on isolation

I know people who choose to live in forests – with forests, that is, rather than with humans. I am one of these whenever I am able, though I recognize a balancing urge also, to interact in the world of people, thoughts and ideas. So, internet connection, car, art studio, city streets cloth face masks for me, too.

My ex is perhaps still friends with what seemed to me to be an alarming number of men who have ended up in the eddy of inherited? houses they could not afford to maintain, or had no desire to. Each room filled with stuff piled on top of stuff, the whole house and yard choked with stuff so that they are left with only a corner of the old kitchen to live in. Perhaps a different kind of forest, thick and impassable with once-useful things.

Amazing, these worlds that exist outside of what’s considered acceptable in our wealthy consumer culture: old blankets repurposed as blinds to cover windows, yellowed wallpaper and institution green paint left to peel, rusted coffee tins full of square nails and lost tools on top of old newspapers piled two feet high. Some who live this way have dogs, some have books; they all know things most people haven’t considered.

Others I know live on boats and work in solitary construction jobs, are friends with their faraway daughters who visit occasionally, but regularly. They yearn for Scotland, and home.

Some, widowed, sit in a room at a retirement lodge and practice naming the people in the dresser-top photos. When he turned ninety, one friend of mine told me that being in such a place was like being asleep all the time until someone came to visit. He’d been a musician, passionate in connection and love. As a widower in a care home he existed in a kind of almost-death, waking into life and memory only in the presence of an other.

Through injury or illness, some of us exist in a vegetative state. Non-responsive, but physically stable and alive. Some stay in this state for years then emerge, slowly, achingly into interaction with the world.

Neuroscientist Adrian Owen writes about his research into the this liminal place of being alive and yet not in his 2018 book, Into the Grey Zone. It’s been a good thing to read in these strange times, and I agree with The New Yorker review: “Strangely uplifting…the testimonies of people who have returned from the gray zone evoke the mysteries of consciousness and identity with tremendous power”

I’m wondering if these extremes are what we fear, we who live connected to others through children and jobs, the exchange of goods and thoughtful engagement with community and neighbours. To be alone without external interaction, to forget how and who to be, with others. Fear is a great blocker of insight and greater awareness. In our fear of forgetting, what do we miss? What do we not notice?

Ondaatje’s The English Patient; Trumbo’s Johnny Got his Gun are just two of many stories that have fascinated me – both crafted around disconnection from our senses and our memories. Do we identify memory with Self? I am the person who did and felt these things. I am identified by what and whom I can remember.

What a mystery then, that though he had no memory left, my Dad in his last days was still fully present with me, still communicating, responding, as the person I know.

Swing forward twelve and a half months to 8am on this quiet, wet Monday. I’m in the place I’ve been coming to meet myself every morning for many months now. Here is where, pre-dawn, I gather my thoughts with dreams from the night before and put them on the table in front of the third-floor, east-facing window.

As the light seeps slowly into the world so my thoughts and rememberings return to me in different shapes, intertwined. If I’m still enough, If I keep my willful, active self at bay, I can give them form in some appropriate language – words, or pictures, or sounds. I think this morning it will be my cello I go to, to play them through and out.

6:30am, Monday May 18, 2020, upstairs with Mia the cat in the deep rain morning. I dreamed of garbage piled high in the streets, coated with clusterflies. Children were walking over this on their way to school…

We are afraid to be alone with ourselves, maybe. To be unwitnessed by another human is to be without an important anchor of external self-reference. He thinks I’m funny, she loves my smile, they like my work…. I feel permanently fragile in the loss of these warm things. I miss the quickness of laughter, the lift of an eyebrow, the intensity of a lean-forward response. I miss body warmth and touch; I miss the complexity and resonance of in-person humanness.

#StayHome is a difficult gift, but a gift nonetheless. The isolation challenges me to be fully here, by gum, without worry or anxiety about how important I am, what I do in the world, how others might respond to me, what I’ll do next. I have no idea about any of these things, after all, nor control over which way the world shifts, since what I remember the world to be is no longer what it is. I can only bear witness, show up into my creative space, respond in whatever way feels right, and stay as open as possible to change.

In these morning moments with the table and the dawn I feel more like dad seemed in his last days – absent to my measured, measuring self, maybe, but entirely and fully present to wonder. Curious.

There, a breeze in the sway of the birch, heavy with catkins. Leaves pushing open at the tops of the big trees. A busy chatter of sparrows and starlings. The through-wet-glass blur of the house across the street.

A seagull angles southward.

Wind, unwind

I find it’s most difficult these days to be truly still and resoundingly empty like a huge stone bowl on a plinth.  I’m getting better at it, but it’s taking a considerable amount of focus.

I seek to do this now because it occurred to me many months ago (years, even) that I need more information about several key areas of inquiry:  the education and mentoring of young people; music and the practise of music; energies, their frequencies and the focused direction of them; and the all-encompassing idea of service, which is not necessarily obvious.

further down the trail, same day

The approach I’ve taken thus far into the exploration of these things is the one I learned – from my family full of educators, from my piano and cello teachers, at University  – an idea of ‘study’ which has become nicely embedded,

“I know how to learn.  One does Good Research (source source source!), reads and digests the material one digests, places a clear and concise question inside this newer information and eventually there’s an alchemical moment of aHa.  Then one writes and writes, which leads to know and do and take good action.  If one does this for long enough, inquires for long enough, makes adjustments based on experience and further study, one becomes an expert, a new Source…”

same walk

It’s a decent formula for inquiry.  But there’s no ivory tower anywhere around here – & my studio won’t do for this (Bob Dylan through the wall & a drum kit, my cello waiting right there to work with, those paintings, those prayer flags waiting for the next stage, that sewing machine which needs a tune-up…)

My head can only hold so much ‘live’ data, can only maintain its focus on that academic alchemical process for so long before I need to shut it down and buy groceries, schedule printers, figure out my part in the Stanford, pick up my kid in time for her appointment, and deliver the car to the mechanic’s.

Big hibiscus flower in my studio, the day after that walk. I’ve had this plant for three years, and it’s never done this before.

It’s more than okay to be busy at 49, and a mom of a (great) teenager, and to have many gigs, lots of rehearsals & several students to prepare for, to be in the last stages of building a house with my husband, to spend time (though never enough) with a family I love, etc etc.  I’m having a great time with all of it.

But I would very much like to learn & grow into a higher understanding of things, as a teacher, as a friend, a daughter, sister mom wife musician artist mentor.  To hone myself, and so better serve.

closer in

So I’m intuitively working at what seems counter-intuitive:  emptiness & stillness.  How can I hope to find the unknown thing I’m looking for if I’m busy stuffing myself with information?

This came to me one day while I was practising – I was working away, working away at a difficult passage, thinking ‘this is crazy – I should absoLUtely be able to do this!  What’s blocking me?’.  As I thought this my shoulder, neck, arm and finger muscles became more and more tense and stiff, and my energy plummeted into something like despair (close to ‘I can’t’).  So I put the cello down, and watered my plants.  Then I worked a little at my paintings.  Then I puttered and played with a textile art idea and got pulled into fascination with colour.  Then without knowing it I was back at the cello, carrying no tension, playing a piece I know well – still thinking about colour.  The notes I was playing had colours, the piece a big long skein of coloured threads flowing each into the next, weaving into fabric….

closer

After what seemed like an hour of this bliss, I came back to the place of my old obstacle.  In my mind I changed the colour of what I was trying to do, and it was wonderfully, measurably easier.

Amazing, what a little colour change can do.

Empty of stuff I don’t need, to make room for what I do.

Still, so I can appreciate it.

Happy Wednesday, all.

K – hey neat – I just found this:

” Experience teaches only the teachable ”
Aldous Huxley

…wonder if he’d agree …

Red?

A black squirrel just yelled at me for 3 straight minutes while hanging upside-down on the trunk of a downtown spruce tree.

Was that because I was reading a book about Jungian psychology while sitting in a red car and wearing a red sweater?  It can’t have been for no reason whatsoever, so it must have been the book and the car and the sweater – unless…

Perhaps the squirrel was responding to the residual weird and murky energy roiling around the event that had occurred just before – while reading in my red car and my red sweater I was parked temporarily halfway on the curb, with my hazard lights flashing.  A young mom and dad passed by pushing a stroller, and he said, forcefully, “GOOD BOOK?”  then repeated the same thing over his left shoulder as they walked on (he was striding deliberately – his back decidedly ‘Up’).  I nodded, slightly bewildered, then realized he actually meant what he said next, “why don’t you leave some room for people like us to walk on the sidewalk next time?”  – this accompanied by a look intending to wound and intimidate.  Mom of kid smiled nervously at him, as if to witness his strength in the face of such a red, immovable object as I.  I believe I could hear her thinking, though I could be wrong – “I should like him for this?”.

I responded to his request by moving my car into a driveway, wonderingly.  Then the squirrel started in….

So in retrospect, I don’t think it was the Jungian Psychology book, although the dad did call attention to ‘book’.  Maybe the squirrel objected to Jung – alas, I fear I will never know.

I think it was the colour red.  And the fact that the person I was providing a ride for was 13 minutes late, which I was aware of, even though said person had requested the ride with some urgency.

So perhaps the red was actually glowing warm in the sky above the car [though I don’t think I was that frustrated], and the dad’s Red saw and recognized my Red, so we engaged in a Red conversation?

Red calls to Red?  Is this the way wars and feuds are seeded  – so innocently –  a warm spot that accidentally ignites some hot repressed rage that needed only the smallest thing to ignite?

hmmm.  I am so NOT interested in fighting anyone.  Especially squirrels.

So, all ended well.  Angry dad’s ire was diffused (though I think he’d rather have fought me) when I parked my car, and the squirrel stopped yelling and ran up his tree when my passenger arrived and got in.

I drove said ride-ee to destination, and then came back to my studio, wonderingly.

hmmm.

Moral, so far:  Be careful with Red.  No pointing.

Happy Wednesday all.  I recommend Blue.