving and try those wings.

Into Tomorrow, Endlessly Singing

You all know by now that I am not a singer. I get asked all the time, since I’m married to a choral conductor (who happens to also be a lovely singer himself) and I hang out with an enormous cadre of the vocally talented. When I demur, I get asked what kind of musician I am, then, because after all, so many denizens populating the rest of our joint life are outstanding composers, instrumentalists, conductors, and all of the rest that, well, it just seems so obvious. In truth, I did take the obligatory childhood music lessons–about five years at the piano, if you remember–ending with a certain rueful amusement on my teachers’ part but no great skill on mine, plus a brief period of voice lessons from a well-meaning coach who’d heard my sisters and me sing and gave the elder two of us a go. Where again, my failure to learn to read music with any ease was further complicated by my inability to understand and make use of the very important concept of singing with a head voice. Having become accustomed over my earlier years to being mistaken for Dad on the phone, or for an older girl because I was extremely shy and therefore more reserved than many kids my age plus having a relatively deep voice for a girl, or for a more skilled singer than I really was because I was willing to sing any part–and did, at one point, sing in all four choral sections because that was how the need was distributed in my various school and church choirs–well, it all probably let me learn a whole array of bad vocal habits that pretty much put the kibosh on my becoming an actual skilled singer. The likely absence of a notable native vocal “instrument” wouldn’t’ve helped either, had I tried to force the issue, but by the time that I hit high school and time management demanded that I narrow down my interests a bit, choir fell off the list other than occasional singing at church. Who knew I’d end up partnered with this guy!

white pencil on black paper

Sketches from a Swedish Radio Choir rehearsal, my husband conducting (if you've seen him conduct enough, you can recognize even the rough sketch of his hand positions) . . .

But as I also pointed out some time ago, the influence of music and of singing remained large and happy in my life, even if I was not destined to be a producer of them. I continued to love listening, cultivated many musical friends who provided the sonic tapestry that was the backdrop of my happiness, and even collaborated with musicians on projects where they provided the aural elements of a performance and I the visual imagery to accompany it. For a few years, I served on the Concert Committee that produced a reasonably ambitious season of musical offerings at our church, which was conveniently located just across a university campus from the music department where many of my fine-musician friends happened to work. It must be added, in fairness, that the draw of being on said Committee was not purely musical but also deeply social, what with all of the musicians and music-lovers therein, and also exceedingly delicious, because most of the musicians I’ve known are committed eaters if not foodies and so the Committee’s meetings quickly evolved into elaborate gustatory events as well.

And that’s precisely why music has remained so largely writ in my life, if not burgeoned and positively exploded, over the years since: music is so intertwined with so many parts of what I love in life that I can’t separate one happiness from another. If music be the food of love, play on! What hasn’t followed for me is what followed for Duke Orsino, because I never found either that I became surfeited by listening to good music or that I became surfeited with love by loving life with musicians–one in particular. Tough luck, your Grace! So I am not dutifully following, wagging my tail obsequiously, as I go to a rehearsal and sit in the darkened hall while choirs work their repertoire into their voices and souls to prepare for performance; I am both absorbing the inner workings of music that don’t exist in me innately or by scholarly wisdom, so to appreciate and bathe in the final production all the more, and also having the beauty of the practice itself wash over me in waves that can inspire me to write, to draw or paint, to design my better garden bed or concoct a more delectable dish for dinner. Waves that, at their best, lift me out of myself and let me feel the singing pass through me as though I, non-musician-non-singer that I am, with spasmodic dysphonia that presumably means even if I ever figure out my head voice and/or learn to read music, I won’t become a great singer–as though I myself were singing.

So, though I may struggle to sing a simple ditty nowadays, I have this magnificent vicarious experience available to me that few are privileged to share, and in this rather out-of-body experiential way expect to sing my way through the rest of my very happy future. As I do the usual end of the year assessments and look ahead to what I imagine and hope for the year soon to come, the imagery is suffused in every possible way with music. I am immersed in song. I write lyrics because I cannot sing them. I listen to rehearsals because I cannot read music well and don’t know the inner workings of music preparation the way performers and conductors do. I attend concerts because the kinds of beauty and grief, daring and humor, poignancy and brilliance that come through well made music embrace, interweave and transcend all of the other parts of my life so that I feel transported, changed to a better self. As though I too am singing in a song that may never have to end.

white pencil on black paper

Conducting another Sparkling performance . . .