Joseph and I recorded his recital pieces, after he recovered from his cold. Here they are, not perfect, but beautiful and human, even with Jasmine, our dog walking through the Pavane as we played it.
One of my great fears in life is of moments when everything difficult converges. It happened yesterday. It was the morning of my student recital, the long-awaited time when the weeks of lessons, of plodding through mistakes and repeats and practicing with my young musicians finally blooms into a beautiful performance in front of their parents and grandparents and everyone gets tears in their eyes and claps and everything is good and right and beautiful.
Joseph and I had been practicing a recorder and guitar duet for months. It was so beautiful. I was so happy and proud to play it with him, every time we practiced.
He woke up Saturday morning with a cold and a not-so-great attitude. “I can’t play,” he said. I encouraged him to get up anyway, take a shower, maybe he’d feel better, please please please. Maybe you can play anyway. “No.”
Julia woke up with an existential crisis. “Being transgender is against God. I’m going to hell.”
One hour to go before the recital. I’m sitting with Julia discussing theology in very frustrating circles that go nowhere. Joseph is in the bedroom moaning.
But the recital happened anyway. Without Joseph. I clapped for my other lovely students who had not woken up with a cold or an attitude.
And one of my greatest joys in life are moments when everything good converges. That happens too. For my family, it seldom happens in the moments when you think it should. It probably won’t happen on Christmas eve, or any of those special times. But it will happen. Which, I suppose, is appropriate for the season, since even the birth of Christ didn’t converge under festive circumstances, but out in a stable during a hectic government census. And that was the greatest convergence of all time.
During the summer in Fresno, the sky glares down at the dusty ground and seems to say “I dare you to grow, or live, or even breathe!” And most of the plants, and the people, by long habit, simply put on sunglasses and, (in the case of people) stick to the air conditioning, or, (in the case of plants) wait for the end of summer in a near-death, drought tolerant sort of way.
But now it’s November. The air is cool. Rain has cleared the air. The summer has burned itself out, the plants have said “Ha!” We have very patient plants, here. Huge eucalyptus trees, rosemary, sego palms, things that wait. And now they are drinking in the rain and breathing and feeling pretty good.
It’s the time of year when people come out of the air conditioning and enjoy the company of the plants again, and the sky and the air.
So my creative need to arrange the things around me has spread to the front yard. After three Saturdays, the shovel and I have improved the front yard just a little bit, I think. I have endured the comments of passersby. As I was digging up dead bermuda grass on the first Saturday, an old man walked by and said, “You like your yard dry, huh?” I smiled politely, and said silently “No, I hate my yard dry. What kind of silly comment was that!” On the second Saturday as I was digging up more dead bermuda grass, a young couple walked by and the man said, “Nothing like good old fashioned home improvement!” I smiled politely, and supposed he said that because I was using a shovel, and not some noisy power tool that would have chewed up the sod a lot faster. But I was happiest, later that evening, when I saw an old man pushing an old woman in a wheel chair, and they stopped to look at the flowers I had planted.
There is always something that can be made better around us. In my case, almost an endless amount of things. But that’s okay. It’s the doing of it that is important. The doing. Not the finishing. And not the relative quality, the question of whether someone else might have done it better. Just the doing.
Sometimes I look into my thoughts, and there’s not much there of a coherent nature. It’s mostly, “remember to do this, time to do that, don’t forget about such and such, plan ahead for that other thing . . .”
Everything I look at reminds me of something. Water that plant. Clean that spot off of the kitchen floor. Fill the car tire again, because it seems to have a slow leak, and eventually I’ll be sorry that I’m not doing something about that, but maybe it can hold on until . . .
And it gets overwhelming. I guess we all know what that feels like. Makes a person want to walk off into the forest and live off of berries. The forest doesn’t want to be cleaned and it’s tires never go flat.
The holidays are approaching. Oh dear. Get out the decorations. Think about presents. Figure out what to do about the fact that everyone in our household is suffering from clinical depression, except for me and the dog, and that this will complicate the holidays. Try not to fall into clinical depression. Just go for the occasional sad moment here and there in stead.
Now Julia wants to know what I’m doing. Our nest is full, and our birds are needy, and not likely to fly any time soon.
Oh, the forest!
I suppose if I continue to not get around to trimming back the various vines and things in the yard, they’ll grow to cover the house and we can live in the forest right here, maybe plant some things in the kitchen floor which will be so dirty at that point it will be fine for raising red wood trees . . . .
Got to go.
On Friday and Saturday it was over 100 degrees, the sky was gray with smoke, and there were ashes falling through the air. On Friday when I drove home from teaching lessons, something else had caught on fire apparently to the southwest, and a huge billow of dark smoke was rising into the already smoky sky. It felt like the end of the world.
And then Monday morning, when I stepped outside with the broom to sweep the back porch, it was raining. Not very much. Just a gentle dripping. And the air was cool. It rained on and off most of Monday and Tuesday, and this morning, Wednesday, the sky is blue (yes, not gray), the air is cool, and the birds are singing. I could have fallen to my knees and kissed the ground. But that would be gross. So instead, I sat on the back porch and played guitar outside.
This is symbolic of a lot of things in life. Everything usually is. But I’ll remember it when I feel that the world is ending on other days, when parenting, and life in general, feel up in smoke, I’ll remember how suddenly the rain can come.
I recorded myself playing guitar. I do this sometimes (perhaps so that I can watch myself afterwards to assure myself that I am actually alive and kicking). If you are observant, you will see the ears of our dog in the bottom right hand corner. She was listening. She usually likes my music, although she does, at times crawl under the couch while I’m playing.
In the mountains east of Fresno the Rough fire is burning. It’s now at 100 thousand acres and only 30 percent contained. For a month or so we were hearing about it in the news, and it sounded bad and all. But yesterday the smoke hit Fresno. Oh my goodness. It’s really rough. I don’t know why it’s called the Rough fire, but it’s really rough in Fresno now. You don’t even want to look around you, or breathe. It’s not a pretty picture.
They keep talking about El Nino in the news. It’s supposed to be a big El Nino this year, with lots of rain for the drought-stricken West. Putting aside the fact that it’s going to cause landslides and flooding, and not even end the drought, couldn’t it just hurry up and get here? Put out the fire? Pound the smoke out of the air and into the ground, or wherever smoke goes when it rains? Please?
I’ve lately been in the mood to write again. The old irresistible urge has been pushing me toward my neglected notebooks, spinning ideas in my head for the plots of children’s books, and even a short story. I’ve hardly ever written short stories, and this one seemed to be clawing it’s way out of me, refusing to be ignored. It was set on the coast, and involved waves and fresh breezes and cello music. Not hard to imagine why.
No one seems to be predicting when the rain might come. Or commenting on the smoke. Maybe we’re all pretending it isn’t happening, holding our breaths, going about our business, trying not to think about it. Doesn’t it just make it worse to say, “Man, this is awful. When do you think it will finally rain?”
But man, this is awful. I hope it rains soon.
School has started. That doesn’t make as big a difference for me, now that I’m not a public school teacher. But it’s a huge difference for Joseph, who has started out at a new school for 8th grade, and a slight difference for Julia, who is plugging on with independent study work in order to graduate in the spring.
And we’ll pretend that it’s Fall already. School starts in the Fall. We’ll pretend that the weather is cooler, and the rain is coming, and just hold on to that thought for a couple more months until those things actually happen. We’ll ignore the dead grass out front, seeing in its place the beautiful xeroscaped garden of wildflowers that I would have there if time and money allowed. Maybe I should put a sign out front, “Imagine wildflowers here.” But I suppose that wouldn’t help much.
Maybe I should actually plant some wildflowers. The thing is, I’m afraid of doing it wrong, and making the front yard into a mess of awkwardly dug up grass and struggling plants, rather than the smooth expanse of dead grass that it is now. And one feels so public, working in the front yard. A lot of people walk down our street. It’s a sort of exercise strip for the surrounding area, due to it’s exact one-mile length and it’s central grass strip (dead grass strip for the present). Even if I go out to rake leaves I generally get 1) offers from indigent people to do the work for me for money 2) offers from the neighbor’s lawn service to do the work for me 3) incredulous looks from seedy looking men walking by, which I interpret as meaning “where’s your man, lady? Why isn’t he doing the yard work?” to which I silently reply “he’s at work. Why aren’t you at work?” and 4) looks from nice-looking passers-by walking with their dogs which I interpret to mean “You’re doing that all wrong. I could tell you how to do it right, but I’m just going to walk by with my dog and not say anything.” to which I silently reply, “Okay, you do that then.”
It’s much more comfortable to just stay in the house and play the cello. Much much more comfortable.
But I really love wildflowers. So maybe I need to leave my comfort zone and dig up some grass. Dead grass. (Although it will come back to life, zombie-like, and attack any wildflowers that I plant. I know that already). I could just put up a sign that said, “Work in progress. Please just avert your gaze and enjoy the Better Homes and Gardens yard of the neighbor across the street.”