Category Archives: Music

Choosing Life and Breathing Love

I’m sitting here in my pajamas at 10:19AM on a Saturday before I work from 1PM-10PM at the Apple Store in the Mall of America. I’m drinking expired Caribou Blend coffee that I earned by working at Caribou one day a week. I’m helping my grandchildren, the twins, put my Riley Hospital address stickers on their shirts. The address stickers are almost as cool as band-aids, probably because they get to have limitless address stickers, and we’ve had to limit them to only one band-aid per visit, ever since that visit where they used two whole boxes of band-aids in about 20 minutes. We’ve already watched Mickey Mouse Road Rally, and eaten breakfast and second breakfast. They’re now taking their Mamo to the park to play, then to the river to throw rocks into the water, then to the post office and grocery store. This is pretty much the perfect start to a day.

I’m taking advantage of an increasingly rare and special mood of my own and writing a bit. I’ve not posted anything here for almost six months, because I was trying to give myself some distance from my writing process and from sharing all the things about me, which I hadn’t (and possibly still haven’t) sorted out. Sometimes writing provides clarity, and sometimes the process just muddies the waters in a way that isn’t the least bit helpful. I also read back through a lot of my blogs, and realized that I was on a wild cyclic path, one I hadn’t been dealing with, and one I wasn’t sure I could deal with. The cyber-trail here indicates a lot of swinging from really good moments to really deep, sad, depressed moments.

And, being more honest than I am comfortable with, some of my darkest times aren’t even recorded here, because I was embarrassed that I had no control over my feelings, because I didn’t want to burden people I love, and because I didn’t want the stigma of being so sad I’d contemplated taking my own life. Many times in my life, I just wanted it all to end. My darkest moments were the 18 to 24 months surrounding my move to Minnesota, from March of 2013 until January of 2015.

I needed to move in order to really see how sad I’d been. I needed to move to get a new lease on life. No one was at fault for these moments, and most of you didn’t even know I was having a hard time. I hid it well.

Some of us, for whatever reason, are just prone to depression, suicidal ideations, sadness, loneliness, or the like. For some of us, this can happen even when it seems as if everything is going amazingly well for us. I’ve struggled with this since I was about 12-13 years old. For me, there are a string of reasons—none of which I am ready to divulge to the general public—for my depression. For me, my depression is coupled with addictions or obsessions of various sorts, loneliness even in crowds of people, feeling misunderstood or not good enough, feeling like no one will ever really understand me, and simply not wanting to walk outside of my house to face the world.

But something keeps me going.

A glimpse of hope?

A bit of grace?

A kind word?

A tattoo that says, “Give me hope in the darkness”?

I’d like to say that I am in a place where I will never have to struggle with any of this again, but I can’t be certain. I can say that I haven’t had a suicidal thought since early last spring, but I can’t say I never will again. I am learning to take each day one day at a time, and I am learning to set reasonable and attainable goals to keep myself focused on the joys of living.

Here are some of my long-term goals: to be alcohol abstinent for a while, to run three times a week and swim three times a week, to go hiking once a week, to find the joy in small things, to not allow the bad things in the world overtake me, to write more, to remain vegetarian, to find a therapist and work through some of this, and to tell someone if I start to feel sad, overwhelmed, or otherwise not right.

I know deep down that living can be a joyful and beautiful thing.

At my best moments, I love life. I love to have fun. I love feeling on top of the world. I love running, hiking, swimming, biking, disc golf, and the simplicity of a walk. I love the fine arts. I love rivers, lakes, and the ocean. I love crunching fall leaves under my feet. I love humanitarianism. I love sacred beauty. I love secular beauty. I love my family. I love my friends. I love a nice blue sky. I love people and their idiosyncratic behaviors. I love watching life be beautiful.

I love all of this.

When I can.

As hard as I can.

Because, in those moments, I recognize the joy, the hope, the grace, the beauty, the love.

Eight Beautiful Things in Life: A List

I’ve been sitting here trying to think about what to write, and though my ideas are pouring out of me, they aren’t really cooperating and being coherent. I’ve been having the same problem for a while now. I can think of all sorts of ideas and concepts I want to discuss, but I can’t get them to come out in a logical fashion. My thoughts have been coming out in images: So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens, right? Short snippets of songs: mystic crystal revelations, Aquarius. Short bursts of my favorite artistic visions:

Paris Street Rainy Day

As much as I try to gather my thoughts and put them in some sort of order, they just shoot out of me like children throw those little pop-its on the Fourth of July. Random. Loud. And extra-annoying. So, I’ve decided to make a list of eight beautiful things that have happened in my life within the last two weeks.

Eight Beautiful Things in No Particular Order

  1. I cut my 5K time by 6 minutes. I went from a PR of 41 minutes to a PR of 35:17. This was beautiful to me, because after five or more years of running, I started to actually feel like a runner. I ran 11-minute miles. Three of them. Consecutively. Not only that, but I got up the next morning and ran a mile, and got up the next morning (this morning) and ran four more. My body felt like it was singing at mile four, and I felt as if I could have kept going for another four miles. Suddenly, running doesn’t feel like a job; running feels like a joy. My new goal for the half marathon is 2:45.00 or less.
  2. My students read and discussed “The Wasteland,” and I think they liked the poem. They were engaged, they were thoughtful, and they seemed to finally get Modernism. Maybe when I teach Modernism next time, I will start with “The Wasteland” to set up the unit. I feel like I have new eyes for this poem, because it was never one I really enjoyed, but my students were really able to relate to the fragmentation of it, and they had so many ideas about why “April is the cruelest month.” The lines that seemed to resonate the most with them were these: “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, you cannot say, or guess, for you know only a heap of broken images, where the sun beats, and the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, and the dry stone no sound of water.” I wonder if they can relate to this feeling of despair in a way that I can’t, because I swear to you, this poem has never had the meaning for me that it does now.
  3. I can actually recognize the melodies of some songs that I have been playing on the piano. I know sharps and flats, slurs and ties, eighth through whole notes and rests, and how to start on the upbeat. I can play a weird version of “Mary Jane,” “Clementine,” “In the Valley,” “Jolly Good Fellow,” and “When the Saints Go Marching.” I can also play an F, G7, and C chords. Basically, I feel good about this piano thing, and what feels really good about it is that I feel so relaxed when I am muddling through the few songs I know. Having something that doesn’t involve reading or exercise to help relieve my stress is perfect, especially this year.
  4. Fall is the most beautiful season when it’s fall. Spring is the most beautiful . . . Summer is the most beautiful . . . Winter is the beautiful . . . But it’s fall now, and fall is the most beautiful when the trees are fully dressed in their brightest colors and the limbs are shifting and dancing in the wind. Fall is beautiful when the rain falls lightly down creating a haze of the lights reflecting on the river and when the days are shirt-sleeve warm, but the nights need a fireplace warming. When the leaves crunch and the birds take flight, fall is the most beautiful.
  5. After I helped my dad butcher some chickens, I learned that I could sustain myself through farming. We raised quite a bit of produce through three minuscule gardens in our city front and back yards, and we made at least five weeks of food-base (broth and meat) from two chickens. I am pretty sure that given a larger farm and a part-time job, I could grow, process, and store up plenty for our family for the year. We might even be able to cut out the grocery for a good portion of the late summer and early fall. I’d even make sure to grow things we’ve never had to keep our mouths interested in home-grown foods.
  6. My brother and I started our first batch of hard cider yesterday. We are brewing five gallons of honey-cider to try an initial test run. Adding honey theoretically makes the cider more alcoholic because the yeast has more sugar to feed off of. I am hoping it will give it a nice clover-y taste so there will be a uniqueness to our cider. We have to let this sit for two weeks or until it stops bubbling, then one more week to let the yeast sift down. Then we have to add in a bit more sugar, so it will carbonate, before we siphon the cider off into another bucket. Once it’s in the other bucket, we stir it up and bottle it. This cider thing, if it works, will be one of our greatest sibling cooperative efforts.
  7. Through a rigorous paleo diet and running at least a mile every day, I am within 5 pounds of weighing 200 pounds. When I get down to 196.4, I will have lost 60 pounds, and as it is right now, I’ve lost 50-55 pounds, depending on the day. I’m well within range of my goal of 170—I don’t want to lose Athena status for running—and I am so excited. Bec asked me if I wanted to buy some clothes when I reached my goal weight. Yes, I do, but first, I want some new body art! Always with the tattoos!
  8. I got to spend the evening with my friend Lyn, who is an artist. We sat at the Yart Sale here in Muncie while people looked at her art, asked for lots of business cards, and then didn’t really buy much.I’m not so sure that people just buy art right out anymore. I mean, we do, but I think we’re atypical. Most people look, mull it over, look some more, mull it over some more, look again, mull it over again, and then maybe buy it. It’s a little disheartening if you’re an artist, I would think. What the Yart Sale did for me, though, is two things: (1) I got to spend time with one of my dearest friends, and (2) I got to soak up all that artiness, all that beauty, all that truth, and all that grace. That evening made me fall in love again with art, and I would argue that’s what’s making my thoughts come out all discombobulated. Art poisoned my logical mind: “I feel certain that I’m going mad again. [. . .] And I shan’t recover this time” (Virginia Woolf).

Untitled, Skull

Piano Lessons. Body Issues. Teaching. Flowers.

I started taking piano lessons at the end of August, and the lessons are going pretty well. I like to think that since I can play two chords and some melody with quarter, half, and whole notes, that I’m going to be the next Sunnyland Slim or something. I can even play with both hands at the same time, though when I have to play a half note with my right hand and a dotted half with my left hand, I get a little confused. The purpose of the piano lessons is two-fold:

(1) I want to be able to play the blues. I think in a former life I may have been African American, and the blues just feels natural to me. The blues are natural to me in much the same way as African American women’s literature feels like a comfortable, old shoe that I’ve worn and worn, which is a compliment because I feel so at home there. I feel it, like I feel the blues. I wonder sometimes if I can identify with African American texts, music, and art because of my own struggles. Though they pale in comparison, I think many GLBT concerns, pains, sadnesses, or inequalities make the bearers empathetic to the plights of others. For whatever reasons, I feel the blues, man. I feel ’em.

AND (2) I needed something to use for relaxation. I used to read for relaxation, but when reading became my livelihood, books stopped providing the same sort of haven for me as they once did. In fact, I can’t stop reading pleasurable books, like I read the books I use to make a living, and I find myself doing feminist or Marxist readings of The Little Engine that Could. Which is the opposite of relaxing. I started playing piano, so I could have something to do that wasn’t letters or pictures or anything rhetorical. Music is round notes and lines. There are few words involved and the pictures music makes in my head aren’t feminist or Marxist or any other -ist. The pictures made by music are art and equality. One day they will also be beautiful. Right now they are 1, 2, 3, 4 or 1, 2, 3 or even 1, 2 as I count the beats in a measure and lift my fingers or put them down accordingly. I have faith in future beauty.

*

On Monday, I plan to start a new Whole 30 and a 30 day running streak, which means I have to run at least one mile every day for 30 days. No questions asked. My goal is to run 2 miles for each weekday and 5 miles for each weekend day. I have to do soemthing, so I don’t feel like shit. I’ve returned to my pre-paleo ways, and I’ve gained five pounds. I’m at 215 pounds right now, so technically I’ve gained 10 pounds from my lowest. Admittedly, I haven’t started eating grains or most other agricultural products, but I have been drinking much too much alcohol and eating much too much ice cream. I just can’t resist a good Strongbow or Chunky Monkey. The last time I went for a run, my body felt so good afterward I am not sure why I didn’t keep up that momentum and just keep running. I felt as if I could run miles and miles! I still have a goal to run a marathon before I turn 40, which means next fall is the last chance, because I can’t run when it’s hot out.

My goal is to complete the Heritage Trail Marathon in September of 2013. I tried to run a road marathon last fall, but I failed miserably because of an asthma attack, so we’re volunteering for that same marathon this year. Once I get ready to amp my mileage back up I am going to order some Altras. (EDIT: I went ahead and ordered the Altras, so I can get a jump start on those longer runs.) They are zero-drop with a wide toe-box, but they’ll provide the cushioning I like for my feet. Because I am a big girl, the barefoot thing works for short distances and in theory—but not in practicality—for longer distances. I plan to order them as soon as I get down to 200 pounds. I keep telling myself: You started at 256.4, and you’ve made it to 205, so how hard will it be to lose 15 pounds? Damn difficult is the answer. I’m hoping that by doing a Whole 30 and running every day I can jump start the weight loss again. If not, at the very least, I’ll feel 100 times better.

*

School’s going well, and I love teaching American literature three times each day. We’ve covered all of the early Americans and my students took their first test today, focusing on William Bradford, Olaudah Equiano, Jonathan Edwards, and some of the important Founding Fathers. I was most frustrated during this unit because the writers we had to cut from the original syllabus were all women or poets. Grr. I should have cut Jefferson, Paine, and Henry. Doesn’t everyone know, “Give me liberty or give me death,” that we’re all created with “unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and that “these are the times that try men’s souls.” Wouldn’t an American sophomore be brain dead not to know these things? One would think they’d be familiar, right? If so, one would be oh so wrong. So, we spent a day with our three rhetoricians and their famous words.

I have been surprised about how much I’ve actually enjoyed teaching British literature, too. My students have read A Taste of Honey and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead among other things, and I’ve been impressed at their thoughtful consideration of texts that even I find challenging. We’ve discussed cultural studies, hegemony, existentialism, absurdism, Othering, and a variety of other cultural issues, and we’re only three weeks into the school year.

*

Finally, I have been surprised at how much I feel like I am getting done this school year. I get up early, and I work on my dissertation. I go to school on the weekends, and get every thing ready for the week. I stay after to take tickets at ball games or to work on some grading or whatnot. I use my prep periods to prep things or grade. And I have time to do other things. I feel so on top of things, and the feeling is pretty nice for a change.

Everything’s comin’ up roses. Or marigolds.

And We’re Off…

I know time is relative, but it always amazes me that one seven day time span can feel like an eternity, while the next one flies past at warp speed. This past week was one of the former, creeping past slowly, like a Mizpah motorcycle with too heavy a load. Don’t get me wrong, though, just because a week moves so slowly it feels like each day grows moss on its north side, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad week. In fact, this week was quite good. Quite. Good.

*

School is off to an excellent start, and I am adjusting to teaching high school. I do have some students who I wish I could reach in a more engaging way, but I think that will simply take practice, and some extra effort on their part as well. I’m excited about the literature we’re about to study, so that helps. In American literature, we’re getting ready to read works by people who decided to give up everything in Europe to float across the ocean to the unknown land to the west. Do I think the some of the early settlers were a bit morally corrupt and highly unethical? Yes. Am I still fascinated by their writing and how they perceived the journey and their early days on an entirely new continent? Yes. I cannot imagine what gumption it would take, especially as a young woman, to pack up your belongings and get into a boat, not knowing whether you would ever see your friends, relatives, or homeland again. In British literature, we’re beginning here in the now with contemporary literature. Along with a variety of poems and short stories, we’re reading A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney. I can’t wait to discuss this play with my students. We brainstormed the big ideas on Friday of last week: gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, and other cultural concerns. I hope through this text, I can set up some bigger picture concepts that we’ll consider as we travel back in time to the Anglo-Saxon poets. I want so badly to do my students the favor of making them excited about literature and writing.

*

Because I am trying out my new time-management skills, I am trying to have one day each week where I don’t work on anything, where I take a Sabbath free from anything relating to school or my dissertation. This past week, I got up every morning by 5:30 and was working on my dissertation by 6. A couple of mornings I stayed at home and worked, but that wasn’t as focused, nor did it work as well, so this week my goal is to ride my bike to school by 5:30 after making a cup of cheap coffee at home (no more Starbucks for a while). That way I’ll have two full hours to work on my dissertation before my students show up at 7:30ish. I didn’t stay after to work on school stuff at all this week, and I can tell because I am already behind. This week I plan to start staying at school until 4, then I’ll come home and practice piano for half an hour after I put the dogs out. I’ll end each day by taking a two-mile run/meditation break before making dinner and falling into the chair to watch Jeopardy. This will all work like clockwork, unless I am scheduled to take tickets at a fall sport, unless I am lucky enough to have coffee with a friend, or unless I am unlucky enough to have a meeting at school.

I suppose with each day being packed like this, I shouldn’t have problems sleeping.

Today was my first Sabbath; I feel a little guilty and unproductive.

I hope that feeling goes away soon, so I can use my Sabbath to feel more rested, instead like I should have been working on something all day. I spent my rest day being anxious. I woke up and ran three miles, then Bec and I went to Indianapolis to get her computer fixed. We said goodbye to Elizabeth and then finished cleaning up the stuff she didn’t get to, and I went to school to drop off some of her artwork for my classroom. I then went on a twelve-mile bike ride on my new bike. Since this was only the second time I’ve ridden her, I decided not to go too far, and it was really hot today. The riding position on a road bike is enough different than a mountain bike, that riding her for long distances will take some getting used to. However, I love that bike. I feel like I am flying when I am riding her, but today I was really only going about 30 seconds faster per mile than usual. The ride still felt great and it curbed my antsy feeling. Finally, I settled in after my hot dog and ice cream dinner to watch the NCIS marathon on USA. I guess I have been a bit more restful than during the week, but I am hoping next weekend’s camping expedition in Door County will soothe my spirit even more.

*

I had my first piano lesson this past week, and it went really well. I am so excited to learn something entirely new and foreign to me. I love music, but I am not super musical, so this is a great challenge. I like the fact that I will be learning some music theory along with learning how to read music and actually play the piano. I was surprised that I remembered some things from when I had elementary education music methods class in college nearly twenty years ago, and I remembered something from when I was younger (nearly 30 years ago) and eventually chose softball over music. I don’t regret it.

The biggest thing I remembered from my little kid piano lessons was that my teacher had dyed red hair and wore 1970s big frame tortoise shell glasses on a chain around her neck. Naomi was the Nazarene Church organist, and I loved her strangely colored, permed, and carefully coifed hair. I didn’t love the musty smell of her house, the way she sat right next to me on the piano bench and poked me in the back if I slouched, or her cantankerous little dogs that would try to nip at me if I ever had to go to the bathroom. I vaguely remember that one reason I didn’t like piano lessons was that I always had to “hold it,” because I didn’t want to have to go past her little dog to go to the bathroom.

I remember how in high school, a beautiful girl—one I likely had a crush on as I look back on it—also went to Naomi for piano lessons. Obviously, she didn’t choose athletics over music. One night on her way to piano lessons, her family minivan was sideswiped and tipped over, breaking the glass into her face and hair. I was never so relieved for someone to come out of an accident unscathed. It was the first time I can remember that weird feeling coming into the pit of my stomach over another person’s welfare. I’m talking about the feeling I get at really sad or romantic—frequently they’re the same, right?—movies, where I feel like I could simultaneously throw up and cry, and I begin swallowing hard to keep from doing either. Well, I guess my point is I have many memories, varied feelings, about piano.

*

Finally, I have to figure out the food situation for school. My preps are at 9AM and 1PM. If I eat breakfast at 9AM, then I am quite hungry by the time I get home from school. I can’t eat lunch at 1PM, because if I do, I am not hungry for dinner and running on a fairly full stomach is not an option. Since I am a very social eater, I don’t want to forgo dinner with Bec, but I also want to keep losing weight, so I don’t want to eat everything in sight when I get home. I guess I will just continue the trial and error of this past week. Theoretically, with a paleo diet, I shouldn’t have blood sugar issues where I am feel like I am “starving.” I think I just may not be eating enough for breakfast, so maybe that will be my trial this week.  More breakfast.

 

Some Things I Love

  1. I love God. I love the way [They] decorate this land every spring and then make it barren every winter. The older I get, the more I appreciate the beauty of this land. I want to capture every single beautiful thing and share it with others. Every morning when it’s light out on my way to teach school, I stop and take a picture of these two trees. This morning was particularly wonderful.

    A few sunspots, but a beautiful sky.

  2. I love my partner. Even when I am grumpy and don’t want to hear her singing in the morning before 9AM, she can still make me smile by making fun of my grumpy, pouty face. She’s beautiful, and I am so blessed. The past few weeks, since she finished school, have been a blessing. We’ve been able to reconnect in very meaningful ways. Walking at the Mounds every Sunday is one thing we love and one thing we share. Those walks have reconnected our souls.

    Aren't we cute?

  3. I love my family. We are pretty zany, and sometimes we are a little out of touch with the rest of the world, but we rock nonetheless. My parents are getting older, but they still want to do fun stuff with my brother and me. This summer we are going to the minor league home run derby and all-star game in Buffalo, to Gettysburg, and to Hershey, Pennsylvania. My little brother is one of my best friends, and he takes me to eat oysters, which are also some things I now love.

    My little bro.

  4. I love art, every type of fine art: drawing, painting, writing, 3-d design, graphic design, photography, theater, music, and all those I haven’t listed. Sometimes I even love bad art, because I think about it as someone trying to say something about this human condition. Good art just makes my heart sing. Good art makes the viewer feel more beautiful, more conflicted, more empowered, more enlightened, more spiritual, more angry, more depressed, more loved simply by being in proximity to it. Sometimes I feel as if I can reach through the art (in whatever form) and touch or feel what the artist was feeling.

    Sculpture in Front of Minnetrista

  5. I love coffee and tea, but coffee more.

    Greek Coffee at The Artist Cafe in Chicago

  6. I love my bicycle. I actually love any sports equipment that allows me to move my body. I love my Vibram Five Fingers, my kayak, my basketball, my disc golf discs, my bathing suit, and all of the other things that help me play outside during any season. This is the one of two areas of my life in which I am a little self-indulgent. I own way too much sports equipment.

    Zbornak the Bicycle

  7. The other area of self-indulgence in my life is food. I love food: the way it looks, the way it smells, the ways it tastes, the way it feels in my mouth. I love experimenting with tried and true recipes, making up my own recipes, and just eating food in its natural state. Really, two things make my heart sing: food and exercise.

    Bison Steaks

  8. For the purposes of this post, the last thing I love hearkens back to my childhood when I’d sit in my little red wagon on the way to the library watching the trains and waving to the caboosers and engineers. I love trains, and all things railroad. Watching trains roll by fantasizing about hopping on and riding until they stop, walking on the tracks or rails, lying on the ties on the trestle over the river looking down between them smelling the river water roll by. I look down the tracks and think about how blessed I am and how my life is coming into what I’ve always wanted it to be.