Friday, December 30, 2016

Year's End

I feel the downslope now, the acceleration of sorrow.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


I mess around with really old art for my living (or at least the majority of it). 

It's not something I think about very much.  There just isn't much immediate utility to pondering the fact that somebody, some 400-500 years ago, crafted whatever it is I'm trying to give shape to, analyze, appreciate, or teach.

But occasionally I see it.  Every so often I glimpse, across that gulf of steam and sweat and electricity and plague and other things- bobbleheads, fins on cars, crumpets,- the human on the other side.

And so today, Christmas Eve, as the dark rolls in, I'm reading through some Quantz.  Johann Joachim was a grinch.  A crabby man who enjoyed not only finding fault, but trumpeting it.  But he wrote some pretty music and now, centuries and centuries later, I stand in front of my music stand and play it. 

I don't wonder what he would think.  I've read his diatribes.  I'm a woman.  I'm wearing pants.  I'm musically flighty with a taste for the overwrought. He would disapprove.

And yet-  there is probably no one else in this whole hill-bound, landlocked state -no one else in this wide, wild country- puzzling out this particular Quantz this particular hour.  Just me and him and the dark and whatever light we can bring.

That's something.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


I've lost the knack of lolling.

It's something to do with whatever mid-life crisis I've been trudging through -midlife crisis turning out to comprise, in my case, not a corvette but a slog.  I have a sense that I can't possibly waste time, because I have only much time left, and if you fritter it away that's sacrilege or profanity or some other horror.

So I have trouble doing what I used to do, which was to spend time, profligately, on not much of anything, tossing my minutes into the air like confetti.

I miss that voluptuous waste.

I've given myself most of the day off today.  Not the whole day off, because the self-employed never really get vacation, and I need to make money, and so I'm teaching two lessons in the late afternoon.  But before that I've got at least four hours in which I have no fixed engagements.

I'm struggling, mightily, not to refer to my to-do list.  So far I've cleaned the kitchen and sent some work emails and restrained myself from purchasing airline tickets for work.  I need a leisure director.  Someone to tell me what to do when I don't want to tell myself.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


There are books I will never read.

That's the seven-word drumbeat of mortality, but also a rebel yawp, because there are, it turns out, books I do not want to read, like the Pray and Love portions of Eat, Pray, Love, and the remainder of the Twilight series and, apparently, the seventh volume of Harry Potter- though perhaps in some extremity of the future I'll be able to face the haunting possibility of Snape's death (don't tell me). 

But there are also books I will and do and have read.  37 this year, or at least 37 that are admissible, and I'll probably jam in one or two more before the year shuts down.  Many were alright.  Three I regret a little and two I regret a lot. But it was also a banner year for really good books, books that stick to your ribs or in your throat, and I want to share them with you.

My five best reads of 2016, in no particular order.

1. Most Tears on a Plane:  Being Mortal, Atul Gawande.  There should be a special warning sticker for books that make you cry on airplanes.   You are tens of thousands of feet in the air in a metal death trap, surrounded by strangers with colds, momentarily untethered from your early connections, and terrified of turbulence.  You are reading about death.  And life before death.  And oh, god, here comes your bloody mary mix.  Honorable Mention, Most Tears on a Plane: When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalinithi.

2. Read Out of Pique:  Swann's Way, Marcel Proust.  You know how sometimes several centuries of literary tradition shriek at you that something is really good and you ignore that shrieking because what could several centuries of literary tradition possibly bring to the table that you don't already embody with your deep knowledge of the Regency Romance back bench?  And then that thing they were shrieking about turns out to be really good?  Yeah.  Honorable Mention, Read Out of Pique:Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff.

3.  Proust Detox: The Trespasser, Tana French. Say you've just read something with syntax so long, so draggled and twisty, it's like what comes out of your drain once you manage to pry the P-trap off.  And untangling that syntax was deeply rewarding, and now your sink drains, but boy, you could really mainline some plot?  But good plot, with layering and nuance and, heck, a soupcon of nice prose?  This is the one.  Honorable Mention, Proust Detox: Wilde Lake, Laura Lippmann; Last Ragged Breath, Julia Keller.

4. You Make Me Want to Be a Better Man: Just Mercy, Brian Stevenson.   Our justice system is broken.  We need to fix it.  More tears on more planes.  Honorable Mention, You Make Me Want to Be a Better Man: Missoula, Jon Krakauer.

5. I Left My Heart in Bloomington: Staying Put, Scott Russell Sanders.  Essays about roots, place, and home.  I wish I could. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


I'll be walking or typing or driving or talking and it will rise up in me, expand around me til it bursts -Bloomington: some odd slice of it, some span of seconds, indistinguishable from the seconds before it and after it except that it has lodged in me, worked loose.  I am crouched to the lowest shelf in the bookstore that shuttered; craning my neck for deer in the secret woods; lying in the grass, hiding or waiting, while the teachers call me in; stalling my car out and out and out under grey-white sky. Year after year, once or twice a day, sometimes more frequently, never less This is how wasted love comes: in fits. I wait for it to pass.

Friday, December 9, 2016


I've lost the knack of quiet.  Instead I rumble through my house, clanging pots, clinking dishes, shuffling bills, groaning under the weight of one burden or another.  Adulthood is many things, but it is not quiet.  When I stumble into a pocket of quiet it's like hitting a bump on the airplane- I'm suddenly suspended, unmoored, unhinged.

It's one of life's pettier cruelties that one prepares and prepares, in one's early years, but never for the right things.  Solving for x instead of scrubbing poop out of bathmats.  History instead of taxes.  How to sing instead of how to shut up.

Friday, November 25, 2016

No help

People I love have willfully untethered themselves from reality.  And the person who would have kept them from drifting is lost. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016


It's a dark Thanksgiving, this year.  Dark literally- winter has begun smudging the mornings grey, staining the evenings almost black.  And dark in its litany of anxieties- some global, some personal, some dull, some bone-saw sharp.  Dark, too, in my increasing cognizance of my life's sclerosis, the narrowing of ability and possibility.

I get up.

It's early morning, my favorite time.  The quiet is here.  The new light streaks the back of night's throat.

I'm reading about death.  And the frantic dance that comes before.

Upstairs, my child chatters.  He is part of my litany of fear- his end, his hopes, his formation, the agony of my relationship to my parents and presumably his to his- but he is also his own sharply delineated self, cackling and whooping and stealing out of bed.

"I'm awake!" he howls.

The most we can ask. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016


The leaves are peaking.  It's a surprise, one of the many ways I've recently miscalculated.  I haven't spent many falls in this place; I had it in my head that the trees would flame out toward the end of October, during a time I was away.  But I staggered off the plane into green, and since then that green has been leaching away, the trees giving themselves over, inch by inch, to the sickening glory of fall. 

Fall is leprosy.  It's a loveliness that marks you,  has no cure.  It hooks into your jaw, scrapes your lips.  It's unsparing and assertive and a little bit mean -and you love it anyway, because you have to, because you've always loved it and can't seem to stop.

So many mistakes.  Imagining the world to be a kinder place than it has proved itself to be.  Thinking you can change what is.  That second waffle.  And on, and on.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Nov 19: Birthday

It's my father's birthday.

These days I feel like I am constantly one beat away from tears.  Like my life is a thin film slicked over a snot-nosed, red-faced howl.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


You wake up one morning and realize that all the cliches about time are knifingly, crucifyingly true.  It all goes so fast.  Youth is wasted on the young.  You're going to miss this.

It's one of the multitude of life's petty cruelties, that when you need to hear them -those hoary drumbeats about the value of your time, the consequences of your choices, the glory of now- you can't.  And after they've clarified for you, sharpened for you, pinned you-

You're going to miss this.  Parts of this.  Imperfectly.  Go.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Nov. 14

Sometimes the return of joy is a betrayal: your skin smothering your heart.

Monday, November 7, 2016


I never took volcanoes seriously.  It's because were never merely themselves but were always a conduit to something else: props in movies, hinges in stories, the sausage meat stuffed into a symbol's  skin.

But they are also their very own extruding, fiery, caustic selves, and those selves are -no bones about it- miraculous.  It's the earth's version of immaculate conception, rock calving itself. It merely (and flagrantly) is.

I saw a volcano.  I am largely unchanged.  The volcano is unequivocally unchanged.  But nevertheless, something small has shifted.  If only a slight stirring of my sense that I do not know everything, can never, do not want to.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

BWV 106

It's impossible to tell if I love the piece because it is familiar, or if the piece has nosed itself into familiarity because of my love.

Backtracking: familiar might be the wrong word.  Familiar smacks of transparency, comfort.   My knowledge of the piece is grittier, smuttier, stained by performance after performance.  At school, fumbling through the notes.  That time in Cincinnati with the garret hotel and the wrought iron bed, playing with the man who would later go blind.  Playing with my teacher.  Playing with my student.  Playing with one colleague or another, each of us with our petty tragedies and vain hopes and shaky certainties and brief moments of grace.

Saturday, November 5, 2016


The meaning of life is to share joy.  I legitimately believe this.  It is a bit startling to find, within myself, after all these years, legitimate belief.  It's like opening up the fridge and discovering that it is full of worms.  Or some other metaphor, with fewer worms. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016


I'd forgotten how much I like running a 5K. I like the people cheering me on and the strength of the morning sun against the chill of the air and the sweat of it, the hills and the go go go.  This was the first race I've run in years, and so it was the first race in which my family stood at the finish line to cheer me on- and I liked that, too.

Most of all. I like accomplishing something in an arena in which I cannot, and do not, want to compete at any kind of legitimate level.  I made it over the finish line in under 33 minutes! Which is pretty slow!  And I was incredibly proud. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

September 29: Hair

Petty loss edition.

I love my hair color.  It's a variegated chestnut with hints of red, the kind of hair other people coax from the bottle.  But in just a few short years, I'll start to go gray, and a few years after that, bald.  And I'm acutely aware of all the years I wasted wishing my hair were not my hair.

I'm dwelling on this to escape the other, far greater losses barreling down the track.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

September 18: Discomfort

Why wouldn't you try to sing the hymns? 

Friday, September 16, 2016

September 15: 3/4 of the year gone.

The older I get, the more I understand broken-heartedness to be the human condition.

To be alive is to endure heartbreak after heartbreak, some petty, some bone-deep, some clean, some shattering.  We are heartbroken by what we have done and by what we have left undone.  We break and are broken in turn.

I will never ski. 
The father I knew is gone. 
My son is growing up. 
There are no more rotary telephones. 

If I have broken your heart, I am sorry; you have probably broken mine. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

August 25: Pond

Sometimes a moment will open itself so vigorously, so incessantly and insistently, that for each of its sixty seconds you're both transfixed and engulfed, pinned inside: water, sun, water, wind, water, dirt, breath.

Friday, August 19, 2016

August 22: 35

There is something frightening about slithering down this slope of the demographic fulcrum.   Within the next ten years, if my family history foretells mine, I need to accomplish any work I want to get done that requires me to fire on all, or most, of my cylinders.  That I may choose to fritter those years away scrolling through Facebook, or fretting over my dirty countertops, or pushing work down the road until I have more time...

well, that's horrifying.  And that's life.  We waste our time: expertly, profligately, unceasingly. The wonder is when we don't. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

August 13: Dawn

Dawn is skulking in this morning, rain-flecked, dank, sun tucked up to its belly. 

I'm up for no reason.

Untrue: I'm up so I can be alone in the house to shuffle through my breakfast liturgy.  Paper, grape nuts, tea.  Holy, holy, holy. 

And I'm up so I can read.  It's Proust, this morning.  Out of pique.

Or wistfulness, or daring, affectation, curiosity, self-loathing.   Fortunately Proust is commodious.  I like that about him- the way each moment expands to accommodate galaxies, handbags, monsters, whole mornings in their cauls. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

August 12: Student

Went to the doctor today.  Routine, a wellness check, prescription refills.   The stuff I've been putting off.  It turns out my new practice is a teaching practice.  A student took my history, probed my health.  It was poignant, the extent to which the student was so raw, so present, so eager to connect.

As a therapist, I'd forgotten what that feels like.  To have served so few people, looked into so few eyes, that you can still see each person in three dimensions, a living, breathing being instead of a type, a face as opposed to a constellation of obligations.

Then the years set in, and you become like the doctor: walking in late, reading your patient's name off the chart, glancing up, slotting her: "young and healthy."

Thursday, August 11, 2016

August 11: Charleston

The memory is apropos of nothing, but nevertheless it envelops me, shakes me, is gone: a cloud in an airplane's path.

I'm in downtown Charleston West Virginia, afire with adrenaline, the only guest in a rattling, musty B&B.  Within the year, it will close,  its owners tired of of the work.  It's 6:00 PM, late July, and the sky plays its hand: light, light light.   I've levered myself out of the car, every muscle seizing.  I have driven alone for hours and hours on the Interstate, a thing that was, to me, a ribbon of fear.  I have left my home state behind, for good.

My car is full of my things.  At that time, they seem to me to pin me down.  I have burdens, responsibilities, promises, a cheese grater and a printer.  I need to find dinner somewhere in this lazy maze of river-bound streets, and I need to bring in my instruments from the car -but for a moment I lie flat on the bed and stare at the sky.  I am light, light, light, though I do not know it.    

Sunday, July 31, 2016

July 30: Death

Considering the amount of stress and fear I feel around things like insect extermination and replacement windows, it occurs to me that dying, for which there are no Yelp reviews, must require more fortitude than any of us really possesses. 

I'm probably not going to die today, though, so in the meantime I'll take a breath or three for my childhood neighbor, who recently passed.  RIP Alice.  You were fierce and brave and I hope you had to marshall none of that for the end. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

July 30: Adulthood

Adulthood has many penalties and few perks, but among the glitzier of its spoils is lowered expectations.  A slightly cooler morning, toddler splayed across your chest, the hitch and stumble of a train. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

July 29: Dregs

Wasting those last few hours of summer, as summer begs to be wasted.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

July 26: Flicker

Life is best lived in snatches between sameness, stations flaring up out of the subway's dark.

I go to list what I've done today and come up short.  Blamed myself for eating too much goat cheese. Unloaded the dishwasher. Fretted over topics one through twelve.  Lain in indecision.  Hurried.  Hugged.  Tried to clean the counter.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

July 24: Catholics

The Catholics are 100 times more prescriptive than other denominations.  Your hands should be empty. Please do not treat the host like a pair of keys.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

July 23: Music

Church this afternoon for evensong.  It may take a two-year-old for me to enjoy music.  Instead of the review I'm going to write, or the difference in the way I would have played that phrase, or the undeservedness of X's career, or the ways in which Y outclasses me, or my fears and hopes for Z, or even how to jam this particular sound into a sloppy container of words- all I've got left is listening with one ear while the other stays alert for insurrection.  Take Me Out to the Ballgame overlapping the anthem; Elmo's World inserted in the prayers. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

July 22: Teaching

I love its layering, the way, in each hour, in each interaction, I must listen while shaping, analyze while remaining genuine, think ahead while giving my full attention to the moment.  I love that I'm helping people to feel empowered to make music, no matter their level.  I love when a student takes pleasure in her progress or is able to appreciate the beauty of a tune or the challenge of inching forward.  I love the thrill of figuring out what a student needs and helping them identify and achieve their goals.  Not much more exciting. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

July 21: Shopping

I went to World Market today.  And Trader Joes.  And Target.  I could have bought a rug.  Or Pocky. Or a secretary.   The sheer panoply made me numb.  What is the point of bridling words, or chaining a few sounds together on a metal disc?  What's art but scrabbling at the infinite.... and the infinite is already on offer.   There are more things in Target and Lowes, Anne, then are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

July 20: Heat Advisory

The fact that I have been advised, officially and sternly, using the self-important graphics of the National Weather Service, makes me cautious.  The National Weather Service is an enigmatic agency, and that opacity forces me, despite myself, to pay attention.   I can't see the man behind the curtain so there may not be a man at all.

The heat advisory will last for seven days.  Cautious is the wrong word.  It makes me craven.  I doubt the hot weather skills I know I possess: to throw on a white dress, drink a full glass of water, slip out the sliding glass door and pick my way from shadow to shadow.  I used to walk this way every day of summer, paddling against the hot-tub air, monitoring the sweat that pooled behind my neck and knees before it outgrew its surface tension, dribbled to slick my calves and my back.  I like the way hot weather walking feels like both succor and masochism, the air laid across your face like a warm washcloth, a mild punishment.

Now, advised, I'm indoors.  Sweatless.  Tapping out other hot weeks, other hot worlds. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

July 18: Rabbits

I know the saying speaks directly to their multiplicity, but still, the number of rabbits in my new neighborhood verges on disturbing. How is there sufficient grass?  How are there enough places to hide, enough spots to go and be rabbity in the dark?  On my neighborhood walks I see so many rabbits, rabbit after rabbit after rabbit, that the whole enterprise takes on a rabbit-hole, mad-hatter flavor.  Is there nothing to do in this place but hop and munch and flee?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

July 17

There is too much organ music in the house.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

July 16

Sometimes there's not much more to life than the one bright day among many. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

July 15

I honestly believe my brain is disintegrating.  I'm forgetting more things with more frequency and more consequences.   Words don't come as easily or as entrancingly.  My capacity to sustain attention seems to be waning.

I try to tell myself it doesn't matter.  Being smart was never that much fun in any case.  Now I can simply be extant.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

July 13

Went back in the hole for a while.  Tentatively sniffing my way out.

I've come to one of the emptiest stretches of my year.  Most of my jobs are on hiatus, including my steadiest, 20-hour-a-week gig, and so I've happened upon three weeks of weekdays in which I have few fixed obligations.  It will be short-lived: Come August first, all jobs crank up full-force and my free time slams shut.

I should fill these days.  What working mother has this opportunity?   Three weeks of only a few lessons, practicing, whatever I decide to do?  I should start projects,  pull things off the back burner,  work ahead...I should save the world or hell, at least organize the house.

I'm doing some of this.  I'm outlining workshops for the year and making doctor's appointments and trying to learn pieces by ear.  But I'm also  struggling, as I always struggle, with the waste I make of my time when I can.  I'm working maybe five to six hours a day, wasting two or three. There is slack time, uselessness, breath to no end.

The feeling is familiar, but distantly, a recollection of those never-ending stretches of time I had when I was a child.  Now, as an adult, my default state is busy.  Very busy.  Jam-packed, bumper to bumper busy such a large portion of the year.  I work multiple jobs, adding up to over full time.  I have a kid.  I'm on a working non-profit board.  I still read.  And on and on.

And, to tell the truth, I enjoy it.

I know that's not fashionable at the moment. We are supposed to spurn busyness.  It is supposed to be a cover for our  inherent loneliness or spiritual discomfort or general soullessness.  We keep busy to escape from our true selves, or so the meditators and self-help gurus would have us believe.

I call crap.  I know so many busy, happy people.  I am a busy, happy person.  I enjoy having miles to go and promises to keep.  I like having my time taut, not flaccid.  I like the rush of moving from one arena of my life to the next, the way the texture of my world changes depending on where I am and what I'm doing.  Being busy is eye-opening, friction-generating, electric.

So what to do when things are slow?

Like back and take it, I guess.  Because I can't deny there's also something valuable in these fallow times.  There's space to watch, to read, to learn.  Space to walk five miles a day and listen to the hum of the highway a mile down the road and the scurry-plot of rabbits and the grass being cut and cut and cut.

I write when I have more space.  When I'm going full-tilt, I don't seem to have room for words.

And come August, I'll want to get back to busy.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

July 3

We are emerging from a difficult time.  Every goddamn bite tastes amazing.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

July 2

There's something to rolling over every damn inch of the dirt between here and there.

Friday, July 1, 2016

July 1

There's nothing in my life I like more than teaching recorder.  This sense of wholeheartedness, of -yes, I have to say it- vocation, is both exhilarating and sobering.  I didn't believe in Nessie.  Then she rose up from the loch and whipped me across the face. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Coming Soon

My son is obsessed with the idea of imminence.  "My daddy coming," he says.  "Rain coming!"  "Monster coming."

He's 2.5, and he already knows the piquancy of anticipation.

I'm visiting my hometown this weekend, an endeavor guaranteed to make me maudlin (to know what you want and never be able to have it, to feel the pain of coming close, blah blah blah).

In three days: My move.  My second inside of a year.  Maybe my last in decades.

I can feel it approaching- all the boxes I haven't packed.  All the permanence I haven't yet, in my life, been able to enjoy.  The idea that I might stay put -not forever, but for a good long while- is both sobering and intoxicating, like sipping wine while the cement dries around your feet.

My last move.  It's coming.  Soon.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Coldest day of the year so far.  It hurts to go outside, then hurts to come inside again, all the blood storming into your limbs.  Every journey becomes something to be scaled, Everest from the door of the car to the door of the house and back.  Nevertheless, we go on our way.  If not this trundling forward under a clear and merciless sky, then what?

Saturday, January 9, 2016


First Missouri snow.

William stares out the window.  I tell him, "Look snow!"

"My snow," he says. "All mine."

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Six Words

Sore throat; ennui; road and light.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Jan 1

I'm writing this from the midst of music.  It's the newest, most tender part of 2016, those first few days in which you struggle to remember what the heck date it is.  I struggle to remember a lot more than the date these days, which could be an early sign of impending Alzheimer's, or a manifestation of insomnia, or no more or less than the general, inexorable overfilling of my brain with the murky stuff of memory.

This is the root of the impulse to record: knowing that, if I do not, these pine boughs and silver pipes, this fatigue and the vague feeling that I have overeaten, will slip away, tucked into the great black bag of the past and stollen away. 

So here I am.  It's 2015.  I'm sitting in a pew, still uncomfortable despite its velvet cusion.  The air smells of pine and sweat and that indefnitable funk of church.  Ten feet front of me, my colleagues are rehearsing music composed four hundred years ago, give or take.  Some of them forgot their pencils.  Some of them are playing their hearts out.  Some of them of already thinking about lunch.  Some of the shapes they make are exactly right and some are twisted shadows of what could have been; and this is the way with music; and this is the way with most of what precedes it and most of what follows after.

We listen to what's here.  Maybe scribble it down if we can.  Play sometimes.  Sit back down.