September 25, 2013

The Value of Art

My whole life I have been pegged as an "artistic" one.  I was viewed to be full of creativity, full of emotion, and quite capable of expressing myself--for better or worse.  Some even went so far as to blame my bouts of irrational behavior and/or thoughts on my artistic nature.  As young people, and even as adults, people use others' analyses, or judgments, or feedback as a gauge for who he/she is.  What others say about us and how others respond to us is a huge part of confirming our identities.  In fact, I dove deep into this theory upon researching how performance anxiety develops from a very young age for my undergraduate thesis, the mirror theory being a very real factor.  But I digress.  Perhaps more on this topic another time.  Between my own enjoyment of the arts and the feedback I received from the adults in whom I placed my trust helped me believe in myself as a free-spirited, expressive artist.  I launched into this "pursuit of the arts", for the arts better humanity.  They bring to light truths that logic cannot. Claims I had read countless times, yet I spent less than a breath of a moment trying to understand what those phrases actually meant.  My negligent interpretation of this pursuit amounted to simply developing my gift as a musician.

Oh my goodness, did I ever lack humility.  For three years I pursued the arts, striving to be the best musician I could, for reasons I didn't quite understand.  On the surface, I sought the praises of my audience and I held tightly to my responsibility as a performer to express what the composer desired to be expressed.  Beyond that, I never took the time to understand what it meant to be an artist. What my responsibility to the world would be as an artist.

By my senior recital, I finally started to see my lack of understanding.  For the first time I realized my true reasons for "pursuing the arts."  I wasn't pursing the arts at all--I was pursing perfection.  Three years of intensely practicing and studying and fretting over the perfection of my performances, the approval of the audience, all led to a sudden feeling of wasted time. What was I doing this for?  Why does any musician spend countless hours in the practice room continuously perfecting this phrase and that pitch? Humans can never achieve perfection and thus will never conquer this pursuit!  It's not a pursuit of the arts, it's a pursuit of perfection.  And quite frankly, in order to achieve that state of perfection I felt I had to sacrifice the things that mattered most to me: time with those I loved, time giving back to the community, time developing my faith.  All in order to achieve this pointless and impossible goal of perfection.  I concluded art was not enhancing the experience of humanity, it was simply a waste of time.

Still, this understanding of the "pursuit of the arts" and its value was greatly skewed.  Yes, I had finally looked outside of myself, but I was still missing the value of art.  After all, why would great minds write so highly of the arts if they were truly a waste of time?  Upon graduating with my bachelor's of music I considered what I would do with that part of myself.  Would I continue to play?  Would I continue to teach?  I had absolutely no desire to continue on the path of perfection--I didn't want to perform in such an environment and I didn't want to promote it.  That path was destructive to my soul. Time to move away from it.

So I did.  I occasionally picked up my flute to play--really, just to see if I still had it in me.  I surrounded myself with logical thinkers.  I read only non-fiction.  I found a way to logically approach my emotions.  I finally thought I had a sense of peace in my life.  A sense of order that allowed me to focus on the things that mattered most.  Yet the arts still called to me.  I found great joy in creating.  In designing.  In perusing the visual art museums.  In watching a well-scripted movie.  I recall watching Up with David about a year after I walked away from being a any sort of professional musician.  As Carl floated along in his house up in the air, the movie's main theme gently sounding through the vibrations of the violins.  The rich tones were joined by none other than a delicate piccolo and an oh so silvery greeting from a flute.  The score spoke to me so deeply, it moved me in a way I hadn't been moved in a very long time.

My soul woke.  And I started crying.  David, alarmed and probably quite confused, paused the movie and asked what happened.  I didn't really know.  All I could say was that I missed playing...but I couldn't understand why.  I had learned that performing music was a harsh, harsh world.  Why would I want to go back to that?

Nevertheless, the arts were seeming to have a positive affect on me.  They were making me feel things in such a raw and real way, in such a way that I could experience life on a more authentic level.  A few months after watching Up, we attended the Broadway tour of Next to Normal.  If my soul was sleepy before, it was no longer.  Next to Normal, for those unfamiliar with the show, is a story about a family struggling with a mother's bipolar disorder and depression which was initially triggered by the death of their infant son.  It's a story that hit home hard with David and I, long before Samuel was even a twinkle in our eye.  We both knew all too well the challenges, the stress that mental health complications can pose to a relationship.  The show was provocative.  It was raw.  It was real.  And it stirred emotions within David and I that we hadn't felt in a very long time.  It sparked conversation.  It encouraged connection between the two of us.  It reminded us of our personal strengths and weaknesses.  This piece of art spoke to our humanity.

Huh.  Didn't I just conclude two years prior that art was simply a waste of time?  Funny how it was ART that moved me to reconsider that conclusion.  And by funny, you know I mean ironic.  Since that encounter with the beauty of humanity--the raw emotion, the struggle, the will to overcome hardship, the courage, the joy--since all of those things, I (and David too) have found it of great importance to continue to expose myself to the arts.  We attend the theater as often as we can.  I spent hours in the art museums at the Smithsonian.  I still love non-fiction like a habitually sleepy person loves a cup of coffee, but I dabble in fiction as well.  Because that fiction takes me to a place of imagination that my heart wouldn't otherwise go.

Art, as I know it now, has a way of awakening the soul to live in the present, to live in reality.  It is important for one to expose him/herself to art so as to discover ourselves, to learn more of the creation that we are.  We are human.  We are individually unique, yet universally alike.  What makes us feel and how that thing makes us feel is perhaps alien from person to person.  But we all feel.  And we cannot know our deepest selves without coming to know our hearts, that is to say our emotions.

Most days, I don't feel strongly about the loss of my son.  I feel at peace.  It is true he is not with me, but I haven't lost him in spirit.  I know he is with our Father, our Creator.  But then...then I hear a song, or remember a song ("Without You," Rent), or remember a stupid musical (Next to Normal) that triggers such sadness, such loneliness, such despair and fear that the pain of my loss is ignited with such ferocity I am taken by surprise.  My tree is shaken.  And I remember how I've changed.  How this once innocent person is no longer innocent, how she's aged, how she's had to learn how to hold the joy in one hand and the grief in the other.  It is the deepest of human experiences, an experience that draws me closer to God.  

When art touches me in such a way, when it makes me feel in such a raw and real way, I come alive. I see more clearly the person who God has created me to be, and see His surrounding creation more clearly.  How could I have abandoned such a beautiful part of humanity so readily years ago?

The only regret I have from the loss of Samuel is this: that I never shared my artistic abilities, never played my flute while I was pregnant with him.  That he never heard his mama play.  Honestly, I'm tearing up as I write that. When I was pregnant, I felt so confident in my decision, confident in letting that part of me go.  I was at peace with not keeping up my musical abilities.  I thought there might eventually be a time when sure, I'd start it up again.  Perhaps my baby would ask me about the instrument, "Mama, what's that?" And we'd have a nice little learning moment.  Nothing more than that. Baby wouldn't know that mama was once a soloist for the local symphony.  Baby wouldn't know that mama used to play Holst, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and the like.  Now, long after it's too late, I realize that this part of me--a part of me to which I dedicated hours upon hours developing--is something I do want my kids to know.  I don't really yet know how I'll introduce that part of me to my kids.  But I do know this: the next time I'm pregnant, I'm going to be playing my flute as an expression of the human spirit, not for the performance.

I find a great sense of peace when I allow myself to experience art.  When I allow myself to walk right into that fiery wall of emotions the art might trigger.  Perhaps one of these days I'll share a list of pieces that have truly moved me; perhaps they'll move something within you too.  Have you had any particular experiences where you were deeply touched by a piece of art or performance?  Something that has changed you?  Let me know--I'd love to experience it too.

September 5, 2013


Oh, it's my first one!  My first Pretty-Funny-Happy-Real.  Yes, this is actually kinda hard for me.  I don't always think about taking pictures of my every day happenings...but I managed this week (well, kind of over the last two weeks.  Forgive me, yeah?)  Here we go.

- Pretty -

Last weekend David and I visited his family for a beautiful little celebration: his parents' 40th wedding anniversary!  I just love these casual flowers on our simple but pretty banquet table.  Not only was the table beautiful, but it was a gorgeous day.  Three children, two daughters-in-law and two grandbabies later, my mom- and dad-in law have been shining examples to David and I for what it means to love unconditionally.  Congrats to them and we wish them many more happy years together!  

- Funny -

Oh, the little things in life that make one laugh!  This pic is a couple weeks old, but I LOVE it!  A few weeks back our college friends (the St. Tommy's family) went camping.  The nights were late and mornings early.  After two nights, babies started fallin' like flies.  One of the St. Tommy's cousins totally zonked while mommy was puttering around the campsite.  Poor babe, all of us were laughing our little hearts out at how precious he was (and how tired, sweet guy!).  As soon as Melissa's older son saw this, of course he requested to also be held.  To count how many times I've seen my friends and family juggle their children--I'm sure one day I'll be in a similar situation!    

- Happy -

Hello, old friend!  Gosh, I can't tell you the last time I just played

Yesterday I pulled out some of the solo pieces I first performed in college.  This one, Andante et Scherzo by Louise Ganne, was the first piece I performed in convocation at the School of Music while earning my performance degree. I haven't missed performing publicly in the least bit.  But I have missed working toward a goal.  It kept my chops in shape!

- Real -

Drip drip drop little April showers, beating a tune as you fall all around.
Except it was August.  And I was trying to get ready to leave on our camping trip.
But it's a nice song, isn't it?  Probably the nicest part of Bambi.

Note the waves rushing UP my driveway!  Torrential rains came with torrential wind.

And yeah.  The gutters couldn't handle it.
Then there was TODAY:

I only discovered this because I heard water splashing on a hard surface.  What is that mysterious splashing sound?  Splash. Splash.  Drippity drop.  Splash. Splash...ah hah!  Woah.  Apparently the thunder storm maxed out our gutters' capacity.  Thank goodness the waterfall was not indoors.

That's all for this week my friends.  Check out more P.F.H.R. over at Like Mother, Like Daughter!
round button chicken

September 4, 2013

Missing You

My dearest Samuel,

Today I am missing you as much as always, but more poignantly than ever.  God must want me to see more clearly the effects you've had in my life.  He must want me to remember more clearly all the love you brought into our lives.  Since last Friday, you have been on my mind and I've been seeing you in every detail of my life.

See, last Friday, little Savannah was born into this world.  It reminded me that you were supposed to be her playmate, her companion.  You were supposed to grow up with her and all of your St. Tommy's cousins.  When her mama, Amy, went into labor, I started praying so hard that she would have a smooth labor and delivery, and even more desperately I prayed that her baby be healthy.  I know you were praying, too, my son.  Thank you for praying.  I have to confess, though.  I felt a little silly praying for Savannah to be born healthy, for her mama to be kept safe.  After all, it's not really uncommon for moms to have a healthy really isn't.  But it still seemed necessary to ask God for those things because you've taught me just how delicate life really is.  How nature can sometimes get a little screwed up.  In fact, now I know that three out of four times nature does not screw up.  Three out of four times, a perfectly healthy baby is born.  But there's that chance--that one in four chance--that something could go wrong.

So, since Friday I have thanked God with all my heart that every one is doing well, that Savannah is doing well. When she was born, I felt your love once again.  So very strongly, Samuel.  Seeing the perfection of this new life reminded me of the perfection of yours.  I was reminded that with each new life God enters this world.  Whatever journey God has planned, we do not know.  But I am incredibly thankful that your prayers and ours were answered.  That everyone's hopes for this baby, for this new life, are off to an incredible start.  That Savannah and her mommy are safe, thriving and healthy.

Mama and baby :) 
But my gratitude does not come without sadness, of course.  I miss you terribly, Samuel.  I cannot help but wish that I had more than 12 days with you.  My heart is aching with an emptiness that seems like nothing but you can fill (yes, I logically understand and do believe that God can fill that's just a little more abstract that holding my sweet little boy).  I can't help but wish that you didn't have Trisomy 13.  That you could play with Savannah here on this Earth.  That I could see your eyes, hold your hands, rub my nose through your hair.  You would be 4 1/2 months old by now. You would be able to hold your head, laugh with me, enjoy all the colors the world has to offer. Perhaps you would be sitting, or at least getting very close. We would sing, dance, and go for runs in the Bob.  I probably would be making you a Halloween costume right little pumpkin.

Grandma B made this little hat for Samuel's baby shower.
With a great sigh, my Samuel, I know these things were not meant for us.  I am reminded of God's plan over these past six days--welcoming little Savannah into this world, watching my nephew play with his father and grandfather, and playing with some of your other St. Tommy's cousins.  These children have reminded me to see God's face.  To see His love.  To feel His love.  I am reminded that our 12 days with you had incredible meaning: that was for us to know God through loving you.  To give us a greater sense of His ultimate plan for all of us--all of His children--to one day rejoin him in Heaven.  

Shortly after you died, just about when I started writing your story, Amy's cousin sent your daddy and I a little note.  We hadn't heard from him in several years, but his thoughtfulness was so perfect, so needed.  It wasn't much, just a short and sweet note sharing an article from Focus on the Family, and this video:

"You were born in a very special way. You are wonderfully made.  To me, you've always been and always will be perfectly full of potential.  You see, even a long life is short.  And a short life can be full of meaning." 

Dearest Samuel, your life--though a short one--was full of meaning.  You changed so many lives in your 12 days.  You shared God's love in a way I never realized possible.  Knowing how one small life can truly impact the world, I am encouraged and hopeful for the newest life among our family of friends, little Savannah.  Her life is beautiful.  It, too, is full of meaning.  It is full of potential and hope and joy.  She, too, will impact her world in a way that only God knows.  It is through this hope for Savannah that I am reminded of my own hope.  A hope that one day, Samuel, you will have a brother or sister. A hope that one day our family will continue to grow so that your love and the love of God will grow within our family.  I thank God every day for that hope for new life--hope inspired by new life.

You are so loved, my little boy.  I will always love you.  Always have a space in my heart for you. May I have the strength to share that love with others through the rest of my life.

With much love,