“A Sort of Salvation”



[A Palm Springs, CA decorator’s store window]


Yesterday was my 69th birthday. And although I’d just gotten back from a wonderful, restful, super-fun vacation and received many, many generous, thoughtful gifts and sweet phone calls and cards (several hand-made) and e-mails, my natal day was a little hard. Jet lag and probably coming down with something and lingering doubts re my decision to no longer write for First Day Press and, after sorting a week’s worth of mail, to pick up the latest issue of The New Yorker and to absolutely, gut-wrenchingly KNOW that I don’t have enough time left to reach the writing achievement of an Alice Munro or an Adam Gopnik—can you understand why it was a little hard?

But as the late afternoon sun began to fade, I received another gift: a visitation from my Muse. Just like William Stafford’s experience,my Muse reminded me that I have my own way of looking at things. Unlike Stafford’s drama queen, however, my Muse chose to gently,  lovingly fill me. No belled-forth voice, no buzzing glasses; no. Just a sense of Light deep within me and a small, still voice whispering: “Keep pluggin’.”

* When I Met My Muse

I glanced at her and took my glasses
off–they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. “I am your own
way of looking at things,” she said. “When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation.” And I took her hand.

“Where the Words Come From”


And afterwards feeling my mind covered with the spirit of prayer, I told the interpreters that I found it in my heart to pray to God and believed if I prayed right he would hear me, and expressed my willingness for them to omit interpreting; so our meeting ended with a degree of divine love. And before the people went out I observed Papunehang (the [Native-American] man who had been zealous in labouring for a reformation in that town, being then very tender) spoke to one of the interpreters, and I was afterward told he said in substance as follows:” I love to feel where the words come from.” John Woolman, 1762


I do, too. And in this season of thanksgiving, sing a joyful hymn of praise to that Source.


Although that Source is infinite, my abilities are not. Specifically, winnowing what’s Good and True from Ego and Coffee-Buzz and “pink-cloud”* delusions takes time and prayer.  So I am no longer posting weekly for First Day Press.

I’ll let Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler elucidate:

Claudia said, “But, Mrs. Frankweiler, you should want to learn one new thing every day. We did even at the museum.”

“No,” I answered, “I don’t agree with that. I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. it’s hollow.”

Next week, I shall take some time to let the things inside me swell up. So my next post will be December 3rd.

May you, in the coming weeks, find boundless—and unexpected?—things to be thankful for.

* A Twelve Step expression, meaning the high someone in recovery experiences in the early days of sobriety.  While not in recovery, myself (although we’re ALL recovering from something, right?), I truly understand this phenomenon. And how critically important humility is!



December 2, 2010: About Repeats

As I see it, the two most important things about repeats are so absurdly obvious that their implications can be easily overlooked. The plain but pregnant facts are, first, that a repeat allows a piece to be heard twice; and second, that it makes the music twice as long.

Hearing the music twice is an advantage if the piece is complex, subtle, original, profound and at the same time terse.

John Gibbons, liner notes, The Goldberg variations of Johann Sebastian Bach.

A terse writer, I copied out this passage years ago because I loved the string of adjectives preceding it.

June 13, 2010: That Construction Worker in Union Square

[When the student is ready the teacher appears.]

The other day I was walking through Union Square feeling sad about my rapidly declining father, when a construction worker, singing “Hey, Jude” really, really badly, made me laugh out loud. Because he was so genuinely off-key but so equally genuinely into what he was singing, I took full advantage of my little old white-haired lady status by joining in. And (I am so glad none of my daughters were with me; they would have been mortified), I  waved my arms around in a futile, I-wish-this-were-a-Technicolor musical moment, vainly trying to encourage other Union Square pedestrians to join in.

“Take a sad song and make it better,” indeed!

A little background: For what feels like decades but has really only been a couple of years, Somerville Avenue, one of the city’s main thoroughfares and half a block from my house, has been under construction. Which has meant endless tie-ups, ear-shattering noise, sometimes, and ongoing daily annoyance. (Good thing I mostly walk or take public transportation.) So my attitude towards the guys in hardhats has been a little like someone living under occupation.( A little, I said. Okay?): When are you going to leave? When can I get my normal life back?

So that one of those construction workers should, by his guileless, horrible singing—he was loud, too!—crack me up, was a huge gift.

So what did this teacher in a hardhat teach me?

I heard his goofy, open-hearted song and thought: He hates this noisy, sweaty, sometimes dangerous, sometimes stultifyingly boring job. That’s why he’s singing. To get through it.

We don’t sing aloud, do we. Unlike those Technicolor musicals, we don’t burst into song. But that construction worker didn’t care. He sang, anyway. Even though he was terrible. So he taught me something about ART. Even badly done art. You do it because you can’t NOT do it.

The next time I wake up at 4:00 AM panicky because I’m scared  no one will love the book I’m writing, I’m going to remember that guy.

Bonus: My enormous relief to laugh showed me the depth of my sadness. (I don’t do sad very well.)

Good to know. And why I was so ready to laugh.

December 16, 2008: Do I Need A Blog-off? Naw!

Yikes. What sort of a blog is this when I post so rarely? Answer: A blog that can’t quite take itself seriously, apparently. Dustin, daughter Allison’s boyfriend, and (daughter) Hope have challenged each other to a blog-off, i.e. a contest to see who can be first to post. The slowpoke then has to write on the same theme the early bird dictates. Pretty impressive when you consider the East Coast/West Coast time difference. Should I consider joining?

Two reasons why not:

First: An old story I’ve heard a couple of times at Friends Meeting at Cambridge illustrates how I presently view this blog: An eighteenth-century Quaker, the story goes, was led to travel to a lumber camp outside Philadelphia in order to share God’s love with the hard-working and, presumably, hard-drinking men working there. But when the Quaker (imagine the Quaker Oats guy) arrived, the camp was deserted. Disappointed, the grey-clad gentleman nevertheless entered a large, empty room—maybe the dining hall?—and  spoke. Years later, still looking like the Quaker Oats guy, he was in London when, suddenly, a total stranger came up to him, very excited, and introduced himself. “I was there that day you preached at the lumber camp. I was hiding under a bench. What you said really moved me. Thank you.”

So maybe someone’s reading this?

Second: Yesterday morning, after a ten-year stint, I submitted my last column for The Somerville Journal—for reasons not necessary to go into here. Last night, when I reported this development to my “Creativity Circle,” i.e. Wendy Sanford and Susan Lloyd McGarry, Wendy wondered how and where my making-meaning-of-the-world impulse, which had informed so much of what I’d written for the Journal, would find a satisfying outlet.

“Maybe, now, people will start reading her blog,” Susan Lloyd suggested.

So I guess I should provide these as-yet-unknown folks something to read, huh?