A perfect pairing for a Wednesday morning. Mellow jazz and my favorite color.
My mother died seven years ago this month, which is also the month I was born. I wrote a short story, which reads like a prose poem, a few years ago about the experience, caring for her during those last months. I thought I would reblog it here in memory of her. We had a difficult relationship at times, but it was buoyed by the deep love and commitment we had for each other. She is dearly missed.
Here’s how the story begins. You can read the rest of it at the link below.
She streaks past me naked in the dark hall. Light from the bathroom flashes upon her face, her thin shoulders, her sharp knees. Her head turns toward me, her dark eyes angry stabs. As if daring me to see her, stop her, help her. Or demanding I don’t.
I struggle up from the cot where I’ve been sleeping. Through the open doorway, she’s a slice of bright light, slumped on the toilet, the white tiles gleaming behind her.
She kicks the door shut in my face.
“The function of language is not to inform but to evoke . . . responses.” So writes Jacques Lacan, the French philosopher and linguist.
But perhaps the same could be said of art, or music, or dance. Any creative endeavor. Certainly it’s true of blogging. We create what we do with the explicit purpose of evoking responses from some largely unknown Other. It a very human thing. The desire to touch and to be touched. To share what we love, what evokes responses in us, with the hope of evoking similar responses from them.
I wrote about this some time ago in Blogging and the Accident of Touching. But I wanted to revisit it, to reassess why I put so much time into blogging. What is its value, to me, to others? Why do I persist?
What I love about blogging is being able to share the things that are meaningful to me with others–art, music, poetry, literature, nature. But also discovering from others new art, new music, new ways of looking at and being in the world. That reciprocity. That sense of connection. What do they love that I may love too? How will it deepen and broaden and enrich my own experience of life? Every day is a new discovery, a new love, a new insight into what it means to be.
In that original post I likened blogging to “those conversations we have in the wee hours of the morning . . . ”
“. . . when the party is over and all have left except for those few lingering souls who find themselves opening up to each other in ways they could never do when meeting on the street or over dinner. Those 3 AM conversations, you know.
That’s how blogging often is done too, late at night when we can’t sleep, or after we’ve put our novel to bed, or when we wake early and are seeking the company of other early risers, or those living half-way round the world from us.
We can share our thoughts and evoke responses in our own time, and others can respond in the same way, with a quick “like” or a longer comment. And we can respond in return.
It’s a way of reaching out to others that for some feels more comfortable than the spoken word. I feel I may be getting “the best” of them in those wee hour revelations, as they are getting the best I have to offer, a side of myself I seldom share apart from the written page.
There’s another part to all this, why we write, why we blog, which a woman who would not be forgotten wrote about a thousand years ago:
“Again and again something in one’s own life, or in the life around one, will seem so important that one cannot bear to let it pass into oblivion. There must never come a time, the writer feels, when people do not know about this.” —Shikibu Murasaki, Tale of Genji (978 – 1014 AD)
Touching and being touched, yes. That’s part of why we blog. But also passing along to a larger world something of ourselves that seems too vital to pass into oblivion. In some small way, perhaps, this blogging about our lives, our loves, our insights, our art, is a way of passing on through the minds of others a part of our larger self. Letting it echo out there in the universe for a wider while.
Bill Evans’s “Peace Piece” is “an unrehearsed modal composition that he recorded for his “Everybody Digs Bill Evans” LP in 1958. It is hailed as one of the most beautiful and evocative solo piano improvisations ever recorded.”
I discovered this music at Ken Chawkins’s website The Uncarved Block, and I quite agree. I played it over and over again, it was so soothing and deliciously eloquent. You can read more about this work and Bill Evans, who is considered by some as the world’s greatest jazz pianist, at the link above.
“Peace Piece” pairs so beautifully with the evocative artwork of Maurice Sapiro, which shares the same sense of depth and richness. I discovered Sapiro’s work years ago when I first began blogging, and I’ve been a fan ever since. His ethereal, dreamlike images capture ‘the moment when natures fuses light and air.” From that fusing comes a haunting beauty and deep, abiding peace. Like Evans’s “Peace Piece.”
I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.
As I’ve begun learning to replay the piano, I’ve been amazed to realize what a complicated endeavor it is. It seems your mind has to be actively engaged full-tilt in at least nine different directions at once.
Learning to sight-read again is difficult enough in itself, memorizing all the keys and flats and sharps in the treble as well as bass clefts, then adding in the kinds of notes and how long to hold each, when to rest, when to repeat, when to go to an octave higher.
But all that’s child play compare to actually playing the notes as you scan the score, each hand going off in a different direction at the same time, while remembering the complex fingering of keys, as your fingers scamper up and down the keyboard, sometimes crossing over each other.
Then try adding the pedal to that, remembering when to press down to sustain the notes, when to let up. Never mind remembering where to speed up, slow down, play louder or softer. And all that with feeling, to express the emotional content of the score.
The thing we’re after, of course, is to learn to play the piece so well that our muscle memory takes over and the fingers themselves know what to do, where to go and how to play. Then you become the instrument through which the piece plays itself, so to speak. How peaceful that is. No wonder we go into ecstatic rapture when that happens.
But to get to that point is extremely difficult and complex, and time-consuming, requiring tons of discipline and dedication as well as pure love for the instrument and the music you are attempting to master.
Which is why performances like that of Martha Argerich, considered the finest living pianists today, is so mesmerizing. Watch how her hands fly over the keyboard, how her body leans into the score, how her face expresses the depth of her feelings as she plays.
Watching this, I wasn’t surprised to find in an article on Brain Pickings last week how “playing music is the brain’s equivalent of a full-body workout.”
Playing an instrument engages practically every area of the brain at once — especially the visual, auditory, and motor cortices. And, as in any other workout, disciplined, structured practice in playing music strengthens those brain functions, allowing us to apply that strength to other activities.
Robert Jordain in his book Music, The Brain, and Ecstasy agrees:
No human undertaking is so formidable as playing a musical instrument. Athletes and dancers may drive their bodies to greater exertions; scholars ma juggle more elaborate conceptual hierarchies; painters and writers may project greater imagination and personality. But it is musicians who must draw together every aspect of mind and body, melding athleticism with intellect, memory, creativity, and emotion, all in gracious concert.
A properly trained pianist plays all at once from fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and spine, every joint in exquisite coordination as legs support and pedal. When the torso sways upon the bench, every joint continuously adjusts its relationship to every other in an enormously complex running calculus . . . Accurate movement requires that the brain monitor every result of its efforts in a perpetual loop of feedback and adjustment.
So every sensory system except those for taste and smell is put to work reporting what has happened after a movement is made. . . . . Meanwhile, the visual system runs helter-skelter, one moment decoding dozens of dots on a printed page, the next aligning hands to keyboard, then darting off to gather timing cues from fellow musicians.
None of this commotion would be worth much were it not for emotions welling up through the mind’s floorboards. It is the joy of so pure an expression of emotion that draws musicians to the profession.
The musician at once commands the notes and is ravished by them.
Certainly all of this can be seen in Argerich’s playing. I am in awe when I watch her. And I wonder why I never heard of her until I was doing research for this post. Rubenstein, Horowitz, Glen Gould, Van Caliburn, all great classical pianists, all household names, all male. But the greatest of them all, according to so many lists I’ve seen, is this beautiful, Argentine woman who I had never heard of before. How can that be?
Apparently she is a legend in the classical world, “but she doesn’t act like one,” according to an article in the Washington Post last year.
She’s private, moody and unpredictable. She’s wildly beautiful, with a long, thick mass of hair — once dark, now gray — and a radiant, quick smile, and at 75, she still wears the peasant blouses and cotton pants of a teenager circa 1968. And she plays the piano brilliantly, ferociously and, perhaps, better than anyone else on Earth.
Some say that her performances on U-Tube are responsible for a new resurgence of interest in and accolades for her work among the general public. I’m happy that I found her there. She demonstrates so beautifully what that full-body workout of the brain looks and sounds like.
A year and a half ago I blogged about Learning to Play (Again) and wrote this
I played piano as a girl and always regretted giving it up. Lately the thought that I may never play again, never experience the pure pleasure of music slipping out through my finger tips onto the keys–-to lose that forever– -seemed too sad to bear. So I bought myself an electronic piano, something I could set out on my dining room table to play.
Nothing so romantic as a baby grand–-but it has the touch and feel of the real thing. I can close my eyes and listen and imagine that heavy-breathing instrument bowing beneath my body as I play it.
The music I want to play is the kind that sweeps you away–Chopin, Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven . . . . What I yearn for, and seem to remember, is the kind of playing where body and music meld, where the notes sway through my body and spill out on the keyboard, like some lover I’m caressing. A musical love-making.
Sad to say, I did not play my keyboard as much as I had first thought I would and eventually it was put away to make room for my painting, which I also pursued on the dining room table.
But I regretted not having a permanent place for my keyboard, where I could go whenever I wanted and just sit down and make music. I still longed for a “real” piano, but it seemed, even in this large new home of ours that there just wasn’t a good place for one.
Then this summer my daughter came for a visit and stole back the large antique cabinet that I had been storing for her all these years. I knew she would be taking it now that she had her own home to fill up. But what could fill that empty space in the corner of our foyer, which was so much larger and “grander” than any home we had ever had.
And then I knew. Why a grand piano, of course! Which is what I had always wanted but never thought I would have.
I discovered that used baby grand are not so very expensive. And antique baby grands are so inexpensive that some are given away for free. So we found a beautifully cared-for antique on Craigslist and moved it into the corner of our foyer. Now it takes center stage in our home where I pass by numerable times a day. It’s always there, beckoning to me as I pass by, and now I play, not only daily, but several times a day.
But my dining room table is still a mess, covered with tubes of paints, and brushes, and palettes. It’s time to make a permanent home for the newest love in my life, my artwork.
This fall we plan to add an “art studio” to my home office where I do my writing. We’ll build a counter-top across one wall and halfway down the center of the room, to create a T-formation and two work stations. On one side will be my computer and printer and all my writing paraphernalia, and on the other side will be room for my artwork.
When it’s done I finally will have a permanent place to play with all the loves in my life. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to do that, to even discover what all your loves will be, let alone make room for them. My only problem then will be finding time each day to enjoy them.
How do you make room and time for all your creative endeavors?
Some favorite pairings in music and art to start your weekend off. I fell in love with this hauntingly sad-sweet piece by Shigeru Umebayashi and paired it with some of my favorite romantic images on my “Mothers and Other Lovers” Pinterest page. Enjoy.
This naming of this painting did not come “like a conversation between two lovers,” as the name of my last painting did. The one came suddenly, serendipitously, like a gift.
While pondering what to call this painting, I opened a post by the Humble Fabulist and saw this whimsical painting by Rothko, and it’s equally whimsical naming. I fell in love with the name. “Slow swirl at the Edge of the Sea.”
Having had such a long romance with the sea, it conjured up all sorts of ideas and images that I immediately wanted to paint, a whole series, I thought.
But then I glimpsed my unnamed painting waiting so patiently there, propped on top a bookcase, leaning against a wall.
In another post writing about the process of painting it I wrote:
In the end, this piece reminds me of the night sky, with its swirling galaxies, shooting stars, and so on. Although intentionally, as hat wasn’t what I had started out to create, I think my love for the night sky, that mystery and romance, was expressed here subconsciously.
All that deep blue and turquoise and swirling motion still makes me think of deep space, the edge of the universe, the end of time, and how in reality there is no “edge,” no “end” to any of it. The thought of that “endlessness” seems to swirl around and around in our minds because we cannot quite grasp the fact of it.
So I knew then what the painting was trying to tell me, and so named it.
But the idea of a series of paintings about the sea, the ocean, remains. About what it brings up out of me, the gifts it lays at our feet, the ease its motion gives our eyes, our bodies, our minds. It’s unfathomable depths and expanses. It’s hidden treasures.
I’m keen to see what this idea will bring forth.
I know now why I saved it, and why I will save it again. She speaks my language and the language of so many creative people I know. That she feels the same way about art, writing and the sacred as I do, is an affirmation. That she expresses it in ways that inspire me anew is a gift.
I hope her words will inspire you as well.
“I write for the same reasons other people dance or paint, I suppose. Any art is an intensifier of experience, an exploration of experience itself. The recruiting of one’s faculties in order to do something so difficult and, in the ordinary sense, unnecessary, is really very interesting, in part because so human. I feel that I am in the world in a particularly interesting way when I am writing, or doing anything that makes that kind of demand.
Of course there are things I wish to express, but it is truer to say that I find or understand them in the course of writing than it is to say that the writing simply serves as a way to express them”
“I share the Emersonian view that language is metaphorical in its origins and its fundamental character. The fossil poetry of single words is generally lost to familiarity, and we forget the potency of syntax, its amazing ability to capture meaning. Extended metaphors have syntax at a larger scale, and they exploit the fact that the mind moves through the likenesses in things.”
“Melville and Faulkner both write from a love of the splendors of consciousness, of the largest life of consciousness, including such things as knowledge and speculation, never to the exclusion—instead the enhancement—of immediate experience . . . . They explore conceptions of reality that are vast, generous, open and as ambitious as any metaphysics. The demands they make on language and the possibilities they open for it—these are the things that yield great prose. And, in the case of the Old Testament, great poetry.
The Old Testament is an entire, complex literature, which developed over a thousand years—a conservative estimate. It is dedicated to the proposition that human life and human history have very high meaning . . . and to the proposition that the cataclysmic world and obstreperous humankind are essentially holy and good. So it is a very this-worldly text in which metaphysical attention is brought to bear on sunlight and childbearing and warfare and greed and love and despair.
All its great beauty is earned by the directness with which it confronts , and laments and celebrates the world as it is . . . . The beauty of the literature is the character of its engagement, the lyrical or pained or astonished—but always imperfect—perception of the holy.”
“I don’t really accept the distinction between sacred and secular. . . . Nothing is without meaning, [everything] has its truest meaning under the aspect of eternity. The fact that we have no name for the sacredness of most ordinary things does not by any means put them in a searate category.”
“Write the book you want to read. Never calculate or condescend. Keep your eyes open. Listen for the music of the language. Enrich you own sense of things and then be loyal to it.”
“Warm and rich, rich and warm, which is which?” Like a mantra, these words echo through my mind as I stare at my painting, trying to discover its name.
I’ve hardly bothered with naming other paintings. They seem content with brief descriptive titles: “Sea Cave as Seen from Highway 1,” “Blue Bowl with Dancing Poppies,” “Landfall, the Marquesas.” Some I never name at all, or having scribbled something on the back of the painting before framing, have since forgotten.
But these recent abstracts seem to want more. Or maybe it’s me that wants more. We have a complicated relationship.
It began with a playful intent, the desire to enrich myself with color, to see what these two vibrant colors in juxtaposition had to say to each other, and how they made me feel as they danced across the page and spilled down the edges.
It started with oil pastel, a ribbon of red, a ribbon of yellow, swirling across a blank page. Then a line divided them, not evenly, but generously. Each color sat side by side, like lovers in conversation. But what they had to say swirled around them, crossing lines, and mirroring each other. Each crossing enriched, lighting up and warming the other. They seem separate and distinct, yet the swirls of pastel beneath them, the patterns that play across the line, unite them.
They seem two but are many. On one side, first vermillion, then scarlet, then crimson, each layer texturing and deepening the other. On the other side, cadmium yellow, quinacridone gold, drips of vermillion. Streaks of French ultamarine blue on the left, then a swathe of it at the center washed away. More gold on top of that. A glittering of yellow oil pastel at the center creates a single, subtle eye.
The whole process is like a conversation between myself and the painting that emerges on the page. The paint and brushstrokes, like words we use to speak to each other. Do you like this? Not so much. How about that? Better, but I need something more. No, not that. Yes, this. I love, love love this! Big smiles all around.
Making, erasing, dripping, glacing, washing away. On and on it goes, not knowing when to stop, where to stop. Then stopping.
Once it’s complete, the question comes. How do I know it’s done? What makes it complete? Is there simply a sense of resolution? Of satisfaction? Or the sense that any new mark-making will be its unmaking? A made-thing would be undone, so therefore, no more making? I do not know. The painting itself seems to tell me it is done, and I cannot translate the words.
But now the naming. How do you name such a thing? Can it go unnamed, untitled, a mere number? Why not? In truth it is nothing. Paint, paper, play. It’s not even art. Who is to say it’s art? Who can proclaim with absolute authority, this is art, this is not?
There is but one creator. One I. It spills through each of us, every day, every moment, each time we pick up a pen, a brush. Each time we walk into the kitchen and pour a cup of tea, a cup of coffee. What is this? A new thing.
I am the only one who can name this new thing. It came from me, or at least through me. It swirls around me. All that crimson and gold, warm and rich, rich and warm, but which is which?
All that spilling together, washing through me as I view it, as I take it in, this painting, this new-made thing. A part of me, speaking to me. Creation to creator. What is it saying?
“Like two lovers in conversation.” It speaks and I complete its thought, I speak and it completes me. And so we name it.