Do you remember the experiment in Science class?
You take a vibrant healthy plant and set it near the window. You give it a coat of radiant warmth. You give it water to drink and nutrients to encourage growth. You watch over it. Everyday.
Another plant, also vibrant and healthy, you place inside a dark closet. No food. No water. No sun. You look at it. Everyday.
Being a good scientist, you make a chart. Collect data. Measure growth. Mark the calendar. Make observations. Plot a curve.
In the end, you set both plants on your lab table. One is full of young shoots adorned with tiny blooms. It has grown so well under your tender care that its roots poke out through the bottom of the pot.
The closeted plant pales by comparison. Stunted. Wilted. Yellow leaves hang down, some so withered they litter the soil. The arid soil. Lost to neglect.
"To Neglect" is an active verb,
even though it may be written in the passive voice.
Neglect is an option. A choice. To not see. To ignore. Intended inattention. It may come trick or treating in its costume of I forgot, I meant to, I would have, I could have, I should have.
The truth is hiding in the closet.
I had a choice and I didn't...
I didn't see you.
In the closet where I put you.
Gardeners gather round. You know you cannot bring the rain, or manage the sun. Sometimes pests bite and sting, or the weeds get a grip. Occasionally, the climate disagrees with your choices. What flourishes in southern temperate climbs, will stumble without a daily misting and steady warmth. Even hardy perennials up north, will wither and die when there is no respite from the heat of noonday sun.
To garden is to be responsible. For life. To life. A choice.
You can say you are sorry to the abandoned plant, but...
You were busy. You forgot. You meant to. You would have...
I'm sorry...followed by the word "but" is merely an excuse.
Gardeners are wanderers. They roam the borders. Walk the rows. Peek under the edges. Stroll. Amble. Learn the lay of the land.
Gardeners do the work. Hoe, rake, dig, plant, feed and water.
Get their hands dirty and their feet wet.
Gardeners are sensitive. They smell the rain before the thunderclouds appear. They tie up weaker branches to stakes for support. They imagine fully grown foliage even as they hold a seed in the palm of their hand.
Gardeners are intentional caregivers. Like parents, with eyes in the back of their heads, they keep an eye out for trouble, compliment and cajole. And like parents, they know, no matter how much they study, read or practice, stuff happens. Out of their control.
Gardeners give, not for what they will or will not receive in return. They give because loving, caring and cherishing is how they honor themselves. When you give away what you need most, a gardener knows there will never be drought.
I promise you, from one of life's gardeners to another...
if you think of yourself as worthy of praise, kindness and honor...
what you give away to others, with heartfelt intention,
will return to you,
when you least expect it and when you need it most.
You can choose to walk in a straight line looking straight ahead.
Or you can expand your gaze just in time to see the tiny blossom between the cracks in the sidewalk, courageously stretching toward the sun to eke out its existence. Now, imagine, its glorious transformation, transplanted, nourished by tenderness and kind words, smiling toward the sun and filling you with grace.
And an occasional sidestep to see it lying await in our path.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Today the skies were cloudless blue. The air still and cool. The sun's warmth better than any sweater. The first taste of Fall.
I was supposed to be working.
I was supposed to be writing.
I delayed. Dilly-dallied. Hemmed and hawed my way through the afternoon.
I watered my flowers. Rinsed the remaining cherry tomatoes with the hose and ate them like candy.
I came inside. Sat down at the computer. Told myself. Tunes.
I need tunes.
I put on ABBA. The Dancing Queen.
I dance my queenly self senseless.
I need air.
Back outside, a solemn, stoic squirrel digging laboriously in the yard, burying walnuts in preparation for winter, fixes me with a withering stare.
Ashamed and rebuked, I return to the keyboard.
Like chewing gum under a movie seat.
Here alone. Just me. I am not inspired. I am not inspirational. I am stiff and awkward and struggling and lost in the moment. The words feel forced and contrived and out of whack and I can't seem to get back to the place where this is so easy and free and natural. I need outside help. Reinforcements. I need a wall to bounce off of. I need someone paying attention. I am a word performer with a bad case of stage fright.
I love to hear my voice when it pings. Like a fish finder. I am the sonar that must have a movable object to locate or I flail about pinging into the depths. My words must land somewhere. I can feel it, right here, right now. I am winding down. Fading fast. Is there anybody out there listening? Because this silence is deafening.
Send me an email. IM a smiley face. Text. Call. Wave. Say hi.
Phonetic frenzy. I need some. An itch I can scratch.
Or...maybe...I just need...ummm...to stretch my legs...take a stroll around the yard...curl up in my adirondack chair and take in a mental image of today...blue sky...warm sun on my face...cool breeze...an image to tickle me when skies are gray and I am shoveling the driveway...
...the squirrel is back. That walnut stained sneering smug sanctimonius...
Hop. Hop. Hop. Plop. On my arm. A katydid. Luscious lime little creature. Pop-eyed, antennae waving, summer green, winged tap dancer. YMCA. Flapping. Dancing to ABBA.
I made that up.
Funny how procrastination can suddenly lead to inspiration. I know the parable of the squirrel and the gathering of the seeds. I rise and stomp across the yard and glare at Mr. Righteously Responsible Rodent . I know the moral of the story, okay?!
Do. The. Work.
It just so happens I prefer Katy's storytelling. AND the moral of her tale is more easily received.
Do. The. Work.
Love. What. You. Do.
And never ever forget to dance.
Ode To A Katydid
Katy and I.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Cross The Street
Back Off Buddy!
...The Art of Assisted Living
"Man. Woman. Birth. Death. Infinity",
so said Dr. Zorba on the 1960's TV Medical Series.
Back in the 60's, I thought anyone over the age of thirty was old. Actually, I thought anyone in their twenties was a full blown adult. A serious grown up. Gazing ahead, I saw a wide open future of possibilities, hopes, dreams, plans and great adventures.
My father straightened me out on my twenty-first birthday. From the day I was born, on each birthday, my father gave me roses. One for each year according to my age. On my twenty-first, he handed me a bouquet of crimson beauties, kissed my cheek and said,
"Well, that's the end of that."
I looked at him and smiled, waiting for the laugh line. Instead, he looked me in the eye, and in all seriousness, told me that at twenty-one, as a woman, I was at the peak of my beauty, the acme of my accomplishments and the apex of all adventure. The rest of my remaining days were all downhill.
He said that. He actually used the word "downhill". And meant it.
I gazed downward and suddenly imagined my bare feet encased in orthopedic shoes. Sensible shoes. Cement shoes.
Over and done.
20's. 30's. 40's. 50's.
Now a grown up. One of the adults in the room. Barefoot.
One of the lucky ones whose adventures continue. Grateful, not fearful, of the passage of time. I have not peaked. I am, rather, peeking over the edge, out on a limb and anxiously awaiting the future.
I mentioned to you that there are many free spaces for a new and aspiring artist. Free galleries.
I never imagined a gallery in an Assisted Living Community, so someone imagined for me. I got a call from the activities director. She asked if I would like to have an exhibit in their gallery.
A simple answer. Yes, please.
It was a gallery. A large gallery. Beautiful open walls surrounding the sitting room and down a long hallway. Filled with my pictures. The Garden Pages. In a Garden of Grown Ups.
I was greeted with unearned celebrity. A Friday night cocktail hour with the residents to introduce myself. Some guests in wheelchairs. Others arrived arm in arm. Some supported by a cane or a walker. Some slow but steady on their feet. Gracious. Endearing. Kind.
Smiling at me. Encouraging me. Wishing me the best.
We sat and visited, but mostly I listened. To their stories, their lives, their hopes, joys, successes and failures.
Some orthopedic shoes, surely. But here and there, glittering ballerina slippers, polished toes, rings and things, bow ties...the sparkle of life.
Beside me, a tiny, immaculately dressed sprite, extended her elfin hand and said,
"I have been waiting all week to meet you.
Now I want you to meet me."
Ninety-four and counting. Miss H. took me by the hand and guided me to her living room. And I do mean living. A silk scarf wound loosely around her neck, tinkling dangling silver earring and jingle jangle bracelet clad, Miss H. swung open the door. To her studio.
An easel set up in the corner. Her oil paintings on the walls. A brocade sofa bookended by towers of books. An electric keyboard with dog-eared sheet music left unfinished from an early morning performance. We sat. She spoke of Paris, fashion, travel, music and art. Her day. Up at dawn. A quiet read before breakfast. An hour at the keyboard composing. Composing. Additional brushstrokes to the unfinished canvas later in the day.
When she finished speaking, it was I, who was winded. Forty years her junior, I looked down at my sensible shoes and her ballet flats with the hummingbirds embroidered on the tiptoes. Clearly, her father had whispered something very different on her twenty-first birthday. Or perhaps she just decided to be an adventurer.
As I rose to leave, I could think of only one question. So I asked.
Is there anything you think you may have missed? Is there anything left for you yet undone?
She looked at me. Shook her head and smiled.
"Oh, honey, I haven't even started."
One of the Garden Pages now permanently resides on the wall opposite the nurse's station. Another in the activities center. I have returned year after year, by invitation and upon my request. Many of my first customers found their way to my heart, from that gallery opening. Many more still keep in touch and have walked along in this my adventure.
So, if my Dad is listening, somewhere out on the edges of a night's breeze, I would like to give him a shout out. Or perhaps a gentle jibe. I would tell him that he was wrong. I would say...
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Even when the Earth
Beneath their feet...
I passed the TV in the kitchen on my way out the door, late for an early morning appointment. One of the Twin Towers in NYC was aflame. A large explosion. No known cause. I paused. Clicked off the set. A part of me, most likely the mother part, shuddered. In the car, I listened. Nothing made sense. At the stoplights, I read over my notes. This was an important meeting. One of my students was having difficulty settling into her new classroom. This child who missed parts of sentences and always seemed a few beats too late in responding. A hearing loss can do that. Set one apart.
Our job this morning, minor measured tweaks, to make everyone a bit more comfortable. At ease. A tiny bit more patient. A bit better at listening. As well, a few strategies to help our young one learn to approach rather than to wait. To stretch her own muscles and to straighten her spine. To look people in the eye. To be brave. To try.
The meeting lasted about two hours. We were not to be disturbed.
When the meeting ended, we were not disturbed. We were shaken. The news filtered through in shattered pieces. One horrendous jolt after another.
I called my husband. His office emptied. Everyone sent home. His cell phone cradled against his shoulder on the drive home, trying to connect with our children.
I returned to my office.
A large TV by the lunch table. Images of destruction. Staff with red rimmed eyes circulating quietly through the cubicles. For all itinerants responsible for multiple buildings in the district, our day was only beginning. Our director told us, go and be where you are needed.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, school staff across this country started their day. For many, the day closed only when the last child left the building in the safekeeping of anxious parents or relatives. In the meantime, the staff stood firm. Calm. A sheltering presence. School. A refuge. Lessons taught. The comfort of rote and routine.
As I moved from classroom to classroom, school to school, I witnessed the same scenic view. Quiet halls. Secretaries with soothing voices gently moving children from their class to awaiting arms. Guardians of the peace for those remaining. From pre-school to high school, with staff and friends, there was a level of caring beyond anything I have known before and since. A look, a hand on a shoulder, the simple reassuring acts of doing what must be done. Recess duty, homework, loading backpacks...trivial tasks carried out behind fragile facades.
In one building, I heard a soft keening cry as it escaped, when an office door slowly closed. The towers had collapsed, and a teacher's brother fell into eternity. I watched her stand, wipe her eyes and return to her class.
She said, softly. There is work to be done.
Over the past decade, I have read and marveled at the heroism of so many on that fateful day. From giving up one's life so that another would be saved, to random acts so delicate and tender I ache to remember them even now so long ago and so far away. Firemen, police, mothers , fathers, strangers, neighbors...reaching out...pulling in...holding on...Setting the standard. Standing firm.
There was work to be done.
I may have missed it somewhere...somehow...the stories of the teachers...the school staff...who stood...and stayed...and watched over...your children and mine.
So, as we approach the anniversary of September 11th, 2001, I would like to dedicate this page to them. I, myself, am not sure if I was brave, or if I was just faking it until I could stretch my muscles and straighten my spine. I only know that the best way to teach is to set a good example.
How To Recognize A Good Teacher
Good teachers pull kleenex, band-aids, and colored markers out of their sleeves, and magic lesson plans out of their bulging canvas totes.
Good teachers, seasoned veterans, know after one week, the name of every student on their roster, which ones will fly of their own accord, and which ones require a temporary co-pilot.
Good teachers can repair anything with scotch tape, fix the copy machine with a swift kick and recognize trouble, when it is only an annoying itch.
Good teachers have only one class rule: Be Nice.
Good teachers know when to let you fly solo and do.
Good teachers are the result of another good teacher's teaching.
Chances are if you close your eyes, a good teacher will come to mind.
It might even be you.
On September 11th,
days before and days after,
a teacher treasured your child.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
In A Crowded Room
The last time we met along the way to my quest to become an artist, I was standing in a snowstorm in the Farmer's Market, the proud lessee of a parking space and a bunch of easels. The sponsor of the event was a local and much loved coffeehouse, known for comfy surroundings and an outlandishly decorated interior. Amid cozy couches and painted tables, friends, families, loners and pairs mingled, chatting together, reading quietly or absorbed in their laptops. In one corner, near the front windows, a brick wall. The new artist wall. If chosen, an artist could reside on that space for an entire month.
Free of charge.
They picked me. As the artist of the month. One month evolved into a year. Every month I went in and changed out the pictures for new ones. One day...a local and national magazine writer, Miss G, looked over her shoulder...and found me staring back. The result of our over the shoulder introduction, was a photo shoot with Mr. Bill, here in my studio. Out in my garden. The writer, Miss G, a whirring blur of focus and fun, pitched my story to a national magazine. Soon I found myself on the phone with a writer from New York. For an interview. What should have been a ten minute conversation, ended up over an hour as we went beyond introductions and connected in our love of writing. Later, after the article was published, a two page spread in Country Almanac magazine, she sent me clippings and assorted ideas for me to further my new endeavor.
The day the article appeared, I had no idea the magazine had hit the stands. A friend emailed me the news, late, on a cold and blustery winter eve. I was already in my pajamas. Pulled on a coat and boots and hurried to the closest grocery store. No luck. I stalked four more stores until I found the magazine. It was about 11 PM. I pulled the magazine from the shelves and flipped madly through the pages expecting to find a small half page story. When I landed on the two page article, I felt my knees wobble and sat down in the middle of the aisle. There they were. My Garden Pages, all dressed up on wooden easels, in the middle of my garden.
I held this moment quietly within my soul.
No. Not exactly.
I gathered up each and every copy of the magazine and weaved and waved my way through the store, stopping anyone who would look and/or listen. When I arrived at check out, the cashier looked at the pages and yelled, "Hey...that's you! That's really you!" Then she turned to the three remaining customers I had not frightened away, and in an even louder voice, hollered, "She's famous!" My entourage, two cashiers and cautious late night consumers applauded. It was quite a scene.
As I drove home, it hit me. Pajamas. I am wearing pajamas. And boots. And I just bought out ALL of the copies of the magazine.
Not a bright idea.
But...it was so much FUN. FUN. FUN. FUN!
I would like to tell you that being featured in a magazine propelled me into a fame frenzy. Into the world of the Rich and Famous.
That did NOT happen.
I was a little pajamed fish in a very chic and artistic ocean. I did not have a website. I had my work in two stores, on consignment. I did not have business cards or fancy brochures.
I was ahead of my time.
I had work to do.
I had very limited resources. I could only spend if I sold my work. I could only sell my work if someone could see it.
I was truly FOUND. But the job of being SEEN was mine. Galleries are not free and are relatively unimpressed with a magazine article.
If you love what you do.
If you ache to achieve.
If you yearn to be heard.
There are spaces. Just as in Monopoly. Not Park Place, or Boardwalk. Free spaces. Waiting for you to land. Welcoming places and spaces.
The local library. Quiet. A beautiful gallery. Free. For aspiring artists. I left a book for people to comment. They not only bought my work, they almost broke my heart with their words of good will.
I want to take you to some of these unusual galleries and tell you their stories. But they deserve more than just a passing glance.
So until next time, try to remember that if you are about to translate your dreams into reality, think BIG even you are a sprout.
Use your imaginotions.
Dive in with determinatude.
In other words.
Buy new pajamas.
Get ready for your close-up.