Grace Notes and Trills

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Louis Comfort Tiffany, ornate glass mosaic fountain Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Give me Shaker, not Chippendale.

Having been raised in a home decorated in Danish Modern, I have always gravitated toward clean lines: painted walls in neutral colors, spare furniture, clean uniform planes.

Possibly fueled by being dwarfed and overwhelmed when my parents ventured out into gothic cathedrals and baroque galleries, I developed a bit of an aversion to the ornate.

I was unsettled by the unnecessary: the curls and flourishes and gilding, the scale and echoing separations within these man-made spaces, the sheer expense involved in generating such tangible adornments.  I don’t like the cold heaviness of rich materials like marble and onyx and iron.

Ornate gate, Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts

This has never been so with that which cannot be purchased, a realm in which I adore the trills and grace notes.

Wildly impractical petals and leaves quiver like the flibbers my brother and I would cut from rolled-up Boston Globe newspapers when we were little.

A chorus of cartoonishly plump coral and violet  clouds announces an ordinary daybreak.

Overwrought plumage and intricate songs entice birds’ mates.

On the band field at dusk, my young daughter’s carefully varied breaths add trumpet notes that resonate and dance in the air so I can hear them still.

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Waves of Inspiration

I am besotted by waves.

Waves of color at sunrise and sunset, undulating curves imprinted upon salt marsh grasses by since-stilled winds.  Rainbow glass swirled into peaks and valleys.  Frozen waves of sun-gilded snow. Sky art formed by colorful canvas spun by wind into billowing swells.

After a winter that wasn’t after all without end, a first wave of flowers came in crocus form: dazzling white, lavender, and bright yellow.  Almost as quickly as they sprouted they were gone, replaced by a blitz of daffodils, followed by swaths of lipstick sunset tulips.

Suddenly it is August, and every few days it seems a new platoon of flora cycles through. Delightfully descriptive “curly fries” Hosta plants wave in a light wind.  Today is a riot of pastel hydrangea and sturdy day lilies, their gracefully ruffled petals edged in a sea-foam of sunlight and shadow.

I don’t know what it is about waves.

A wave tickled my heel as I faltered in reading a poem about a turtle to my children a year after their father died.  The next year, just after a seashell of his ashes wafted into the ocean in Dublin, a gentle wave deposited at my bare toes a patch of seaweed in his trademark green, framed around a distinct heart-shaped space.

Perhaps inspiration comes from waves’ movement and light and soothing rhythm, like a heartbeat or a summer bird’s song.

“This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon.”  Wrote Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  His seafarers yearned for waves to bring them home again.

Maybe it is not only the waves themselves which call me, but the hope of what they might one day return.


Light, Hope and Moth Wings


It’s an understatement to say November 10th was a terrible day.

It’s the date Jim was handed a radiologist’s report and read the words “metastatic disease.” And then the devastated two of us headed out of a Boston hospital into a cold, black early night.  If any color seeped from that night’s sunset, I didn’t see it.

No light.  No hope.

If that day had not come as it did, engendering all the days in between, then this year I would not have found myself celebrating the November 10th birthday of a little girl who hadn’t yet been born on that deeply dark day.

I met her mom only because the universe’s butterfly wing machinations somehow had deposited the two of us on the same stage last spring to tell our stories about “Coming Home.”  Her story was about bringing her newborn daughter home from the hospital. Mine was about bringing my husband home to die, four endless short months after that November 10th.

And after watching her daughter blow out the candles on her Elmo cake–flickering lights laced with wishes, the very definition of hope–I headed back to a new home Jim never saw, complete with a puppy he never knew.

Within sight of the same Boston hospital where my young husband received the news he certainly would soon die, I caught a glimpse of old and new perfectly lit by a stunning sky.  The sunset lingered, turning to bright orange and purple.  Violet light burst from the base of my favorite bridge. Its cables fanned out against the lipstick sunset, echoing Old Ironsides’ gorgeously complicated rigging.

Even on this day, it’s impossible not to feel buoyed by such a sight.

Oh, and my lovely little friend, born November 10, is Lucia Esperanza.

Light and hope.

Any Art at All

Detail, oil painting by Emma Glennon (c)2009

I had an especially peculiar seventh grade Social Studies class.   On many occasions, my (single) teacher would wander off with another section’s (married) teacher in objectively suspicious circumstances (involving exaggerated body language and eye contact)–even to eleven and twelve year-olds.

The two of them would leave all of us behind in the classroom with a bizarre assortment of unconnected tasks to occupy our time: mimeographed sheets to be filled in, based on appalling films of igloo-building and seal-skinning; completely unrelated mapping exercises; and the infamous group projects.

One of these was to assemble in gangs of six and decide whether, with a nuclear holocaust coming and only a few safe slots to fill, our group could agree on whose survival was most important.

We were given nuance-bereft categories from which to sort the dispensable from the valuable and allocate our golden tickets.  Doctor?  Lawyer?  Scientist?  Teacher? Chef? Philosopher? Musician? Historian?  Writer? Artist? Dancer?  (It was assumed that no one multi-tasked or possessed more than one skill, although perhaps whoever designed this exercise didn’t even give it that much thought.)

Even then, I animatedly argued.  Because I could.

I began with what I considered (and still consider) the obvious choices.  Then I very deliberately persuaded my group members to discard them, one by one, and trade out the wisely chosen for what I considered increasingly dumb–approaching asinine–picks.

I couldn’t believe they were going along with this.  Seriously, people, you’re letting me talk you into trading the only trained physician left on Earth for an artist who could well be on the verge of madness from licking lead paint-tipped brushes into tiny points?  

Showing glimmers of a prosecutor-to-be, I probably could have persuaded my group to give up the doctor for a circus clown.

Of course I thought Plan A would be to preserve a vast body of useful, concrete knowledge and logic.  (Personally, a mathematician would have been one of my first-draft picks if available.)

As much as I regretted tossing the hypothetical artists and musicians and writers overboard (some of my family and best friends fall into one or more of those categories), I would have done it in a heartbeat because I viewed their skills as so personal, so non-transferrable, so other-worldly–so unessential to societal survival itself, our given goal.

And, to be fair, I was a kid. Continue reading “Any Art at All”

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