One Chord of Joy

Moments of music bring comfort and joy…

Great choral music contains chords I could live on for years. The buildup to them is always great, too, and you can’t really appreciate how wonderful the chords are when they burst forth without hearing what comes before.

I’ve had the opportunity to sing some new music this year, I am so grateful these modern, living composers are writing music with chords to live on – sounds that can cause a broken heart to soar.

(Heads-up: some of these YouTube videos may contain ads, sorry – there doesn’t seem to be any way for me to block them for you, so I wouldn’t click other than on the little “x” to close them, if I were you):

Here’s one the chorus that has graciously accepted me is doing – “A Christmas Blessing,” by Philip Stopford. The video has him conducting, in an Irish Cathedral with a much smaller choir, but you’ll still get it (the echoey-stone-pseudo-medieval church we usually perform in was unavailable, so we performed this time in a modern, brick church building that looked more like a 1970’s school or county office building – very exposed sound, not echoey – but we pulled it off).

Anyway, the big moment comes at about 1:25-1:26 on the word “joy;” there’s another at 2:00 on the word “always.” It is worth listening to the whole thing so you get the context and the run-ups to these moments. “Joy” and “Always” just open like a time-lapse film of a huge flower blooming. Yummy.

Here’s another one, by a composer I hadn’t heard of before, that will just sort of rip your heart out, if the Christmas story means anything to you. Even if doesn’t. It feels like comfort for those who feel broken, or out of place, lost or lonely – listen for “love” at about 1:40. Another good one at about 2:43 and the end is gorgeous, so I hope you listen to the whole thing – it has such a beautiful arc to it:

Another by Will Todd – the punch I get from this is on the word “all” at about 1:28:

Because I’m talking about moments in choral music that just slay me, blow me away, blast my heart open, here’s one from the Brahms Requiem, 6th movement, “Tod, wo ist dein Stachel? Hölle, wo ist dein Sieg?” which means, “Death, where is thy sting? Hell, (or grave) where is thy victory?” Von Karajan takes it much more slowly than I’ve ever heard before, but that gives you a chance to really hear the moment I’m talking about. I tried to excerpt it but it didn’t work, so the section I’m talking about starts at about 5:55 with text that means “death is swallowed up in victory” and the big moment actually comes on the word “wo” at about 7:00:

Again, it is worth listening to the whole thing.

At the time I learned this piece, when I was a college kid, it was the sheer beauty of the music that made me come undone, and I never forgot it.

Now, of course, this section holds special meaning for me. There is something so urgently hopeful about this – the music is so, almost vehement – you can feel Brahms desperately trying to convince himself of the text – trying to hang on to hope in the depth of the sorrow of death and loss that gave birth to the whole piece. Tears every time.

We have the second and final performance of our Christmas concert tonight, so I’m off for some more salt-water gargle and tea with honey, just so I can sing my part on “joy,” “always” and of course,

Love.

Sending love and hope that you find your way to joy that will be with you always,

I remain,

Your tea-swilling, salt-water gargling soprano,

Ridiculouswoman

The Sideways Hourglass

How’d my hourglass fall over?

Back when Mike would drive me to the train station for my commute to my high-stress job, we’d sometimes arrive early enough to see the train before mine go by – it was an express, and our daughter loved the thrill of watching it blast through the station (from the safety of the car, of course.)

We came to call these express trains “whoosh” trains, because they’d “whoosh” by.

Every once in a while, she still asks to drive over to the station, to see a whoosh train.

Whoosh trains define my relationship to time, now – time that is whooshing by like a train I’m not on.

I feel like I should be “better” by now. It’s been over two years and we’re coming up on our third Christmas season without Mike. I finished my book and I’m working up the courage to start sending out my query letters about it. I’ve painted rooms, given away almost all his clothes, including, finally, the barn coat and boots. I’m still working on figuring out what to do with his collection of war games, and the telescope and the tandem are still in the garage. But still.

I’ve had days when I felt happy. Days when I didn’t think about Mike, and then felt guilty about it. I’m surprised by this new wave of grief that has hit me, now, at the start of the season of joy.

The train whooshes by. I’m supposed to be trying to live with love and laughter, and right now, I suck at it. I’m doing OK with the love part, I guess, except it feels like it is coming from a still, quiet place that just sits there – it isn’t an active kind of love. It’s an, “OK, get up, one foot in front of the other, let’s try to be a decent person today” kind of love, and I still fail at it regularly.

I feel an odd sort of responsibility to “make progress,” and I feel like I haven’t made any. I keep getting older and I’m every bit as alone. I keep losing and regaining the same three pounds.

The panicky anxiety is back. Mike could fix that. One hug from him and I was OK. I felt safe.

I don’t feel safe. I feel exposed. Unlocked. Threatened and afraid.

I sure as hell don’t feel like I’m “making progress.”

I feel like someone knocked the my hourglass over sideways.

Everyone else’s hourglass is efficiently sifting its sand, and when it is just about done, they’ll just “strike the bell and turn the glass” and start a new day.

I feel stuck in a place where time passes, I get older, but things don’t get better. Just dustier, greyer, yellowed. Old. Dried up.

chess and hourglass still life

I kept one of his many chessboards, the one he won as an elementary school champion. I still have his hats, though the smell of him is fading from them. I have too many dried up roses around the house. Feng shui, or something like it, says not to keep those, and to throw away the chipped dishes and cracked glassware. Working on it.

I haven’t been reading anything other than the deluge of catalogs that come this time of year, which I find oppressive. Maybe this year I’ll just do one of those, “Anne has made a donation in your name to…(insert laudable charitable organization doing the good in the world that I don’t seem to have the will or gumption or energy or courage to do.)

From darkness riseth light, right? Right?

Each year my church has a “longest night” service for people like me – people who need comfort because they feel left out of the joy.

That’s the message, though, isn’t it? He came in our darkest hour – never mind that we appropriated a pagan midwinter festival designed to address fears that the dark of winter would last forever and light would not come again. He came to bring hope to the hopeless and light to the darkness.

And to unburden us of our sins.

I feel like failing to be happy is a sin. I feel like I shouldn’t have to work so hard to feel grateful for the life I have and I don’t understand why I keep thinking about the life I never had instead of the one I do have, now. I don’t understand why I keep making the same mistakes, over and over again.

I’ve been slipping in my observation of the Middle Aged Woman rules. I’m in danger of giving up, drying up, sinking into a cronehood made up of joint pain and thinning hair and sagging spirit…well, let’s be honest here, sagging everything.

I have to go wash my hair, put on some lipstick, and take my daughter to see the holiday model train display. I’ll try to be quiet, and let her just enjoy it.

And maybe when they start sprinkling the fake snow from the ceiling, I’ll look out the window at the specks of real snow that is falling, and remember that spring will come.

From darkness riseth light.

In the bleak midwinter.

Time to buy a tree, and smell the piney-ness of it, and find the joy, even if it is small, and deeply buried.

Until then I remain,

Your humble, flawed, struggling, hanging on to hope by a thread,

Ridiculouswoman

I Can’t Take Me Anywhere

I haven’t gotten into an argument with anyone today…yet

I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, what you did, as long as you love…”

-Max Martin, recorded by the Backstreet Boys

(I left out the “me” in that quote deliberately.)

I have one goal for today: not to get into an argument with anyone.

Which pretty much means I should go back to bed and pull the covers over my head and hope I wake up to a better world tomorrow.

Yeah, right, Little Mary Sunshine.

Pollyanna.

One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t change anyone’s mind by making it clear that you think you are smarter than they are. That’s a sure way to get someone who is an idiot and is wrong to dig in.

And you can’t make anyone care about things you care about by making those things all about you and who you are.

The only way to make things better is to try to make things better for everyone, by concentrating on the things we have in common. Quit concentrating on the gaps between us and work harder on the things that bring us together. Which there are lots of, if we could just dial the noise back and address real problems with practical solutions. Most of you do that every day at work, with people who may be very different and may have very different outlooks on a lot of things, but who are perfectly capable of working together toward a shared goal.

Making life better for everyone collectively makes life better for each of us individually. Seems self-evident to me. (Yeah, that was intentional).

So I don’t care what equipment you were born with, how you dress it and how or whether you may have altered it, I don’t care who you love (I just hope you have someone to love), I don’t care what color your skin is or what language you speak or where you were born, I don’t care how or whether you worship (I just hope you can feel and have experienced the existence of a creative, loving power greater than yourself, however you may define that power, or spirit, or energy, or whatever) – I just care that you care about other people, and that you try to make decisions that may affect others conscientiously.

I haven’t gotten into an argument with anyone today (so far – heading back to bed now, covers to be pulled over head) but I’m throwing the flag on myself anyway, as I couldn’t keep myself from asking the supporters of a candidate I didn’t vote for if they were far enough away from the polling place (I was just going to work out at the fitness center, I early-voted last week) whereupon they pointed out that the representatives of the candidate I had voted for were standing even closer to the “no electioneering” sign. Oops.

I didn’t stop myself from muttering under my breath in response to something overheard in a conversation I was not party to as I walked back to my car.

The muttering and the challenging didn’t make me feel better – they made me feel worse.

You know what made me feel better? Watching my daughter enjoy being pampered at the hair salon, sitting through a shampoo and haircut calmly, and patiently reading a magazine under a dryer (curly, curly hair, no blow drying, just a gentle old-fashioned hair dryer on a wheeled stand, that goes over the head like a giant 1960’s space helmet) like any other adult lady at a salon.

This is not a small thing. From the time she was a toddler until in her mid-teens, when she finally insisted on trying to do it herself, taking care of her hair was a major battle.

Her tactile defensiveness meant she couldn’t stand anyone approaching too closely, especially from behind, anywhere near her head, like you have to in order to pick out knots in long, curly hair. Mike could do it, though – when she was four, he patiently, gently, over a year, picked out her Sideshow Bob dreadlocks so we wouldn’t have to cut her hair  – it grows so slowly.

And today here she was, accepting not only a shampoo (lying back in the shampoo chair, allowing the head massage and the comb-out) and dutifully tilting her head this way and that at the request of the stylist, conversing, with a little delay in responding, but conversing nonetheless, with her hairdresser, just as if this was an ordinary thing for her. Which it isn’t and hasn’t been, but might be now.

Her hair, though shorter, looks great, she has promised not to keep cutting it herself (just to get it out of her face, which resulted in a kind of curly mullet, hence giving over my previously scheduled appointment to her, for repairs), and she’s already asking about her next appointment.

Sometimes the small victories in life are bigger than they seem, and more satisfying.

So whatever tomorrow ends up looking like, I’ll hang on to those big small victories and keep hoping that everyone else is having some of them too, every day.

Until then, I remain,

Your nervous, off-for-a-nap and hoping for a better tomorrow, whatever tomorrow may bring,

Ridiculouswoman

Middle-aged Woman Rules, Part Three

Dinah Shore was twenty years older than Burt Reynolds, and they had a hot romance.

Made me hopeful.

Until I looked in the mirror right after a shower.

Which caused me to formulate a new middle-aged woman rule to add to the original and as-amended rules:

  • Even if you have a magic mirror, NEVER, EVER LOOK IN THE MIRROR WHEN YOUR HAIR IS WET. Trust me, just don’t.

Corollary:

  • Do your face before you put the stuff that makes your curly hair curlier all over your hands, to work in to your wet hair. See original rules, “manage hair wherever it occurs. (emphasis added.”) Just sayin’.

Pleased that cooler weather has arrived, permitting the use of a hair dryer in an un-airconditioned environment, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, disheveled,

Ridiculouswoman

My Secret Azalea – or, Inside Out

It can only be seen from inside the house.

The ferns surrounded it, in lush, leafy hug.

And that made me smile.

It was a really good spring for my rhodo and my azaleas – lovely, abundant blooms. I put this one where it is last year so that there would be something evergreen to look at just outside there in the winter, even if it got buried by snow for a time.

I didn’t expect this abundance of ferns to swallow it up in the spring, but I like the effect.

It reminds me to keep something blooming within, even if others can’t see it right away.

Not until I let them in.

The garden is still a work in progress; it looks okay from the outside, but still needs a few more shrubs and perennials to fill in and squeeze out the weeds so I don’t have to spend so much time digging those out. Could use some mulch, too; I’m not much in the mood or the position to spend more money on it right now, so those things will come a little at a time.

The blooms on my secret azalea have gone by since I took the photo, but its leaves are there and will still be there there when the ferns fade. Maybe in a few years, it will even grow taller than the feathery, fluffy chaos around it.

My secret azalea reminded me that kindness implies a kind of trust – or faith, if you want to call it that – that those toward whom it is directed will benefit, be softened, encouraged, cheered, made hopeful, whatever,  but also that kindness directed from the inside out is always worth it, even if it isn’t received that way immediately, or ever, even. Being kind provides a sort of stillness, a type of calm, a sense of perspective, that is healing to me, regardless. Tends my inner garden.

My secret azalea reminded me that what’s going on inside affects what’s outside; that beauty within radiates outward, where it affects the world around it.

Let’s face it, if you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve figured out that I’m a heart-on-my-sleeve type. It isn’t really possible for me to hide my feelings. I send out a vibe, even when I don’t want to. So I have to work on that, pretty much constantly, trying and failing and trying again to send out a good vibe, to be kind, to be positive, to grow into the person I want to be, every moment, because every moment is precious, a gift.

In the words of my literary hero, Jack Aubrey, “there’s not a moment to lose.”

So no pity-parties, please. Fall of the horse, get right back on, keep going. The sun rises.

And the music plays.

I work at a place where I can listen to music, often at a good strong volume, all day – and sing along to it, and no one seems to mind. Or at least they put up with it. Most of the day the place is fairly empty, requiring manual (or forklift driven) labor. I’ve even got a sort of little fan club, that comes in once a week to do what they need to do, who caught me singing once and now seem to look forward to it each week.

The variety of music available is wide – classic rock, ’80s music, stations based on Journey (HA! sing like Steve Perry! who’s with me?) or the Eagles, or REM or Emmylou or Bruce Springsteen – everything from country to opera. Although it is hard to find a mix that always satisfies, I’ve found some really good stations that have brought back songs to me that I hadn’t thought about in years – good, cathartic, cryin’ songs, songs of hope, songs that put things in perspective. And arias – but don’t worry, I only rock the Puccini when the place is empty. Although come to think of it, Puccini, (O Mio Babbino Caro, to be exact) is what got the fan club going.

Remember that movie, Network News, where Holly Hunter, playing a news producer, would set aside a few minutes each day to just take the phone off the hook (hey, it was made in 1987 and set mostly in 1981 – landlines!) and just bawl her eyes out? Then she’d pull it together and get right back to work.

I’m a big fan of the good cry. And of getting right back to work.

During Mike’s illness, I did most of my crying in the car – car crying – because I didn’t want our child to see it and get upset, and I didn’t want to make Mike feel sad, or worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle things.

Now, I cry a lot less, but when I need to let it out, it often happens when I’m in the warehouse, cleaning or closing up, inspired by one of those great songs I had forgotten about, and it helps – it helps a lot. It helps reconcile the inside with the outside; harmonizing with the songs harmonizes me, in a way. Even if a lot of these songs seems sad, that’s not the point – the point is they give me a sort of cleansing that makes me feel better, calmer, stronger. Sing, cry, dry, work.

In no particular order, songs that came up that helped me “take the phone off the hook,” feel what I feel, let it out, and then pull it together and carry on include:

  • Jackson Browne’s For a Dancer, sung by Linda Ronstadt
  • Warren Zevon’s Keep Me In Your Heart For A While
  • The Eagles’ Peaceful, Easy Feelin’
  • Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces, Cowboy Take Me Away, Not Ready to Back Down 
  • Iris DeMent’s Our Town (she was a discovery for me – hadn’t heard her before)
  • Any version of Stevie Nicks’ Landslide
  • Long, Long Time, sung by Linda Ronstadt
  • Shenandoah’s Ghost in this House,  sung by Alison Krauss (really, anything sung by Alison Krauss – Down in the River to Pray, Long Lost Friend, etc.
  • Softly and Tenderly, sung by Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt

and the one that kind of sums up what I learned from losing Mike, and why I’m trying to grow in to a better, kinder, more loving person:

When We’re Gone, sung by Emmylou, Dolly and Linda –

…”And when we’re gone, long gone,
the only thing that will have mattered
is the love that we shared
and the way that we cared
when we’re gone, long gone….”

This song helps me remember there’s not a moment to lose, and not to skimp on love – it helps me nourish my inner, secret azalea, gives me hope that what blooms within will radiate out as love, as kindness, and as hope, one precious moment at a time.

May you find the music that gives you hope and peace, as this song does for me.