I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the women in my family - particularly on my mother's side of the family. They're artistic women. My grandmother was a marvelous water colorist and her daughters have dabbled in art of one kind or another. My husband had a grandmother like that, too, who died when he was only a boy. He had enough good years with her to remember vividly the time they spent studying the piano (she was his first teacher) and creating projects together. He nicknamed her his "artistic consultant."
These women have lived an example for me that feels, at this point in life, like an undeniable path. I must follow it. I'll go on walking it just like they have - noticing the world and spinning my notice back out into the ether in the form of songs, photographs, paintings, and poetry.
My mother, who is an accomplished singer and writer, has lately turned to sketching, painting, and free verse poetry. Then she became fascinated by the pictures I was bringing her of minuscule flowers and water drops distilled on leaves from the garden . . . and so we purchased her a special lens to work with. She soon surpassed us all in taking beautiful pictures of the great outdoors. Her life has always been filled with art. Communication, breath, existence . . . all art. And because I'm her daughter, I've been watching.
When I think about my favorite composers and songwriters, most of whom were and are prolific, I think of this daily commitment to live into the art. Our circumstances might not always be ideal, but as long as we have the wherewithal to take note of even the small beauty around us, we'll be able to live creatively.
There are downsides, of course.
We end up creating mostly for ourselves. We create so much, on all sides, that we occasionally tire our audiences. We can't seem to help it - there's something to be witnessed and retold in every blade of grass we brush on our daily walk through the world.
I think it makes small talk difficult for us. And it makes close friendships harder to come by. Who will tolerate our constant search for meaning and symbolism in every little thing? Only others who are doing the same, it seems.
During Lent this year I've added a daily spiritual practice of writing a morning meditation and an evening mediation at the piano. I've been sharing these and have benefited from them, myself. They've helped me to keep my spiritual focus very clear and have challenged that part of my life . . . but also, they've been teaching me about the endless well of creative material all around me. And, friends, I live a rather boring life. Or at least it seems boring from the outside looking in. But as I've searched each morning and evening for something to write about, I find more than enough . . . I find an over abundance of meaning. Because I'm looking for it.
Because I'm looking for it.
My grandmother was looking for it. She looked for it in bird calls and the names of wildflowers. She taught it to her girls as best she could. And my mother has been teaching it to me, just by being herself.
I tell my students frequently that I don't teach them to sing because I want them to grow up and be famous singers. I teach them to sing and to search for music in daily life because I want them to grow up and be happy. I want them to have access to something that will improve their quality of life. Music improves the quality of my life. It's the best gift I can give them.
God has given us such a world. Such a holy place. Days full of challenge and meaning. It's such an overwhelming and humbling thing to stand there at the edge of the day and say to God, "Thank you for this day. Here is what I was able to see in it. Could you help me to see more tomorrow?"
Some days I do feel lonely in my creative pursuits. I believe we all do. But even on those days, I can see how worthy it is to continue paying attention, and to continue sharing.
For my friends who are likeminded in this way, I offer this small encouragement: We will find a less judgmental space for our work if we create first because we love to create and second so that we can share . . . not the other way around. There is no audience when I see the leaves of a wild weed in the grass backlit by the sun. Just me, noticing. There is no audience when a song tumbles from my head, to the pen, to the paper, to the keys, and back into my body as I sing it for the first time. Just me, noticing.
A few friends of my graduate school piano teacher shared memories of her at a beautiful memorial concert last weekend. One of her close friends recalled a conversation in which they discussed what would make a successful life and what would not. They ended up deciding that a successful life would simply be a life one wanted to live over again. On the way to their decision, they acknowledged (as musicians) that performances would not constitute a successful life because there would be no thought of "the pinnacle performance" - there would always somehow be another performance to come, making those experiences less like the aim and more like part of the process.
Incidentally, my teacher's brother shared that even in her final weeks she played the piano and performed for others. She was stuck in the hospital and was still living out the process of practice and creativity so many of us have come to love.
Today I spoke with one of my favorite teachers, who has become a dear friend. We were talking about artistic collaboration (between musicians, specifically). We agreed that sharing the process of practicing the music, not even taking into account whatever performances might come of it, is a soul shaking thing - when we find collaborative partners who are actually thinking about music the same way we are the process of practice slices through everything and gets right to the heart of . . . well . . . life: Of us; Of the compositions we so admire; Of having a pulse and breathing at all.
Why are we here? To bear witness. To continue the telling of the same story God's been writing all along. Some of us tell it artistically. I know from talking with creative friends that this can feel like a burden some days. I see you, friends. I know. But isn't it also such a marvelous chance? Such a joy to have been somehow inspired to approach all things like this? Sometimes I notice a daydreamer in one of my classes at the school and I think to myself: I know you. I've seen you before. Don't worry, friend, it will all turn out well. I start praying for those students right away - that they would find a passion that would set them off on an adventure, seeking to notice, create, and share.
Well, Reader, the clock will change over tonight and I've really gone on too long.