Death and Taxes and Procrastination

A podcast I listened to recently considered the ways that procrastination benefited creative thought.  I might have called it “marinating” instead, but the process is the same.  Flickering ideas come and go, never quite landing, but somehow manage to grow in scope during these periods of procrastination.

As I said, procrastination works well for creative problem-solving.  Not a good idea for your taxes, unless you plan to get creative with those, and impossible with death of course. One of the things I had procrastinated on was writing a post about planning your funeral. Following the death of my well-loved 95 year old father-in-law, that seemed like a great idea, but it never jelled. You should go ahead and plan it anyway though!

I’ve enjoyed the discipline of writing for a blog (nearly) every week for the past 12 years,  but am feeling a need to step away for a while. Not from writing, just from this format.  People in different parts of my life keep telling me to write a book, and while a book might not emerge, I have most definitely procrastinated taking this idea seriously and am hereby committing to write with more intention, if perhaps less purpose. The other night I awoke from a dream that was telling me something important, and for the first time I took the leap of writing down an idea that was percolating up from deep within during the middle of the night. My beautiful blue suede-covered journal stays nearer to me these days, and what looks like nonsense on the page at the moment just might be transfigured.

We’ll see what comes of it, but I’m giving myself six months to explore things that might have been marinating for years now.

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Here are some of the things that have been feeding my imagination these days:

Upcoming concerts:

  • Sunday, March 1 at 2:30 – a program with Furia Flamenco.  Very fun!
  • Saturday, March 7 at 7:00 – a house concert with Karin Kelleher playing sonatas for piano and violin by Grieg and Beethoven, raising money for Manna Food Bank.  Contact me if you are interested in attending. (and another one on April 18)
  • Tuesday, March 24 at 12:10 – bassoonist Cindy Gady and I are putting together a program of meditative music to accompany walking the labyrinth at Church of the Epiphany. Read more.
  • Not a concert, but a chance to make music with a wonderful group of singers in residence at St. David’s Cathedral in Wales during August

And books…so many great books are part of my life.  At the moment I have three books in rotation:  a second reading of The Overstory by Richard Powers, listening to On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, and then this week I had to add Philip Kennicott’s new memoir, Counterpoint, after hearing him speak about it. His book explores family, playing the piano, Bach and The Goldberg Variations. Except for the abusive mother part, it’s the book I would have so wished I could write.

There is much that is ugly about our world right now, and while that has probably always been true, the ugliness seems more pervasive, more oppressive than I can remember. What Vuong manages to do in his extended letter to his mother – which reads more as a poem – is to see beauty in between and around all the pain he experiences.  I don’t know if being able to describe the sordid, heartbreaking parts of life with such glorious waves of prose worthy of someone named Ocean works to deny what should be harrowing to read, but the books and music and people I turn to again and again are not an escape into beauty, but rather have clarifying and redemptive powers for me as I wade through all those thoughts that I’ve procrastinated writing about.  After I get our taxes done, and before I die.

Check in with me in six months and we’ll see if creativity does indeed emerge from procrastination.  Until then, peace, my friends.

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Summer Reading

Somehow, being able to wade into a book and stay there has become a benchmark of mental health for me in recent years. Happy to report then that I must be doing great, because this was a really good summer for reading.  Besides some rather serious non-fiction books about health care in America…sigh, those were depressing… here are a few that I’m happy to recommend for your own very late summer – ok, autumnal – reading.

Children of Men by P.D. James – I picked this out of a bag of books my mother was giving away when she downsized earlier this year, and grabbed it up for a trip my husband and I took in June. It was lightweight and fit into my carry-on bag, the only criteria that mattered in the moment. I had no idea what it was about, but soon learned that, like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, this story too is disturbingly possible. If you saw the movie, you did not experience the nuances and gradual unfolding of James’ story. I couldn’t wait to see the film after reading the book, but I soon learned that the book and movie have almost nothing in common. Honestly, I haven’t disliked a movie so much in a long time. Books don’t always triumph over film adaptations…well, actually I think they probably do.

Bettyville: A Memoir by George Hodgman and The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83¼ Years Old by an unknown author: These two books were enthusiastically recommended by friends, neither of whom was really thinking about the fact that they would hit very close to home for me. As my mother journeys into dementia, and I learn to be the daughter she needs me to be, these are both books that gave me insights and a few laughs and reminded me that I am not alone in all of the watching, worrying, and loving that I’ve done these past few years as I travel alongside her into a future that frightens us.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: One of the most popular books this summer, thanks to Reese Witherspoon, who picked up where Oprah left off. I don’t often enough connect with the rest of popular culture, and this was my chance to do so. The author, well known already for writing about her conservation work in Africa, wanted to explore human nature by writing about nature, and she exposes the dark sides of both. And I used to so love fireflies…

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: This one was given to me by my son, and I was immediately drawn into the story, even though so very little actually happens.  He asked me recently if I had finished it and I admitted that I didn’t completely understand the author’s intent, and wished for a different ending.  He responded by text: “yeah, I know what you mean, but I think it’s about dehumanization of the other in general, and how easily we can see others based on some criteria as less than human, but also it’s about what it means to be human etc… But yeah, so tragic a story in general.” Getting that text alone made reading the book worthwhile.

All of these books are in one way or another about marginalizing “the other,” but as I think about it, isn’t much great art an attempt to explore that theme?

There’s one more, and it’s the truth that gets marginalized in this one: Fake, by my friend John DeDakis, is the fifth in his series of mysteries. The reader is given an insider’s glimpse into the world of journalism, politics, and the all too real experience of being unable to detect the truth amid the posturing and agendas of those we allow to be in positions of power.

Have you seen some of the studies about the the effect that reading fiction has on our brains? Science tells us that it helps us develop greater empathy and emotional intelligence.  Read more. So, no more guilt about escaping the stress of your day with a good book.

Happy reading!

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