how to change the world

Me and Veronica watched the movie “The School of Rock” together, and the failed rock start turned substitute teacher told the struggling kids:

One great rock concert can change the world.

Of course, in the world of the movie it came true. And I was crying. YES.

Rock changes the world
Art changes the world

Music is very immersive, and different from books. And they are all the same stuff.

In British and American lit classes, they would talk about what paintings and music were happening at the same time as the books we were discussing, because they influence each other.

Art in all its forms reaches to put forth ideas that haven’t been in the world yet. So it can be messy and confusing, or it can more true and clean than everything.

It has to be experienced in the way the artist created it. Art can change the world. It changes my world every day

The world needs changing right now. There is so much fragmentation and fear.

The quarantine has asked us to be separate from one another and so the shared experience of art is not happening. We are apart and are having trouble finding our way back.

I want a way for us to be together. I know art can do this.

In the movie it took time to get the concert ready. It took working together and practice. It attention to detail and a lot of work.

Art that transforms should be as carefully crafted as it can be. I am looking for that to come.

It’s sad and separate and lonely right now in the world. It seems especially separate and angry in America.

I know that change can come A great rock concert can change the world.

Great art can bring us together. This is what I hope for. This is what I am working for. My small bit of hope can build. I invite you to believe that things will change and to do what you can to transform the world.

We can do this. Change can come.

Repetition

“Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
-Alfred Lord Tennyson

I’m not much into TV shows, but I am getting desperate here at home. Flicking through Amazon Prime choices, the audio starts in on Sylvie’s Love:

“Life is too short to do anything but what you absolutely love.”

Sure, Sylvie. I’ve heard that before. This is not the right time for that particular motto.

I’m still home. Still doing things I don’t *absolutely love. * You and all the touring inspirational speakers can go out to lunch and pump each other up about that one.

I’ve got a list of things I have done that I absolutely love. What I did to get those things, or to get them done, was a lot of stuff I didn’t even like.

What it took was a lot of tedious repetition. That’s what life is made of.

More importantly, that is what great things are made of. There is a famous scene with Rocky running up the steps in Philadelphia—the scene with the swelling music.

The fictional Rocky ran those steps every day. In a boring do-i-have-to kind of way. That’s how the greatness happens. I hope that in his mind, he had the swelling music, but I know there were plenty time when I have done something tedious and necessary that I did not want to do that there was no swelling hero music.

There was more of a caterwaul of self-pity and whining. And I would give in to it sometimes. But if I stacked up enough instances—enough repetitions—of doing it anyway I could get to the finish line.

I did the thing. It got done. It felt really good.

It still feels good. And there are the times when I feel so small and the world so big. Those times when I wonder what use I am to anybody and whether I am worth the oxygen I take up. Then I have a little pile of stuff I did that I’m proud of. I take one off the pile and wrap it around myself to remember I did something once, brought a bright thing of value into the world.

And that caterwaul is quieter. I find a scrap of will to do it again:

“Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

More than anything, I am encouraged by the feeling of satisfaction when I do the small hard things along the way. Right now, with a nasty virus making the world week, I need whatever satisfaction I can get.

2021 books I read

  1. divergent
  2. Nothing to see here
  3. Mom & Me & Mom
  4. As You Like it
  5. Remember Me
  6. If women rose rooted
  7. dance of cloaks
  8. Big sort
  9. Reflections by Rosa parks
  10. The Forgotten Daughter NF
  11. Contagious Leadership NF
  12. There is no cloud NF
  13. John Dies at the end NF
  14. burro genius nf

Brittle

I bought a calendar for 2021. But I haven’t put it out yet. I have to say, I’m cautious about what this new year will hold.

I love making plans, but 2020 wadded up my plans and made me try again.

A surprise gift at the end of the year was taking up martial arts. The sensei asked us if we had the calendar for the new schedule starting January.

While we were all stretching, he admitted that the calendar he had created at the beginning of 2020 had to be changed pretty quickly. But that is no reason to leave the calendar empty.

I will miss every shot I don’t take. And I don’t want to give up.

My new age-y friends would say to set intentions. That’s plans with a lighter touch. I can plan to get a good nights’ sleep, but get derailed with family and pets. But my intention remains intact for me to try again the next night. It might be kinder to intend and see where it goes.

Plans are brittle, but intentions are resilient.

I do want things. Very much. I have ideas about what I can, should and will do. Often those come with expectations about how long it will take to get done and what it will look like when it’s finished.

Those plans can be very heavy to carry. Sometimes I disappoint myself when it doesn’t happen like I hoped.

Rather than lose energy carrying the plans AND the corresponding disappointment, I’m going to try for intentions.

That leaves room for surprises. Like I said, I was surprised by starting martial arts this fall. I almost didn’t start because I didn’t think I’d have the time for it. But after I came to terms with the fact that I had lots of time because I didn’t’ have a job YET, I realized I could enjoy my time now and learn something new.

I intend to find a job as soon as I can. But I want to stay flexible. I intend to put up the ’21 calendar this week.

I’m going to go slow, but I will fill up 2021 with good intentions. It will be marvelous to see what happens.

not everyone celebrates christmas

Not everyone celebrates Christmas. We are all learning not to be culturally myopic. Sometimes it’s a little forced, with Hannukah and the late comer Kwanzaa getting a lot of attention without having very many celebrants in a particular region. Still, I want to encourage everyone to celebrate in their own way to match their values and culture.

Everyone observes solstice though. You might forget it’s happening but the world turns with or without you.

All cultures from all times have observed it.

In fact, it’s because the of solstice winter observances that Christmas landed where it did.

Rome, as an empire, knew that it needed to build a big tent for its many conquered people. The Romans became Catholic and were working out the details when Pope Julius the first declared the date of Jesus birth as December 25th. It was another layer of paint on the traditions that each conquered culture already celebrated. Also, it was a toe in the door for Christianity to be celebrated.

America was weird about it. The pilgrims wanted a NEW England, not the old crappy England with its church and holidays. They frowned upon Christmas, and Boston even outlawed it for a while. Those Puritans were no fun!

But not everyone came over on the Mayflower. Captain John Smith (was that his real name? Come ON!) came to America to have a good time. He was from Jamestown, a totally different kind of place and their New England included parties and servants (ahem..slaves) to support the festivities on any holiday they chose to celebrate.

Christmas was a personal choice.

But why let a good party go to waste? Washington Irving (pillar of American Literature) wrote a story about how England celebrated Christmas. America had swung around to liking England and these fictional reminisces made Christmas seem like a good time for Americans. An American minister wrote “Twas the night before Christmas” only a few years after Irving’s story. It took a little longer for marketing people to cast Santa as Jesus’ a co-star in this event. It was the Coca-Cola people who gave him THEIR color as his signature outfit a hundred years ago. He may have top billing now.

The long cold nights invite are asking to be lightened up by whatever we’ve got. My American traditions have borrowed from it all, and I’m happy to do the same.

I am glad to have traditions to share with my family and friends. It’s fun to know where they came from, learn new ones and tell stories about how things used to be.

It’s a cozy time of year. Happy Holidays everyone.

new season

It has happened. Not often, but the pain is great. I’ve lost a book. Maybe on a bus or somewhere public and irretrievable. The story is lost.

What happened to those people? I was involved in their lives.
Did they fall in love?
Did they find what they were looking for?
Did they get the prize?
Did the boy finally notice her?

It matters to me. I know it’s just a book. They aren’t real people. But the author is taking me on a journey and it’s incomplete. When it’s cut off it feels like an amputation.

There are real people in my life too. That’s totally different, right?

Not really.

I’ve written before about the social contract. When I have become involved in a person’s life, I want to hear about the plot development.
How is your puppy’s house training going?
Did you decide to go back to school?
Is that neighbor still being creepy?
Did your kid try for the play/orchestra/beauty pageant? How did it go?

WHAT HAPPENED?

I want to know! I care about you and your life now. Sure, characters in a novel are more dramatic and the plot lines are usually spectacular. But I care about real people even more.

This is that time of year, when all the plot lines are updated.

‘Tis the season. A new season! All the Christmas letters come in. There are some with very thin updates.

Not much more than a signature. E. is still alive and she likes me enough to send me a card. That’s nice!

Others send pictures. Ooh. She has glasses now. My goodness! The kids are so tall!

K. got a dog. And she’s still at the same house. She loves that house.

Some send letters. The letters require some interpretation. Is the author a reliable narrator? Is there something between the lines? Are they happy? Are they happy with the facts of their life?

The classic look-at-my-successful-life tone for Christmas letters of yore spread easily into the social media environment: fabulous filtered selfies, vacations and accomplishments.

This year I’m behind on my Christmas letter. It’s 2020. Not a lot of fabulous to report.

My filters have never been that good anyway. My “wonder” is more about wondering than wonderful.

I have been wondering how everyone is doing. I am glad to see the faces, the ones I’ve known so long. It’s okay that most of us are grayer and chubbier. I don’t want to lose the story.

I’ll send my update soon. I don’t want to leave anyone hanging.

A Translation

Christmas has come early this year, because there is nothing else to do. We’re listening to carols, and the same songs seem to be sung by everyone. My husband especially knows all the crooners. Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Gene Autry, the old school voices that sound like Christmas.

They sing their version of the same songs.

But right now, I’m obsessed with some music by Bach. He wrote these Cello suites—at least we think he did—that only survive because of some music that one of his students saved a copy of. His wife had a copy too, and they were preserved.

Cello Music. Very sonorous and beautiful. Cello is a sparse music, because it is a melody line only. You can’t play five notes at once on a cello. Two notes can be done, and that’s about it.

That’s how cellos work.

I play keyboard, and I can play the piano. The piano is percussive, so I have to hit the key to make the noise. Bless that sustain pedal, I can get a soup of resonance going when I push the pedal. But I have to hit the keys.

Unlike the cello I can hit a lot of keys at the same time. I usually have an octave on the left and a chord on the right, and I’m rushing on to hit more keys to keep it going.
When I play an organ, it’s different because I can sustain the note by holding it down. It keeps singing. Not like the thin soup of the piano sustain pedal, the organ gives full voice to every key pressed. And there are so many keys to press! TWO keyboards, AND the foot pedals.

Organs have so much going on. No wonder they are the only instrument in a lot of churches. They can fill a room easy.

Pianos fill it up too, but it’s John Henry work to pound it out.

One cello in an auditorium—well, it could be loud enough but everybody better be quiet and listen. There is only the one melody to listen to. The empty space comes with.

Pay attention. It’s as plain as a vase on glass table. It’s right there.

The performance I am listening to is by Eleonor Bindman. She is a pianist and she taught her piano to speak cello.

I don’t think a cello could speak piano, and it certainly could not speak organ.

But Bindman taught herself to speak cello on the piano by translating the Bach music into something she could play on piano. It’s so different, so arresting. I can’t stop listening to it.

I am wondering what small changes I could make to lift up familiar things I’ve grown tired of.

Art can be as simple as trying things in a new way. If it is good to begin with, cleaning it off with a little twist will only make it better.

How many new Christmas albums do exactly that? And I can do the same.

The Game

It’s December! Have you done all your Christmas shopping yet?

At the start of the lockdown, me and everyone I knew was acting like depression era families. Saving margarine tubs and fostering a sourdough starter to ensure that we could have enough.

There might not be enough.

Now that Christmas is here, it could be that we are all ready to make our own O. Henry stories in which we fashion presents out of dirt and lumps of coal–gifts so perfect our loved ones preserve them and pass them on to multiple generations as the Christmas miracle of love.

Being poor is kind of a game, you know? I remember poor very well. I wasn’t unhappy. It can be a game. How will I piece together what I need from this restricted set of things?

This is the game they played in the depression. What can you substitute if you don’t have eggs? How much water can we add to the soup?

There is church in Russia built entirely without nails. They had nails 300 years ago. But over there in Kizhi they didn’t use them, and instead created what would become and international monument.

We’ll make up obstacles to make it more fun.

How good is your pig latin? EedNay ActicePray?

Christmas itself is a game we agree to. THIS day, we decided to surprise everyone with special gifts. Sneak around and figure out what people want. No peeking and no telling anyone else if you know what they are getting. It’s the Christmas spirit:

What will make people smile? Favorite traditions and new treats are all gathered and specially presented. It’s a good game, and we do everything we can to keep it going

I doubt that there will be very many new treats this year. But it’s an old Christmas tradition to find a way to make do and save Christmas no matter what.

The game’s afoot. How will I take this little supply of what we’ve got and make something fabulous?

Shakepeare, Puritans and the killing of kings

Every American child gets the story of thanksgiving:

The pilgrims left England to find freedom in America, sailing over on the Mayflower. They suffered and could barely feed themselves, but a nice Indian man taught them how to grow plants. They made friends with some Indians and the next year, they had enough food after the harvest for a feast.

Kids make paper hats with the buckles, because that was the style at the time. That’s the story of America! Freedom and turkey.

Of course that is not the whole story. There is more.

I’ve been doing a review of American literature, and I revisited the famous “City on a Hill” sermon by John Winthrop. Clearly it had a lasting impact on America, but I wanted a point of comparison. What literature was being published in England?

From where I sat, England had the glory days of Shakespeare then literature fell off a cliff until Johnathan Swift came out with Gulliver’s Travels. And he wasn’t even English! Victorians brought literature roaring back to life, but there was this hole.

Looking into it, somehow, I didn’t realize that there were Puritans left behind in England. It turns out that the Puritans played a dramatic part in British history that had nothing to do with Americans.
For all the Puritans that left for America so many more stayed behind in England and caused trouble. Oliver Cromwell was a Puritan, heading an overthrow of the monarchy.

The first of many revolutions to come, Cromwell and the Puritans had a Civil War that executed King Charles the first.

News travelled to America about these developments. Some of our turkey-eating Puritans founders went back to England to support the revolution. Really, isn’t this what they were looking for? If the Puritan religion was the religion in power in England, why bother with the NEW England?

Winthrop’s sermon was preached in 1630. Charles the first was killed in 1649. Charles the second was reinstated in 1660. Those were some exciting years for Puritans.

Revolutions are dangerous times. Cromwell, and then Charles II had some harsh censorship in place. War and censorship put a damper on the creation of literature. Political tracts and sermons were just about it.

Taking a wider view of the world, I have some new perspective on America and what kinds of dinner conversations were happening. There was a lot going on.