Art and Knowing · Trust Issues · Uncategorized

Improvising On Three Strings

The story that Itzhak Perlman played a concert on a violin with only three strings  appeared years ago. A string snapped and he finished the piece, “modulating and recomposing” in his head.  Afterwards, Perlman was said to have offered this insight: “It’s the artist’s task to see what music you can still make with what you have left.”*    violin

I think we find ourselves at times improvising with “what we have left.” We may have based a task or goal on certain emotional, mental or spiritual habits. They change. We find ourselves with only “three strings.” So how do we improvise with “what we have left” to stay focused on our goals?

I’m finding out. I have to admit a lot of bravado in my approach to water sports.  I would boast to friends that if I ever capsized sailing, I would eventually drift to shore and get poison ivy. Kayaking? Who capsizes doing that?

Once I launched my sailboat when the wind was too strong, convinced I could handle it. The feeling of being on the edge of capsizing was terrifying. I made it, but that feeling hasn’t left me. Then I capsized my kayak, twice in deep water. Both times I scrambled to safety, but I remember panic as I fell into the river.

Kayaks at Riverside Park, Greenville, PA.
Kayaks at Riverside Park, Greenville, PA.

I’ve overcome those feelings to kayak regularly, but getting out my sailboat has been harder. I can’t blame the lousy weather totally…I have to admit my bravado is gone. Other life events have increased my feelings of vulnerability.

I’ll sail again, but I’ll have to improvise on three strings.

So, Lora, what ‘cha got left?

 

 

 

* There may be issues with this story. See Snopes.com for their research.

Poetry and Art · Power Of Symbols · Uncategorized

Old Apple Trees: Vigor In Old Age

Apple tree in bloom
Apple tree in bloom

A couple years ago I watched the growth of an old apple tree in my backyard with increasing concern. A large branch was threatening my neighbor’s home and the trunk was rotting. A tree guy sized up the job. We stood underneath and he looked it over, visualizing how much work would be involved and running up a price in his head.  (You don’t want to know.)

I loved that old tree. Years before when it was in much better condition my contractor had tried to talk me into cutting it down. I wrote about our conversation. A poem:

They Stood In Its Shadow

and he pointed.  “See, it’s growin’ wild.

Just cut it down. Gonna hit your ‘lectric line.

You don’t want to keep trampin’

on all those apples all summer.”

 She looked up at the spreading limbs,

at the wooden swing swaying in the wind,

remembered the soft thump of falling fruit,

the brown squish under her feet,

sharing the lawn with hovering yellow jackets.

She heard seeds dropping pink pink on the cutting board,

felt the knife, the warm flesh in her hand,

smelled cooking apples and cinnamon.

Maybe someday she’d be old, gnarled, in somebody’s way.

“No, I think I’ll live with it for a while.”

           Most years there were apples. Lots and lots. I stepped over and around the rotting fruit and omnipresent yellow jackets when I mowed and never got stung. I made lots of applesauce.

But now its issues couldn’t be ignored. The tree guy saw my hesitation and talked sense.

“Trees are like people,” he said kindly. “They grow old and their time comes.”

I gave the OK to cut ‘er down.

I hope I grow old with the strength and vigor of that old tree, that despite its issues, produced apples until the day it came down.

 

 

 

“They Stood In Its Shadow” appeared in Totem 2007, Gannon University Press

Spiritual Places · Trust Issues · Uncategorized

Rescue The Perishing

I checked my dignity at the beach before taking an advanced kayaking class offered by Pymatuning State Park. The challenge was to learn how to rescue someone (yourself or others) after capsizing in deep water.

A very wet paddling rat after a tiring night in the water.
A very wet paddling rat after a tiring night in the water.

There are several techniques, and to dump into the water, then hoist yourself onto a light, narrow boat is a feat, especially for us 50 somethings. Even with someone holding your kayak (from their kayak), even with a hand up. You slide onto the boat facing the stern, then turn, stuffing your limbs into the cockpit, and oh, by the way, maintaining balance while you’re at it. (Where did my paddle go?)

You couldn’t worry about how you looked. Our movements were awkward and decidedly ungraceful.

I tried different techniques: a “T” rescue, using a paddle float, and a strap. I accomplished two of the three, with leg cramps and lack of upper body strength prohibiting success in the other. The next day I was feelin’ it, limping around the house nursing bumps and bruises and stretched muscles. And that’s after six years of paddling.

What I learned mostly was what it feels like to be in that situation. How hard it is to rescue. To trust my life jacket to do its job so I could focus on other tasks.  But maybe the most important of all: what to expect from myself if the worst happens.

We can find grace in awkward situations, when we’re caught in a hard place. It’s not always pretty. But who ever said grace is?

Uncategorized

Black Raspberries and the Beauty of Life

How do you determine visual beauty? Is it purely subjective, a matter of taste? Is it based on color, or shape, or texture?

Some recent research suggests that one way we recognize and appreciate beauty is when an object has symmetry. An example is a person’s face when eyes are level and equidistant from the nose. We seem to have a natural tendency to prefer symmetry in our surroundings, such as when we place a centerpiece on our dining room table. (Even the name “center”piece assumes the center!)  Of course, some of us need to clear our table to make room for decoration of any kind.

A couple years ago I had apple trees in my backyard cut down. A kind friend chainsawed the logs but I’ve done little with it since except burn some of the smaller pieces in my fireplace. I’ve let those two areas of my yard “go,” and weeds, thistles, and much to my delight, a fresh crop of black raspberries have appeared around the woodpiles.

Blackberries in my backyard, July 2014
Black raspberries in my backyard, July 2014

Black raspberries are quite beautiful, symmetrical and deeply colored. They are hardy and easy to pick.  My favorite summer “wild” fruit, red raspberries, are delicate and fall apart quickly, leaving their red stain. But these black raspberries are delightful.  The birds have noticed too, but they seem not to have taken their fair share yet.

Sometimes my life seems like the black raspberry (symmetrical and hardy), other times like the red raspberry (delicate and falling apart!) But both fruits add beauty, the black raspberry amid the weeds and forgotten wood.

 

 

Uncategorized

The “Art” of Tree Cutting

It takes a chainsaw to show us that many tasks not considered “artistic” take imagination.

The sound of a chainsaw drew my attention to a very old, very tall maple in a yard two neighbors away. There was a loud crack and a large branch hanging by an orange strap was lowered to the ground.  A while later a whump and a shaking signaled a piece of trunk hitting the ground.  High up the cutting guy was hidden by the remaining leafy branches. I saw another chainsaw dangling from a second orange strap.

Perhaps cutting trees isn’t considered “artistic,” but the workers used their imaginations just the same.  They had to picture, or think visually, how they were going to do the job. A certain cut there would hopefully cause the branch to drop here, while a strategically placed strap directed the falling branch to miss the nearby homes and yards, wooden fence, and tiny shed, all within a spittin’ distance or two of their job.

By Hustvedt (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Hustvedt (Own work)(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The tree guys on the ground yelled a lot, but without alarm. They were quite cheery, going about their dangerous craft with confidence, skill, and yes, imagination.

I believe God’s gift of imagination is for all, not just those who have gifts for imagining in the traditional artistic realm. Some use their imaginations to write, paint, or dance, others use them to build motorcycles, plant gardens, or cut down old trees.

I would like to see us acknowledge “imagination” even in pursuits not considered “artistic.” I don’t think that lessens the gifts of artists at all. In fact, we all might become a little more appreciative of imagination wherever we find it, whether in the symphony or in the trees.

Power Of Symbols · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

Ode To Moonflowers and Returning

My evening primrose, or moonflowers, open around 8:30 – 9:00 every night all summer. In the morning they are wilted; the early sun is too much.

I got my moonflowers from my friend “Sprig,” who took me  under her wing when I was growing up. I had a great life with my four sibs in a central Pennsylvania Mayberry RFD. But even the best lives need someone to talk to and I talked to Sprig. She lived on my small town’s main drag and lived to garden, she and her two sisters, Old Maids, three. (“Old Maid” is a pejorative now, but back then it was a term of endearment, and I use it with respect and affection. They are all now with the Lord.)

Sprig raised moonflowers and we’d watch them bloom. The buds swelled and as twilight approached, started to shake and open, right before your eyes.

Evening Primrose at Birkdale, UK. Photo by Gary Rogers
Evening Primrose at Birkdale, UK. Photo by Gary Rogers

Moonflowers are very hardy, but this past winter was the most brutal in 20 years. When spring finally got her courage up I looked for my moonflowers. Only one had made it.

“They froze out,” I told my mother, who also has some from Sprig.

“I’ll give you some,” she said. I was relieved.

But tonight, as I cleared away grass and weeds from the moonflowers’ place, I found them. Tiny and nondescript, I almost pulled them out by mistake. I wiped the tears away. “Sprig, they’re back,” I told the sky. “They came back.”

I’ve experienced some pretty harsh spiritual and emotional winters. I wasn’t sure I’d make it. (You know that feeling.)

“And Sprig,” I said, “You’d be pleased to know I’m back too.”

Uncategorized

“Slow, No Wake”

When we say that someone is a deep person, we mean they have…permanent convictions…a web of unconditional loves…(and) permanent commitments to transcendent projects… David Brooks, “The Deepest Self” New York Times, March 14, 2014.

For its size, Conneaut Lake can be quite deep, up to about 80 feet in some areas. The depth supports lots of activity. It stays frozen longer than other lakes and attracts many ice fishermen. Summertime boaters enjoy the unlimited horsepower, and many areas on the lakeshore must be marked by buoys: “Slow, No Wake.” (As a kayaker, I make sure I stay tucked inside those areas for protection.)

Getting Ready For Summer At Conneaut Lake, PA
Getting Ready For Summer At Conneaut Lake, PA

I’d like to think that depth Brooks is talking about supports lots of activity in life, too. Too often we equate “depth” with slow pace and quietness.  But “depth” could also demand much activity, because a “deep person” has commitments to transcendent projects, work that is “bigger” than they are.  Those tasks probably also require down time for thought, but we can’t measure the depth of a person by how introspective they are.  The task is worthy of their devotion and attention, and may keep them very active. Their connection to transcendence keeps them focused, no matter what the work demands.

Being creative connects me with transcendence. But let’s call it–Him, what it–He, is. Creativity connects me with God. Not only creativity through artistic expression, but a creative approach to life. I need to broaden my imagination to encompass the breadth–and depth–of that kind of life.

 

 

Art and Knowing · Power Of Symbols · Uncategorized

“Enough To Gag A Maggot”

A long dead maggot was still on the fish hook. I removed it from the faux maggot lure I had just pulled from a low tree branch. Each time I kayak along the Pymatuning Lake shoreline I usually find one or two lures to add to my collection.

Some lures found at Pymatuning Lake, including the maggot lure.
Some lures (etc) found at Pymatuning Lake, including the maggot lure.

But the real maggot was an added surprise.

Thankfully, I don’t see many maggots, dead or alive, but this one reminded me of when I saw a bunch of live ones. During my college days I lived in a third floor walkup with no a/c. Once I let food sit in the garbage. It was July. ‘Nuff said.

Last night was an unseasonably cool May evening. As I squeezed the maggot off the hook I also remembered an old boyfriend from that hot summer… ’Nuff said. (My kids read this.)

I’ve always loved the expression my dad would say: “That’s enough to gag a maggot.” So visual. So sensory. So, so, gross as my middle school students exclaim. You could almost admire the beauty of maggots—those little creamy white (and textured!) fat bodies wriggling!—if they weren’t so, so disgusting.

After all, we know what maggots do, what they turn into. But how necessary they are. Because creation is subject to decay, we need creatures—where I live, crows and turkey vultures and maggots—to move the process along. Some may call this “the circle of life.” I see creation groaning, waiting for redemption, and God crafting specific creatures to see us through the decay until redemption comes.

Until then, some things in life will be “Enough To Gag A Maggot.”
(Thanks, Dad!)

Feeling God's Pleasure · Pleasure of Creating · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

The Root Of Creativity

“When we say that someone is a deep person, we mean they have achieved a quiet, dependable mind by being rooted in something spiritual and permanent.” (David Brooks, “The Deepest Self,” The New York Times, March 14, 2014.)

Practicing creativity through doing your art or other kinds of creative acts is one way of rooting yourself in that spiritual, permanent place Brooks describes. But sometimes, we catch ourselves not quite achieving that “quiet, dependable mind.”  We still feel unsettled, not “rooted.”

An accomplished artist once recognized a missing element as she went about doing her creative work.  “I’m missing something valuable that would guide me deeper into creativity.” Though she doesn’t profess a specific faith, she prays and believes God answers. But she wants to know what that “something” is and how to get it.

Part of the Sistine Chapel, Michelango
Part of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo

I think Christians are similar to this artist, in that we want more from creativity but we don’t know what “it” is or how to get “it.” We engage in creative pursuits and intuitively sense there’s something “missing.” We want to know God more deeply, but don’t know how creativity will move us toward that goal. We keep our creative lives separate from our spiritual lives.

Once an editor of a Christian publishing house asked me, “Why is it that nonChristian artists describe creating art as a spiritual experience and Christians don’t?”

What if our longing to be creative and doing it is seeking the kingdom of God? That desire may just be God inside of us wanting expression, from His “spiritual and permanent” place in our hearts.  I need to honor Him by allowing Him to work.

Art and Knowing · Pleasure of Creating · Uncategorized

How To Untie A Knot

Knots on a sail boat
Knots on a sail boat

“Better to know a knot and not need it, than need a knot and not know it” is the enthusiastic motto of Animated Knots by Grog (TM). Knots have hundreds of creative names and a quick online check shows an International Guild of Knot Tyers, even knot historians. Who knew?

Knots can be part of an art work because they can be crafted into aesthetically appealing lines and shapes. If you work in fabric or wool you know how knots add beauty and texture to your work. Even knots for fly tying are not just functional, but quite beautiful.

As kids we learned the hard lessons of the granny knot. Other knots are elegant as they come undone, like the grief knot. There’s even an art to it: “It unravels elegantly: as tension is applied, the ropes rotate like little cogs, each one twisting to feed the rope through the knot.” (Wikipedia)

I don’t know about you, but when knots in my life have unraveled, it hasn’t been elegant or pretty. Not much “art” in evidence in that coming apart.

fishing knot

Other knots have had years of wind, weather and tension hardening them into shape, much like the knot on my sailboat’s main sheet (line.) When it finally gives, it won’t unravel, it will snap, and I’ll capsize. (Why I keep checking it.)  Better to undo it and let the wind and weather relax it into a new shape. Better to catch it before.

Can I find elegance in the unraveling?  Can I find the humility to undo the knot?

I am in need of grace. God.