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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People move in mysterious ways

I re-read Barbara Kingsolver’s 2012 book, Flight Behavior, not too long ago.  Writing about the problems of global warming and environmental degradation in what seemed a heavy-handed way just a few years go, her book now, in light of the hurricanes, floods and fires of 2017, is another clear call to change human behavior. Kingsolver also writes, somewhat more subtly, about the age-old problems of rich versus poor, educated versus uneducated, social intelligence versus academic smarts, rural versus urban. I haven’t noticed those problems going away either.

It was near the novel’s end that Kingsolver said something I have never thought about before. Her main character in Flight Behavior, the fancifully named Dellarobia, has wondered all her life why the answer to her life’s greatest difficulties has always been that “God moves in mysterious ways.”  She realizes with some astonishment that God doesn’t move.  It’s God’s people who are moving. In Kingsolver’s book, and in reality, many would argue, some people are heedlessly moving to destroy the planet, and others moving to save it.

…everything else is in motion while God does not move at all.  God sits still, perfectly at rest, the silver dollar at the bottom of the well, the question. (p. 350)

God’s wisdom is unmoving, but sometimes people need to move around that wisdom a second (or third or fourth…) time to unlock its meaning.  I had that very experience with a hymn sung at St. John’s a few Sundays ago, Come, labor on (The Hymnal 1982, #541).  It’s a favorite of mine and, though I have played and sung it countless times, new wisdom jumped out at me in the phrase No arm so weak, but may do service here (Hymn 541, verse 3).  I had never focused on those particular words before, but I appreciate the belief that all can serve God, no matter how unimportant they might consider their service. The words had always been there, but I had moved around them enough times to finally hear that kernel of wisdom.

A question we might be tempted to ask, in despair after the mass shooting in Las Vegas this week, is one which a scientist named Ovid in Kingsolver’s book also wonders: “What was the use of saving a world that has no soul left in it?” Environmental degradation, gun violence, refugees from war and famine.  Where is God in any of this? There are times to be still in God’s presence and simply listen, and there are times to move, and it is in those times we might remind ourselves that God has no hands on earth but ours. As choirs have sung: Christ has no body now but yours. No soul on earth but ours.

People do indeed move in mysterious ways, from profoundly loving to cruelly indifferent to simply evil. If we are able to see God’s wisdom as a complete and central foundation for our lives we might try to move around that wisdom, uncovering bits of it, finding those truths that have been patiently awaiting our discovery and collective remembering. It is wisdom which will move us closer to love in all its forms, from quiet to outraged.

Peace,
Sonya

Endings

Endings of any kind are by definition beginnings of something else.  We know that from every commencement speech we’ve ever heard, don’t we!  Last week I finished my musings on the 32 parts of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.  In a couple of weeks I end a self-described sabbatical by beginning work as the Interim Minister of Music at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Norwood Parish in Bethesda, Maryland.  And these next few weeks bring us toward the end of my favorite season, summer.  Yes, in all its humid glory, August is my favorite month, in part because there are little signs of change in the sounds and light of late August that I love.  Changes that signal an ending.  The kind of ending which promises a beginning.

I’m going to take a brief hiatus from writing Notes for a New Day. I’ll return in mid-September, when I will connect this blog with my work at St. John’s. Meanwhile, should August still hold some promise of quiet for you, seize the opportunity to read a book that you won’t have time for later.  Here are some I’ve read this summer, and I happily recommend any of them to you:

A Gentlemen from Moscow by Amor Towles – An utter delight to read, with elements of mystery and history woven around the story of a man who transforms his life in surprising ways as he finds purpose.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – Because I loved the first book so much, I found his other published novel.  A lesser work, but still beautifully written.

Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa – The great conductor’s genius, joy, and curiosity shine through in every exchange he has with author Haruki Murakami.

Resistance by Owen Sheers – However overused, lyrical is the only word I can come up with to describe this beautiful novel, set in Wales.  It moves very slowly at first, but as you get to the middle you realize why. You have been drawn into the very soil of the Welsh mountains, away from what others might call the “real world,” and are as much a part of the landscape as the characters.

Chesapeake by James Michener – A book can only sit on your bookshelf for so long, staring reprovingly at you, and this became the summer it demanded to be read.  It’s huge in every sense of the word, but the book that I thought was about a beautiful aspect of Maryland is actually about racism and the lingering effects of slavery on American society, and I happened to finish it the day of violent confrontation around those same topics in Charlottesville.

And a few books will travel with me for some serious porch sitting in western New York this week:

The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton – They had me with the book jacket description of a family’s “sprawling apple orchard.”  I have a particular fascination with apples and how they’re grown.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – Well, because I just need to read everything by this author.

Happy endings.  We’ll begin something new in September.

Peace,
Sonya