The Only Magical World

Digital illustration from a photo: Mythic MirrorThere’s only one plane of existence that is guaranteed to seem perfect and right to you at all times, and that’s the one in your dreaming heart. But the place in the real world that will come closest to that kind of mythic perfection is the one where you can dwell in the center of real, constant and generous love. On the third of August, every year of my life, I get to celebrate such a love because it’s the anniversary of my parents’ marriage.

Their love for each other has withstood many tests and trials over time, but because it was genuine and down-to-earth love from the beginning, the tests and trials have tended to be more externally made and less harsh, perhaps, than they might otherwise have been. And in its best and least challenged days, it shines the brighter because it feeds and is fed by a larger love—for life, for those articles of faith and those people they hold dear—and I, as one of their offspring, get to share in that care and affection, friendship, respect and kind generosity.

This is the sort of beauty and distinction that transcends fairytale happiness and is, instead, steady and sure. Better than supposed Magic and miracles, it is so dependable that even when the sun isn’t shining quite right or the cogs of the world aren’t turning exactly as one might wish they would, it’s possible and natural to have assurance that what needs to be will return; goodness will prevail, and we will all get back to the constant and comforting business of loving and being loved by one another. It’s a potent blend of companionship and  concern and hope that aren’t dependent on spells and manipulations but reside in the everyday promise, and every third of August I get to celebrate it anew because my parents taught me what this kind of love can be.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.

My One and Only

Despite its title, this post isn’t about my marvelous spouse. But it could be. After all, like the actual topic of the day, marrying him is one of the most meaningful, fun and satisfying achievements in my life, and an act I intend to perform exactly one time ever.

But don’t we all have those? There are certain life experiences that we are so glad happened or are so pleased we did, yet there’s no intention whatsoever of our repeating the episode. Whether it, like my marriage, simply cannot be replicated in all of its fabulous fantastic-ositude-inous-ness, or it’s too expensive or difficult or ephemeral to do more than once in a lifetime, there are just things that will only occur once in our lives.

Making a stone sculpture is one such thing, for me. It was a required project somewhere along the course of my art studies, and I am glad it was required, because I doubt I’d ever have attempted it if the materials hadn’t been put right into my hands, the techniques taught to me on the spot, and the work necessary for me to fulfill the requirements of the class. I’m old enough by now to have figured out that there are a whole lot of activities and things in life I’d never have dared try, let alone figured out how happy I was to pursue them, if I hadn’t had to do them. Stone sculpting is one of those things that fell into the been-there-done-that category, finally, but besides having a decent little piece of art to show for it I am glad there was that one chance in the beginning.

Photo: Alabaster Sculpture

My very own [Untitled] alabaster sculpture, the one and only. Approximately 7.5″ (19 cm) H x 8″ (20.5 cm) W x 11″ (28 cm) W.

Luck and happenstance, of course, have their own parts to play in the determination of whether any new experience becomes a one-off or a lifelong passion. Or, like my marriage, a one-time event that turns into a lifelong passion.

In the case of the rock sculpting, there were a few particulars that [ahem] shaped my attitude about the experience. One was that when the pile of alabaster hunks appeared on the table in front of my sculpture class, I chose a piece, lone among the heap as far as I remember, that had no major, unavoidable fissures in it. This allowed me to make a piece that was not a lot smaller than the original stone without having large parts of it crack and fall off. And my bit of alabaster had some nice coloration, attractive pale veining, and a natural overall shape that guided my sculpting choices. So all I did was refine the existing form and exaggerated it, and that led to the abstraction I made in the end. I just aimed for a sort of rounded Henry Moore-ish sculptural curvaceousness to showcase the silky, milky beauty of the alabaster as best I could. It was a slow and fussy process to chisel out an alabaster sculpture, and it made me ever so much more appreciative of and awestruck regarding the accomplishments of all real stone sculptors throughout the ages. Also, glad not to put my perpetual laziness into extended servitude to stone carving.

So, yeah. I made an alabaster sculpture, and I kind of like the result. And I’m happy that I did it, that I had the experience and learned a deeper appreciation of that art form. And yes, I am also pleased that I don’t ever have to make another alabaster sculpture, with the possible exception of the if-and-when instance of my deciding someday to have another go at it. Meanwhile, I have a decent memento of the experience. And if I get tired of it as a decorative object, it’s big and heavy enough to make a decent doorstop. If not beauty, then utility: that’s kind of how those once-or-more decisions can go.

Unexpected

To my beloved husband with great love and affection on our eighteenth anniversary: you continue to surprise me, all of these years after your initial unexpected appearance as the love of my life!

Digital illustration from a photo: The Base of the WallSnowing Amethysts

At evening, summertime holds breathless sway

When even crickets wait before they’ll sing,

And birds to roost go silent; everything

Takes pause because the lengthy heat of day

Has drawn a shawl of stillness down to lawn

And flowerbed and hedges, ’til a breath—

So shallow it could scarcely ward off death—

Is difficult to breathe ’til the break’s gone,

Until the night resumes its stealthy crawl,

Exhaling with a stirring wind that flies

Up, stirring blossoms upward to the skies,

Their petals dropping, ash-like, down the wall,

Crape-myrtle petals drifting down below

In waves of amethyst, a summer snow.Digital illustration from a photo: Amethyst Snow

Seriously!

High Holy Hilarity

Those who learn to love with laughter

Will best live Happily Ever After.Digital artwork from a photo: Happily Ever Laughter

My Relationships are an Open Book

photoA recent Wall Street Journal article about couples finding the re-jiggering of their relationships around retirement quite complex amused me a bit. The general theme of the article was that most modern retirees, those from in-home jobs and those from outside employment, come from a world where they have established fairly separate-but-equal lives and find it a challenge to spend so much more time directly with each other, doing things together. I’m so happy that my partner and I are not like most. In my book, there’s no need to be that different in retirement if you’re secure in your pre-retirement life. I’m pretty sure, in fact, that we won’t face nearly the same sorts of questions or find many of them nearly so daunting as this newspaper item intimates they could be. Despite a hectic daily life, we apparently live together like retirees already in some ways. After all, modern retirees are among the busiest, most active class of people I know.

There are a number of reasons I don’t worry about our transition. Working as we both have in art-related fields (and both of us in academia and elsewhere), where schedules and projects and income and venues and so much more have always been in flux, means that we’ve both dealt with fallow times, whether job-induced or voluntary, wherein we were responsible for directing ourselves and choosing what to pursue next and when. That means each of us has taken the lead occasionally in having the more fixed schedule, project, income or venue and left the other either more freedom or more angst about how to fill the void for the moment. We are both artists, yes, but of slightly different sorts (his the musical kind and mine the more visual/verbal); these don’t compete or conflict with each other, so no ego is at stake should either of us be hung up on that kind of thing, but rather our artistic views are complementary; both draw on similar resources of effort, inspiration, creativity and skill, so we can speak the same language even when the details differ widely. As it is, our core life-values are pretty similar, so we don’t have much reason to go far afield for purposeful or enjoyable conversation. We have a whole library of possibilities from which to choose.photoWe have, in fact, worked side by side. Not only did our relationship start when we taught in next-door buildings at university, but I was already good friends with and had even collaborated with some of his colleagues on combined recital/art show projects, a sort of classical-based performance art, perhaps. As members of the same faculty, my future partner and I ended up at plenty of the same meetings and events over time, while both still having our own tracks of need and interest. Since our pairing, I have had the privilege of collaborating with him artistically as well, and his music provides a great deal of the soundtrack, live and recorded, of my life, working or otherwise, while he lives at home and work surrounded by my art and reads my writing. We are lucky in simply relishing time together, whether to Do Things or do nothing at all in companionable silence.

But we are neither conjoined twins in tastes and wants and needs nor dependent on each other for a primary sense of identity. He inhales reads books as quickly and easily as though it were breathing, and I labor through them; his reading ranges from professional interests to serial mysteries and thrillers and more, and mine, when my dyslexia forbids the time and attention required for favorites like SJ Perelman with his dazzling wordplay, or Charles Dickens and Robertson Davies, is devoted more to blog articles and short-form works; I read and write fairly constantly, but it’s a slow-moving river indeed. My Foodie Tuesday posts here will tell you that our preferences in dining also differ widely, if not wildly. Sometimes it’s tricky finding a meal at home that will satisfy both of us equally, given the limitations of our common subset. As for movies, he’d happily be in a theatre watching the latest offerings on the big screen, but he opts to stay home with me where I’m not troubled by the overwhelming noise and the overpowering intensity of on-screen action that were intolerable to me in my anxiety-ridden days and remain somewhat unappealing even now. He still watches a lot of stuff that I have no interest in watching or even hearing, but then I’ve learned that an evening in front of our own big screen makes a great time for me to install a good pair of earplugs, rev up my trusty pencil to draw or my computer to work on blogging, photo editing, magazine proofreading and correspondence. I still get to spend time in his company and swap intermittent witticisms with my favorite companion, and we both get to do what’s more appealing to each of us.

I realized long ago that I have a different attitude about relationships in general than many others, and I know that my attitude differs greatly from my own when I was younger as well. Now that I have a number of years of marriage under my belt (no comments from the cheap seats about ‘love handles’!) I am even more baffled by the people who harp on about what constant hard work relationships and marriages are and how difficult it is to keep them operational. Seems to me that if they’re consistently hard work, they’re not really relationships other than perhaps in the form of a slave/master sort. If it’s really high maintenance, it’s a job, not a relationship. Any that are one-sided because of abuse or complete conformity or any other sort of enforced imbalance cease to be viable or valid in my eyes. Only when both parties have something to contribute that is genuinely respected and appreciated by the other does it seem purposeful and potentially joyful, and if neither of those aspects is in the equation for any length of time at all, it is based on something far different from a relationship in my book.

At the same time, if we thought in perfect synchrony and had no differences of opinion or thought or preferences, it seems to me there would be no point in the relationship either. It would be pretty much the equivalent of marrying oneself, and idea that is both ridiculous and more than a little creepy. Narcissism is inherently the inverse of relationship-ready.

Apropos of this: both my husband and I had spent a fair amount of our adult lives single (he, divorced and I, unmarried) when we first dated, and both of us were fairly certain that we would remain single for the rest of our lives–and most importantly, both of us were okay with that idea. We were whole, functioning, socially active, happy individuals with full lives and immersed in relationships with great companions of all sorts. We think it’s part of what made us ready to slide into a life partner, love relationship with very little adjustment at all. Our cosmic crash into each other was instead a landing beautifully cushioned and protected by the remarkable net of many of those other relationships of ours, almost as much as by our personal contentment, mutual attraction and shared interests. Seems to me entirely noteworthy that a strong and happy relationship was founded on and remains supported by a network of other relationships.

This, too, is significant in protecting us from the dangers of too much intermingling of lives in retirement. We already share a lot of time together that we really love. And we already share so many great friends and loved ones that it’s far from essential that all of the newly acquired ones be mutual. He knows and enjoys the company and support and good humor of plenty of friends and colleagues, many of whom I know only as names or email-senders or office acquaintances or voices on the phone, and I have my own contingent of blog friends, expedition companions, collaborators and mentors as well. If every part of life were spent together, what would we have to talk about at the end of the day?

There are so many aspects of our marriage that make it pretty easy for me to avoid worry about what-ifs when retirement comes, I almost feel guilty. But not! I appreciate that we like to do things together as often as we can, daily, hourly, and that we have a life that allows us to take advantage of it. When we worked in side-by-side buildings in years past, it meant we could meet for lunch or stop by each other’s offices or for any number of other excuses quite conveniently; now, when I’m homemaking and blogging, I have the flexibility of schedule to take the shuttle over to the campus where he now works and grab a quick supper somewhere nearby with him before a tightly scheduled evening recital or concert, or sit in on a rehearsal of one of his choirs, or tidy up his files before sitting down to write and draw while he studies a score for the next choral-orchestral extravaganza. If I’m able to get a job again, I’d like to make sure that it still allows space for our interaction, however different that will be, because we really do value time spent together, however it’s spent.

If that makes ours a little unlike the average relationship approaching retirement age, I’m just sorry for all of those out there making up the bulk of the average, let alone any who remain under the mark for any reason. I’d much rather be novel in this respect.photo

A Concert with a Wedding Attached

Seventeen years ago today I got married. And as all of you who have visited this blog with any regularity know, when I got together with the man who became my husband, spouse, best friend, partner and daily companion, I gained a world of music. Of course, music was a big part of my life already and distinctly a contributing factor in our getting together in the first place; I worked in the university art building, right next door to the music building, and spent plenty of quality time there going to concerts, meeting with friends and all of that sort of happy thing, and when the nice Director of Choral Activities asked me if I’d be willing to help spiff up the aging auditorium for the annual Christmas concert festivities I gladly said yes. That was only the first time I made banners for an occasion of collaborative fun with that nice DCA man. Less than eight months later I was making bunches of banners to fill up a church nave for our wedding.scanNo surprise that, since under friendly pressure from them we gave up on the attractive idea of eloping and just having a party with our family and friends on our return, we decided that the best alternative was to have a celebration with lots of music and just party all the way through the event. Turned out it was easy to do so.scanAssembling our wedding’s participants was easy-peasy. Relatives and friends from work, home life and church lined up and pitched in as planners, greeters, acolytes, reception hosts and much more. Clergy? Well, as the daughter of a bishop I didn’t have far to go to hunt up someone to marry us. The church’s lead pastor presided and Dad officiated, and a dear sweet retired pastor friend served as lector. Witnesses? Having three sisters, I had no problem lining up a team; Richard’s backup was easy to arrange as well: his sole brother, our mutual beloved friend Jim, and Richard’s colleague and partner in choral crime, also named Richard (Nance). Musicians were easiest of all for us to arrange, unsurprisingly.scanWe had an outstanding pickup choir of students and members of Richard’s choirs, past and present, and friend-colleagues playing horn and singing the processional solo. Jim, getting in some exercise during the service, was organist as well as standing up for us. That, as well as having helped us plan the whole service and choose its music, and set one of my texts to music for our congregational hymn. Richard N, besides joining the altar party, pitched in (no pun intended) musically as well, conducting the choir for us in a lovely collection of pieces capped by the premiere of the exquisite anthem he composed for the occasion (now a best seller for Walton Music!).scanYes, this is a brag post. Happily, all true.photoHappy Anniversary, my Love.

Happy to Defy Stereotypes

photoMarry Go-Round

Here we go round the daily ration

Of crashing through the underbrush

Hoping to hit a note of passion

In our enigmatic rush

Wishing for luck to strike the attempt

And so imbue the chase with meaning

As we run about unkempt

To catch a star in our careening

Here we go around and over

Under through against away

Wishing always we could hover

Hidden for another day

Off we ramble on our mission

Just as though we had a clue

How to go from fact to fission

I don’t know it though

Do you?photoTo be perfectly fair and honest, yes I do know. In my case, the How To was found perfectly simply in locating, partnering with and marrying exactly the right guy for me. Fission accomplished! Not to worry, though–I only mean the explosive quality of the energy found in splendiferous joy.