Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Happy Holidays

This has turned out to be one of the most restful Christmas seasons I have experienced in years. All of my musician friends, in particular, understand that we often don't begin our holiday "rest" until after the holidays are over. Fortunately, my school December program was rather late in the month, and conflicted with other obligations I usually have during the same time period (Symphony Chorus "Magic of Christmas" concerts and church choir). So . . . I was "assisted" in my early resolution to quit over extending myself. Add to that, the Frau and I decided not to travel this season, so I've had some very peaceful days in the new home.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were almost like "the old days" - in that my sister and her fiance, joined my mother, me and the Frau at my mother's church for Christmas Eve services. Since the "sis" and I both attended that church during college (in our pre-Episcopalian days), it was rather like being "home for the holidays." And I think our mother enjoyed not having to attend services alone. We then had Christmas morning opening presents with the kids altogether the next day - and that hasn't happened in years. Getting together at the holidays has of late been more like a progressive dinner and gift giving operation.
The Puppinator was even invited for the weekend, so everyone was nestled all snug in their beds, so to speak. Here's hoping that you and yours have had, or will have, some semblance of "sabbath" during your holidays. Happy holidays!
Cinzia, the Frau & the Puppinator

Thursday, November 16, 2006


My friend and former student, Nathan, has always challenged me to think. With my entry into "blogdom," he continues to do that as I now regularly read his "speciallimitededition." Many times he just makes me laugh with such comments as "I'm gonna polka my eyes out" (all we who have worn contacts have been there). But the blog that has been haunting me of late is one he wrote a couple of weeks ago equating his own spiritual struggle with the novel by Alex Gardner entitled The Beach (I heartily recommend a link and a read). He quotes the end of the book where the main character says:

As for me, I’m fine. I have bad dreams…I play video games, I smoke a little dope.
I got my thousand-yard stare. I carry a lot of scars.
I like the way that sounds
I carry a lot of scars.

I haven't been able to shake those lines . . . or Nathan's analogy to his own life. After ruminating about it for days, I finally realized it is because it struck a rather familiar chord.

I suspect we all carry a lot of scars - the difference is that some people are more willing to examine theirs than others. Nathan questions some of his scarring experiences as moments when he and the community with whom he identified became less than Christlike. What little insight I have to offer is that it is the inability of members in his fellow community to recognize their scars who exhibited less than a Christlike image.

Having been through a few more of those "scarring" and questioning life moments, I have felt the futility that Nathan has felt, but tempering it with age and experience, I have come to view these times (and scars) as passages for growth, rather than evidence of some sort of failure. It is the self-aware internal auditor that begins to view those scars as the heiroglyphics which mark the progress of one's personal journey. Some of these "passages" are longer and more tedious - even depressing - than others. But the caveat is that in ignoring scars, I fear we seek a moral certainty that is far more damaging. At the other end of each passage I have found myself stronger, more accepting, more certain of God's love, and less certain that there is only one way to experience that love. Do I seek to be more Christlike? Absolutely. And I seem to recall that Jesus became frustrated with members of his "community," that he had to spend some time in the "wilderness," and that ultimately, he carried a lot of scars. A lot of scars.
Time, Dollars & Sense

I hit my 46th birthday earlier this month, and assuming I make it to 90 (which might be a stretch), I suppose this means I'm starting down the backside of the proverbial "hill." Perhaps it would be better to say that I'm commencing with the second, and wiser, half of my life. At least, I hope it's a bit wiser.

I visited with my shrink a few weeks ago to talk about my weight, and why, in spite of all the positive strides and benefits in my life in the past few years, I can't seem to curb this one self-destructive streak. As is her custom, she quickly carved out the bigger picture for me, of which weight was just the primary symptom. Money management not being one of my strong suits, imagine how thrilled I was for her to attach monetary value to how I manage my time . . . "You need to evaluate how you are spending your time dollars . . ." Damn her for always making sense.

Actually, I thank her, as that pearl of perspective has cast me on a course of enriching, and perhaps saving, my life. (And no, although I sometimes feel like one, I don't believe she has cast her pearl before a swine!)

I've spent a majority of my time dollars in the first half of my life trying to overachieve and live up to the image I thought everyone expected of me. At times, I think I believed I was trying to please myself, but as the years have gone on, that line between pleasing others and pleasing myself has gotten somewhat blurry. And with that blurred vision, I sought identity in my so-called accomplishments. For my under-40 friends, let me assure you that this does not a happy person make. It is possible that some of my u-40 friends have learned this lesson already, and I'm just a late bloomer, having discovered the joy of a significant other somewhat late in life. The life of a single person does seem to provoke this external search for identity - at least in my case.

Old habits are hard for old folks to break, though. And even after being blessed with a reason to come home, I haven't said "no" as frequently as I should. As I heard a political comedian say a few weeks ago, "just because you CAN, doesn't mean you SHOULD." I have had a bad habit of agreeing to take on responsibilities because I can do them WELL, but not because I ENJOY doing them. And the identity that accepting them has given me is the increasing opportunity to be asked to do MORE things I don't particularly enjoy. Go figure.

Consequently, . . . u-4o friends, listen closely, I have "accomplished" the following:
  • "opportunities" to be in charge of multiple things that no-one else cares to take on (not even for the extra money involved)
  • little if any extra time for such productive things as regular physical exercise and nutritious meal planning
  • chest pains - probably due to stress (see above), unhealthy living (see above), and GERD, but the results of the stress test I took today and the trip to the hospital yesterday should confirm or deny this
  • less time with the Frau, the garden, and my books - three of my great joys in life (and where I would prefer to spend ALL of my time dollars - and which don't give me chest pain)
So . . . I am reassessing and reinvesting as the second half of my life commences - and I'd like to enjoy ALL of the second half. I'm giving up "opportunities" and the extra income that comes with them. I'm establishing a baseline for my health, and with my new found time dollars I will reinvest in some healthy life habits. I am anticipating spending lavishly on my three great joys, including FINALLY reading a book given to me almost six years ago that, ironically, I have "wanted" to read but haven't had "time" entitled: Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest (by Wayne Muller). It just makes sense.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Lavender Lane

The Frau and I bought a new home a couple of months ago, and Lavender Lane is the moniker one of our friends has given our street. It is a bit ironic - we found a house we loved when we least expected it, sold our house to the first people to look at it, and now we live directly across the street from some dear friends from church - an older female couple who have been together for 24 years. Next door to them is another female couple - about our age - who have been together about as long as we. I think there are another two couples around the corner and down the street, but we don't really know them. Here on Lavender Lane, though, we feel really normal, accepted, not "alternative." It also helps that LL is nestled in the center of the only Democratic stronghold in our state, but I digress.

Lavender Lane represents, for me at least, another milestone in our relationship (there were days during and following the move I could have called it a Hysterical Marker, but that's another story). This isn't a house that belonged to one or the other of us prior to our meeting, but it is the home that we have chosen to build (or at least redecorate and repair) together. It has only memories of our shared relationship, and the promise of what our future holds together in this place. I truly feel like I'm coming "home" to "my family" everytime I drive through the neighborhood and into the driveway.

One of our other great milestones was when we got married in one of the few places where it was actually legal - Vancouver, British Columbia ("O Canada . . ."). It meant a lot to us to have a legal and public acknowledgement of what we are to each other. The road to that milestone had its humor, as well. We had to purchase a marriage license in Chinatown from the Jack Chow insurance agency, which was not far from the Sing-A-Long Salon . . . Our "witnesses" were a concierge and a bellman. But it was legal.

I know my beloved spouse would like to have a ceremony here in the States - so we can celebrate with family and friends. And I know she must marvel at my reticence. I have marveled at my reticence. I counter that maybe we can do that to celebrate our 5th or 10th anniversary - but I think it sounds hollow. I think I might have finally pinpointed my hesitation, though. I don't want a ceremony - another milestone, if you will - to be less real than what I feel for her. I don't want anyone saying we're "pretending" to be a family, or mocking a ceremony as a "pale substitute." I keep hoping the day will come - sooner - that will allow us to publicly acknowledge, in our place of worship, and legally in our country of residence, the commitment we have already pledged to one another. It will be as REAL as our commitment, and it will be legal. And THAT will be the true celebration.
Deep and Wide

Remember that cute little Sunday School song? And its spiritual depth was only enhanced by the subsequent verses where one began to delete words and hum (Hmmm and wide, Hmmm and wide, there's a fountain flowing, Hmm and wide . . . ). Sort of the sacred alternative to B-I-N-G-O. I often wonder if I had grown up Epsicopalian rather than Southern Baptist if I would have tragically missed learning this little tome . . .? But I digress.

The purpose of the title of this post is that it came to mind as the most succinct reason I could conjure up as to why I started this little blog. My Frau and I were discussing this new little adventure, and I was having one heck of a time explaining the attraction.

"What ever happened to picking up the phone, writing a letter, or even e-mail?"
"Well . . . it gives you an opportunity to communicate with friends you don't see every day - share daily or more frequent ponderings or happenings that you might not normally share in a typical phone call."
"But why do so many people have to know about everything we do?"
"Well . . . it's not really about everything we do . . ."
And so the conversation continued. Point of Reference - the Frau doesn't enjoy typing or most things about computers, for that matter. And to be honest, I had similar questions before I joined the club, as it were. So it caused me to ponder a bit - and that's when it hit me . . .

Deep and Wide . . .
Writing has always been a source for working through matters of import, emotional turmoil, and occasionally to amuse myself with witticisms only I (and a few demented friends) can appreciate. And I tend to write better when I know I'll have an audience (regardless of how small it might be). So it occurred to me that my hope in starting this blog was simply:

To explore becoming more intellectually Deep . . .
And rant about my ever renewable attempts to become less physically Wide . . .

Perhaps one of these days, I can retitle things . . . Deep and Hmmm, Deep and Hmmm . . . .

Friday, October 20, 2006

March . . .

Who would have thought a short novel written as a Civil War diary could be so timely? I'm about halfway through this little gem by Geraldine Brooks which details the cognitive dissonance of "Mr. March" - the father of the "Little Women" in Louisa May Alcott's novel by the same name. An Abolitionist and pacifist, March finds himself at war, both with the South and with himself. One can't help but recall Peter indignantly stating that he could never betray Christ, and finding himself in just such a position only hours later. March is written much like a journal that includes portions of sanitized letters to his wife and girls. I just reached a chapter that begins by debating the difference between courage and cowardice, and his struggle with these two words is illuminated in the following paragraph. I know a President of a large country who needs read this . . . (or have it read to him . . . I'm not sure he reads):

"Who is the brave man-he who feels no fear? If so, then bravery is but a polite term for a mind devoid of rationality and imagination. The brave man, the real hero, quakes with terror, sweats, feels his very bowels betray him, and in spite of this moves forward to do the act he dreads. And yet I do not think it heroic to march into fields of fire, whipped on one's way only by fear of being called craven. Sometimes, true courage requires inaction; that one sit at home while war rages, if by doing so one satisfies the quiet voice of honorable conscience." [March - Geraldine Brooks - Penguin Books - 2005, p. 168]

Forget it (reading it to "W") - the words are way too big for him to understand, and the ideas are even bigger . . . But YOU should read it.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Story Corp Hits Paydirt

Link and listen to this NPR gem, "Like Being 19." Maybe one day *we* can do it in the "right order." Or maybe we've got the right order - in spite of those who would say otherwise.
I AM Your Frontal Lobe . . .

"Bless their hearts . . ." (a euphemism for "aren't they stupid?") - you have to love high schoolers - particularly the more right brained ones that participate in the arts. Their frontal lobes may not be developed, causing them to do and say stupidly impulsive things without considering the consequences, but that creative right brain does keep their sense of humor lively. A few of the braver (and smarter) ones even chuckle at my more subtle, albeit caustic, jokes on occasion. I tell them regularly that "I am your frontal lobe . . ." and responsible for keeping them focused on the task at hand so that they won't pay the un-soundly consequences later. [I know - "un-soundly" - so I'm a choral director who admires e. e. cummings' ability to create words to suit one's purpose - do feel free to try this at home.]

I find myself so busy laboring over their lobes, I sometimes forget to let my own frontal lobe communicate with my lips. Following an especially stimulating choral workshop with Simon C. (and my friends know of whom I speak), who scared the hell out of them when he actually expected them to act like choral musicians and not lobeless high schoolers, my students and I shared one of those "special" moments. The workshop was great (from my perspective) and provided some wonderful teaching moments in the Monday debrief that followed the weekend experience. I let the students do most of the talking - some of them expressing greater insight than I often give them credit for possessing. Occasionally, I provided a little "clarity," as it were. Perhaps I was overcome with a pedagogical high from the fact that the students were actually exercising a bit of metagcognition about the experience . . . (insert scarey music here). I opened my mouth, and feeling particularly witty and metaphorical (and completely forgetting the lobeless and lascivious nature of my high school audience) commented, "Mr. C does indeed run a bit of a tighter ship than I do, but I certainly enjoyed riding his ship for awhile." My students are comfortable with me - this was obvious from the tears of laughter streaming down their lascivious little faces.

Like my friend, Jacques, I think I should have a contest to identify the word that best describes when a seemingly innocuous comment manages to annihilate any future "teaching moments."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Arnold the Puppinator

This is my "son" - I share him here as one of the central pleasures of my life - next to my wife - and at great risk that once his cuteness quotient is discovered, we will hear news of an Arnie Alert. He is an only child these days, occasionally trying as he starts his "terrible twos," and beginning to revel in our undivided attention - a trait not uncommon to his dachshund brethren. But he misses the occasional ornery romp with his 15 year old brother. Dear old Max - mutt extraordinaire - may he rest in pastoral peace (1991-2006).
This is Cinzia . . . weighing in on matters of importance to me . . . and maybe a few of my crazy friends.