Monday, October 29, 2007

The fall light

I walked through the living room today and noticed that the afternoon light has changed. The sun is lower in the sky. It enters the room from a different angle. The trees in the front yard still have a few tenacious leaves clinging to the branches, so the light filtering through is somewhat dappled. It is a clear day. Not one cloud. The sunlight splays across the surface of our maple table, onto the wood floor, onto the yellow ocher wall.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

An early start

Usually I wait until Advent to pull out my Leonard Bernstein version of the Messiah CD. But since I was feeling crappy last week, I was indulging in the Easter half and it was like drinking a magic potion. I felt cured of what ailed me.

Bernstein created great controversy when he reworked the Messiah. Instead of three sections, he divided it into two: Christmas and Easter. He shuffled some of the arias and choral pieces. He moved the Hallelujah Chorus from Easter to Christmas, which was utterly scandalous to purists. (And the one change I disagree with.)

He also used a completely American cast, including 2 African Americans, which must have been quite forward thinking in the 50s.

I first bought my copy of the CD when I got baptized 4 years ago. Early in my first Advent as a Christian, I went to a 'Messiah Sing' at Providence College with my friend Carmen. I had never heard any of the music other than the Hallelujah Chorus, so it was all new to me. We stood in the Alto section, which isn't really where I sing. (Tenor, if you must know, LOL!) And I had a very hard time following all the lines of music. Plus I don't sight read, so I was bumbling around quite badly.

But oh, the music. What music! There were particular pieces that just blew me away.
"And he shall be called Wonderful. Councilor. Almighty God, the everlasting power, the prince of peace...." I cried during that one. Because he IS wonderful.

The next day I went to Barnes and Noble and lucked into getting Bernstein's version.

It is interesting to me that a Jewish conductor seemed to understand the power of the Jesus story so deeply. I have heard several versions since then, and none, as far as I can tell, have nearly the power that Bernstein brought to it. The Pastoral Symphony, in particular, is one of the most astounding pieces of music I have ever heard. The first time I listened to it, it was like experiencing Christmas and Holy Week, Advent, Lent and Epiphany all at once. There is the tenderness and sweetness of the violins heralding the birth, but just under the surface, the double bass foreshadows the crucifixion. I still weep when I hear it.

By now, having listened to the cds more or less nonstop every Advent and Lent, I can sing the whole score. I know every word, at least of Bernstein's version, which is shorter than the standard productions.

And today, while listening to the Christmas half, I heard a little voice from the back of my car singing along.

Thank you Handel. Thank you Bernstein. Thank you God.

I am already thinking ahead to Advent.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Leaving the mire behind

A great lunch with spiritual director and a day of drumming at my kids' school have both left me feeling happy and grateful and not at all feeling sorry for myself. And no, the laundry is still not done. And yeah, the guy in the pew might have been just a tiny bit out of line. But all is forgiven and processed and it is a beautiful day here in New England... the first day of fall. The leaves are doing their thing and the air is crisp and I am getting a new drum on Monday and all is right with the world.

It shocks me, sometimes, how close to the surface self doubt is. I can fall into it so easily. Which might surprise people because I seem very confident on the surface. But the surface never reveals the depth, does it? It reflects back what is on the outside.

Today, Lord, I am grateful. I am grateful for my director, with whom I have been meeting for 4 years now. (wow!) I am grateful for this beautiful day. I am grateful that yesterday went so well. And I am grateful to not have to be an expert at any of this stuff.


One other thought: I have been especially grateful at the people God has brought into my life. My Catholic friends may shudder at this, but I am convinced that if God had wanted me to be a Catholic, he would have sent me a Catholic priest instead of an Anglican one.

Monday, October 22, 2007

It's a pity

My spiritual director is coming for lunch tomorrow and all I can say is 'Thank God'. This week I have been tormented by self doubt and self pity.

In church on Sunday, the guy that sits behind us leaned over during the 'Peace' and commented that the kids were dressed pretty casually for church. At least I think that is what he said. I honestly couldn't really hear him. But oh did I take that and make a nice big club to beat myself with. I am a crappy mom. My kids are ragamuffins. They don't have decent clothes because I am too lazy or distracted to sort their laundry. I am too frazzled on a Sunday morning to notice the rips in Noah's pants until we are halfway to church and by then it is too late to turn around for him to change.

And I suck at drumming.

And my husband's business is falling apart and he is afraid to tell me what is going on because I am the.worst.wife.ever.

By the time the priests started blessing the sacraments, I was sobbing. The kids didn't know what had happened.

"Are you ok, Mom?" Noah asked

I tried to pull myself together.

Church is as good a place as any to fall apart. Maybe better than most, in fact, since it is not completely unheard of to weep in the pews for no apparent reason. But I couldn't help feeling that in the middle of my pity party, there was some sin at the bottom of it. Desolation is a construct of my ego and will. It is me being angry about the circumstances in my life and not taking responsibility for the things I have control over and letting God handle the rest. It is me acting like a victim. I said the confession with extra energy on Sunday. First the pity party: Sorry, God, that I am a crappy mother and a bad laundress and an insensitive wife and a shitty drummer. But then the real confession: I am sorry for feeling sorry for myself.

Now where is that laundry basket?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Painting swap

My mother's friend Michelle moved out of state to be with her new boyfriend. She is in her 60's and had lots of stuff. Too much. So she was trying to winnow it down to a manageable amount. She asked my mom if I would be interested in her dining room table.

Sure, I said. I'll take a look at it.

But we were out of town the weekend she moved, so her upstairs neighbor was in charge of letting people into the apartment to get the stuff she'd promised to others. We almost forgot all about it until one night after dinner Nguyen said

Let's go look at the table.


We got in the truck, with the kids and headed to Providence.

The table is great. A very old funky maple top with oak legs. It had leaves at one point, but now makes due with a couple pieces of plywood. In it's closed state it is a big square.

The apartment was completely vacant by now, except for a painting leaning against the wall. It's back was facing out, so all we could see was the wooden frame and the back of the canvas. But somehow it looked familiar to me. I walked over and pulled it back from the wall. It was one of my grandmother's paintings. I caught my breath.

My grandmother was a magnificent painter. She went to art school in London in the 30's and had the beginnings of a promising career when she gave it up to have a family. Later, when the children were grown, she began to paint again. She taught art history at the Walnut Hill School in Massachusetts. Her technique was unique in that she never used brushes, instead pressing the paint against the canvas with a palette knife. I always said that a blind person would love her paintings because they could feel the images in the dried oil paint.

I am taking this, I said the neighbor. I can't leave it in an empty apartment.

Oh, she replied. It has been promised to someone. You can't take it.

I am sorry, I said. My grandmother painted this and I can't leave it here. Have the person it was promised to call me. I'll make sure they get it.

The neighbor looked slightly panicked when she realized that I was going to take the painting. I wasn't leaving it. I felt bad, but I wasn't leaving it.

Who is it going to? I asked.

Someone name Pat.

Oh. That's my mom. I'll get it to her.

But even in the empty apartment, I knew I didn't want to give it up. I had never seen it before and I was completely enthralled. It is a long, rectangular painting of a forest floor, with a trillium in the center. I was struck by the fact that the flower wasn't painted in... it's image was created by leaving blank white on the canvas and painting around it. It reminded me of the Japanese style of art, where the empty space is the image.

I brought it home and put it on the wall over the mantle. It looked as though my entire house was designed around it- the colors, the textures and tones. It was like finding an unexpected treasure somewhere. Something so precious, yet so surprising.

When I told my mother about it, she wanted it. She said I had to give it to her. I started to cry. This was my gift from Granny, whom I miss terribly. Ok. I said. You can have it. But let me hang it on my wall for just a little while.

The next day, my mother called me and said I could keep it. She had talked to Michelle and they agreed that I should have it.

I have another painting of Granny's in my guest room that is a favorite of mine, but never really looked like it belonged in my house. How about if I bring it over, I said.

It is stunning on my mother's wall, an explosion of teal and purple and apricot, a copse of trees on a rock in Georgian Bay in a storm. The exact right painting for her.

The exact right one for me.

I miss you Gran. Thanks for the painting.

Friday, October 19, 2007


My husband and I have been having some problems with our business over the last year and yesterday some of that stuff came to a head.

So today I talked to my priest, and can I just tell you? I can't imagine what it is like to live life without a community of faith. No, he didn't have any real answers for me. He asked a couple of questions and made a few comments and suggestions, but mostly he listened. And at the end of the call, he offered to pray for us. Which brings me to tears to even think of it. Because there is something so powerful knowing that you are being prayed for. That in the intimacy of someone's relationship with God, in the power of the moment of their connection with everything that is power, you are there.

I pray for my priests, every day, too. I pray for my parish priests and my spiritual director. And my church. It is powerful, offering the people and the community you love to God.

I admit my prayer life has been somewhat half assed in the time I have been a Christian. For some months, I am more or less steady with some kind of daily check in. But whole months have gone by where I was spotty at best. I'd hang my head when my director asked about it, embarrassed to admit that I was inconsistent with it. Because why wouldn't I want to sit with God every day? Why wouldn't I want to listen, pray, speak to him? I don't know. What else matters?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Big Bang

I decided to create a blog for my drumming stuff. I call it the Big Bang, which tickles me since it is an offshoot of the Big Dunk.

The Bang will be more technical stuff about drumming. I hope that other drummers will want to comment or even post. I hope to include stuff about the local drumming scene in RI.

Come visit if you are interested!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


My mother says I come by my drumming obsession honestly. Everyone in our family gets obsessed with what they are interested in. She with theater, poetry and writing fiction. My brother with computers, then digital photography. My father with skulls and boats and growing artichokes in Newfoundland. It must be in our blood.

I watch djembe videos on youtube. Some are wonderful. There is a guy from San Fransisco who moved to Bamako, Mali, married a Malian woman and spends all his time documenting Malian drummers on video and posting it on the internet. He sells drums and cds, arranges for radio interviews for his teachers and hosts visiting students from the United States and elsewhere.

I was worried that, being a woman, I wouldn't be able to study in Africa. But then I found out about a group of women from Guinea who travel the world playing djembe. They call themselves the Amazones and they are all magnificent. I love that they are large women... not tiny skinny like most of the male djembe players. I dream of going to West Africa some day and taking classes.

Last night in class we had a big group. 8 of us were playing together. We even had a djun djun player! At one point my teacher had us all playing different parts of the song. All of us playing different rhythms, layered on top of one another. By now I am pretty steady and can hold a beat. I realized that my friend Lucia and I were holding the whole thing together because all the others were new. We were the most experienced in the class, and were the only women.

I want to go see Amazones live.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Is it just a symptom of getting old, do you think? Or maybe it is because I carry around heavy kitchen tools all the time. Or sling a mahogany Djembe in a bag over my shoulder.

In any case, I woke up with the same crick in my neck that has been there for weeks. Couldn't turn my head to the side. Called and asked my chiropractor if he could fit me in. He could. So I wrapped up a big batch of cranberry almond bark and brought it as a thank you for squeezing me in.

Why I love my chiropractor: He manually adjusts my neck, which means he holds my head and cracks the bones with his bare hands. Then I get manhandled in all kinds of crazy ways while he cracks the bones in my shoulders and upper back.

I found out today that he no longer accepts my insurance, which means I have to find a new bone cracker. Darn.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Can this be Paradise?

Church was way busy this morning: Lectio Divina at 9, wrangling the talent for a stewardship testimonial during announcements, various trips to the bathroom with boy A or boy B. All craziness designed to pull me, kicking and screaming, from the feet of the Beloved, which is where I'd rather be on any given Sunday thank you very much.

But then, as I walked back out to the pew after bathroom break #2, during the latter half of Communion, there was a shift in the music. The choir started a 10th century monastic chant. Gentle. Quiet. Solemn. Beautiful.

I got back to my pew and dropped to my knees and spent the whole piece with my head bowed.

Oh thank you, Lord.

Afterwards I told the choir director that it was my favorite piece of the service.

"Really?!" He said. "Me too.!"

Friday, October 12, 2007

drum nut

Last night I told Nguyen that I had a rhythm beating in my head all day. It's a little like an 'ear worm'. You know, when a song keeps repeating itself in your brain?

This rhythm is one that I have been having trouble playing in class. Each piece of music that we play has 5 or 6 different rhythms. We play each rhythm for awhile and then our teacher, Sidy, plays a transition for us an we are supposed to jump right in with the next one. For some reason, I have a hard time transitioning to the second rhythm in the sequence...

So that rhythm has been banging around in my head for the last couple of days. Here's the funny part: In my head, I am hearing my teacher playing it... not me. My drum has a low, dull voice. His is higher pitched and sharp. Plus, he differentiates very clearly between a slap sound and what is called a tone sound. In my own playing, you can't really hear a difference yet.

So, in my head, all day long, the sound of my teacher playing the second rhythm of Sidiyasa.

One famous drumming teacher (I can't remember who) said that if you can sing a rhythm, you can play it. I wonder if hearing it in an endless loop will help me play it better? I'll tell you next week, LOL.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Camping as spiritual practice

A year ago I knew I was in trouble when, while camping on the Cape during Columbus day weekend, I spent much too much time being cranky and not nearly enough time enjoying the beautiful weather and wonderful setting. I talked about it with my Spiritual Director afterwards. I confessed to it in the confessional box. I apologized to my husband for being a shrew.

I don't know why camping can bring out the worst in me. I so easily veer into control freakishness and impatience. It seems to do this to Nguyen, too. He has a strange alter ego who emerges when we are in the woods. Macho, controlling. Between us it is the clash of the titans.

This weekend was different. We were on our shakedown trip with our new to us pop up camper. We have never had a pop up (pup) before, so there was plenty of opportunity for disputing how things work and what is the best way to set things up and how to pack most efficiently and where things should go in the campground and should we unroll the awning and does it look like rain and no, I don't care for beans, thank you. I even had my period, which is an automatic notch up on the cranky potential factor. And we had our nephew with us, which added to the boy energy, which can, admittedly, leave me needing solitude.

But something has shifted in the year since our last Columbus day weekend. First, the confessions. I think it served to bring home the fact that churlishness is, indeed, a sin. It certainly leaves me ungrateful, which is, in itself, sinful. But it also ruins everyone else's time.

Second, I am working on letting go of control. It is a lifelong habit that has been turned upside down as a Christian. Giving it over to God is the ultimate surrender of personal control... and I think, little by little, it is sinking in.

Finally, I realized that we only had one shot at making this weekend a joy. We can not go back and fix it if we ruin it with bad attitudes. We cannot take back what is spoken, or unspoken, in anger.

The weekend was mixed... wonderful, hot, cold, rainy, good food, bad overpriced food. Exhausting and relaxing. Quiet and noisy. But I think I maintained a pretty even keel throughout. My nephew and kids had a blast.

The pup made it through with only minor damage and wet mattresses from having to fold it up in the pouring rain.

We made it through with mostly good humor and some wonderful memories.