Fearless Friday: Renaissance People

It’s been a rough week at The Green Study. Its injured denizen (me) was extremely grumpy. Knee injuries take from 2-4 weeks to heal. I’m in week two and severely out of sorts. I broke my ceramic tea kettle and when trying to repair it, managed to Superglue a couple of fingers together. Limping and lumbering about also caused my Kindle to fall off a shelf and hit me in the head. It was like being taken over by the spirit of Mr. Bean.

I’m shaking it off and this week, the theme is Renaissance people – people who cultivate a wide range of interests and practice skills in multiple areas – people who will never utter the words I’m bored. Welcome to Fearless Friday.

Feacanstockphoto13410470rless Fridays are about lives lived in spite of our fears, living a life that is about curiosity, compassion, and courage. If you just got published, something wonderful happened to you, you witnessed an act of kindness, or you have someone in your life who amazes you, drop your story into my contact page or email it to TheGreenStudy (at) comcast (dot) net and I’ll run it on a Fearless Friday. If you’re a blogger, it’s an opportunity to advertise your blog, but this is open to anyone who would like to share.  These will be 100-300 word stories, subject to editing for clarity and space.

New Readers

When I have time, I go through this blog’s follower list and try to visit as many blogs as possible. I’m giving a shout out to a couple new readers this month who exemplify the theme of Fearless Friday.

canstockphoto1323495Jamison Hill at Jamison Writes. One of the things that will keep me reading a blog is the author’s voice. Jamison has a clear and authentic voice with a compelling personal narrative. I had to make myself stop reading his posts, because I wouldn’t have gotten anything else done today. Check out his Bio and Bylines for articles he’s written for a variety of publications.

canstockphoto46705839Cheryl Capaldo Traylor at Giving Voice to My Astonishment is a writer, yoga teacher, and gardener. She opens her page with an Annie Dillard quote that sets the tone for her blog. Her About page is what you’d expect from someone who cultivates curiosity just as much as she does her garden.

Karen has a concert card!

canstockphoto8525201She’s a neuroscientist, goes geocaching, plays the violin and viola, practices photography, writes, and juggles (I made that one up). K.L. Allendoerfer at A Thousand Finds is the perfect example of a Renaissance person. She writes about her music, geocaching, and neuroscience, as well as posting book reviews and photos she’s taken. You can read her music blog and bio at violinist.com.

Over ten years ago she began to play violin and then viola after many years of not playing. This is something that I connected with, the idea that it’s never too late to learn and to excel. You can see her playing with a quintet here. Despite all of her experiences and education, there was one thing she hadn’t done before – had her face associated with a concert. Congratulations, Karen – wishing you an appreciative audience and a stellar performance!AllendoerferConcertCardFlight of the Dilettante

canstockphoto10628495My resume and personal history reads like the life of someone who is very…confused. It wasn’t until I read Margaret Lobenstine’s The Renaissance Soul that I began to re-frame my aspirations. She defines a Renaissance soul as a person who thrives on a variety of interests and who redefines the accepted meaning of success.

I think that’s a very cool thing to think about. When you’re like me, a jack-of-many-trades, master of none, it’s easy to feel like a failure, because it’s hard to explain at the family holiday gathering that you gave up Chinese painting because now you’re learning Swahili and woodcarving. Flighty. Dilettante. Hobbyist.

Now I just say I’m a writer and call it research. And run away before they ask me about my work.

Have a wonderful weekend!

2016: A Few of My Favorite Things, Part 2

I was trying a little exercise in gratitude with these posts, in an attempt to pull 2016 out of the crapper. Then I came down with a head cold. Welcome to crabby gratitude. Part 1 is here.

The Teacher Becomes a Student

Last month, I started tutoring high school English learners. I’ve not done it before and I’m still figuring out how to be useful. But it lit a spark. Over the years, I’ve studied French, Spanish, German canstockphoto7037830and served as a Russian linguist in the Army. I was stationed in Germany for a couple of years. I learned a little Tagalog from an elderly man who worked in the hotel laundry with me while in college. I picked up some Arabic from an Egyptian friend with whom I used to ride the bus downtown to work. My husband has attempted over the years, to teach me the Swedish his father taught him.

I have bookshelves filled with dictionaries, etymology textbooks and word histories. In short, I love language – any language. My latest challenge is learning some Somali. The Twin Cities has the highest Somali population in North America, so I have opportunities to practice. Proficiency is rarely my goal, but I love the reaction when someone hears their language – even the most botched effort can make them smile.

I get on my high horse about foreign languages, because interest in learning them speaks less of aptitude or proficiency and more to curiosity. In a time when nationalism is rearing its ugly head, curiosity is the antidote. Curiosity about others, their cultures and their languages, leads to empathy and connection – and to an environment where isolationism and bigotry cannot flourish.

Devotion, Passion’s Quieter Friend

canstockphoto7136037This year, I’ve attended more live music performances than I have in the last decade, thanks to my daughter. She’s playing in four orchestras, including one that plays rock music by ear. She’s begun to write her own music, laying down piano, glockenspiel, ukulele, viola and violin tracks, using our living room as a makeshift studio.

You hear about people having a passion for something from when they’re very young. I never knew what that looked like or thought about how I’d parent should one show up in my living room. I was never like that, bouncing from hobby to the next great idea with reckless abandon. Which is why I am almost 50 with no career, but an abundance of interests.

It seems weird to have a child who never has to be told to practice, but does have to be told to put her mute on at 7am. Her blissful faraway look, cheek pressed against instrument, bow drifting back and forth – it does something to my heart to watch her.

It has made me think as well. Is it true that I have no passions, no driving need to excel at any one thing, no commitment? When I look back, I’ve always done four things in my life: read books, played music, wrote incessantly, and tried to learn foreign languages.

canstockphoto10265804Reading is a series of endless gateways through which one can walk. One thing always leads to the next. There is no end to the knowledge or the hidden gardens one can stumble upon. Reading was also a lifeline for me. Introverted, growing up in a dysfunctional home, it was my escape and a promise that there was a better life out there. I’ve never regarded it as a passion, but as a necessity.

I’ve always written, but have never been a writer by profession. From silly poems and plays in grade school, to writing for and editing my school paper. I went on to jobs where I found places to write mundane departmental newsletters, manuals and websites. It doesn’t feel like a passion. It feels like second nature. Perhaps I simply take it for granted.

canstockphoto25554786For 40+ years, I’ve played the flute. I taught lessons to help with college expenses and get my instrument out whenever nostalgia hits me. I am good at reading music and have the discipline of practice, but I do not love playing as much as I love listening. It is simply the history of self I carry along.

Passion is often described as a devotion. I like that quieter definition, because it makes it easier to name what one is passionate about.  As I look at my history, what emerges is a devotion to learning and to expression. It’s something to think about going into the new year – what are you devoted to and what are you doing to honor those devotions?

Last, but Not Least, Favorite Things

It turns out that my favorite things of the last year were not things at all, but people.

I’ve spent most of the year somewhat depressed – functional, but muted. Part of it was the psychological impact of the negative political discourse. The other part was that I was feeling pretty damned useless as a human being. I dropped out of sight. I took a lot of long walks by myself. I cussed a lot more. I kept grasping around me for something to take hold of and to believe in.

On a positive note, I was not recruited by a cult.

My family allows me the space to be – a small miracle, considering how much time I need to be alone. And when we’re together, we enjoy being there. My friends are much like the tides, drifting closer and farther away, depending where we are each at in our lives. We’ve gotten good at letting each other off the hook. Guilt-free friendships are a gift. Thank you AB, EB, JL, KS, MS, and SW. Thanks for being there (and not there) for me.

Lastly, to the bloggers, readers and commenters here at The Green Study, thank you. I’ve enjoyed the many conversations over the last year and look forward to the year ahead. I’ve met some of my favorite people in blogland and look forward to continuing and new friendships.

Best wishes to you all in 2017!MichelleSig copy

The Blush of First Love: One Note at a Time

When my friend, Bill wrote about his daughter’s first crush, he wrote of the “pang of yearning” for her experience. As is often the case, I somewhat missed the point in my comment, thinking only of the impending demise of young love. When Mark wrote about his brief acquaintance with someone who became a success, I commented that it might be better not to meet the people behind their work.

I am, so often, a rather cynical person who is likely to see that the half-full/half-empty glass is in need of a good washing. And who the hell left it there for me to clean up, anyway?

canstockphoto7136037Sometimes, though, I am reminded of a first love I cannot deny. I smile until my face hurts. Chills run up my spine. Tears well up. I can’t sit still. Want to see a grown woman turn into an ungainly, starstruck teenager? Set me down at a live music performance. To paraphrase Gloria Estefan, for likely the first and last time ever, the rhythm is gonna get me.

I’m fortunate to live in the Twin Cities, a metro area that sprouts organic bands overnight. Tuesday night’s show, with the band i like you and local orchestra kids, was a charity performance to buy used and new musical instruments for kids who can’t afford them. That idea alone brings me to tears. I can’t imagine my life without being able to make my own music and I wouldn’t want any child to miss that opportunity.

Lessons started for me in 4th grade on a nickel-plated rental flute. We were poor, so this was a great luxury and one of the gifts for which my mother will always have my gratitude. The consequence of that monthly rental fee was that I had to practice, without fail, for 30 minutes every day. I resented it about 50% of the time, but the other 50% was all about making my own music.canstockphoto25554786

I played all through high school, never particularly gifted or talented, but practiced, always the practiced musician. I worked at a local cafe and did beanwalking in the summers (it’s an Iowa thing) to pay for my own brand new silver flute. It will likely last my lifetime. In the Army, I took that flute to every posting. While stationed in Monterey at the Defense Language Institute, I joined the Russian balalaika orchestra, donning a traditional sarafan and playing the flute while ungainly military men danced folk dances and sang about bears.

While in college, I took lessons from someone more talented than I and turned around to teach lessons to small troglodytes whose parents wanted enhanced babysitting services. I did have a handful of students over the years who will, even if they no longer play flute, know how to read music and what the word embouchure means. This word is also the answer to the questions “what will get you beat up on a playground?” and “what will make your friends think you’re a pretentious douche?”

I married a programmer who was a drummer and keyboard player by night with a couple of bands. Most of our first year of dating involved concerts and bar bands, our first date a concert that included the Cowboy Junkies, Duncan Sheik, and John Hyatt. I discovered some of my favorite musicians at the Cedar Cultural Center, have gone to festivals and band battles. Over the last few years, we’ve traveled up to the Winnipeg Folk Festival. There’s nothing like acoustic musicians and singers under a clear Canadian night sky.

I play the flute and a little piano. My daughter plays viola and piano. My husband plays guitar, piano and drums. There is music in our house all of the time. If we were more talented on average (the kid is pretty awesome, but the adults could use some work), we’d have to buy matching outfits and a van.

The Kid and the Less Talented Old People doesn't really roll off the tongue as a band name.
The Kid and the Less Talented Old People doesn’t really roll off the tongue as a band name.

Music sinks deep down into my skin. It plays in my head constantly. I sing terribly every day, in the car and the shower, and awkward dancing is how my housework gets done. The only time I never play music is when I’m writing, because to me that is like trying to eat pie and cake at the same time. Each is enough on its own. Although sequentially, still quite delicious.

During the concert’s intermission, I took my daughter and one of her besties, a fellow violist, to meet the band. I gushed, I blushed, I stammered. The kids looked slightly mortified. There is something so magical about mere humans creating such beauty, that I am, to put it lightly, in awe of them. I don’t want to hang out with them. I don’t want to be them. I just want to thank them. I want them to know that what they do matters.

We’re living in a time when everything is processed, packaged and delivered to our devices. Live music is one of those things, like a mildewy paperback in a secondhand store, which reminds me that love is all about discovery. It’s a momentary kinship in time, when we connect with beauty and it feels like it was created just for us.

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Things that Stick

canstockphoto8541895I woke up this morning thinking of Delmore Schwartz.  I had been dreaming that I was starting college again, right after the Army. I was still in uniform, but I couldn’t find my duffle bag in the dorm. I wandered around a lot, met someone at a bar and spent a good portion of my dream signing random forms for people. The words that occurred to me when I woke up were In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, the title of a short story written by the aforementioned Mr. Schwartz.

Delmore Schwartz died a year before I was born. He had a heart attack on a stranger’s doorstep at the age of 52. It took several days before someone claimed the body. Having suffered from a mental illness for a couple of decades, this shining, intellectual poet and short story writer faded to relative obscurity. Lou Reed was a student, Robert Lowell a friend, Saul Bellow a protégé – all of whom wrote in tribute to him.

That particular phrase, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, so imprecise, but weighty with meaning, will stay in my head for as long as I have cognitive abilities. It joins a collection of stories, phrases and poems that have resonated with me throughout the years. But I am a tad indiscriminate about what sinks in and stays. Let’s take a little tour through the archives.

  • There is a poem by William Wordsworth, “I wandered lonely as a cloud” and W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming“.
  • A quote about opera from the movie Pretty Woman (Cinderella as prostitute): “People’s reactions to opera the first time they see it is very dramatic; they either love it or they hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.”
  • A bumper sticker:  “Jesus loves you, but I think you’re an asshole”
  • There’s all the lyrics to “At the Zoo” by Simon and Garfunkel, as well as “The MTA” by The Kingston Trio.
  • A quote by Chinua Achebe: “If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own.”
  • Most of the obscure references from anything written by Douglas Adams,  from the BBC series Red Dwarf and a good chunk of the dialogue from “Shirley Valentine”.

I sometimes wish I were more high minded. I wish I could retain literature and quotes that could be whipped out at an Algonquin Table gathering. When I’ve read accounts from POWs and concentration camp prisoners, they seem to be able to recollect poetry and literature and music while imprisoned.

One of my Russian professors was able to talk for hours about every aspect of Russian culture – there was a sense of reverence for literature and music. When I was stationed in Germany, many of the Europeans I met were also this way.

canstockphoto3711301If I were ever a prisoner, would I be humming a Verizon commercial jingle, instead of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition? I suspect that I’ve not been a good curator for my brain and that is something that seems less tolerable as I get older.

What has stuck with you over the years? Are you ever baffled as to why one thing stays and other more literate, profound things drift away?

Monday Notes: Mellow Labor Day

I’m an eclectic music listener and am always thrilled to be introduced to new music from any genre. Since I spent time at the Winnipeg Folk Festival this summer, I’m posting some new favorites from the year that lean toward the pop/folksy end of things, but here they are:

Good Old War: Indie band from Philadelphia. Their name is an almagation of the musicians’ names. They stated emphatically that it wasn’t an endorsement of war! Great outside performance at the festival. Current album: Come Back as Rain

Chastity Brown: Musician from Tennessee. I saw her at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis, opening for Dar Williams. Her music really sticks with me. Current album: Back-Road Highways

De Temps Antan: French-Canadians out of Quebec. I remember very little high school French, but the energy and winning rhythms made this one of the more entertaining performances at the festival. The ability to play, sing and use tap boxes simultaneously was amazing. Current Album: Les Habits Des Papier

Royal Wood: Once I was done giggling about his name, I really enjoyed his performance in Winnipeg. Current Album: We Were Born to Glory

Dar Williams: Well-known pop/folk singer-songwriter. Saw her at the Cedar in Minneapolis. This song, about one of the costs of war, brought me to tears, but acoustic live performances always hit me differently. Current Album: In the Time of Gods

What new favorite songs or artists

did you discover this summer?