Friday, December 14, 2012

An Open Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama: Today you have an opportunity to define your legacy. You have expressed what so many of us are feeling...that this senseless and terrible gun carnage has to stop. We've heard all the tired clichés and arguments over and over, all the constitutional so-called mandates and we all know the truth. The drafters of the U.S. constitution did not envision a world where a deranged person would murder 20 little children in their classrooms. There are legitimate uses for firearms and sportsmen/hunters need not fear for their guns. But we cannot allow this carnage to continue and pretend that we don't know how to stop it.
 
Do we need stricter law enforcement around guns? Yes. Do we need better mental health resources for troubled and sick individuals? Yes, of course. But without the easy access to guns, those precious little ones would be home with their parents tonight. And those people in the theater in Colorado would be enjoying the holidays...and Gabby Giffords would be whole and healthy...and so many, many more. It must stop!
 
This is not an unsolvable problem. It can be solved with courageous resolve. You've taken on many worthwhile but controversial issues and you have done the right thing. If you decide to help restore common sense and intelligence to this issue, you will change the future.
 
Mr. President, we know where your heart is as a parent. Please! With all respect and admiration for you, sir, you can make the difference.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving In Spite of a Broken Heart
 
If you have been following my blog, either here or on mariashriver.com, you know of the sadness we are feeling since losing our two precious dogs to coyotes two weeks ago.  As I approach Thanksgiving, I find myself reluctant to celebrate this particular holiday while grieving is still so fresh. How, I wonder, can we go about the normal traditions, enjoy the familiar comforts of a holiday while everything seems so profoundly changed in our house?
 
What I know is that we cannot sit around waiting to ‘get over’ this. The human spirit cannot absorb such a crushing pain and then bounce back in a few weeks or months. We are not going to get over this. We will, however, get around it, I believe, by directing our attention, more and more, to the essence of thanksgiving. Gratitude for our long list of blessings and appreciation of even the smallest joys is the key to beginning to heal. Finding a new dog to love will, of course, be important down the road. We're beginning to think about that, which is a good sign.
 
But I have begun to see evidence of healing. Yesterday, on our way to attend a concert in Nogales, AZ, we drove a route that includes some of the rare fall color that we experience in the southeast part of the state. The play of clouds, sun and shadows on the landscape was beautiful. The tears that have been so close to the surface in the past weeks, rose briefly to my eyes, triggered by gratitude for the moment. Later, as the wonderful Merling Trio began to play Vivaldi’s Autumn from Four Seasons, the emotion caught me once again, and I recognized it as thankfulness for the part music has always played in my world feeling ‘right’.
 
For me, those two things have always been key to my mental and emotional wellbeing...the wonders of the natural world and the deep love of music. In the beginning of this trauma, I wanted, no, needed to immerse myself in the sadness. I found the saddest music I could and played it on my IPod for days. (Would you believe the soundtrack from “Schindler’s List”?) Strangely, going deep into the grief is actually helpful. Denial is not. False cheerfulness is not. Sitting on the patio where Gracie and Alfie used to play and bark at the neighborhood as I listen to emotional music has been cathartic. Many tears have been shed, but I’m finding my way through this, a few small steps at a time. Tom is having a different experience from mine. Because he has no concept of time, he has been reliving the pain as though it happened yesterday, and it is all still very raw for him.
 
Above all, the feelings of gratitude for your own personal joys, no matter how small, directs your broken heart in another direction so that you can begin to get around the pain. Don’t let anyone tell you how long your grief should take, or  what form.  Nothing is more personal than the ways in which you find your own strength to deal with your life’s deepest challenges. For me, just wanting to get through a difficult period without crying all the time has been my intermediate goal. Missing the warm furry bodies and puppy kisses is not going to end for a very long time.
 
So we will do our best to enjoy and be thankful for dear friends who have invited us to their mountain cabin for a casual but warmly loving Thanksgiving. It won’t be about the food, which will be delicious, but about the friends and family who are there when you need them. Gratitude...the ultimate healer.
 
May you and your dear ones find many blessings for which to be thankful on this Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

If You've Ever Loved A Dog...

It is a stunningly beautiful fall day. The temperature is in the high 70’s, the sky a cheerful and cloudless blue, and the sun is warm on my back as I sit on the patio. In the quiet, only the honeyed song of bees can be heard. But my chest heaves in the way that it does when I have been crying and my breath catches in my throat. I am so profoundly sad that I seem to be able to do nothing but cry.


Over the past week, within three days of each other, we lost both our beloved little dogs to coyotes. On Thursday morning, Alfie, a sweet Maltese who we rescued five years ago, disappeared from just off our patio outside our bedroom door. When I say disappeared, I mean thoroughly, utterly vanished without a trace.
 
Unbelievably, on Sunday morning, in the midst of our grief over losing him, Gracie, our beautiful Havanese who we often referred to as “the Princess”, was also taken, without a sound, while twelve feet away from the door. We have to assume it was a coyote because nothing else makes sense, but we’ll never know for sure. The shock and disbelief has left us in such pain that we can do little else but think about these wonderful, loving creatures who were such a part of our lives and whose absence has left us feeling empty and hollow.

 My husband, Tom,  as many of you know, is an Alzheimer’s patient. It would be hard to overestimate the ways in which the dogs helped him to stay calm and comforted each day. Their needs were constant but uncomplicated. They required a structure and routine much the same way that Tom does, so it let him know he had a purpose. His patience and gentleness with them was so poignant to observe. We laughed about what he called his “agenda...let dogs in, let dogs out!” and I marveled at his willingness to get up and do it dozens of times a day without a sign of the exasperation I sometimes felt. He also took on the task of making sure the food and water bowls were filled. It was one thing for which he needed no reminding. Sadly, his memory of these last few days seems to be fairly distinct, though he did wake up in the night and quietly asked me “is Alfie in bed with us?” Neither of us is sleeping well.

It is no accident that nursing care facilities often welcome visits from service dogs for the welfare of their patients. Tom considered Alfie his special buddy. Since we had rescued him we had no idea how old he was, and he had clearly had a hard life before he joined ours, but he gave us such affection that we were more than thrilled to welcome him to our family. Tom’s grief is etched in his face each morning when we wake without dogs to attend to. He breaks down in tears when we walk outside to the place we last saw Gracie and Alfie, and I cannot console him. I know that there is only one thing that will help...a new dog to love. The love and interaction with a pet releases endorphins that are believed to be helpful to everyone’s mental and emotional well-being. I suspect that it will be more therapeutic than any prescription drug.

I know that there are people in our close circle of friends and family who are going through extreme and complicated personal tragedies, and the world is full of disasters that wreck lives and defy resolution. Yes, I do know that and on the scale of tragedies the loss of our precious dogs doesn’t rise to the level of most of those --  not even close. But for us, at this moment in time, our hearts ache so terribly and the loss feels so desperately permanent that it is hard to imagine breathing deeply and completely ever again. I close my eyes and I see Gracie’s beautiful face and I weep to think that I could not protect her.

When we moved to this rural area, we were well aware of the richness and variety of wildlife and have loved watching deer and birds, Javelinas and yes, even the coyotes who we see way down in the field and often hear at night. Never, in six years, had we seen them near the house and perhaps we had grown complacent. Our little 8 and 12 pound pups were tempting targets, I suppose. We used to joke that people around here had dogs that were functional, while ours were only decorative! It has been a brutal lesson, indeed.

I’m sure the time will come when we will sign on for another round of puppy love, perhaps this time with a bigger, sturdier breed. It’s hard to think about right now. There is no happy ending to having a pet. Still, Tom will not feel happy again until we open our hearts to the big brown eyes and loving kisses of another dog. And I can’t be happy unless he is! Meanwhile, I am so grateful to have had Gracie and Alfie in our lives. They made us laugh every single day and we were loved. If you’ve ever loved a dog, you understand.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

5 Things to Remember When Your Family is Politically "Diverse"

It’s hard to believe it’s been four years, but here we are about to hold an election and the temperature of the debate is blistering. You probably share my frustration with dinner time robo-calls, endless TV commercials and campaigns where both sides fling sound bites at any available wall to see what will stick. Unfortunately, politics has gotten uglier as the amount of money involved has become obscene.

I can think of only one good thing about the overheated passions: it’s better than apathy. But when close friends and family disagree fervently about the candidates it is likely to incite more than just in-depth discussion. It may leave both parties shaking their heads and wondering how you could share the DNA of someone who is so obviously WRONG! I can’t shake the image of that infamous TV couple, James Carville and Mary Matalin. The ultimate in political diversity, I always wonder what life is really like in their household and what drew them together...or more importantly, what keeps them together. Is it possible that love can overcome political differences?

I am completely aware that my biases are obvious to anyone who knows me and in a debate I can defend my position with facts and logic. But I also know that my ‘facts and logic’ may be someone else’s party propaganda and slippery rhetoric. I read and listen to as much as I can to understand the back story and the truth (if there is any) in candidate positions, but almost every story can be turned upside down to justify one’s position, and when the other side twists and distorts facts it is hard to stay calm. I know there’s guilt on both sides of that coin. And don’t we all like to demonize the other side, once we’ve convinced ourselves that we are right?

So, while fully aware of my profound partisanship, I offer a couple of suggestions (slightly tongue in cheek) that might help ensure that, come the day after the election, your family is all still speaking to each other!

       1.      Elections come and go, but family is forever!

2.      Don’t imagine that you can convince anyone to change allegiance by a deluge of evidence. They already know what you know and they just don’t see it the way you do.

3.      Remember -- that person is just as certain as you are that disaster will befall the country if their man doesn’t win. No amount of sarcasm and/or condescension will change their minds, no matter how cleverly worded! 

4.      You might convince someone who is undecided, but at this point, after months and months of campaigning, anyone who is undecided probably doesn’t have a lot of passion about this election.

5.      If your guy wins, don’t gloat. If he loses, don’t pout.

 Now that all the polite and mature behavior has been discussed, one important thing remains to be said:
 
VOTE!
 
Be sure you are registered to vote. If your state demands a picture ID (and don’t EVEN get me started on that!) be sure to find out what you need to do. Get to the polls, or fill out your ballot and mail it in. Offer a ride to anyone who needs to get to the polls. Tune in and show up!

 I’m Nancy Calhoun and I approved this message!

(Re-elect President Obama!)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Star Light

the weight of all those wishes upon the first star
must be difficult to bear, the whole planet
thrumming with desires, mourning broken dreams,
longing to end their longing, to once again
surge with hunger for the life they intended.

star bright, just one small wish is all they ask.
right my boat, let me sail smooth seas, let me float
far from here where I have lost the memories,
lost the answers, the compass –
set me a new course, dear star, set me free. 

in the early twilight I see it, a gleaming pearl
alone in the dusky violet, as though it shines
on only me, and I send up a quiet yearning,
keep this small boat on this small sea
headed toward hope.
from  Dance on a Dirt Road

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What Can We Learn From A Toddler?

I wanted to share this photo with you in the hopes that it will do for you what it did for me. 

Six under two, including two sets of b/g twins
 
First let me  tell you about this happy gang of toddlers. If you have visited my Facebook page you might recognize that two of these little beauties are my grandtwins, Claire and Jonah. The other four are the gorgeous offspring that belong to friends from their parenting group. These little ones are so close in age that they play easily and are able to do most of the same things. Their moms and my son, a stay-at-home Dad, often take the group to local parks, playgrounds and petting zoos, and though it looks like chaos looking for a place to happen, by all accounts a good time is mostly had by all.

This photo was taken on a recent excursion and when I saw it I literally sucked in my breath and let out this huge sigh. I couldn’t nail down a single feeling – there were so many that the picture called up for me:

--complete and utter innocence...the beauty of these little beings who are learning at such an extreme pace to prepare themselves for all that is ahead of them, and the fierce feelings of protection that are felt by all those who love them.

--the purest trust that any of us ever experience...the feelings of safety and comfort being with a parent for whom you are everything, the center of the universe. Even if we did not experience that as a child ourselves, we have a second chance at a healthy and nourishing parent/child relationship.

 --the magic of being with a toddler when he/she discovers dozens of new intriguing things in a day. Life is utterly fascinating! Just try to be a jaded, blasé adult when there is a toddler around. Pretty much impossible. When was the last time you spotted something new that took your breath away?

--and the FUN! Yes, it is the most difficult job on earth much of the time, and so relentless! But in these moments when your very soul is engaged with this small one and their completely natural experience of joy and excitement, your own laughter and delight is their gift to you. It can heal and restore your exhausted energy.

And then they spill their grape juice in your lap! Ah, so it goes. There will always be good days and not so good, but what this wonderful photo says is that the privilege of raising a child insures that every day is Thanksgiving Day!

I surely hope that these little ones can grow up to be BFF’s! And I wish for us all moments that allow us to channel our inner toddler at least once a day.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Storm On An August Afternoon

I am beguiled by the late summer wind,
warm and weighty with promise of rain
just over the hills to the east, insistent,
determined to wash away our dust
in a rusty flood.

A disturbance of birds, sensing a change,
thrusts upward through bear grass and mesquite,
leaving the risky earth behind. Their wings
beat through the heavy air taking the color
from the sky into their soft breasts.

Lightning tattoos the bruised horizon
and I feel it skim the curve of my spine
like the tip of a spear, creasing my skin,
a lover’s kiss, wonder transfixing me
to the distant shadowed hills

and the clouds, oh the clouds,
how dark and deep, they whirl
above and lift the leaves and grasses
to fling themselves weightless
into the impossible light.

The meadows who wear their golden
dress all year now display in velvet jade,
the vibrant shade full of earth’s best dance
while each blade leans hungrily into the chance
to quench its thirst.
 
Who could bear not to be here,
with this memory on this summer’s day?
Here, where my heart pounds as each raindrop
falls like a tear on the sere and dusty ground,
greedy and always wanting more.






Sunday, August 5, 2012

An Unexpected Gift

Alert the media! I finally have something good to report from the dark side of 70. I’m a generally optimistic person, as anyone who knows me can attest. But I admit to feeling a bit disappointed in this aging thing. Clearly I have some health issues, as does my husband, but I’ve noticed lately that my mental attitude sometimes slips from its usual sunny seat by the window to the top of the basement steps. We don’t actually have a basement. That’s my metaphor for where I go emotionally when things aren’t going so well. I begin to dwell in trivia, the more trivial the better. I feel dumpy instead of stately and elegant. (I was, I suppose, hoping to be taller) and all my shoes are ugly. That kind of trivia.

So what’s the good news? My seventies has presented me with a collection of women friends who have enriched my life beyond anything I can describe. I’ve always had great women friends, some for forty years, but distance, family and jobs kept our time together very limited. Since moving to southern Arizona six years ago, little by little the most amazing women have shown up in my life. It’s a gift that I cherish. More than that, it’s a gift I need.

These women are unique in their own right but they are alike in some important ways. They are all extraordinarily intelligent, artistic in many different ways, interested and curious about the world. They love to laugh, sometimes at themselves, which is a great uniter among friends. And each has such a core of kindness and compassion that those who know them feel valued and affirmed. I love that we encourage each other’s wishes and dreams and fearlessly speak truth to each other.

I should mention that we are all in the same neighborhood age-wise. That means we are all, more or less, in the same stage of life and have experienced some physical and emotional wear and tear. (That would make us all laugh and someone would say “You got that right!”) While none of us has escaped challenges and disappointments, to be sure, we care deeply about important issues in our community and the world and still have much to offer the causes we care about. And opinions. Oh Lord, lots of opinions! We just want to contribute on our own terms. We’ve earned that right!

We’re mostly all married, or have been, some more than once, and clearly those are the central relationships in our lives. But we seem to share this female bonding desire which fills a need outside of marriage. When I spend time with these women, I feel heard and understood at a different level. It feeds me. It makes me feel significant in ways that the dismissive “senior citizen” label (like all labels) tends to undermine. When we spend time together, over a glass (or a bottle) of wine, I feel my strongest self come forth.

I know that older women can become invisible if they are not connected to an enthusiastic cluster of friends and a couple of important causes they care about. My friends and I would never allow any of us to become invisible. Even though magazine articles and TV programs bear such titles as “How To Be Fabulous after 50”,  they don’t mean this long after 50. It is clear that I am now in nobody’s target marketing group except for pharmaceuticals and insurance to cover “final expenses.” We’re pretty much on our own to discover ways to still be fabulous, and we are long past caring about fashion trends. Comfy is the word that comes to mind!   

It’s not the easiest time of life. Everything seems harder, whether it’s opening a jar or realizing that if it weren’t for doctor appointments you’d have no social life. Still, I think I can handle it ...with a little help from my friends.






Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bearing the Unbearable

This week we have witnessed another unexplainable tragedy. How do we begin to understand such random violence? When life suddenly hurls a thunderbolt of unspeakable pain into our path, our challenge becomes learning how to bear the unbearable. Whatever our belief system, at our core as human beings is the will to survive, to overcome anger and grief and to do each day the things that will help us make it to the next day, and the next and the next. The choice we make is hope. Hope is not knowing exactly how or when the pain will cease to immobilize us and instead get us on our feet to step into the unknown, but knowing that we must do it. It is trusting that, in time, we will come to terms with the pain and will be able to function in a new way, changed by suffering certainly, but not destroyed.

Vital to recovering from an extreme tragedy or personal loss is letting in the love and concern of those who care for us. Even when the most that someone else can do for us is to mingle their tears with ours, it is healing in a way not always apparent. We need each other most in times of deep sorrow. Hope, love and patience, patience to allow time to soothe if not eradicate our pain, and slowly our hearts begin to mend and begin to allow joy to return.

Nothing is ever the same again. There is a new normal, this one tested by fire and tempered to make us stronger and more resilient. And perhaps, at the very least, some lessons will have been learned.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Summer Reflections

These summer evenings remind me again of how special this place is. It's not just the scenery. It is the utter tranquility that rolls in with the lavender and apricot clouds, often painting the sky a color that I would not believe on an artist's canvas. And occasionally we are treated to nature flaunting herself in a technicolor display right in our front yard, the arc of a perfect, brilliant rainbow. Whether it has been an extremely positive day or one I would be happy to forget, those sunset moments seem to close the day with a reminder of my gratitude for this place and for all it means to us.

In case you missed it last month, here's a link to my article on Maria Shriver's blog. I've gotten some lovely comments and responses and I'm most appreciative.

http://mariashriver.com/blog/2012/06/in-spite-of-everything-a-love-story-nancy-calhoun

Sunday, July 1, 2012

I'll Have What She's Having!

The tributes to Nora Ephron on most major TV stations following her death this week left me quite touched. I've always been a huge fan of her work and often imagined how great it would be to have her as a girlfriend! At the very least, I would have loved to be seated next to her at a dinner party. In my fantasy, I convince her of what a great girlfriend I would be!

Her movies are among the ones we watch over and over and recite the dialogue as it happens...annoying to anyone but us! (Sleepless, Harry/Sally, Heartburn) I don't know of anything she ever did that didn't seem brilliant and inspired to me, such as romantic comedies that were never cloying and memoirs that had me talking to the page, saying things like "I know, I know. I feel that way, too!" I felt exactly this way when I had teenagers: "When your children are teenagers, it's important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you." (From "I Feel Bad About My Neck") There is a list of "firsts" that Nora contributed not just to Hollywood but for women in general. She was a breakthrough artist in a town where women were rarely in the forefront of writing and directing.

Most of all, I'd like to tell her that her neck is just fine. It held up that wondrous headfull of bright, witty and translucent characters that she created in her books and films. Perhaps there is a young Nora out there who will someday emerge as the obvious heir apparent. I just can't think who it might be. And part of me hopes there isn't. Some people are meant to be one of a kind, not one of a genre.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion (for many good causes)

Some of you may not have seen the column that I wrote for Maria Shriver's wonderful website, so I want to be sure you don't miss it...not just because I am featured this week, but because of the multitude of great causes that Maria has consistently supported. An extraordinary woman of great accomplishment, Maria is someone I have admired for a very long time because of her authenticity and grace. Though she comes from a privileged family, she has had more than her share of personal challenges and always been an inspiration to women who wish to matter in this world.

That is why I was honored to be asked to write our story of Tom's Alzheimer's and how we are attempting to deal with it in our lives. While I know that everyone's journey through this wilderness of tangled brain connections is different, we all share feelings of fear, anguish, sadness and frustration. Our friends and family want to say something helpful but often cannot find the words. Quite literally, no one can understand unless they have watched a loved one be so terribly diminished by this disease. I desperately hope that something in our story will give encouragement to families who struggle with this on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, I urge you to visit http://mariashriver.com/blog. She is one busy lady who is active in a wide variety of causes, many of which are critical to women in this country. I am more than honored to be connected to her and the things she cares about.

This poem is a closely related piece to the article  "In Spite of Everything: A Love Story."


A Single Moment

In and out of the sunlight,
darting between familiar shadows,
patches of lucidity amidst the fog,
you search for connections and meanings
to understand what was effortless
only yesterday, but which now is gone.

I want to help you, fix you, hate you,
I want to scream, to laugh, to fall apart.
I long to be indifferent –
but I am too accustomed to loving you
to change now, the line between where you end
and I begin blurred like a garden of wildflowers.

I wish to be larger than this mishap,
this mystery, that doctors only describe
in the vaguest terms, while our specifics
become memories that fade and falter,
your sweetness and submission exasperating
when I need a wall to push against.

My discontent feels gritty in my mouth
like pearls I have ground with my teeth.
I learn to avoid the fruit that will not ripen
and the metaphors without meaning;
I ride the back of the wind as far as I can go
in a single moment, for that is all there is.

Nancy Calhoun
“Dance on a Dirt Road: Poems for Life’s Rough Places”


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Opening

but one day you just know...
that the struggle must end,

that the time for sadness is past
and the grieving stranger, no longer needed,
has gone for good;

that the sweet music you hear
is the rhythm of your hopeful heart
laden with gifts of nourishment,

a lavish feast for your hunger,
a warm cup for your deepest thirst
that you will not turn from, but embrace;

that you have come at last, searching
for yourself, clothed in grace,

to offer only love.

from "Dance on a Dirt Road"








Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lessons from the Ancients

Last week with our dear friends, the Burnetts, we visited Chaco Culture National Historic Park in northwest New Mexico. Some 800-1200 years ago this sprawling “city” was home to a large number of  the Ancient Pueblo Peoples. The intricacies of design, the clear understanding of archaeoastronomy, and a sophisticated use of masonry tells us a great deal about these people who, though thought to be nomadic, put down considerable roots for several hundred years and then vanished for reasons that are not clear.
 
We learned many facts about these people but as we walked the several miles of archeological ruins with our Park Service ranger, I found myself thinking more about those things that we cannot learn from the physical site. Since we do not have to carry water from a distant place or drag huge stones many miles in order to cut and stack the raw materials into a home, not to mention how far beyond necessity we are accustomed to living, it is hard to grasp the nature of living, giving birth, learning how to use your surroundings to sustain a population and finally dying with little or no possessions to call your own. How ingenious they must have been, how careful not to waste a thing, how brave to experiment with the unknown. But how free they were to ‘pick up and go’ when necessary because they had so few possessions to deal with. This is gross over-simplification, of course, but it intrigued me.
 
As someone who has a lot of “stuff” and enjoys it a great deal, I can also confess that I frequently feel a bit guilty for having so much more than I need. That’s what I was thinking as I stood amid the sacred kivas and imagined teeming life all around. Did these people feel happiness or was life too difficult to have even considered such a thing? Is happiness an invention of our times as we acquired more and more so that we can indeed be happy? Those who know me well will know that I’m not giving up my creature comforts for a life of strict austerity. But I do feel a need to reexamine what feels like necessity to me. And given the state of our invested nest egg, I have some serious motivation to make careful decisions. I think just asking the question “Is this a need or a want?” might yield more thoughtfulness at point of purchase. Just sayin’.

Anyway, the few days we spent with our friends was refreshing and a great deal of fun...as it always is. One of life’s true blessings is friendship over a period of many years with people who care for you as you do for them. Four days of laughter and conversation, along with beautiful scenery, wonderful food and plentiful margaritas...well, who could ask for anything more?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Song of Place

I live where mountains
partition the sky
with softly rounded peaks,
and cheeks of clouds
that draw me up to stand
and stare as they change
from wisp to wild, crazed
and back again to mild.
 
I live where birds collect
and gather from the ground
dry seeds and sound
a quick alarm to warn
of threat; they cluster
and soar, thermals lifting
and dropping in heart
stopping flight paths.

I live among deep grasses
tipped silver in the spring light,
their richness a delight to herds
that graze across the hills
and raise their young
beside the road, a blaze of gold
in summer’s sun, and cavernous black
under starburst skies.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Perfection...almost!

I just returned from seeing Natalie Dessay in “La Traviata” where several times I caught myself  marveling that this is live...as in happening right now at Lincoln Center!  Live From the Met HD in local theaters is perhaps the smartest move any arts company ever made. It was, as it always is, a stunning experience, from the moment the lights go down to the last ovation. And it has broadened the audience for opera many times beyond the number who will ever be able to see one at the Metropolitan Opera, venerable though it be.

This was not the first time I have heard Natalie Dessay. Her voice is luminous and agile, with the ability to deliver coloratura virtuosity without breaking a sweat, sometimes, as in today’s performance, while lying on her back or curled in a fetal position. She is simply one of the finest sopranos around, perhaps the  best singer/actor. But here’s the interesting part: she has been sick for over a week, missed the opening night of “La Traviata” and, though she sang with believability and pathos, one might not have known she was ill except that her voice cracked slightly 2-3 times and her high C at the end of “Sempre Libera” was not her usual shimmering incandescence. As I sat there watching, I was imagining how she felt.

As a singer, I think I know. Please understand that I am in no way comparing myself to Natalie Dessay. But the voice is such a delicate instrument that it is appallingly easy to have a bad day. Not that she gave a bad performance. Indeed, it was achingly beautiful. (I was seated between two men who were wiping their eyes at the end!) But at the Act I intermission, she was interviewed backstage and walked up with a slight grimace on her face. She clearly was not happy with her performance and laughingly said “OK, so I missed a high note!” She was charming and self-effacing but I hoped she was not being too hard on herself.
 
My point is this (I’ll bet you were wondering): whatever our chosen passion is, be it our profession, a hobby, or nurturing a relationship, we are quick to berate ourselves for a single mistake, lapse in judgment or bad decision – all the while in the midst of doing everything else exceptionally well.  Natalie sang three hours of the most demanding music, and led the audience through an emotional wringer that provided a divine opera experience. While sick! I hope that, at home tonight, she doesn’t dwell on the few less-than-perfect seconds! And I hope no sanctimonious music critic takes a pot shot at her.

I know I am prone to forget this lesson, despite having had ample opportunities to learn. I made a vow to treat myself more generously, to not obsess over occasional descents into thoughtless behavior, and to give myself credit for just doing the best I can. I can’t sing a high C anymore anyway, and none of my mistakes are going to be broadcast to the entire world in HD.
 
Put your feet up, Natalie, have a glass of wine and get well soon. Thanks for an extraordinary afternoon.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

For the Beauty of the Earth

It was one of the first hymns I remember learning as a child. It would often come back to me when in a spectacular venue such as the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park. How could one not be awash in gratitude in places such as those...they simply overwhelm us with beauty. Later I learned to feel nearly the same appreciation for the more quietly beautiful places, such as the rolling golden grasslands where we now live, surrounded by mountains. Now it is a daily occurence to be overcome with joy over the small lilac bush I planted last year, now about to bloom, the quail who live on our land and delight us with their familial behaviors, the longhorn cattle, and the horses...oh, the horses I would never wish to own, but whose presence always bring a smile to my lips and a song in my heart.

The poem "Fences" was written a few years ago and included in "Sip Wine, Drink Stars", my first book of poetry. It captures a bit of the elegant way in which they enrich our lives here in southeast Arizona, just by being a part of the landscape. "Fences" is a poem which really should be read aloud. It is like a party in your mouth...feel it, listen to your voice as you taste the words.

Then go on to read the little poem about Daffodils. Just breathing in and out the wonders of earth's renewal, yet again this year.

Fences

down near the end of the road
three mares graze

and gaze across the grass
where all is bound by fence

flanks twitch, tails switch
a quiet flutter of soft lips

iridescent flies around their eyes
where memories of races and riders reside

they stand in serene silence,
their silhouettes still, stark,

the declining sun setting
their silken backs aglow.

Daffodils

Just a handful of stems, tightly closed until
I placed them in water, and, as if drawing
sweet moisture through a straw
they burst their tissue bounds and exploded
into bliss, filling the corners with bright shine,
too lush, there in that worn turquoise jug,
to have come from the ground. Surely they were born
in the sky, near to the sun and loaned to me
for a few days of perfect spring,
which I fear will end when the daffodils
are gone. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Divided

two rivers converge --
one unhurried, serene,
focused on the steady course,
pliant, content to flow dreamlike,
a languid, idle stream.

the other careens over obstacles
frantic with angry curl, frothing white,
licks across rocks and tree limbs,
accelerating with each bend, each change
in direction manic, here, there, where

do I go for peace? the shallows tempt
but will not let me stay where I may stand
with ease; I am the keeper of the current,
the holder of the memories lost in watery
shadows, ephemeral but etched forever

on my heart where he would not think
to look; I turn to a distant downstream
where one bank is in shadow, one in sun,
and open my hand just below the surface
of the water to surrender my grasp.

NC




Thursday, February 16, 2012

Facing Truth

This dark night is winter chilled, smoke-scented air rising
from fires where families and lovers warm themselves,
assured of their immunity to ruin, hope the tireless undercurrent.
 
This dark night I bind myself to memory of the time before,
when pain and grief fit within my palm, and songs of sorrow
lay unsuspecting on my lips, light as a whisper of silk.
 
Here, where no shadows fall, I thrust my hands into the nightspace
and reach for a thread of grace, something like a prayer,
without betrayal or abandonment, just to feel the ground solid

and undeniable, breaking my fall in a gentle descent into truth
where I face the weight of my solitude, and the audacity to be
alone with fear, to know where and where not to put my trust.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Running Away From Home

Call me crazy, but this week I am going to leave the persistently sunny, 70 degree southern Arizona winter to go where winter got its name! When last I checked, there are no mid-west blizzards expected in Chicago at this time, but in the few hours of flight time the temperature will descend about 50 degrees. Why would I risk leaving warmth and well-being behind? Oh, for so many reasons. Here are two of them: Claire and Jonah, son Scott's beautiful twins are now 14 months old, and I haven't seen them since they were red and wrinkled newborns!

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Winter Mood

It is a gray winter morning and my heart feels heavy as the clouds outside the window. Those of you who know us well know that Tom is slipping ever farther away from us. Though we have been fortunate in the pace of his disease, nearly six years after his diagnosis, the tempo is quickening and I can see where we are headed. I write to try to capture the essence of what it means to walk this journey. I write to survive.

Kaleidoscope

I wear a gown woven of rose gold and sapphire,
braided of threads stolen from the last rays of sunset
and the azure veil of dawn, a tapestry of open space.
You wear a gray mantel of gauze, an uninhabited landscape
my hand passes through as though it were the wind.
For you I turn the wheel and let the broken pieces of amber
and jade fall around us in our silent dome of glass.
 
I inscribe the story of our life around my garment’s hem,
the brocade skirt tattooed in chalk, seen in the violet sweep
of waning light, as if the plain fact of us were obvious
and could be read from a distance; our private language
deciphered, written in shades of emerald and pearl.
The pattern forms our missing memories, paints a tableau
as intricate as a geode, a frozen oasis of love and loss.

My eyes resist the vision, fearing you will vanish just as I try
to embroider you upon my blouse, to fold you into the linen
of my skin but all that you were is now a moonbeam on the sea,
a rippled pale reflection, the tide repeating its rise and fall,
washing ashore sea glass and gems that have been here before.
They vow that everything returns, transforms even as the planet
turns to the sunrise and casts its bronze glow on my doorstep.