Sunday, September 30, 2012

My Favorite Things: Part Two

Dear Helen, Dear John,

Because it's Sunday I thought I'd mention some of my favorite things that have helped me at various times in my life to feel greater peace even while in difficult circumstances.

The Pacific Ocean is a big one for me. After my dad died and when life was crazy in the aftermath with family, commuting, and college, I tried to leave the house a little early (5am) so that I would have time to stop off at a favorite beach of mine along the way and take a few minutes to just be. Those times served me well at the time and several years later as I prepared for my first heart surgery. Like Wordsworth's famous poem on daffodils, I felt the delight of a beautiful scene restoring parts of me to myself as I imagined myself back at a particular cliff overlooking the ocean. That scene, deeply impressed in my memory, helped keep me calm and grounded even when during and after the surgery, there were complications.

Moon jellyfish, starfish, and sea horses help calm me by being beautiful examples of being still and slowing down. They are endlessly fascinating to me. The Tennessee, Cabrillo, and Monterey Bay Aquariums hold special places in my heart as places that captured my imagination, thrilled me, and taught me valuable life lessons in the process.

There was a rare and precious day in my life that I spent at the Nashville Zoo. I listened to a radio performance of Shakespeare on my way down, got in for half price because of the weather, and practically had the entire zoo to myself for several hours. The sun came out and warmed the bamboo grove around me in the early afternoon, freeing it from the ice as crystals crashed down around me and sparkled at my feet. That moment helped free me too. It was magical, pure and simple. Thanks to an early birthday gift, I was able to purchase paintings by three different elephants who lived and painted at the zoo- a dream I'd had for many years. I was interviewed that day for a film school documentary and drove home in the hat and scarf I had made myself that made me feel warm and pretty and had attracted the director's attention. Those paintings and the feelings, memories, and sensations they evoke remind me of a perfect day while making it easier for me to enjoy painting for the sake of the feel of the paint and the paper and the brush, the joy of movement, the joy of seeing and the joy of being.

A painting by William Merritt Chase that hangs in a bright and airy room at the Huntington Library and Gardens fascinated me one afternoon when I took a few hours off from helping to care for my grandmother after a stroke she had changed her life forever- much like a book of Norman Rockwell paintings had transported me outside of myself during one of the many surgeries my dad had when I was a little girl.

For the last two years a talk by Dieter F. Uchtdorf  has helped me to be more patient and stronger at a time in my life when, despite my best efforts, it's felt like nothing of importance was changing and very little good was happening.

There were several delightful evenings when I had a mini-Alice in Wonderland experience looking up at the world from beneath a bouquet of daisies a friend had sent when I was in bed for a prolonged period of time.

There were obnoxiously fun renderings of songs with my brothers, my sister, and my mom.

And there is the sacred calm I feel every time I listen to this song:


If you notice a pattern here, it is a simple one that you both know and understand: true peace comes from God. He is always aware of where we are and what we need to grow and progress. I believe in God not because he has given me what I've wanted in life, but because he has given me what I've needed. When the police could not keep my family safe from the men who were threatening to kill us, he helped my family to draw closer to one another and to him and to find peace even when chaos reigned everywhere around us. It has been the times he brought peace and healing into our lives that the world could not give us that have helped me to trust him and to attempt things I would not have had the courage or fortitude to otherwise. He's blessed me through nature, family, strangers and friends, books, music, and art. Thousands and thousands of ways in which daily he says, "I love you."

That love is what makes it possible for me to love and forgive others and to go on when I want to give up and be done with it all. It is what sustained you when the world plunged into two world wars and an economic crisis and people, especially children, died from a vast array of diseases that are largely forgotten and unknown to us now.

Ease seldom brings the blessings that work and struggles do. The older I get, the greater the blessing of work has become. As I mature, I am developing a greater appreciation for struggle too. I can't honestly say that struggle is one of my favorite things, but the growth it often prompts definitely is. After all, one of my greatest desires as a child was to grow up. That's one of the reasons I enjoyed spending time with both of you. You treated me like someone who could appreciate and understand things, and often I did, because of you.

Still desiring and still growing,

Melanie

Saturday, September 29, 2012

My Favorite Things: Part One

Dear Helen, Dear John,

Several weeks and an unexpected move 1400 miles away for an indefinite period of time later, I'm finally feeling ready to write some again. For weeks I've been considering what to write about but every idea I came up with left me unenthused and grumbling, so I've waited. The books that I've read for my challenges deserve more in the review department than what I am able to give them right now, so I'll be saving them for later.

So what to write then? Yesterday this song came randomly unbidden into my head and I thought, "I've got it!"


I'm not going to write a lot, but I am going to share some of my favorite things for a burst of happy over this next week. I've thought about posting by topic: music, dance, books, etc. but I think it will be loads more fun in the end to mix them all up. After all, real life doesn't break itself up into neat compartments. Neither does my brain. So if you've ever wondered what a typical train of thought for me looks like... have a peek inside.

There is a tree near one of the libraries here that I have been frequenting that looks like what Mad Madam Mim would have turned herself into, if turning into plants in the wizards duel in The Sword in the Stone had been allowed. Every time I pass it, it makes me giggle and grin because while I don't enjoy or admire villians most of the time, I can't help loving the marvelous, Mad Madam Mim, and by extension, her tree! It's not merely the species of tree- there are many of them planted about town- it's this particular tree, which, of course, makes me appreciate and delight in it all the more. I love individuality when it comes from a place of honesty and not pretense or facade. You don't have to try at being an individual. We come that way on our own and stay that way if we choose to honour the best in us.



I love how Madam Mim takes such joy in all the facets of being herself. And she's spunky. And she's so gloriously expressive and delightfully honest with her feelings (I HATE sunshine!). There's a lot to love about her. And of course, there's a lot to love and admire in the cleverness of the wizards duel, one of my brother Randy's and my favorite parts. Watching this clip today I noticed that my skating buddy Joe bears a very strong resemblance to Merlin. Perhaps that's one of the many reasons I like him so well. Next time we do an ice show together I think I'll suggest the part to him. He stole the show as Ebeneezer Scrooge, The Grinch, and The Scarecrow- but he had to be cajoled into every single one.

On to a favorite dance clip from a movie I saw because of you, John. This is Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in one of the most famous scenes from The Bandwagon:

 
The musical arrangement is luscious; the line of the dance positions some of the most beautiful, in my opinion, ever; Miss Charisse is so incredibly elegant and graceful, Fred so debonair... ahh to dance the way she does with him. Her skirt also fulfills the critical requirement of my childhood dress test: it floats up and straight out as she spins.
 
Now to a recent favorite things addition: Last night I attended a concert given by one of the most amazing pianists ever- Alpin Hong. Anybody who has the opportunity to attend one of his concerts should jump on it- especially if you think you aren't into classical music. My sister's fiance and I dragged my sister, who had been protesting and making faces at me about it for two weeks, to see him last night and she LOVED it. I have never heard Clair de Lune played so exquisitely. That's a piece I get tired of hearing normally, because it gets used so often, usually to wring emotion out of you in tv shows and movies. Not this time. 
 
Alpin is not a music snob and his ability to turn the Jeopardy theme and the theme from Gilligan's Island into "high-brow classical" music had us roaring. There was so much to like about the evening: the wide range of music including themes from Star Wars (the music that got me into classical music in the first place) and a piece written solely for the left hand for a pianist who had lost his right arm during WWI; great stories, the clues for really listening to the music that Alpin gave through his words and his body language throughout the evening. Alpin is one of the most skilled communicators I have ever met. In short, it was an absolute delight, my sister said her three least favorite words to her fiance and me, "You were right," during intermission and was determined to get his autograph after the concert, and I received a lot of clarity with where I want to go on the piano.
 
Finally, I'll leave you both with a favorite quote from one of the books I've been reading lately. It comes from William Deresiewicz's A Jane Austen Education, which has helped me appreciate Jane Austen's books in new and deeper ways. Talking about the importance of the everyday in regards to Emma, Mr. Deresiewicz writes (pg. 27): "She (Jane Austen) did not think that her existence was quiet or trivial or boring; she thought it was delightful and enthralling, and she wanted us to see that our own are, too. She understood that what fills our days should fill our hearts, and what fills our hearts should fill our novels." (underlining mine)
 
There- several personal pieces of bliss for you until next time.
 
Cheers!
 
Melanie