Find “about ” and ” credits” files. Waffle over how much to use. Or how little. Copy and paste. Edit. Format. Correct. Print. Correct. Reformat. Print.
Copy and paste seven files. Edit. Format. Print draft. Damn. Fight with Word. Curse Microsoft. Curse again. Oh. There must have been a page break there. Delete that. Argh. There are two copies of one file – where did the second one come from? Print. Proof again. S**t. Yet another not-so-elegant transition. Forgot a notation. Take a break before I print. Review. Print.
Find camera. Photograph the subject. Upload. Where are the photos?!! Oh, I’ve updated operating system since last upload. Poke around. Find photos. Import to iPhoto. Edit. Blah! Bad shadows. Rinse and repeat. Matte or gloss? Print. Border is inconsistent. Print again.
3pm. Did I have lunch? How do I indicate which image goes with which story? Oh. Doh: number them. Search for razor-point Sharpie. Great gussie! Where are my mailers? Mad search ensues.
4:45. Dash to post office. Address one of their mailers at counter. Hand to clerk. Swipe debit card at 4:58 pm.
5:15. Pour wine. Sit on screened porch. Stare into space. Stare into space.stare into space. stare into spacestareintospace. . .
It took SIX hours to get a twenty-page proposal printed and mailed. SIX. (Well, really five, plus the hour looking for my stash of Priority Mail mailers and the Sharpie. But still.)
Twenty years ago, this project would have taken nearly a week to prepare. Remember when we had to type, and use correction tape or liquid, and retype (and retype) to get it perfect? Then save to a floppy disk and go to Kinkos to print and copy en route to the post office? (I’m still too ticked at HP to give them any credit.) But remember when you had only a dot matrix printer?
I LOVE MY MAC.
His name is Newton. He works hard for me. He holds my data, and he finds it when I ask, nicely. He makes me look good. And he does it quickly. Usually.
• philomathy •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: The love of learning.
Notes: dating back to the end of the 16th century. Its family includes an adjective, philomathic or philomathical and an adverb philomathically. (Thanks to Dr. Goodword. www.alphadictionary.com)
“Personally I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” —Sir Winston Churchill
Neither of my parents loved their jobs; they worked out of duty and responsibility. Nor could they understand how seduced and enthralled I was by design. My college years fueled me, and I recounted the connections, the ah-has, the gleanings at the dinner table most nights.
I have been fed, spiritually and professionally, by my life’s work.
To this day, I do my best work—indeed, my best living—when I am learning. With each client, an interesting conversation, a lecture or film, every book. . . opportunities abound. I am philomathic!
At TEDxAtlanta this week, I heard some mighty fine music, and 18 minutes from nine speakers who are experts in their field, all of whom have found something unique, some new take, or a spark that led to a new application or outcome. Each provocative and compelling.
Once home, I stared into space for a while, then phoned to cancel my evening plans. I’d had as much pleasure as I could take in for one day—like eating, and not being able to take another bite.
I feel such gratitude for my ability to think, feel and understand. The willingness to give what Dr. Rita Charon called “exquisite attention” to people who have such passion for their noble work, inspires me to listen more, do good, and be better.
Oh! How I love learning.
If you haven’t discovered TED.com, don’t wait another minute. Go there NOW and watch this: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html
Then watch http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html
Then, pick something—anything— at random, even something you think may not be interesting, and expect to be wowed.
December 3, 1978, I was in rehearsal for The Messiah on Hilton Head Island. A writer for The Island Packet attended that night, to do a story about the annual concert. She asked for the oldest and youngest members of the choir, and two of us raised our hand when the age of 23 was called. But I was still 22—for one more day. Spontaneously… the beginning notes of Happy Birthday, and ninety-six voices, in harmony, brought a rush of energy stronger than any tide I’ve ever felt. I’ve savored the memory on the eve of every birthday since.
“Do you have any regrets?” Deneice asked when I turned fifty.
I don’t hold onto regrets for long, so I had to search hard.
I don’t know when or why, but somewhere, sometime, I stopped singing.
Last week, some Sacred Harp—or shape note—saangers were at the Decatur library. They don’t perform, they demonstrate. And then you sing too. Or “saang.” Antique saangin’. A capella. Loud and forceful, in four parts. There is no need to be good: when in doubt, saang louder. It is not timid, but full out.
In the back of my Sacred Harp tune book is a scribbled note from fifteen years ago. Someone said it sounds like “a Bulgarian peasant woman calling hogs.”
The lyrics may not jive with my spiritual beliefs. Nor is my voice as clear and true. But I don’t care too much. It is FUN, and I am singing again! It juices the psyche and fills the soul.
Poet David Whyte recounts a discussion about fatigue with a Benedictine monk who said, …”the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest. …The antidote…is wholeheartedness. You’re so exhausted because you can’t be wholehearted at what you’re doing…[for] your real conversation with life is through poetry.”
It gave me pause. What am I not doing with my whole heart? At what price?
Perhaps this is the draw for the twenty and thirty-something urbanites discovering what the geezers have known for decades. Shape note saangin’ brings great joy because it is wholehearted.
Canadian poet Merle Shain understood love. She declared: “If I were to marry again tomorrow, I wouldn’t give up one friend. I’d take them all with me as a sort of dowry and tell my new husband that he was getting a rich wife.”
I’ve always wondered about girls and women who leave their friends behind when a man steals their heart. I don’t get it. What I loved most about The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood was the life-long friendships. Their husbands got a handful!
Last weekend I sat with three women whom I haven’t known long, but already feel that I know well. The breadth of self-disclosure was stunning, the honesty was liberating, the awareness motivating.
I’ve been thinking since about friends—the ones who bring me real joy, what makes them so valuable, and how they touch my soul with such depth, again and again.
There is always genuine interest, good conversation, and enjoyable companionship. We share similar values, but experience and beliefs different enough to be interesting, provocative, and moving. There is empathy and authenticity.
Those who love me most will tell me when I have peas in my teeth, and when I am wrong in my thinking. More, true friends inspire me to be and do my best. They mirror my strengths, and equally, my weaknesses. They’ll let me wallow for a while when things go awry—and they listen completely—then goad me to seek solutions. They nudge me to venture into new territory, and cheer me on whether I stumble or thrive. They laugh at my jokes. As a Native American friend would say, “They give me thunder.”
They are my champions. They give meaning to my life.
And I have the honor of doing the same for them.
Friends and family are oxygen for my soul.
She went out to play Thursday afternoon, and didn’t come home that night. Or Friday, or Saturday. Nor Sunday or Monday. I put notices on the neighborhood message boards, asked friends to hold the vision of her return, and tried not to fret. Cats do these things, sometimes.
There were moments of imagining the worst, then of knowing she was fine. Moments of intense longing, and wishing.
Finally, she came bolting in, mewling loudly, demanding food and water. I filled her bowls, and waited for her to tell me about her five-day adventure. But noooooo. No explanation. No apology.
I tried to be at least a little ticked at her, but wasn’t able to. My friend Christina said of four-leggeds: “ . . . they know not the ultimate depths of how they touch us… which may be part of the charm they hold.”
Dictionaries say joy is “great happiness,” which I think of as a big emotion. But what I love most is her rubbing up against my ankle, or nestling against my side or my neck on the sofa. Sliding under the covers to curl up in the crook of my knee or at my feet as I sleep. Her purr after she dines or when I scratch her neck. My elation at her homecoming was somewhat short-lived, yielding quickly to the simple pleasure of her presence, her company, her touch. Is there something smaller than “great happiness” but equally as grand? As important?
I don’t know what it’s called, but every day Miss Kitty brings me sustainable, consistent, unadulterated joy. I’m glad and grateful that she’s home, and I think she feels the same way. She’s been stuck to me like Velcro ever since.
I was thinking today about my friend Mark Pekar and what a joy he was in my life for more than twenty years. This time last spring he was gravely ill and mere weeks away from hospice. In mid-summer, I was blessed to speak to a large crowd at his memorial service.
I shared that he “loved being the center of attention, yet he loved watching others shine. He loved succeeding, and equally celebrated other’s successes. ‘A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.’* His was a generous spirit.”
Memory of Mark was keen today as I visited with other long-time friends:
Sylvia is so proud of her grandchildren that she beams.
Donna had a breakthrough in establishing and enforcing emotional boundaries.
Betsy earned an A in a class from a professor who does not give A’s. (Free tuition at state colleges and universities in Georgia is a bonus that comes with Medicare and Social Security! I only have ten years to go.)
Charlie is also a returning student (though not even old enough for an AARP card) and will graduate Sunday, to embark on a new career for which he is splendidly suited and prepared.
Peggy and Gibbs are in a new home that fits them perfectly and makes them smile.
And my friend Carol, having regained some of the vision lost in one eye, is doing nearly everything she wants to do with resourcefulness and élan. She’s piecing a new quilt, and loved one of the fabrics so much that she hugged it.
There used to be a road sign on Lakewood Freeway that read
Give and take. Take and give. Everyone gets his or her turn to lead, or follow. Then it changes again.
Recent months have been exceedingly challenging, but the successes of treasured friends or family can make my spirit soar. Some days I share joy by lighting the candle. Other times, I find joy by having my candle lit.
* Quote from Father James Keller
A college professor in the mid 1970s had asked his grandfather to speak of the most significant invention during his lifetime. Not the automobile, electricity, or space travel: he was most impressed by screened windows. They let in the breeze and kept out the flies, chickens and stray cats.
My mother, born in 1923, adored paper products, especially napkins and tissues. “Do you realize what a relief it is not to have to wash and iron snotty handkerchiefs?”
The little things, it seems, made the real difference.
New Year’s Eve of 1999 found me in Alabama with a friend. His grandmother, at 103, was in a nursing home, and the only person I knew with a foot in three centuries. Champagne and fine scotch, an elegant dinner and fireworks galore paled at this momentous landmark. Gram was ailing and failing, unable to string thoughts together, but still, she was 103.
Both days when we visited Gram, a crone rested in a wheelchair in the hall nearby: Mrs. Whitton. While most of the residents wore housecoats and slippers, she had on stockings and sensible brown shoes, a khaki polyester skirt and a beige and white flowered button-up blouse. Gray-blonde hair teased and sprayed, surely done each week in the beauty shop downstairs. Her eyes were dull and flat; but she wore lipstick. Bright red-orange lipstick. ALL over her mouth. And cheeks.
Lipstick by Picasso!
I almost laughed, but my Higher Self whopped me on back of the head. I began to rummage in my bag for a tissue, thinking to ask if I could help her wipe it off and put in on right.
A bigger psychic whop. I stopped and took a breath.
It was already on “right.”
Mrs. Whitton stared back at me blankly, but with a huge, glorious toothy smile, which the lipstick took — literally, from ear to ear.
My design school professor had been right: more than 20 years later, I felt the depth of his teaching. If I’m ever in Mrs. Whitton’s seat, wearing too much beige and a hairstyle 30 years out-of-date, with rare neuro-connections, I pray I remember the joy of a good lipstick.
It is said that when mystic and poet Rumi heard of his dearest friend’s passing, he was filled with acute sorrow at the loss, yet at the same time, such gratitude for many years of deep friendship, that the only thing he could do was turn in circles around a pole in his garden.
Thus was the inspiration for “the Turn,” the spiritual dance repeated the world over by Sufis also known as the Whirling Dervishes.
I understand, now, how that simple motion can harness energy too great to handle, but in May of 1968, when I was twelve, I did not know.
How insufferable that half-day of school had been. I looked at the clock a million times and thought my exams would never be over. Then, finally, I ran full out from the bus stop to my mother’s kitchen table. My brother returned that morning from Viet Nam—wounded, decorated, and ALIVE.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. (I alternated) To sit, or leap and shout. (I did both.) I wanted to bury myself in his arms, but then I couldn’t see his face. Silly grins melted to tears, then back again. The kitchen seemed ready to implode from rampant, unchecked emotion, but no one could leave the room. What do you say? What do you not say? How long until I would breathe normally again?
Watching the 33 miners and six rescuers in Chile emerge a couple of months ago wore me out. The glee, the relief, the rawness kept me riveted to the online live feed. When the last man exited the Phoenix, the ground team circled close and hooted, hollered, cheered, and pumped the air with their fists. Theirs was that state beyond joy, so untamed and jubilant that few humans know what to do with it. Usually, like a child, we ride the high until we collapse from fatigue.
Great joy can be nearly unbearable. When it is, turn. Or get to your kitchen table, the safe space where the wildness can wax and wane. Joy will find it’s perfect, delicious, manageable level.
He went on to say that often the gift-giving in his family is a miss rather than a hit, but that year, the things he gave and received were resonant with meaning. I’ve thought of his words with nearly every gift I’ve given since.
When my great-niece opened her birthday and gradation gifts from me, she looked up and said, “I’ve never gotten gifts like these before.” The items were specific to her, for her, for her new place at the grownup’s table. They had meaning to her.
I’m at the stage where much of my energy goes to divesting my life, my home, my studio of too much stuff. As I purge, edit, sell and donate, I see that what I keep is beautiful in more than sentiment; there is a story, and there is soul.
Last month my blogpost for The Joy Factor was about the fifty days I spent celebrating my fiftieth birthday, seeing more than fifty people who have made my life rich. I was horrified at the mere thought of fifty gifts, so I asked each person for a favorite quote, poem, story or song—for words that had meaning. All of the gifts fit into one perfect journal, and make my heart sing when I read and reread it. I learned so much about the givers, and I have such sweet memories of the time I spent with each one.
What do you give the person who has everything? It’s been nearly a decade since Caroline Kennedy published The Best Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis. The back story is that Jackie asked, for Christmas, her birthday and Mother’s Day, that both Caroline and John read or recite a poem and give her a hand-written copy. Better yet, if the poem was original. The gift to the givers was a love of words and poetry.
With Christmas just days away, I think of the gifts over the years that have made me feel known. Sometimes they’ve been grand, but more often, simple. And few top the words in that journal from my 50th year, and the time I spent with each person. Sometimes, YOU are the gift.
I love birthdays – mine and everyone else’s. And I love a good party, but a big bash usually disappoints, with too many cool folks and too little time.
When I turned fifty, I was inspired by my friend Dianne DaLee: I took fifty days, with intent to see fifty people who had stirred by soul or shifted my paradigm—playmates, classmates, roommates, bosses, beaus, mentors, favorite clients, colleagues, confidants.
There were disappointments: ten of my top fifty were deceased, and three I could not find. I whispered their names, in reflection and gratitude. There were two I simply didn’t want to see. I am blessed with abundance: other treasured people filled the empty slots.
One-on-one, in small groups, or phone dates with those afar, we savored our past and shared our dreams.
A single flaw snagged my system: silly me. I didn’t think to include new friends. Sometimes excess is a good thing; my list grew to more than sixty!
Those fifty days were so rich, so robust, joyful and divine, that I rode the high for weeks afterward. And there was a bonus that I didn’t anticipate: the joy of those I asked to help me celebrate. They were thrilled to know their lives had made mine better.
I’ve always been good to tell people that I value them, love them, admire them, and why. But clearly, we can’t be told too often. As my birthday and the holidays draw near, I make a point to remind my friends and family that they are at the top of my list. I learned, in my fiftieth year, that love and honor may be more important, more cherished, than what can be wrapped and tied with a bow.