The Piano Lesson

"Failure in the creative life is not only a risk, a possibility to be avoided, but an eventuality to be embraced.  Worrying we might fail leads to fear and paralysis; it leads to making 'safe' decisions instead of the ones demanded by our art, our longings." ~ David DuChemin, A Beautiful Anarchy

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Three days until my first recital and I am playing my pieces for my teacher.  She sits quietly behind me, eyes closed as she listens.  As I finish each piece she offers praise, suggestions and advice.

She looks at me intently.  "Don't be discouraged if you make a mistake on Saturday," she comments.  "Everyone makes mistakes and it is okay.  Just play through the mistakes and most people won't even notice."

I am a little taken aback.  Is she telling me this because she knows from what she has heard today that I am destined to err on Saturday? I continue to listen to her critique and realize that I'm wrong;  it isn't because of my performance that she has given me this advice, but rather because during this past year she has come to know me well.  

She knows I am a perfectionist and can be very hard on myself.  It's true, I don't like to fail.

I cannot pinpoint when or how I became this way but at some point in my early years I began comparing myself to others and found myself lacking.  I cannot blame my parents or teachers; they were always supportive and encouraging.  Instead it seems as if it was a character trait born out of a sense of insecurity, of not being good enough.  I have always had a fear of failure that at times has kept me from doing what I love.

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"Nothing is perfect the first time.  Or ever." ~ David DuChemin, A Beautiful Anarchy

It's funny; I am very good at setting aside time to practice piano daily and yet I don't do the same for my art.  Perhaps it is because with my piano lessons I am being held accountable by my teacher, but I think it is also because I know I won't improve if I don't practice.  I dream of sitting down and just choosing a piece of music to play and I willingly work towards that goal.  

So why don't I do that with my art?  Is it because I am only being held accountable to myself?  It seems that everyday I am able to create a list of things that need to be done before I sit down and create.  Popeye needs a walk.  The clothes need to be folded.  The email must be answered.  It has become second nature to me to just put it off for another day.  I know that to improve as an artist I need to dedicate time to my craft, to set aside fears of failure and push the envelope.  I am always asking my piano teacher to give me challenging pieces but as soon as I feel challenged in art?  I freeze, afraid to move forward.  

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"The real failure is to rob this world of the contribution that only you can make."  David Duchemin, A Beautiful Anarchy

When I am wrestling with thoughts such as these I am often surprised by the messages I receive  from the Universe.  Last night I posted the montage above on Instagram to participate in a project circulating with the hashtag #artvsartist.  The basic idea is to find similarities between the photograph of the artist and the work he or she creates.  When I went on Instagram today I found an invitation to join The Giving Gallery, a new online gallery that supports mental health nonprofits.  It felt as if the Universe was giving me a giant nudge, an affirmation that I should not give up on my art, that I should value my work and, more importantly, value myself.

As for the recital, I am happy to report that yes, I did make a few mistakes, but you know what?  I kept calm and played on.  We all did and each of our songs sounded beautiful.  It was such a learning moment for me, to see that even the most accomplished pianists in our little group still were capable of making mistakes.  It was a lovely afternoon spent celebrating our collective love of music and fellowship and I look forward to our next recital.  

Book Talk

Chatting with Karen of Pumpkin Sunrise

Welcome to the April edition of Book Talk, an ongoing series where I talk with creative kinfolk about their reading lives.  This month's guest is knitter and writer Karen A., who shares her love of knitting, reading and homelife on her blog Pumpkin Sunrise.

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 Photo courtesy of Karen A.

Photo courtesy of Karen A.

What books are currently on your nightstand?

Currently I’m reading Home by Marilynne Robinson, I love her writing style and the extensive character development that slowly evolves. Sadly, I’m not reading as fast as I would like, so this book has been lingering around. I also started the sixth Inspector Gamache novel Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny. Oh, how I love the long story arch amongst her books and the quick murder mysteries within each book. This book is on my Kindle, which allows me to knit and read at the same time. That’s when I feel like an epic multi-task master. 

What's the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

I learn a lot from cookbooks by getting different ideas for some new recipes to add to my menu plan rotation . Whenever I have meal planning ennui, I search my bookshelf in the kitchen to remedy the situation. Heidi Swanson’s cookbooks have many interesting recipes. 

Is there an author you admire whose writing particularly resonates with you?

Oh, how to choose? Lately, I’ve been sinking into Margaret Atwood’s books. I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace. She can weave her words into magic over the simplest daily tasks. She inspires me to write more often and with purpose. Anne Lamott is another author whose writing is funny, personable and readable. 

 Photograph courtesy of Karen A.

Photograph courtesy of Karen A.

Which genres are you drawn to and which do you avoid?

Originally, I would have said literary fiction and historical fiction are my go to genres. However, I’ve found out that I do love dystopian fiction immensely and young adult fiction. I avoid true crime murder and thriller genres (except Stephen King), I am highly sensitive and I do not like explicit violent scenes or disturbing ideas. 

Are there any books that people would be surprised to learn that you own?

I read (and own) The Once and Future King that my daughter recommended when I mentioned I wanted to read a fantasy book. The fantasy genre isn’t one I dabble in either, however I thoroughly enjoyed being in Camelot and reading adventures. I used to read historical romance when the kids were little but now that they’ve grown up I like to read literary fiction. 

What was your favorite book as a child?  Is there a particular book or author that had an impact on you as a young reader?

I loved: Anne of Green Gables, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, A Lantern in her Hand, Little Women, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

When I was 11 years old, we moved from the city to the suburbs and I attended a new grade school for seventh grade. I wasn’t a reader at the time nor did my mother take me to the library. In fact, I hated to read! However, I remember going to the library and on a whim borrowed out Little Women and I was transported and decided then and there that I was going to be a famous author like Jo. That was the beginning of my relationship with libraries, with reading and escaping into a novel. I spent that first summer on the front porch swing with a glass of iced tea and a book. I also kept a log of what I read that has since gone missing, but I remember nearly all the books from that magical summer. During our early marriage years, I’ve lived in Ohio, Texas, Michigan and then back to Pennsylvania, we would rate how liveable our towns were by the libraries. 

 Photograph courtesy of Karen A.

Photograph courtesy of Karen A.

Are there any books from your childhood that you introduced to your own children?

When the children were little, we read together The Steadfast Tin Soldier and The Velveteen Rabbit. I introduced Anne of Green Gables to my daughter when she was eight years old and she also read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn . 

Are there any books or authors that your children have gotten you hooked on?

My son is fantastic at recommending books to me. I read over the summer The Hate U Give on his urging and loved it. Both of my children encouraged me to read the Hunger Game Trilogy which was brilliant. I’ve read The Harry Potter books twice through because of their love and enthusiasm for J. K. Rowling’s novels. 

Which three authors (living or dead) would you invite to join you for dinner and why?

- Margaret Atwood - because she seems like she would be funny and she’s an advocate for the environment so the dinner would be informative and enlightening.

- Stephen King - because he is hilarious to follow on Twitter. He would keep all the dinner guests on the toes which his quippy responses and observations. Maybe I could get some personal writing tips from him.

- Fredrik Backman - because he is a newer author who has a brilliant way of weaving a story with relatable characters who remind you of people you’ve met or a little of yourself. I would enjoy a conversation with him and find out how he starts crafting a novel. 

 Photograph courtesy of Karen A.

Photograph courtesy of Karen A.

If a beginning knitter asked you to recommend a book about knitting what would you suggest?

Any book written by Elizabeth Zimmermann who was a genius before her time. I’ve read all of her books and she can expand your understanding and give you some simple guidance at following directions and experimenting with designing your own knitwear. She has a delightful sense of humor. 

What are you planning to read next?

My pile of books is vast. I have all the Gamache books on my Kindle bought when they were each on sale (sign up for the Kindle daily deals to be delivered to your inbox). I have Ron Chernow’s book Washington: A Life on my shelf, I read Hamilton and enjoyed the journey while learning so much. I recently picked up the paperback of Beartown by Fredrik Backman while toodling about in Barnes and Noble. 


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Bio

Karen A writes on her personal blog, pumpkinsunrise.com, where she shares current knitting projects, thoughts of ordinary life and recent antics of her pets. Karen documents her love of family and living an authentic life while chasing creative pursuits through her stories and her photography. She can also be found on Instagram and Twitter (@pumpkinsunrise). 

 

 


Many thanks again to Karen for sharing her reading life with us!  If you have a chance I recommend you click on the link to her blog and pay a visit; I know you will be charmed by her lovely posts and beautiful knitting projects.  If there are any questions you would like me to ask my next guest please share them in the comments section.  Next month I will be talking with author and blogger Corinne Noel Cunningham.  Cheers!

Hello, April

 “No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.” — Proverb

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After an Easter Sunday blessed with sunshine and spring flowers suddenly appearing throughout our yard, we awoke today to yet another snowy landscape.  It fell heavily all morning, leaving me no choice but to seek spring indoors.

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"Forsythia is pure joy. There is not an ounce, not a glimmer of sadness or even knowledge in forsythia. Pure, undiluted, untouched joy."          ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Fortunately, I had cut some forsythia branches early last week so that I could force them open in time for Easter.  They provided much needed cheer during this wintery day.  When I was younger, I pooh-poohed these harbingers of spring; they were everywhere our neighborhood and I took them for granted.  I was unable to appreciate their soft beauty, the fragility of each blossom.

To me they were just a tangled mess of bushes, lining the street where I lived.

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"The amen of nature is always a flower." ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Now, I impatiently wait for them to blossom each spring.  They are the first buds to appear towards the end of March and I have learned not to take them for granted.  Their cheery yellow flowers reassure me that, yes, spring is really coming.  For me they symbolize rebirth and renewal, and are a reminder that sometimes change is a good thing, something to welcome rather than fear.

How I love the changing of the seasons!  As I grow older I notice myself aligning more and more to the earth's rhythms.  I'm more quiet during the winter, inwardly focused, nesting in our cozy home, a book never far from my side.  In spring I itch to get outside, to walk, to garden, to make plans with friends and family.  Summer and I still struggle; I fight against the heat and humidity and have not yet learned how to make friends with it.  My energy wanes during the summer months.  I welcome the autumn because of its cooler days and comfortable evenings.  

But I digress.  Now it is spring and I am full of hope.  As I finish this post the snow is already melting, and I look forward to tomorrow.


Many thanks to those of you who have recently signed up to receive {whimsy&joy} in your mailbox.  Welcome!  I am so glad you are here!

I also want to remind you that this Friday will be the second in a series of book talks with kindred spirits who live a readerly life.  I know you will enjoy my interview with Karen, knitter extraordinaire and author of the lovely blog, Pumpkin Sunrise!

 

 

 

Opening My Heart

“It's so curious: one can resist tears and 'behave' very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer... and everything collapses. ”  ~ Colette

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His birthday was this week. Yesterday, actually.  My brother would have been 58 years old and we would have gone out to lunch with our mom to celebrate.  It was a tradition we had started a few years ago.  I always looked forward to it; lunch with Mom and Joe was always a lively occasion with much laughter.  Joe made sure of it.

I miss him.

Yesterday I kept busy.  I went to my piano lesson, met a dear friend for tea and conversation, attended a yoga class with another good friend.  Keeping busy kept me from dwelling too much about who I was missing and why.  My activities helped me get through the day with few tears.  

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Grief doesn't have a plot.  It isn't smooth.  There is no beginning and middle and end.  ~Ann Hood

Today was another story.  I awoke already close to tears, my heart full of sadness.  As I looked out the window at yet another gray and dreary day I knew that what I needed to do was give myself permission to mourn him, to take this day to release the grief that was pressing hard within my chest.

It didn't take long for the tears to start and this day I let them come, knowing how necessary it was to allow my sorrow to express itself.

I want so much to write about what I am feeling and thinking with eloquence and clarity, but I can't.  How to express how it feels like to lose my brother?  We were not always close but yet we were two sides of the same coin.   Cut from the same cloth, both the product of our parents' love.  And even during the years where we were following our separate paths I knew that if I ever needed him, he would be there for me, just as I would be there for him.  

Losing Joe feels like I have lost a part of myself.  

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"What happens when people open their hearts?"

"They get better."  ~ Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

I hesitated to write this post today.   Grief is such a private emotion and so difficult to share with others, but opening my heart to you has allowed a sense of peace to enter me.  Even in grief I recognize the blessings in my life.  My sister-in-law, niece and nephew, who I love dearly.  The memories of Joe that make me smile.  The lesson I learned from him about living each day to its fullest.  The knowledge that grief, like all emotions, ebbs and flows, and with time its pain will soften and fade.  Joe wouldn't want me to spend my days in sadness and regret.  Life is too short for that, he would say.  Look forward, and know that all will be well.  


If you or someone you know are struggling with grief I highly recommend checking out Option B, a website dedicated to helping others build resilience in the face of adversity.  

 

Turning the Lens on Myself

{Last week I participated in a self-portrait class hosted by Michelle GD.  Each day she gave us a single prompt which we then interpreted by turning the lens on our selves.  I found the week to be thought-provoking and a challenge for my camera-shy self. Below are a few of my favorites.}

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Strength (noun) :  a strong or positive quality

When I reflect on strength I think about my hands and what they are capable of.  They have soothed fevered foreheads, wiped away tears, created pieces of art, offered comfort and consolation.  They have applauded the success of others and have been joined together in prayer.  My hands show my age perhaps more than any other part of my body; they represent a life well lived, one that has had challenges as well as triumphs.  

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Ritual (noun) a ceremonial act or action

I make my bed every morning, finding comfort in the straightening and smoothing of sheets, the folding of quilts, the fluffing of pillows.  I read a story once where the main character compared the state of the marriage bed to the state of her relationship with her husband.  Her bed was hastily put together; sheets rumpled, bedskirt askew.  Our bed is made with care, love for my marriage imbued within each layer.

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Quiet (adjective) free from noise or uproar

I seek out quiet the way others seek out stimulation.  I crave quiet, especially in today's world where there is so much agitation and clamor.  Quiet grounds me, returns me to a state of equilibrium, of balance and peace.  It is so good for my soul.  Quiet and I are good friends.


This class really caused me to work outside of my comfort zone, which is always a good thing.  I also enjoyed seeing my classmates' interpretations of the daily prompt.  How do you feel about self-portraiture?  Is it something you are comfortable with?  Or, are you more like me, a little hesitant about turning the lens on your self?

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"Self-portraits are a way of revealing something about oneself." ~ Eric Kandel

Book Talk

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Chatting with Michelle GD

Today marks the beginning of what I hope will be a monthly series of interviews with creative kinfolk about their reading lives.  This month I spoke with photographer and writer Michelle GD, whose focus on the small quiet moments in her life has influenced the way I look at my own world.  Enjoy!

Photograph by Michelle GD

What books are currently on your nightstand?

In truth, I have two rows (!!!) on the floor in front of my nightstand.  Too many, I know, so I’ll just share a few:  A Year of Mornings by Maria Alexandra Vettese and Stephanie Congdon Barnes, Devotions by Mary Oliver, Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks, The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo, Delights and Shadows by Ted Kooser, Collected Poems by Jane Kenyon.

What book first got you hooked on reading as a child?

It’s hard to remember if there was one book that did the hooking; I remember loving to read at a very young age.  We had a Volkswagen camper and I have distinct memories of sitting in the way back (this was before seatbelts and car seats, ahem) reading books when my mom dropped my older sisters at school.  If I had to choose one book from my early days it would be The World of Pooh by A.A. Milne.

Which book would you say has most influenced the way you view the world and why?

That’s a tough question as different books have influenced me in different ways throughout my life.  I could cite titles from various points in my life but, in the interest of answering your question, I’ll say The World of Pooh.  I loved the characters and the warmth imbued.  Of course, I didn’t explain it as such when I was a child!  But I’m sure that I felt it and I’m sure that I internalized some of that intended goodness as I read and re-read that volume.  There are nuggets of wisdom sprinkled throughout the Pooh stories that gently guide children and teach valuable lessons…better yet, wisdom.  And, if we allow so, the stories guide adults as well.

Whenever I stumble upon quotes from The World of Pooh, I am delighted.  Like these:

Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?

 Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.

 You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you.  You have to go to them sometimes.

Delightful.  Insightful.  Like a hug and a big fat yes.  I want to live this kind of wisdom.

Which genres are you drawn to and which do you avoid?

I love both fiction and nonfiction, and read lots of both.  Within those broad distinctions, I’m especially drawn to historical fiction, creative nonfiction, cookbooks, and poetry.  I read none in the way of mystery or horror.

Photograph by Michelle GD

Which books have you introduced to your children and which have they introduced to you?

Reading aloud, the three of us, is one my very favorite things to have done with my kids.  Naturally, we read The World of Pooh.  Some others we enjoyed reading (there were so many):  all of Roald Dahl’s books, the Tales of Magic series by Edward Eager, The Oz books (as in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz…I had no idea there were 14 titles in that series when I started reading them with my kids!), The Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright, Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, the Redwall series by Brian Jacques.  We read voraciously, so anytime I stumbled upon a good series, I was immensely grateful.

As for what they’ve introduced to me, in an indirect way:  The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I read The Hobbit when I was young and remember loving it, but for some reason, I never went on to read the LOTR trilogy.  After I read The Hobbit aloud with my son a few years ago, I directed him to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which he read independently.  He loved it so much that I then decided to read the trilogy aloud with both kids.  If it hadn’t been for my son’s intense love of the trilogy, who knows if I’d have gotten around to reading it on my own.

As a photographer, is there a particular book or author that you find yourself referring to again and again?  As a writer?

Oh, there are so many!  Let’s see...

For photography:  The Tao of Photography: Seeing Beyond Seeing by Philippe L. Gross and S.I. Shapiro

For writing:  anything Anne Lamott, and anything Mary Oliver…they both inspire me to keep going.

 

Which three authors (living or dead) would you invite to join you for dinner and why?

Anne Lamott, because she’s funny and kind and honest and insightful, and deeply human.

Mary Oliver, because her words and ways of being soften my heart.

Maya Angelou, because she’s Maya Angelou.

Is there a book that you often recommend to others?

Reading is deeply personal, and I like to know something about a person before I recommend a book.  One book that I might recommend across the board though:  The Humans by Matt Haig.  Haig writes eloquently about the human condition; he explores our messy, darker sides in addition to what it is that makes us beautiful.  He writes with wit and in a style that is both blunt and soft.  Towards the end of The Humans there is a section that blew me away, and it’s one I return to again and again.  If you’ve read the book – or if you do – you’ll know exactly what I mean.  It’s a touchstone.  And it tugs at my heart every time I read it.

Photograph by Michelle GD

Finally, what are you planning to read next?

Well, I’ve just begun A Homemade Life by MollyWizenberg.  It’s a memoir with recipes sprinkled throughout, and is a comfortable sort of read.  After that I’m planning to return to Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  I’ve been reading it off and on for months, and want to finish it!


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Michelle GD is a writer and photographer.  She likes to notice the tiny moments that make up a day…the moments that fill the spaces, the in-betweens.  She also likes to help others learn to do the same.  You can read more about her work and online workshops at www.michellegd.com and visit her quiet corner on Instagram @michelle_gd.

 

 


I had a lot of fun learning about Michelle's reading life and hope you did as well.  I am very excited about this series!  I would love to hear what you thought in the comments below, especially if you have any questions that you would like to see included next month for my interview with Karen of Pumpkin Sunrise. Cheers!