We’re almost a month into 2021 and I’ve had some revelations…
…starting with a piece I wrote when I was 19, which I thought was pretty good, but which was decidedly NOT. It didn’t sound like me. Rather, it sounded like the work of a young woman who was trying to impress her teacher by writing something she thought he’d like.
I suppose it was all part of the learning process. But, I would never play it for anyone. In fact, it left me wondering how I believed I could write music in the first place.
Then, I took a breath and listened to some of my vocal performances from when I was around the same age.
You should know, I never liked hearing myself on recordings. My voice always sounded babyish and insubstantial to me—too light, too high, too Minnie Mouse. So, it took a giant leap of faith to listen to myself sing, particularly after hearing that piece.
But shock of shocks, I wasn’t awful.
I also listened to some of the recordings my husband made of me playing the piano—Brahms, Berg, Chopin, Schubert, Mendelssohn—and was equally surprised to find they were okay.
I think one of the hardest things any creative person can do is find their voice—that genuine expression that rises from the gnarled recesses within them. Even harder, is the ability to recognize it when it emerges, and appreciate its deeply personal sound and form.
The painting above has no title. My father completed this when he was in his eighties, after taking up a brush for the first time in his seventies. He was a genial man, my father, with torrents of unrealized dreams dammed up inside him. If you look closely, and listen, you can almost hear those dreams crash against the cliffs. Although I should have, I never thought to catalog his work. What I do know is that two of his paintings stood out among the dozens he produced: the one above, and an idyllic lake scene, a complete antithesis to it. Both represent the man he was.
For months I’ve found myself in an odd place—trying to sustain the appearance of writing, while not having any interest in writing. Other than the words on this blog, and the occasional letters to family and friends, I’ve produced nothing.
I can’t blame the virus, as tempting as it is. The ideas, and desire to shape them, started drying up long before COVID-19. It just took months of solitude to accept, and make peace with it.
Recently, a composer friend, who never heard any of my music, suggested I should start composing again—tentatively, gently, as though he understood he was directing me to a room I’d shuttered and forgotten. I stopped composing after graduate school, for many of the same reasons I don’t write now.
It was an unlikely suggestion, from an unlikely source.
But sometimes, the unlikeliest suggestions, from the unlikeliest sources, resonate in the deepest recesses, in the most organic ways.
Once, I followed a similar unlikely suggestion, from an unlikely source, because it felt right, and it led to love.
This feels the same.
I have no idea what will spring from my shuttered space. But, if the only music that comes from it is as indicative of who I am, as my father’s paintings were of who he was, then I’ll be happy.
I imagine this blog will undergo some changes before 2021. Information about books will remain, as will all the old posts. But, the focus will shift, as I reintroduce myself to my roots, and, to you.
In the meanwhile, I wish you safety, good health, abundant strength, joy, and love in the coming holiday season…
Whenever I hear someone assert, “We are better than this,” I wonder.
As much as I want to believe that people are basically good at heart, I’ve seen too many act out of self-interest, rather than a common good, succumb to the reassurance of herd mentality, rather than strike out against it, follow unethical orders, rather than defy them. There are always exceptions, but often, not enough. It feels as though people will defend their behavior, no matter how inconsiderate, corrupt, or simply petty, if they feel it’s in their best interests to do so.
It’s easy to blame one person for causing the assorted manifestations of ugliness that emerge from self interest, but to do so ignores what has been both our greatest strength and fatal flaw since humans walked upright, perhaps even before: the instinct for self-preservation. This instinct can drive people to excel, create masterpieces, eradicate diseases; but it can also drive them to oppress, amass power at others’ expense, take pleasure in, or blame people for their pain and misfortune. The ugly side of self-preservation, indeed, survival, existed long before the current administration, and will continue long after it is gone….
So, are we better than our primitive survival instincts?
The current expressions of ugliness on both sides of the ideological spectrum would lead me to believe we’re not.
And yet, there are the thousands of people who put themselves in harms way every day to provide necessary services to those at risk, or work under the most physically grueling and emotionally wrenching conditions to care for those who are ill, or dying….
And there are the simplest expressions of selflessness that say, “I care….”
When my mother-in-law died, the distribution of many of her treasures fell to my sister-in-law and me. One by one, we went through them, with my sister-in-law choosing which pieces she wanted, and the two of us offering the rest to our children. Because I wanted the process to be as amicable and stress-free as possible, I refrained from asking for anything. After almost an hour had passed, and we’d gone through a substantial number of possessions, I held up a plate that was one of my mother-in-law’s favorites, and asked my sister-in-law if she wanted it. She took the plate in her hands and eyed it lovingly, remembering, I’m certain, as I did, all the homemade cookies and sweets that were served on it, then looked at me, a bit wistfully, and said, “Don’t you want anything?”
I said, “She was your mother, their grandmother. Her things should go to you and them.”
She sighed, and set the plate in front of me. “You take it. I want you to have it.”
So, are we better?
On most days, I’m doubtful. And then I think of all those selfless souls who shop for, and tend to, and care for us, with not nearly enough recognition and appreciation for their heroism, or enough patience to do what’s needed to make their jobs, their lives easier. And I think of that day so many years ago, in view of another loss, and the gift that was given so generously, with so much love, and I think, maybe, maybe, we can be….