Soundings

As many young children do when falling asleep in a dark room, I comforted myself with sounds. The chirp of crickets, the moan of a fog horn, and the lonely whistle of a train signified the boundari…

Source: Soundings

Soundings

As many young children do when falling asleep in a dark room, I comforted myself with sounds. The chirp of crickets, the moan of a fog horn, and the lonely whistle of a train signified the boundaries of my world, which, at that time of my life, were understandably sketchy. As I grew, so did my concept of the area in which I lived and so did the many sounds that filled it. In California, the song of a robin signaled the coming of spring, while in Massachusetts it was the call of the Phoebe. The scratching of Carrier pigeons on the roof when I was a child in L. A. came to be replaced by the coos of mourning doves that crowded the deck railings of our house at Wingaersheek Beach. In winter, the churning of the ocean and the cries of seagulls sweetly punctuated our cherished isolation. Though I could write an ode to each of the senses, when I look for reassurance in any dark place, I seek it first with my ears.

When I first began living alone in a smaller house close to transportation and shops, I found that I could rely on the familiar but long absent train sounds once again for my sense of place. The great puffing giants two streets over perform with an energetic regularity that has become a kind of touchstone and source of inspiration. They wake me with powerful exhalations of exhaust, clanging bells, and subdued chugs, performing what my father would have called their ablutions for the day. Their prolonged whistles signify the beyond and adventure. Voices of neighbors outside or people passing by are rare and welcome reminders of a vibrant town around me.

The following poem was written shortly after I moved to Rockport.

First light

A woman’s voice on the wind,

Sun fingering the shadows of the house next door,

Sky bleached by mist and cloud, no ocean here

 

And yet it pounds not blocks away, and knowing this

It’s easier when waking to this dryer light, this tighter place,

Where sand and sea and rock don’t dominate

And gulls are not the only ones to speak.

 

In some ways I feel as if I have come full circle, and I’m blest that the sounds of this world, wherever I have lived, have always been there to comfort, anchor, and stir my imagination.

 

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Morning Star     Oil on Linen

 

Balance

I have always been clumsy. My mother claimed that I took after her in this, but I didn’t see it that way at all.  She rushed through life knocking into whatever impeded her speedy progress, whereas I had a tentative and considered approach to the world and no idea why I kept bumping into things. Unfortunately this little problem didn’t improve as I got older.    When I had children of my own, they became so used to my falling over the baby gate, that not one of them would look up to see if I’d survived such an event.

I thought I’d found my answer some years ago when I heard that frequent practice of the ancient martial art of tai chi improved both strength and balance,  Over time my physical balance has indeed improved, but it begins to decline if I neglect to work on the tai chi forms on a regular basis. Just so, the way in which I balance all other areas of my life needs to be addressed on a regular basis as I age, and whatever levelers I use for these are entirely up to me and fairly simple. If I don’t get enough sleep, I haven’t the energy I need for the next day. If I don’t exercise, my body isn’t strong enough for the things I want to do. In my creative life, where I used to be able to follow two or three muses at a time, I now have to choose which one to put front and center. Sometimes a totally new muse appears to temp me to pursue additional endeavors (such as this blog) and ways of working.

My energy and priorities have changed, and my life and the way I balance it reflects this. Where there used to be too little time, there seems to be enough of it now, and I want to use it wisely and without pressure. Time for meditation and contemplation, once considered a luxury, is now a necessity. Time with an adult child, grandchild, or friend takes precedence over anything else. Writing is an everyday at any time in any place occupation. Shopping – except for food – is usually online. The last time I visited a mall was to seek help at an Apple Genius Bar. I paint when I feel like it and sometimes I’m more interested in promoting someone else’s work than my own. There are far fewer shoulds and many more perhaps. That’s not to say that I have no grand ambitions or aspirations, but my well-being isn’t as dependent upon these anymore. You might even say that serenity, that longed for and elusive condition, would be well within my grasp if I could just stop bumping into things!

 

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A Choice

We tend to think of courage as something a person has or doesn’t have. Perhaps he or she was born with it or it was nurtured or encouraged in them by someone else. We believe that such people are gifted. They are uncommonly strong. They are destined to succeed, stand out in a crowd, or save us all like Superman or Wonder Woman. And while our fantasy heroes merely need to take a magical potion, we want our real life heroes and leaders to possess innate courage

I’ve come to view courage very differently and as a day-to-day and often minute-to-minute choice. I’ve seen it arise in the eyes of a child as he struggles to master a difficult skill. I’ve chosen courage over other possible approaches when facing an overwhelming challenge. I’ve grasped it from thin air when there was nothing else to hold onto. I’ve also seen it grow, in myself and others, from a sick seedling into a surprisingly strong plant.

A famous AA prayer asks a higher power to grant “the courage to change the things I can” as if this is indeed a gift that can be bestowed. I, too,  have prayed in the past to be more hopeful, kinder, less fearful etc. Just admitting that we need these qualities is a step toward acquiring them, and that is where the blessing truly resides. For whether or not we believe in God, in order to have any of these strengths we must choose it and work to make it our own. And so it is with courage. As we age we tend to require more and more of it, and, barring clinical depression or something catastrophic that leaves us powerless, it is nearly always a choice as to whether or not we’ll embrace it.

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The Basking Place l and ll      oil on linen

In the creative life, it’s simply courage that we’re looking for when facing writer’s or artist’s block or some of the challenges to the creativity of our older, impaired, or less energetic selves. But when we agree to choose all that such a virtue requires – the struggle and self-doubt, the hard work and possible rejection – it isn’t simple at all. It is courageous and is often followed by the true given of exhilaration.