Heroics without the Whiz-Bang

Photo: Wild & SweetDuring my long unplanned sabbatical just now, I had the privilege of going on a true Spring Break expedition with my spouse and one of my sisters. It was as close to a perfect holiday as any I’ve enjoyed, but there were enough imperfections lurking on the periphery of my consciousness to keep me grounded. Food for thought is everywhere, if I’m willing and able to partake of it. The road trip south from our north-Texas home to Texas hill country provided plenty of highway time to remind me with its proliferation of roadside signs and billboards that everybody has an opinion they would be happy to make me—or dare me not to—share. This, in turn, renewed my awareness of the current Presidential candidates’ campaigning, and in further turns, of how the American penchant for debate and individual thinking has moved further and further toward the hinterlands of sheeple-think, demagoguery, and hate speech. I wanted to think of nothing more serious than wildflower peeping, lounging about, and enjoying the quiet of being a slight distance from the cacophony of daily life at home, but the signs sprouting like weeds threatened at times to choke even the hardiest of wildflowers.

Maybe I was just tired at the beginning of the trip, unwilling to do the work of steering my own thoughts elsewhere.

About the time when I’d determined to put that depressing junk aside, I was reminded by some truly spectacular scenery we happened to find that troubles are everywhere. The three of us are masters at getting fruitfully lost, going off with little plan or direction, only to pass through and end up in really magical spots time and again. A side road that caught my partner’s eye landed us unexpectedly on the banks of the Blanco river in Wimberley, where last year’s flood had smashed through and chewed the valley to kindling, taking homes and lives with it. I was admiring the once-again clear and sweet waters and only diffidently wondering at the odd toothpick-scape on their flanks when it finally dawned on me just where we were.

Photomontage: The Blanco in Wimberley

Nothing stands in the way of bluster and violence. Except patience, renewal, and hope. These have tenacity and power, too, only exercising them in more beautiful ways.

This is our life on earth, this constant juxtaposition of impression and reality, of the beautiful and the ugly and the beautiful yet again. I thought again of the bullying, anger-fueled tone of the signage and the politics it represented from all sides, and remembered that the present is not really so much worse or better than the past, one point of view not so patently more or less perfect than another, as it is our willingness to look more clearly and carefully and patiently at what is around us and even, if we are truly courageous, to learn from it all and admit to our imperfections both before and after.

Anu Garg, master of that delightful etymological publication empire Wordsmith, has an email-subscription publication called A.Word.A.Day, where I get to learn, along with the multitude of other subscribers and visitors, the origins and meanings of marvelous words and how shape, and are shaped by, our existence. Every AWAD post ends with a Thought for Today, and these are as scintillating and demanding and fulfilling as the rich tillage of the language in each individual word explicated in the posts.

Today, as is often the case, I found the closing quote cause for both self-examination and rumination on the current polarized state of my country. So few on either side of the vast divide defining nearly any aspect of life here can evidently allow that anyone else could possibly have an iota of access to intelligence, let alone truth. And perish the thought that we ourselves could conceivably be wrong! Some days it seems to me that there are no tenable middle points of anything at all anymore, only I’m Good and You’re Evil. It frightens and saddens me more than I can say. But Thomas Szasz seems to have spotted one of the pivotal causes:

Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.

Thomas Szasz, author, professor of psychiatry (15 Apr 1920-2012)

This is why my heroes tend to be among the perpetually curious, the skeptical, and those who are fearless about questioning anyone’s tastes, hopes, beliefs, and even hard-won knowledge—most especially their own. Those who never hesitate to admit when they are or even might be wrong, to negotiate the murky waters of faith, fear, and certitude to see what is further in the depths regardless of the potential for personal revolution, and who will always challenge any who make fixed claims to examine those under the light of reason, debate, logic, and yes, compassion. Because some things that nearly every living person would agree to be absolutely true are neither fair nor desirable, but ought to be brought into the cold light of day precisely for this purpose: to drive the challenger, and anyone around who dares to agree, toward positive change.Digital illo from a photo: Choose to Grow

For the highest purpose of all knowledge is not merely self-congratulation, though it may admittedly keep one warm inside; it’s growth that can be shared by any others who will listen and learn as well.

When such central concerns of the communal life as politics, social policy, religion, law, science, health care, ethics, and education have become mere arenas for every hateful phobia or ism to express itself through opinionated pettiness, self-indulgent hissy fits, screeds and screaming matches, name calling and mud-slinging and other misbehavior that would shame anyone under two years of age, I begin to despair of our future. All I can think to do is start the revolution at home, and by doing my own homework. I must try to emulate my heroes better: fearlessly ask questions, practice due diligence to support my claims, and listen calmly to all points of view with the same healthy blend of openness and skepticism. And I’ll leave the mantle of noisy self-righteousness and impossible claims and promises stashed deep in the archives of disproved history where it belongs.

Photomontage: Bluebonnets for the Win

Turns out, the wildflowers grow and proliferate, whether the area has been punctuated with political pickets, paved over with freeways, flooded, neglected, or subjected to any number of indignities natural or otherwise.

I Post: Therefore, I Am

Photo: One November in PortlandI took a month off from blogging. Many of you will not have noticed at all, but it was a big deal to me. I hadn’t taken a full day off of blogging in the four and a half years since I’d started. I wasn’t even really planning this hiatus, but I think it was destined. And necessary.

Since I last posted here, much has happened. The vast majority of it was at least semi-planned, and generally was wonderfully welcome, too. But it would take more time than it did to live it if I were to try to fully document it here, and that might take a little of the luster from the memory, something I would surely begrudge rather than delighting in the telling. So I shall give you a relatively brief recap and call it good.

You know from my last posts—if you were picking up on the heavy hints—that after our return from Portland (Oregon) where he was conducting one of his choirs at a wonderful conference and we were happily reunited with a number of dear friends and colleagues, my husbandly partner and I had a brief breath-catching, laundry-attacking, household-packing few days at home before jetting off again, the next time for Sweden. That trip, too, was for both work and play purposes. The original excuse for the trip to our beloved home-from-home turf in Stockholm was my husband’s invitation to be interviewed for a radio broadcast celebrating the history and future of Swedish choral music in general and the Swedish Radio Choir (Radiokören, or RK) in specific, as part of RK’s gala celebrations of its 90th birthday. After a literal false start to the trip, when bad weather in Chicago made our flight connection there impossible on the scheduled day and forced us to take a next-day pair of flights bringing us to Stockholm hours instead of a whole day ahead of the onstage interview, we tumbled happily into place at “our” fabulous accustomed apartment in the heart of the city and made a running start at the planned activities.

In all, there were three concerts, the radio interview, another radio interview for him with a second broadcaster on a different program, walks all over town, a day-trip out to Uppsala, and meetings and meals with dear, wonderful, longtime friends at pretty much every lunch and dinnertime throughout our stay. We even enjoyed a full-on, all-American Thanksgiving dinner on the official day, made by a beloved Swedish friend who lives much of the time in the US, served in her Swedish love’s warm and beautiful apartment, and shared with another pair of dear friends—an American expat conductor who is my spouse’s brother-from-another-mother, and his brainy and beautiful wife. And of course we still failed to see everyone (you’re not off the hook forever, Anna!) and do everything we wanted to do before we had to head back to Texas. Real life, and all that jazz.

Plenty of excitement in real life, too, for that matter. We got to bed just after 2 a.m. on the 28th of November after our journey back from Stockholm, and at 8 the same morning, the movers arrived to pack us up for our home relocation across town. Thank goodness it was just across town. Tight timing and a few hiccups in schedule-coordination along the way meant that although we had sold our house for one of the three solid offers within 48 hours of putting it on the market—and less than three weeks after seeing an apartment ad that convinced us we could be comfortable in a place half the size of the house—moving so immediately on our return from the second trip in a row was dicey at best.

Photo: Meanwhile, back in Texas

Meanwhile, back in Texas, there was a walk around the lake on Christmas day in shirtsleeves, supervised by our friendly local pair of vultures, Heckle and Jeckle.

But it all went smoothly enough, in the end. We’d hired a previously-used great company for the move itself, the friend who had been our realtor when we bought the house to re-sell it for us, and a terrific lady who managed a complete living-estate sale to reduce our belongings enough to fit us into the apartment. A scant couple of weeks after all of that, I am sitting in a very comfortable living space in a well-managed rental with nice, quiet neighbors, and I know that we did the right thing. Lighter housekeeping has its appeal, and it’s simply fun to reinvent the nest once in a while as well. Something so refreshing lies in the revised view of myself that comes from sorting through the tangible stuff of my life and deciding what to change, what to keep, what to eliminate, and what to add. We are still in the same town, barely a few miles from where we lived, but with a change of view in many ways after 6 and 1/2 years here.

Including, as it happens, that since the location of the apartment doesn’t offer any views other than of rather grungy local roads, parking areas, and a cement plant, the artificial views I’m making at the windows by having my scenic photos printed on curtains that let light through without making us look at the dullness outside. Never let it be said that I lack a rich fantasy world, no matter how excellent my real world happens to be. I’ve loved the rather fantastical life that our travel and change-of-venue adventures afford me, but I can find much to delight me in the everyday, too.Photo: Skillet Cornbread, Again

To make myself feel right at home when we returned to our current place of actual residence, I whipped up some good old skillet cornbread for tonight’s chili dinner at a friend’s house. This batch of cornbread was seasoned with salt and white pepper, smoked paprika, roasted coriander, mace, and powdered dried orange peel, and to confirm my devotion to Texan treats, I brought a ridiculously tasty spread to slather on it: about half butter and half sorghum-molasses, whipped together with a hefty splash of Texas bourbon and a sprinkling of coarse salt. I may not be a native Texan myself, but I can walk the walk.

Photo: Boozy Butter

Boozy butter, anyone?

Now that I’m back to the blog, I cannot say that I feel the need to post every single day again, as I go forward. I expect I’ll post often, most likely several times a week, but it’ll be when I have the time and the gumption and the wherewithal to create posts. Blogging is, after all, only my avocation. I don’t make a penny from it, and it takes a remarkably large quantity of my time and efforts and brain-power just to develop sufficient content for the images and words I post, never mind to keep up with the expansive correspondence shared with my readers and fellow bloggers and friends. I enjoy this blog greatly and am enriched by being the sort of diarist I am in this place, but it’s not the center of my life.

So I will see you, often I hope, and when I am not fully occupied with other things. I will, in a literal sense, keep you posted. And I salute you for your kind visitations and the warm and wonderful companionship you’ve shared with me along the way! May the year ahead be a grand one, kind and generous to us all and filled with the wonder that brings me here to visit with you in the first place. Happy 2016, everyone!

Homecoming

Recognition

How the calm of evening simmers,

As a mist engulfs the lake…

Stars flick on, the city glimmers…

Walking, I am wide-awake…

In my heart, there leaps the knowing

Recognition, as I roam,

That this scintillating, glowing

Place is welcoming me home.

I have wandered many places,

Lived and loved in many lands

Where a hundred thousand faces,

Hospitable, gracious hands,

Generous, inspiring people’s

Invitations, and the rest,

Filled the land, from vales to steeples,

With the joys that please me best…

Yet, for all the sweet emotions

I have known in every spot,

I’d traverse the widest oceans

To return to where I’ve got

Such connection, deep and healing,

Such belonging, in my soul,

Recognition so revealing

That it’s Home that makes me whole.Photomontage: Recognition/Brotherly Love

Stockholm, 21 November 2015

The Long and the Short of It

The short hours of winter daylight in northern climes have been known to drive some folk to madness. Such a visible reminder of brevity can be frightening. But it has its magical, lovely characteristics, too, not least of all in the extended reach of dusk backward into daylight hours, when the encroaching dark of a long night is preceded by a wash of sweet watercolor lengthening slowly, easefully across the sky. It begins barely past noon, the sun clinging to the horizon’s edge while rolling at this seasonally low angle to other parts of the globe. It often ends, it seems, with a snap of the sky’s lid into full darkness, but until then the whole afternoon has been suffused with yearning and attenuated gleam, the sky a pearl rather than the flat, undifferentiated blue of its cloudless expanse often seen on longer days.Photo: Sunset Begins

Sunset Begins

Sunset begins as dawn is barely ending,

The day a secret known to but a few

Who see such light without yet apprehending

That their mortality is old while new,

That death will follow birth in shorter seasons

Than anyone admits or likes to know,

Yet even such tight brevity has reasons

For relishing the afternoon’s brief glow.

 

Say this, if you would savor for its beauty

A life as short as sorrows make it seem:

That recognizing light remains a duty,

And relishing the colors of its gleam

A pleasure that entrances more compactly,

Succinctly, for the smallness of the day,

And teaches us to see such joys exactly

Within their span, before they fly away.

 

The moon, appearing ere the sun has faltered,

The sun chasing her tail toward the moon,

And all the stars that follow them, are altered

In sight because I know they vanish soon,

And I with them, but dream that time will lengthen

Enough to let me see another day,

Wiser for seeing afternoons that strengthen

And nourish me by coloring the way.

 

Sunset begins as I was barely crying,

Newborn, and night appears and quickly wins,

Yet even as I feel I’m fainting, dying,

I know life’s beauties when sunset begins.

Circumnavigations

13.30 hours: Driver arrives to take us to Dallas-Ft. Worth International airport.

16.15: Departure time. Flight to Chicago (along with hundreds of other flights) is delayed by high winds. Pilot opts for optimism and starts boarding.

16.35: It becomes clear that even an optimist can’t get us to O’Hare in time for our connection to the Stockholm flight. Spouse makes inquiries at boarding desk.

16.45: It becomes clear that no flights from Chicago to Stockholm will have room for us within the next 24 hours, if not longer. Spouse convinces airline employees to take his checked luggage back out of the airplane cargo hold.

16.55: Baggage in hand, we work our way back to the ticketing gate and confirm our new and different tickets, on a different day, with a different airline, through a different intermediate country.

17.05: Enjoying an expensive cab ride home for the night, we send messages to the friend who was planning to pick us up at the airport in Stockholm, and to the shuttle driver who had picked us up in the afternoon. Time to initiate Plan B.

13.30, Day 2: Driver arrives to take us to DFW airport.

[Insert Twilight Zone theme music here.]

Photo: Expect the Unexpected

Travel experts always say to Expect the Unexpected. And this helps me cope *How*??? Guess I’m just supposed to be glad bighorn sheep haven’t learned how to fly yet.

Under-Wonders

One of my crew of amazing nephews, a highly skilled entertainer from birth both by design and in the usual way of natural surprises that occur in our family, was on a train with his parents and, seeing the fitted white head rest covers, blurted out Hey! Whose underwear are these?! They did look a lot like underpants. An understandable identification, to be sure. Pants, by the way, are not always as easily identified as one might assume.

There were the Pants of Mystery that lived in our house for several weeks until I discovered them lurking on a clothes hook behind a door and started asking around about them. They were definitely not mine or my husband’s. Several more weeks passed while I was learning that they didn’t belong to any of a half-dozen friends of ours who had stayed at our home in the past months or who had changed clothes there before or after a concert (yes, it happens). Didn’t belong to anybody…or did they? After a couple of months’ intermittent staring at the attractive yet enigmatic trousers, I had nearly given up on finding their long-lost owner when a different friend wrote a note from out of town and inquired regarding their whereabouts. I didn’t really need to require an identification from him as proof of ownership, of course, though I was tempted just because of the ridiculous weirdness of losing one’s pants and not noticing they were missing for months at a time. Though to be fair, he does own other pants. There are always enough pants to keep the world operating, evidently, at least my particular part of the world.Photo: I'm about to be Schooled

In fact, there might be more pants floating around than one might even expect, or need. When we were on our summer travels this year, we visited such beautiful places, so many that beckoned me to pull on some pants and get out to enjoy them. I loved hanging about the piers and bridges, beaches and marinas where I could get my fill of gazing into natural open water, such a scarce commodity in north Texas. I loved looking at the barnacles and mussels, the sand washed up against seaweed washed up against driftwood and rocks. Seeing the flicker of little tadpoles, sprats, fingerlings as they flitted and swam up from the depths and around the pilings. Watching as jellyfish seemed to bloom in the darkness.Photo: Blooming Jellyfish

And lo, seeing that one dramatic jellyfish wasn’t a jelly at all. Another pair of pants. How they got to drifting in the water right near the pier is beyond me. I don’t know if anyone will see this post and claim them, let alone ‘fess up as to how they arrived, empty, off the pier right there in the big city, but I like to think that they’re just part of the cosmic company of pants, having an adventure of their own en route to serving as headrest covers on a train in Norway, as a minor mystery-with-history appearing on the back of my door when I don’t expect it, or perhaps becoming the King of Pants in an alternate universe where trousers rule and find stray people as curiosities and mysteries to solve.Photomontage: Not Your Grandfather's Swim Trunks

Vintage-Montages

I love Old Stuff. Maybe it’s the increasing affinity I feel as I age, myself. Maybe it’s the lovely and mysterious history carried by venerable objects, the sense of time folding back upon itself to reveal hidden, intertwined stories that intersect, and somehow remain embedded, in the visible and tangible archaeological detritus of the past, whether immediate or ancient. I’d guess it’s both admiration and affinity. I like to think that eventually, somebody bulldozing through the dust-heaps of unremembered time will come across a mark or two of my having existed and find, rather than the dull and quotidian facts of who I was or what I did, a trove of enchanting imagined possibilities colored by the rust and the wreckage.

On this past summer’s travels, it was, as it always is for me, a magical treasure hunt for old and arcane stuff that would feed my imagination just as much as it was a journey of love and learning and newly delightful experiences. Much beauty, a bit of humor, and lots of mystery. So I give you now a collection of the images I found that filled this particular vault of my affections, with more—undoubtedly—to come.Photomontage: Dolly's Destiny

Photomontage: Milk Bottles & Machinery

Photomontage: Rust/Rusticity