packing and unpacking

i’ve just returned from london and my suitcases are mostly unpacked.  christmas decorations are on my kitchen table and needing to go back to their dusty garage boxes to be opened 12 months from now.  i move in less than a month to a new home, which means more packing and unpacking, throwing out and what do i take with me.  and my brother died on december 3rd and now, i have his things to unpack and store away for some future date.  it’s the deciding of which things to have handy now and which things will need more time than i can give. then having the wisdom to be gracious with myself about the fact that i’m not superhuman and i need time.

but now, the urgent is calling.  there are students whom i haven’t seen in 2 weeks and bills to be paid and always something present.  i’m ready to get back to life with teaching and the “things i do”.  to the safety net of routines and daily walking to get the mail.  a neighbor who shows up at my door, with my plant that she was watching while i was away, and then the ensuing conversation.  it’s the stuff of today.  but there are things i’m unpacking today. like ….

gratitude for my 3 sisters and the beautiful provision of their presence in my life.  their existence is one of my “it wasn’t supposed to be this way” stories, personal to me.  we’ve always been sisters, but the last month, have bonded us in a way beautiful and tender.  we’ve laughed over french pressed coffee and sitcoms, things that have kept us sane, in the midst of awfulness of grief.  God knew that the day would come when my oran would pass and i would need them.  i would need my family.  they call me the head of the family now.  oh dear.  can i do this?  can i be matriarch and organizer and sometimes drill sergeant?  i sure hope so.  i love them as my own.

while walking colder than cold streets in london, i came upon a statue of Chopin and there was this quote: “simplicity is the highest goal, achievable when you have overcome all difficulties.”  that is precisely the grand “where i’m at”, as i enter 2015.  packing away some of the goals that i thought were important, and unpacking ones i’ve put away, in order to achieve this simplicity of mind and purpose.  i have women in my mind’s eye that i prize their poise and gait as they amble down life.  they’re not flapped and their purpose is unique to them.  i aspire to strip down the non-essentials.

there’s more to unpack about my brother’s life, like he was my everything.  like i will miss him so intensely.  but i don’t have to worry about him anymore.  he’s home and free. clearly, i’m not ready to unpack this yet.  not yet.

stay well.  stay strong.  and for goodness sake, you are not superhuman.  just pack the box up and deal with it later.  it’s ok, really.


getting out

i don’t get out much.  i know that surprises my friends who think i’m this adventurer-type, who loves getting lost in some trendy shop, or planning my next trip to cuba or some throwback neighborhood, hole-in-the-wall place that smells slightly of used books.  but i don’t really get out much.  i wake up on a sunday morning, slightly dehydrated, definitely foggy head, after a night of pure fun, being rain-soaked while watching Casablanca, in a cemetery in hollywood – and realize this “where i’ve been” must give way to the “where i want to be”.  conversations in line with strangers will sit in my memory bank for a while.  huddled under whatever blanket we could find, to enjoy the last 45 minutes of the movie and laughing at great script and waiting for the epic lines we have come to love from this movie.  singing billy joel on the way home, rod stewart and trying to figure out a bach compilation cd.  i ask our host, how do you find all these fun things to do?  he says, he sits with his coffee and reads the sunday l.a. times.  (my kids have been asking me to stop getting the paper – i tell them usc football is almost here and that it’s one of my sunday morning rituals to open to the sports page and see what commentators have to say about the big win – they don’t care.)  to my kids, the paper just sort of piles up on the other side of my couch and eventually the piles gets high enough and i throw it out.  they don’t see that this newspaper is my link to fun.  on this rare occasion that i have a swampy sunday morning (like today) to sit on the patio and read the times, i’ll start making my own adventures.

i suppose i could sit here and dissect why i’ve stopped adventuring lately.  don’t really want to.  the porch is waiting and i must find some strong coffee. happy sunday.

call it therapy

i have this boss … well, one of them … that has this approach to work and getting things done.  his approach is … “there’s no crying in baseball”, or in music, or rehearsing, or whatever else needs to get done.  i’m thinking about that morning because of an encounter i had with a young man last night at a 4th gathering.

we were all sitting politely at the table, talking music, naturally, and catching up with friends. then out of the blue, words were exchanged and out came this barrage of ugly.  immediately, the mood changed in the room.  the peacemakers stepped up to the plate and tried to score a run.  they were walked to first base.  the referees had their go at arguing with the manager.  and everyone watched the replay on the big screen, over and over to see if somehow something was missed.  it’s one of those scenes that will be up for discussion for a while, at least in my mind.

i tried to talk sense into the kid.  do something. anything.  stop making excuses for what is, what isn’t, get on with it.  take my boss’ approach.  it didn’t work.

i feel badly for this kid.  but empathy and sympathy are weak motivators in the end.  they only serve to indulge you in how you feel.  you feel entitled to your feelings.  they’re yours, after all, and the world should cater to you because how you feel is way more important than what is really true.  (sorry, a little sarcasm.)

it got me thinking this morning about what i really wanted to say to that young man.

get to work.  just be quiet and get to work.

in january, after the break-up with this gentleman, i sat at my piano and took out my songs.  songs i write and songs written and decided to spend the next few months tackling Bach’s French Suite Gigue #5 in G major.  my fingers were rusty.  i stopped making excuses for bad technique and i got to work.  metronome at 60. i set a goal of 132.  measure by measure, i got there until the piece was memorized.  at 60.  and then notched it up.  with each notch up, comes decisions about how you want phrasing and detached playing and minor adjustments technically.  then it’s the head game.  can i keep my concentration up for 4 pages?  in front of the recital in may.  for parents who haven’t heard me play.  it was an exercise that made me relevant to my students.  not just an observer who has performed, or who is performing just in church, but “with” my students in the day in/day out work of what it means to live with a piece of music.

this participating vs. observing thing has been on my mind of late.  and how i define my life by doing or not doing.  expecting things to happen or making things happen.  there’s so much going into that as a christian.  do we wait on the Lord or do we go and participate in the thick and mud.  do we wait for the circumstances to just be perfect before we do anything at all – and casually say, i’ll jump in when i’m ready?  too much unbelievably wasted time.

so, kid, get to work.  it’s messy, hard, honest work.  it’s the grit that our forefathers had to commit to when they traveled across sea and plain.  those aren’t just fancy words on the “God bless America” – they’re the heart of living in this freedom.  it’ll tear your heart out.  work, i mean.  but it’s the best feeling in the world to know you can play a Gigue, or write a chapter, or finish a song.

i’m buying the Chopin Ballades this weekend.