Friday, November 16, 2012

TGIF indeed!

I've been participating in the "30 Days of Gratitude" practice on FB this month. We started a gratitude practice at home a few years ago--mostly because I loved "saying our thankfuls" at Thanksgiving and wanted to extend that to the whole year--and it's been really great. It has taught me that, even on those hard days when I feel cranky or upset about something, I've got plenty to be thankful for and all it takes is a moment to see it, acknowledge it, and all of a sudden the bad doesn't seem so powerful or scary or permanent.

And, just as at the dinner table, some days on FB it has been challenging to arrive at something to be thankful for--within the parameters I have imposed on myself: it has to be sincere, and it can't always be about material objects. (Though I am thankful for what we have, I don't think that's what makes our lives rich and meaningful...) I've been tired, feeling like I'm coming down with something, and work has been relentless and sometimes frustrating, so I have definitely been... well, not altogether joyful.

But, just as at the dinner table, some days it's really easy and I have a list as long as my arm of things I'm thankful for. This week, Louise Erdrich, one of my favorite authors of all time, won the 2012 National Book Award for fiction for her new novel The Round House. I'm thankful her work will get more recognition from the general book-reading public (not just critics, who already love her work). And I'm thankful that I get to read it, starting this weekend with the start of our Thanksgiving break!

(Ingredients of an excellent Friday morning...)

Today I am thankful for Friday morning: my favorite tea in my favorite mug, music playing on the radio in the next room, and several hours to work on writing projects (while wearing pjs and my favorite shawl). I have a couple projects I need to finish for school this afternoon--an overdue report, a recommendation letter--but this morning I get to work on a scholarly project: examining representations of the Sun Dancer. I have been reading some theory that's new to me (about material rhetoric), and I feel like I'm on the edge of understanding how it can help me communicate what's so important about depictions of the Sun Dancer in recent works by native people. Today I will send a paper proposal to NALS 2013 to see if they're interested in having me present it at the conference next spring. But even if they're not, I'm excited about this project and the next steps forward in articulating my ideas.

Tea, music, writing, and the comfort of pjs and a hand-knitted shawl; what could be better on a Friday morning?

I hope you find something to feel grateful for today!


Monday, November 5, 2012

An emergence of sorts

My oh my, so many weeks (months!) have gone by and I have not shared any stories here.

At first I was kind of hiding. It was not an awful summer, but not an easy one, either, and I tend to retreat to quietness when I'm feeling vulnerable or sad. My grandfather died in July, and I experienced all the mixed-up emotions of grieving the passing of a loved elder with being excited about seeing my extended family and with negotiating family tensions. It was all totally normal, and at the same time totally overwhelming. (How does time pass so quickly? How can we bear losing people who helped make us who we are? After just a few days of being with people I love, how can I say goodbye and put hundreds of miles between us?)

 (This is Granddad and me, circa 1980. 
Look at the snap in his eyes! That's how he was, all the time.)

And then, just a few weeks ago, we said goodbye to our little tabby sweetheart, Peaches. She was a part of our daily lives for more than 17 years. Losing her was one of the hardest things I've ever been through. Every time I think I'm fine now, I'll think of something and cry all over again. I guess that's why they say grief is a process...

 (Here's our little sweetie on one of her last days. 
She got so skinny; she looks to me, here, 
like she's saying she's done.)

So I've been sort of hiding, maybe. But it's time to emerge.

Today, and for the past couple of weeks, I've been struck at odd moments by how dang lucky I am. I am as busy as ever--to the point where it's probably not healthy because I'm not getting enough sleep or exercise, and I'm afraid of forgetting something or making a really dumb mistake that will inconvenience my colleagues or students. But the busy-busy doesn't seem to be leaning on me as hard as it used to. I'm actually catching myself feeling joyful...

While the busy-busy is not fun, it's all because I'm working on projects that I love and that enrich my work and my students' lives. There's the visit we just had from Heid Erdrich, a poet whose work I love and respect. (The link there goes to the Poetry Foundation entry on her, as her web site seems to be down at the moment.)

As I was rereading her work to prepare to teach it, I had to be careful about reading it in public places because it made me cry, or suck in my breath, or laugh out loud. It's powerful stuff, Erdrich's work. In addition to having her give a reading on campus, enjoy meals with faculty and students, and visit my classroom, we were able to take her to see the Earthworks over in Newark. That was pretty awe-some, in the old sense of the word.

(That's Heid, on the left, with some of the students 
who were able to have lunch with her. It was a great visit!)

And there's my Travel-Learning course, for which we'll read Native American literature for a semester, focusing on the topic of life on the reservation and in the city, and then travel to the Rosebud Reservation and Minneapolis and Chicago (major "urban Indian" centers). I think it's going to be a great experience, and I'm so happy the university has given me a chance to offer such a thing to students.

These are things that feed my heart. And so I don't seem to mind much that it's a bit of a struggle to get enough sleep or make a home-cooked meal more than a couple nights a week.

Here's what I'm hoping / praying for: that the feeling of joy sticks with me awhile; that if I make a mistake I'll be able to fix it and deal with it gracefully; and that I can find ways of keeping up with all of this while also getting a little more sleep, a little more exercise, a little more healthy food into my weekly routine. (After all, I do need to take care of the body that makes all this movement and work possible!)

I'm hoping also to post more often to the blog. I feel the need to tap into the river of words in this way... May there be time to do all of these things.

I hope you feel moments of joy today!

(ETA: okay, even though I wrote this more than two weeks ago, I'm just now adding in the photos & link and posting it. Sheesh! Maybe I'm not quite ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille... My very productive trip to Chicago was followed by a really bad migraine, which was then followed by a week of providing comments on student drafts and meeting with them in conference, which meant little sleep. Perhaps I will recapture the joy I expressed here in the coming days or weeks...)

Friday, May 11, 2012

A list of lists

It's the end of the semester. I've been drafting some blog posts and then putting them aside. (They don't seem to be gelling, quite.)

I've been grading a lot. I feel incapable of paragraphs. Instead, I've been thinking in list form.

Things I need to clean:
-- this desk right here.
-- my place at the kitchen table.
-- my closet. (The plan is to take EVERY DANG THING out of it and then decide very carefully what goes back in.)
-- my yarn and fiber stash. (I have seen moths in the house. *shudder*)
-- the outside of my car.
-- the inside of my car. (Why is it filled with pollen?)
-- my office at work. Like, the whole dang thing. It's getting really close to "bonfire" status...
-- the bins of files I put in the storage closet at work. (I'm starting to think I just didn't have the heart to throw that stuff out before, so I looked for another place to put them. I have the heart now. OUT THEY GO.)

(See? Messy! This is from maybe a week ago... but it looks almost the same right now.)

(More mess... How can people even live here??)
I'm really feeling the urge to get rid of stuff. This is pretty "normal" at the end of the semester--I think of it as part of the ritual of closing the lid on the past semester and starting new things. But it's really powerful this time! Maybe because it's a big year--in July we will have been in Ohio for 10 years. (How did that happen?) It's time for some cleaning out.

Things I need to write:
-- some thank you cards.
-- some graduation cards.
-- an article growing out of my conference paper this past March. (I didn't tell you about NALS--the Native American Literature Symposium. It was awesome, and gave me the kick I needed to put this writing project on the front burner, once I finish the semester.)

 (This is at Isleta Pueblo, near Albuquerque, our host for the symposium. Beautiful!)

-- letters to family and friends, especially the ones who sent Christmas cards.
-- a revision of an essay I want to send out again. (It got rejected. Time to put it back in circulation.)
-- a major revision of an essay that needs to go in a completely new direction. It's something I need to say, but I need to do it in a way that won't damage the relationships I've worked so hard to build over the past five years. (I know I'm being cryptic. I don't mean to. It's just a sensitive subject. More later.)
-- more blog posts.
-- poetry? really? (Dear Self: we are not a poet. Why do you keep giving me ideas for poems?)

Calls I need to make:
-- universities in Chicago and Minneapolis that might be able to rent us rooms when I take students there next May. (I didn't tell you about that either--I'm teaching a Travel-Learning course next Spring! So exciting.)
-- my friend (former student) who lives in Chicago and can help us find places, too. And I am so lucky I get to see her this summer!
-- my brother, who is just back from a business trip to South Africa--wow!
-- my friends on the rez. I miss them.
-- my Granddad, who just moved to an assisted living place.
-- my Dad, whose birthday is just days away.

Knitting I need to knit:
-- my mom's Christmas socks. (I know! But I'm on the second one. By the time she gets them it'll be WAY too warm for wool socks. Oh well. She'll have them for next season...)
-- something larger, with swathes of fabric, like maybe a shawl or a baby blanket or maybe even a sweater?? (I have not the first clue why I feel compelled to knit such a thing.)
-- and I need to block TWO things I made that are finished but just need blocking. They are gorgeous, and for me, and I just haven't had time to do that last step before I can wear them. Silly!
-- and this is not knitting, but I need to spin. Like, NEED. I got a charkha for Christmas and have barely begun to learn how to use it. I have a wonderful project on both of my wheels. I have batts and roving just waiting. NEED!

Things I need to read:
-- the blogs I've been neglecting all semester that really and truly bring me joy and make me feel connected to their writers.
-- a new novel, something I can just get lost in.
-- articles to help me articulate my argument about the NALS paper and make it awesome.
-- the magazines that have been piling up for three months or more.

Other stuff:
-- I need to go on a date with my partner.
-- I need to see at least two movies with my kid (and also maybe my partner if he wants to see them).

 (This is Stella; she is awesome. This is after an hour of riding; I am tired and sweaty but happy.)

-- I need more riding time so I can get better at this. (I didn't tell you about that either. I'm taking riding lessons! With real horses! It's awesome. I'll share soon, with more pictures.)

(This is inside the Great Circle mound in Newark; I went there for a special event last weekend.)

-- I need to go on more walks. I miss our parks.
-- I should probably do something about this abscess-looking thing on my finger. (The child said, "I want to be there when you pop it!" The man said, "Maybe we could film it and put it on YouTube!" This is life with males; somehow, I am still surprised.)
-- I need to go to yoga more--like, as much as possible.
-- I need to talk to my spirit guides--like, as much as possible.
-- I need to weed the garden. A LOT.
-- I need to go out with friends and laugh and tell stories and listen to stories and have a margarita. (That last part is optional; the other stuff is not.)

Before I can do all, or really any, of this, I need to finish grading these 10 last papers, participate in Commencement, and submit my last grades...

What's on your list (or lists!)?


Friday, March 2, 2012

Long playing...

(Here's a pic from last summer; notice the appreciative audience.)

So I had some further thoughts about the boy and his music, and more specifically about his listening habits lately.

He is absolutely obsessed with Vivaldi and can't seem to get enough of him. He bought a CD of The Four Seasons, and has commandeered my old CDs of the mandolin and lute concertos. (Frankly, I thought I'd get a little more mileage out of those--that he'd be impressed that I bought them many years ago, before he was born, even before I moved to California. However, sad to say, I am still not cool.)

For a little bit I was worried about this obsessive behavior, about him listening to the same thing again and again and again, playing one CD while he was getting ready for school in the morning and falling asleep at night and surfing the web. Isn't this bad for him? Isn't this a bit much? Should I intervene and encourage him to mix it up a bit?

And then I thought about my own listening habits when I was a teenager. When I bought a new album I'd play it again and again, just like he's doing. (My tastes ran more to The Beatles' Rubber Soul, and ELO, and later The Cure and U2. During weekends at my Dad's we played his copy of Jesus Christ Superstar so many times I'm surprised we didn't wear it out! To this day, I could probably sing you every dang word in that libretto.)

As I grew into my teenage years, music became a form of solace. I'd play those records again and again so that I could become one with that music, so that I knew what note came next, what lyric, what sound and I could just be IN that music, dissolve my edges and step out of time and be sound. For the time that I played that record, I could connect with some larger force and know that life was not just about the things that were bugging me, or the things that made me sad or confused. It was a healing experience, I think.

Yeah, I think it's okay. He'll be just fine.

(Looks like a nice enough place for a nap!)

Here's one big difference: the boy is discovering the healing of music on another, more complex level than I did. When we went to a sheet music store in Columbus a few weeks ago to pick up his material for his lessons, he asked if he could also get the sheet music for The Four Seasons. How could I say no?

(Room's a mess, but dang it, Vivaldi is ready to go!)

And so he is learning to play his favorite piece of music on his violin, putting into muscle memory the finger movements needed to produce those notes, and hearing the other parts even as he learns his. Even when the CD isn't playing and his violin is put away, he's moving his left hand next to his shoulder to make the notes, hearing them in his head and sometimes humming them. He's laying down pathways in his brain that, years from now, will still carry some memory of what this music meant to him at age 13, as he embarked on adolescence. Wow.

May you enjoy some music today!


Friday, January 13, 2012

Let's hear it for the boy!

(See how tall he's getting?! This was on New Year's day, walking at one of our favorite local parks.)

Each day at our house, we experience another reminder that we now live with a TEENAGER. And each time it's a bit of a surprise. (I wonder when/if this realization will stop being a surprise--his adolescence really kind of snuck up on us, despite the fact that, clearly, we've been living with this child every day since his birth!)

Sometimes it's a bit of Drama, punctuated by a phrase like "You guys just don't understand!" or "You guys never listen to me!" Sometimes there are tears involved, and we parents remember how heartbreaking it was when we felt excluded or confused. Sometimes it's just hearing his voice--it's so deep now that it sounds unfamiliar to me in some moments; people who call us on the phone occasionally think he's his dad!

Yesterday at the dinner table a new sign made its appearance: eye-rolling! My goodness. And last week, after a family dinner in our little downtown, he ditched us to hang out with his friends on First Friday (when the shops are open past 5 or 6). He was part of a roaming pack of teenagers! (We sort of observed at a distance for part of the time and hoped, when they were out of sight, that they were behaving nicely.)

This is all enough to unsettle me from time to time. I catch myself thinking: what happened to my little boy? Wow, that went by way too fast!

(On New Year's day, the post-sleepover scene was all about the xbox (his Xmas present).)

So, in addition to noting the surprises and occasionally difficult bits, it's also good to remember the wonderful parts of being the parents of this particular teenager. One of the things that's remarkable is that he loves music. Okay, yes, I loved music when I was a teenager, too, and it became a way to rebel (gently) against my parents. But our son is rebelling in a very interesting and unexpected way: he loves classical music.

(Here he is at a recital in October 2011--his first, as he just started private lessons this week. Why so orange? Well, it WAS a Halloween concert!)

(On the cello, here & above, is our friend Jonalyn, who is one of the best teachers I've ever witnessed. She leads a bunch of kids, Dexter included, in a string group that accompanies her advanced cello students. Such a good learning experience!)

(Here's the violin section...)

(At summertime rehearsals--actually, most of the year--shoes are optional...)

(... and otherwise Jonalyn's students have good taste in footwear!)

He's been playing violin at school for some years now, and he sings and hums all the time. He makes up songs about our cats and sings to them. He plays music by his favorite composer before bed. He's even become a bit of a music snob: he thinks the strings class at school should be playing more classical music (instead of the pieces they do play, which he thinks are corny).

(Here he is with some of his wacky musician friends after a Christmas 2010 concert at a local church.)

(Here they are playing at a nursing home, Christmas 2010. It's a lovely thing. One of my proudest moments as a parent happened in July 2010, when our normally extremely shy boy played the violin for a dining room full of patients, including Grandpa, at the veterans' hospital in South Dakota.)

(That's him in the middle. I swear I can't get a good photo of him at his concerts... I have dozens of out-of-focus ones like this! no flash + far away seats + moving people = bad photos!)

So parenthood still teaches us new things every day, and seeing the world through our son's eyes is still an adventure, even as he becomes more and more independent. Amazing.

May you enjoy a surprising change today (only the good kind)!