There is too much to absorb, digest, translate, re-form into something good and relevant, and far too little time. Someone – Leonard Bernstein? referred to this as one of only two things needed to accomplish Great Things. But when, as my marvellous friend Maria puts it on Wednesday, “every minute of my time is accounted for from now until Monday at 10pm”, Bernstein does not comfort, despite my really good plan.
So thank you Annie Lamott, for your timely, perfect, pithy truth. I have read and received it from three disparate sources these past three days, and now the angels of safe containment and healthy boundary are here (I called them) to guard the perimeter while deep focus reigns supreme within; it’s buckle-down time.
To tell a good story well, and thoroughly – a living, breathing story, this is necessary. Necessary to trust that though all hell may be breaking loose out there beyond the perimeter, this story is relevant, it needs to be told. Necessary to filter out the hooks and pulls, the triggers and the waverings, and make use of the fine fine sieve that lets in only the heart of things. The heart of things, that resonates with everything and everyone you love, that threads and connects this good story back to their good, strong hearts. Resonates and strengthens, if the story is told well.
A heart breaks; snow falls steady onto five inches of itself. A woman drives slowly through zero visibility; a cat eats the head of its kill. Wildfire claims someone’s beloved farm; blame is released like a sigh, back into love. Tears fall in shock; another paragraph is written. Someone wanders, lost; the kettle boils for tea. The Heart of things.
My phone is in Kingston, 200 km of driving sleet and transport trucks ago.
I travel through this with my daughter from my aunt to my niece. There’s a rightness to the timing.
In the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau I find a plug upstairs after the cafe closes. There’s a bench with cushions so I cross my legs and balance the laptop as I would find centre and lift my paddle in a canoe. Then I write, staring at horizon.
There’s a curve in the tail of Bill Reid’s Orca that keeps him suspended in the air, impossible and alive.
My paddle-calloused fingers type,
Weightless I am, suspended in the air like this massive hunter whale. Out of my element, on purpose: I intend.
I am above the Ottawa River which looks drugged into surrender by the ritual, annual, comforting January cold, across from the Parliament buildings where Justin son of Pierre sits with renewed and informed vigour as our head of state.
They built the beautiful, flower-shaped, buttressed library on the river side, away from the possibility of attack. Those Statesmen, their advisors, their Wives. Some of them in came and chose and made it so in ways I can respect.
I think about my Scots ancestors who fled here two generations & eight generations ago to look for a horizon they could aim for, for once. I think about now and La Loche and four people dead like lightning, like an arrow to what we need to see and be accountable for. I think about Idle No More, about Truth and Reconciliation.
I can barely remember the last specific, technical idea I had about music or painting – these old old ideas are far stronger.
To take the next precious decade of my life to examine and build a good answer to these things I wonder and care about, more every day.
My thinking fingers have written this:
We are all a product of our own small community that overlaps in myriad ways with larger ones like the Internet, like a city, a collective, a field, an orchestra, a band, large or small. I’ve come to believe over this small span of years that each is an ecosystem that thrives according to the strength of it’s connectedness.
I’ve found also that few connectors are stronger than the making of good music. As a painter who also writes and performs regularly as a vocalist/cellist…
…I have experienced this time and time again: visual art and writing connect us more deeply to ourselves but music connects us, through ourselves, to others. One might say that community music is like mycelium – a connective tissue that can convey a supportive ‘nutrient’ through the system to everyone who requires it….
The timing is right. I will get my Master’s degree at Laurier, in Community Music.
Like the impossibly suspended whale, like a Rebel, I will pay for this with the proceeds from my paintings. They will be on paper and canvas, in watercolour, ink and oil. They will sing.
Find a door you like, one that calls change to you. Then you go through and in.
Unbelievably, I am reunited with my oldest love, after fourteen years.
I was fifteen and vague with deep introversion when we came together. I had no real tools other than my ears and a fierce invisible longing that Named Me, so I struggled as if blindfolded. I didn’t know how to properly approach the impossible, let alone get through it. Nevertheless, he felt me through all the awkward then and he answered, full and deep, rich and old and stable, as Fathers can.
I’m not overstating things when I say he became as always as bedrock to me. As permanent as sky. More than anything else in my young life, he taught me that I was More.
We stayed together and things happened. Impossible shook me and took me like tumbleweed into places I had no business being, places that could so easily have trapped me, cloistered me, shaped my forever into defeat and imprisonment. In retrospect I can see that I was protected then by a great naivete which was the only visible edge of the longing that Named Me.
He was with me through those years, enshrined in a corner, voiced in a stairwell – a place of joining always on offer, where I could shed what I needed to and reclaim what I needed to, if I felt strong enough to meet him.
I didn’t feel strong, though, in that time. I still thought myself a child who ought to seek approval. I was afraid to show my teeth.
Drips from paint I threw at canvas on my studio walls splattered his belly. I sang in a band that laughed and drank and smoked and toured. I abandoned myself in lovers who saw, but didn’t see.
Then Ed phoned and I answered, as I’d done many times before. I took my Always up to compare to the new girl, who had been rejected by a student, & why, what’s wrong with her. Played new girl for twenty minutes, then picked up my Always to compare sounds, as I’d done before.
But I couldn’t play him. He was gone. Tried again. No. And again. Nothing.
With no warning, New Girl had claimed me over him. I couldn’t buy her and keep him, so after two weeks of tears and trying, I traded. Fifteen years ago.
He went to a place of silence and while he sat like a secret inside a hard case, I played New Girl. She pushed me, like a bitch. She made me work for every note, she called me out on every bad habit. She could snarl like a tiger, and scream ugly like a stuck rabbit. She demanded that I use my teeth.
So I found my teeth, and learned how to use them. I learned to love her, and we learned to compromise well, my sister and I.
Oh but against all odds, the man who bought my cello 15 years ago found me and offered me first right of refusal.
I said YES quickly without thinking – knowing I couldn’t afford it, maybe I’d exaggerated value, romanticized connection. I said yes, and months later & five days ago Impossible came like tumbleweed and delivered him back.
There are splatters of paint on his belly.
I’m not overstating things here: this week my fifteen-year-old self has been re-introduced to me, 36 years later, through this 1928 instrument from Germany via the hands and ears and exquisitely focused, raging love of Edouard Bartlett.
In the two concerts I’ve played since then, in the hours of practise I’ve put in I can hear that we have teeth now. We have better tools. We have Possible, and great, sweet Beauty. We are full to the brim with Longing… for more.
I listen to Stravinsky’s phoenix rise, and my face is wet.
This post is for Fran, and for Sue, who told entirely different firebird stories to me at different times on the same Day-of-Change.