spiralflames: (spiral)

self portrait...lonely bench, originally uploaded by spiralflmz.

i'm mostly keeping this for the "review"..my friend ivan had the following to say about this self-portrait:

"I just now stared closely, quietly, unblinking, at your new profile photo. Its magnitude is easy to overlook! It is loaded. It is loaded with "meaning", direct, abstract, metaphoric. It's beautiful, it's profound, it's sad, it's proud and ultimately, triumphant. Nan, your eye, what it sees, what it communicates, w...hat it shows us and what it tells us, is a story, what it gives us, is an experience, an experience that gives us a glimpse into your life in a way that words cannot! It is as complete a self-portrait as I've ever seen!"

i'm pretty amazed- not only by the gracious words, but by the effusiveness of this man who doesn't usually say much. to me, it just goes to show that just like in music, it's what the observer brings to the experience that turns it into a rich, complete experience. i've finally gotten the answer for the "if a tree falls in the forest w/nobody around, does it make a sound?" question. A: sure, but an incomplete one.

i'm so honored by this friendship.

spiralflames: (Default)
Once upon a time, on the jagged North Shore of Lake Superior,
one family made a summer home. They built one large
house with two bedrooms, a picnic house jutting out over
the cliff, a guest house, and a caretaker's house. These houses
were made from wood and stone, but their souls were made of magic.

The four buildings stand on a promontory between two pebble
beaches. When a storm comes, the force of the waves scours them
down to bedrock, drags them out to sea, and then hurls the rocks back into the cliffs.
this has happened for thousands of years before houses were ever dreamt of, and
each nor'easter has sculpted the cliffs anew like the hand of God creating Eden.
Even in the house, the floor vibrates slightly with each wave.

Turning off the main highway, an uninitiated traveler might think the path
could plunge directly into the Lake. Only trees are visible- the houses
nestle at discrete distances behind the protecting pines. Lake House, the
largest of the homes, is a comfortable frame structure. Thirty feet of
windows overlook the Lake. An immense stone fireplace made from round stones
as large as loaves of bread guards the great room. The ceilings are
beamed and low. Windows are everywhere, and every wall not supporting a
window has large, circular mirrors built into it. Every angled view
shows Lake or Tree.

Now, generations after the original owners' vision, it is named "Halcyon Harbor."
anyone with courage and a credit card can stay for as long as want.

The magic of Halcyon lies in its talent for distilling the truest
personality of every resident. Over the years, I brought almost
everyone important to me to my Lake House, and knew that each person
who entered would be a slightly different one by the time he left.
Some of these visits were warm, nurturing, dear. Sometime they terrified-
a few were profoundly sad. Always, even in the most casual of moments,
they were honest.

five of us first came there as a "piano family:" our college teacher and four
ex-students. nervous about traveling together and giggling about
morning hair, pajamas, (or lacks thereof), it was the first time any of us
would spend extended social time with PF. we whispered about calling
him by his given name rather than academic title; we wondered if we'd be
uncomfortable in the absence of a scheduled, more formal event.
we joked about him showing up, taking one look around, getting twitchy,
saying "Too quiet!" and speeding back to civilization in his aging Peugeot.
over the next years, we five visited Halcyon many times.

Once, on the last morning we were there, all of us gathered at the breakfast
table. The sunlight danced on the Lake, the air blew cleanly through the
pines and we were all reluctant to leave. We could feel the city
drawing us back to itself. Someone put an old Maggie Teyte recording on-
beautiful, melancholosexual Duparc songs. We all fell silent. The
sharing of the House and the beauty of the music suddenly gathered
all of our disparate Lives and created a single, glistening moment
poised forever like a tear at the corner of a lover's eye. After
an eternity, the singing ended.

We sat motionless as the water calmed itself. After a few minutes,
PF abruptly stood up, retreating to his room, his eyes red. He'd
been moved to tears- we weren't to acknowledge it. He returned
with his suitcase in hand, ready to leave, practical. We avoided
eye contact by watching the Lake. Nobody spoke. Standing quietly behind
me for a few second, he bent down and kissed the top of my head.
"All right now, see you back in town." he said. He
hesitated a bit more. Silence. None of us had spoken.
The door closed quietly, and we heard the Peugot starting, outside.
our time together had ended with the song.

once, when winter was at its most unforgiving, in the slow ice-time of january, we all went to Halcyon. we would plan elaborate dinners, work at crossword puzzles, drink enough to be sentimental (for that was still hard for some), listen to schubert, and be silent. When we wanted companionship, we would sit by the fire- when we wanted to be alone with our thoughts, we watched the Lake. some years, even in winter, the Lake would refuse to freeze over- its surface would lie still and adamant as my mother's expression on a crisp morning, set and grim and holding icy depths never known and, thankfully, never spoken. some nights, the fire would burn low and we'd watch the Lake in darkness, the only thing visible the occasional light from a passing sea-going vessel. frozen or not, Superior always held our secrets without comment.

yet there would be warmth with us, the five, brought together through music, the teacher and his no-longer students who were now close friends. there would be silence filled with schubert; there would be scrabble games rife with conquest and defeat that somehow gathered more significance than double-word-score, Q and Z. there would be meals carefully prepared, discrete turnings away, microscopic leanings-toward, companionable smiles, thoughts unvoiced but tacitly understood.

we were five and we were one, bound together with silken cords of schubert and faure'. there were songs of strauss, sonatas of beethoven, nocturnes of chopin, all accompanied by shots of good vodka or akvavit. we would stay up late to make the days last longer and then retire securely to separate sleeps.

one night, two were drowsing by the fire, two were staring into the dark (the Lake was out there, listening for our words.) one sat at the table, alone, a reading lamp describing a small circle on the table where an unread book had rested for hours. there might have been brahms.

"you". he said, breaking the silence. he indicated us four, together, separate, quiet, full. "you are the people i want with me when i am dying."

the Lake heard, considered, hissed, nodded. two looked away, fearful. i drew strength and word from Lake and answered for us all: "we will be there. i promise."

a million waves later, a thousand sleeps later, a handful of winters later, promise became event.

of the four of us, one left- his refusal to care was his mind's refuge.

another stayed, but her own complexities demanded most of her time, and he understood.

i stayed, but was wary- i had promised, but i was afraid it would be too sad to bear.

the last one stayed to fight his own demons, and took on his shoulders the demons of the one who was leaving.

that long-ago night, the Lake lie in wait, listening for our decision. somewhere in the background, music still played, but the sudden chill made it feel more distant.

in the Great Room, the fire, once so cheerful, once so inviting, once so easily tended, had gone out. it was time to go Home.

postscript: 6 years later, summer: one, watching the Lake alone...

and the warm breeze hummed shyly, with ever so subtle a motion, against the lake's clean surface, like the first note of a nocturne, like the first exploratory touch of an experienced lover's hand. the water's surface slowly became attuned to the motion- nothing so monumental as a tide nor so final as a wave, but a gentle, singing, undulating, sighing voicelet, moving with the wind as a field of wheat moves when touched by the breath of god. and these minute vibrations sang the the lake alive, and the lake sang the girl alive, and the wind and the water and the girl were one; and they spoke and listened to one another, and knew one another, and comforted each other, and as the lake's voice thrummed in the waning light, she remembered her friends with love, and she was no longer afraid.


Aug. 26th, 2009 11:44 pm
spiralflames: (obscure)

if i were to get caught in an anomaly in the time/space continuum tomorrow, i can say that tonight, i saw the most amazing sunset ever. i took over a hundred photos. usually i keep 6 or so..i kept 30. i couldn't give them up. many people sat on the bank of the lake and watched in silence. what an honor.
oncologist appointment this morning. having a GYN appt at 8:30 in the AM. ouch. all the way around. BUT..the good news? my CA-125 number, the number that measures ovarian cancer, is holding stabe at 4point5. that's FOUR-POINT-FIVE. "normal" is between 0-33. mine's four. take THAT, you FUCKING, scurrilous, gut-wrenching, life-stripping, heart-breaking, hero-taking disease.
next week i start practicing piano. hours for the Day Job at the Studio- only weds and thurs. my tues hours i will be doing AT HOME at my convenience, checking email, internetting and (such a hardship) updating the Studio's facebook page. i also got a handful of new students there, and the one i was worried about being a bratlet, seemed controllable and was able to focus. life is good.
friday i drive 400 miles again to bring ann to master jim at spring forest qigong. she says her one qigong session has made her feel much better. brilliant!
i love my life, despite occasional rumors to the contrary ;-D

short note

Jul. 12th, 2009 01:20 am
spiralflames: (trees)
1) remind me to tell y'all about wally's cremains.

(that'd be an excellent first sentence for a book)

2) thank Goddess for good friends.

3) fabulous day full of good food and good conv.

4) maybe under dead of night we'll steal wally's cremains.


PS the "micbael jackson ghost video" is lame.

spiralflames: (wise_words)
(fascinating...i've tried to write this twice now and somehow it's disappeared. i'm so exhausted i think i'm barely functional)
my sister patty had a little white poodle named corky. he was a profoundly empathetic little thing- he'd synchronize his breathing with yours and lean in and just rest. sometimes, when the fam gathered at patty's, corky would walk up to me, stand at my side and turn toward the crowd of people, sitting tall and almost quivering with 7-pound importance. i finally realized he was Guarding me- saying, silently, ok assholes, just TRY and come closer, Make My Day. everyone started to notice his actions and realized that there was some special bond between the little dog and me. earlier, our dad suffered a psychotic break, and corky had Guarded dad as well. we were the only two he'd ever Guarded. dad got better, and later i spent some time beating the hell out of cancer.
i am now one of a statistical miracle. i am in a group of 5 percent survival rate for my type of cancer. i have come more and more to know that i am indeed a superhero, and my job is to be a Guard as well.
i'm not all-powerful. in fact, i may not have any power whatsoever. but i will stand with you and let it be known: bastards, just TRY to get at my friend or relative. c'mon. Make My Day.
you might need an ear or a shoulder- you might need practical stuff like taking in your mail or feeding your kitty or waiting in the doctor's office or the E.R. you might need to be driven to wisconsin with Schubert on the car stereo and no words spoken. i can't take away your pain, and i can't save you from whatever might be eating your insides. but i will be there, i will answer my phone, i can be out of the house in 5 minutes to pick you up and I Will Not Quail.
Make My Day.

Fruehlingstraum, originally uploaded by spiralflmz.

spiralflames: (mandala)
tonight, i got together with a friend from school whom i hadn't seen in a few years. when i was in grad school, i taught for a number of years through a community ed program. later on, my friend had become director of that program. tonight, she said, oh, by the way, nan, when i quit Musical Offerings, i took your file from the office- i thought you might want it, it had your letters of recommendation in it.

in the file were 3 letters. one from my student betsy, one from my dear departed friend chuck, and ONE FROM MY TEACHER PF. i remember asking him for the letter. he refused to hand it to me- "if you give it to someone, you can't be honest. i'll mail it." i, of course, thought he meant, be honest NEGATIVELY. *NEVER* did i think he'd meant, be honest POSITIVELY.

i used to joke (half in earnest) that his letter of rec would be "i've known NT for twenty years, and in that time, i can honestly say she is a much less repulsive human being than she was when i first knew her."

well, i read the letter, and i started to cry. these are the words i never got from him, the support he never gave me, the respect he'd always made me think was lacking. i'm going to copy the letter (under a cut of course)..not for bragging, but to record it, to type the words, and to put in my spirit FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER THAT HE DID NOT THINK I WAS A FUCKING FAILURE.
here we go )
so there it is. written out like that in type (the original was hand-written!) it doesn't seem that big of a deal- but if i could even begin to express the utter hieroglyphic nature of our relationship- me interpreting major statements from a gesture or a few words- in fact, me learning to figure out truly important things from what he DIDN'T say...actually seeing basic, positive sentences in paper- it truly broke me.

what a night.

piano parts15, originally uploaded by spiralflmz.

spiralflames: (freedom)
when winter was its most unforgiving, in the slow ice-time of january, the five of us would go to Halcyon. there we would cook, work at crossword puzzles, drink enough to be sentimental (for that was hard for some), listen to schubert, and be quiet. at times we watched the fire- at times we watched the Lake.

some years, even in winter, Lake Superior would refuse to ice over- its surface would lie as flat and still and adamant as my mother's expression on a crisp morning, set and grim and holding icy depths never known and, thankfully, usually unspoken.

yet there would be warmth with us, the five, brought together through music, the teacher and four students, now no longer students but still caught somewhere between familyfriendcolleagues. there would be silence filled with schubert. there would be scrabble games filled with conquest and defeat that somehow became more profound than double-word-score, Q and Z. there would be meals carefully prepared, discrete turnings away, small movings-toward, companionable smiles, unspoken things finally understood.

we were five and we were one: there was schubert. there was faure'. there was elisabeth schwarzkopf and strauss, there were rachmaninoff concerti heard late at night and accompanied by shots of good vodka or akvavit. we would stay up late to make the days last longer and then retire securely to separate sleeps.

one night, two were drowsing by the fire, two were staring into the dark (we knew the Lake was out there, listening for our words.) one sat at the table, alone, a reading lamp describing a small circle on the table where a book had rested. there might have been brahms.

"you". he said. he indicated us four, together, separate, quiet, full.

"you are the people i want with me when i am dying."

the Lake considered, nodded, hissed. two looked away, acknowledging. i drew strength and word from Lake and said "we will be there. i promise."

and a million waves later, a thousand sleeps later, a handful of winters later, promise became event.

one left- he had never really listened.
one stayed, but her own life was busy, and he understood.
one stayed but was wary, knowing how it drained her when she could contribute little and it was too sad to bear.
the last one stayed to fight his own demons, and took on his shoulders the demons of the Fifth.

somewhere, the Lake waited, quiet for a moment only.

still there was brahms, but the cold made it feel more distant.

and the fire, despite all attempts to tend it, went out.

lake nokomis sunset3, originally uploaded by spiralflmz.

spiralflames: (psychology)
+chat w/ richard today, referred to someone he knew as the 'pope of condemnation'...someone sitting on high dispensing judgment and criticism.

**interesting aside- i was thinking of a few various thoughts, and i typed "creativity" rather than "condemnation."
give some thought about my own relationship between the two.

+comment that it's unfortunate that PF died before *i* was strong enough to differentiate between what was valid criticism and what was "purely bullshit." that these days, i'd not only know the difference, but but be able to tell him what i thought.

+r. saying that quite often, in his capacity as a college prof, a parent would come up to him at graduation and thank him for being so influential to their child. and he'd think "but i was just doing my job." we do persist on thinking that our teachers/mentors would care about us no matter what, just because WE care about US so much.

+living in a world where people are paid to care- teachers, doctors...spouses? friends?

food for thought.

it's been snowing all afternoon as i sit at the coffeeshop, alternating between intarwebz, writing, phone, text. hopefully i can go swimming tonite. my bod needs it.


Apr. 9th, 2008 10:35 pm
spiralflames: (random_1)
for the last few weeks, i've been unhappy. (I was going to write "vaguely" unhappy, but that'd be a lie.)

this afternoon, writing, i decided i needed to do a life-look, and do the same thing to myself that i often recommend to others: if something is bothering you, either accept it (i.e. quit bitching) or change it(also, quit bitching.)

there were 3 major areas i have been dissatisfied with- my basic social life, my music life, my life as a music student.

so here are the options.

1) social life. a) you're destined to be a hermit, live with it.
b) find some new people to hang out with.

i choose B. social life's always been difficult for me as a piano teacher- all my evenings are taken up w/ teaching, and even though i have mornings free, about the only things going on are "mommy and me" events. i am just going to have to figure it out. i'm social. i LIKE people. the important people i spent most of my time with have either coupled/disappeared, moved away, or died. need to get something happening, here.

2) music life. either do it, or quit bitching about it.

i need to get my ass back to the piano. i actually asked my friend john "why can't i motivate myself to do serious practice?" and he actually responded, "what's the point?"

well hell. what's the point of LIVING. now's the time where i should love making music the most- i'm done with school, there are no artificial deadlines. but it also means that there are no faux-caring people- nobody (profs, committees etc) is paid to give a damn. if *I* don't give a damn, i might as well truly admit music is over for me, sell my piano, and live for awhile on the profit.

and i will NOT do that. so, ass, get back to the piano. if i would have practiced HALF the time i've spent writing in paper journals that nobody will see, i'd have done a recital by now.

3) my life as a music student- includes over 20 years being with PF- my teacher/tormentor, mentor, best friend and worst enemy. he was the center of my life throughout my degree study, and we transitioned into friends, and finally, i transitioned into a caregiver at the end of his life.

options: a) reminisce for the rest of my life, only take seriously people who knew PF or.... b? FILE FOR DIVORCE.

i need to divorce myself from hating myself, hating my music, spending my life trying to work for approval i'll never get because he was projecting his own musical and personal failures on to me, his spiritual off-spring. i met him when i was 17. i should have moved on, both personally and musically, when i was 22. i didn't. now, he's dead, all the work i did (bailing him out personally when his lack of tact would destroy a student, consulting w/him over repertoire, puzzling why this person or that person's playing wasn't going where it should be, shaking our heads when someone would bail for more money or a Serious Relationship.)..the work's done. over. finished.

nobody knows him any more. i'm like someone who's been married for 25 years and is known only as part of a couple- everything i did was tied up with PF, his students, our quasi-family "group." it's DONE. file for divorce. pay yourself alimony. move on.

and? decide it's OK to meet, and take seriously, people who don't know me as a Martyr to the Cause of that gigantic force and ego.

i loved him, but he's dust, and the people who knew him are greying, gone, or also dust.

and me?

i need to start living better.
spiralflames: (the_soul)
my 7:00 student on wednesday is a little girl name sumedha. she is THREE years old. too young to be taking lessons, in my opinion. we mostly play counting games. she is exceedingly tiny and shy.

my 7:30 student is 35 and a marketing manager and sharp as a whip and funny as hell.

yesterday, the studio manager said "i couldn't believe you last week."

?? said i, a bit wary, not having the best of luck with personal comments, lately.

"you came out holding that 3 year old's hand, saying "she just had her first real piano lesson!" to the kid's parents, and then you saw your next student and in half a second you switched gears totally and were ready to relate to an adult! amazing!"

i guess that does amaze a non-teacher. we learn to have absolute, immediate amnesia in 15 seconds flat- it's on to the next, and sometimes totally different- in all respects- situation. (hmmm..i need to take this into my NON-teaching life!)

i remember waiting for lessons with PF during my college days. i would sit in the hall and quiver, hearing him SCREAMING at the person having a lesson. i'd see him through the window, face red, eyes furious, partial comb-over..well, no longer combed-over. then he'd open the door and say with absolute calm, "well, hello, how are you doing today?"

it used to amaze me.

now it doesn't. i do it even more amazingly than he did, seeing that i go from teaching an adult, a 15 yr old, a 9 year old, a 3 year old, and another adult, in the span of 3 hours.

i need to be more amazed at what i do.


Jan. 29th, 2008 10:54 am
spiralflames: (solitude)
even tho i live in minnesota, i rarely talk about the weather. it's just, the weather, you know. (i always remember PF talking about someone, saying with amazement "and she kept on talking and talking, AS IF IT WERE CONVERSATION!")

well, it's conversation.

yesterday, 44F degrees above zero. balmy.

today? -2F below, high winds and possible blizzard conditions.

tomorrow? -16F below, windchill about -44F.

spiralflames: (music)
tonight, driving home, the streets were wet from melted snow, the streetlights made long reflections of red and green, and the fog was starting to enclose the city in whiteness.

on the radio: the slow movement of the Ravel piano concerto in G.

every time i hear this piece, i need to stop whatever i am doing and be completely still until the last note dies away, swirling in that fog. there can be no motion, no conversation.

it is as close as i can get to participation in the Holy.

the first time i heard the Ravel, it was with Lorin Hollander, piano soloist, and the St Paul Chamber Orchestra, then under the baton of Dennis Russell Davies. hollander, a tall, rangy man, seemed like he was physically trying to crawl into the piano during the 2nd movement- at times his face was mere inches away from the keyboard. in another pianist's hands, it might have seemed mannered- with hollander, it seemed that he was retreating more and more into the world of the totally intimate, totally private. the audience was absolutely motionless during the movement.

in this movement, for those of you who don't know it, the piano is alone for many measures- slow, leisurely, meandering, making love, traveling. sooner or later, the orchestra enters, almost by chance, it seems. tension builds and builds until it seems that a bird's wings are straining, straining, flapping harder and harder to escape..then...suddenly....AHHHHHHH....sunlight..free flight..the bird, the soul, is unleashed....
after hollander's performance, we raced backstage. walking through long hallways, i looked into a half-open door and there he was- hollander- all alone. i entered without knocking, my 19-yr-old self fairly quivering. i clasped his hand. i said, and i will never forget it: "if i could ever be loved by another person the way you love that music, my life would complete."

he kept my hand clasped in his. "you understand." he said.

many years later, after i finished my master's degree, i found that hollander was coming to give the keynote address at a conference, and was to give a master class. i auditioned with the beethoven 32 variations,and was accepted to be one of the performers. the masterclass was wonderful- he was a cosmic spirit and i was inspired with his teaching. afterwards, my friend verna, who'd been one of the conference's organizers, invited me to go with her and hollander -for dinner, and to give him a ride to the airport. it was wonderful. the three of us talked for hours, drank freixenet and ate italian food. i felt like i'd known him for a lifetime. suddenly we realized we were almost late getting him to the airport! we drove like banshees and went with him into the terminal (pre-9/11 security). right before he started running down the jetway, he stopped for a second and planted an amazing kiss on my lips. as he ran away, he turned and waved, shouting, "GOOD BYE! GOOD BYE! WE ARE FRIENDS FOR LIFE!"

i love Ravel.
spiralflames: (spiral goddess)

here is the only remaining photo of the Cliff House, one of 5 houses that were part of Halcyon Harbor, a place where i took friends, lovers, family and everyone else who was important to me in my life.

what memories..

what ghosts..
spiralflames: (loneliness)
yesterday, i spent the day with my friend ann, a retired piano professor from a small college near here. i first met her about 15 years ago, when she was returning to the university to finish her doctorate with PF so she could get a promotion to full professor at her college.

i don't know how she ever got any practicing done- every time i'd walk by, one of us would be sitting there pouring our hearts out to this kind, motherly woman who always had a ready smile and an understanding ear for our pianistic or personal problems. she was a wonderful, accomplished pianist, and performed the liszt sonata at the final recital she gave before she retired. the performance was broad, leisurely, sprawling, painted with the broad strokes of a full life's experience, truly a walkabout through her (then) 50 years as a musician.

now ann is 70 years old.

this summer, she suffered a 'small' stroke. she said she knew when it was happening- bright lights, trouble getting her words, confusion. a later visit to a neurologist confirmed her fear.

my friend is a slightly different person now. she is still warm, loving, kind. her speech is careful and measured- she sounds like a foreign-born speaker who has to think carefully as she chooses her words. she's not as intense as she used to be, not quite as quick-silver in her responses. but she seems more content, happier just to spend time driving through the country with me, getting delightfully lost in the southern part of minnesota's rolling farm country, which we did yesterday.

she commented, "i have never been so at peace." she said she purely just couldn't remember all the things she was supposed to be worrying about.

the woman who performed the liszt sonata is now practicing bach sinfonias, and says she needs to play very slowly because her left hand doesn't track as well as her right. but she's determined to give another recital, and i believe she will.

i don't know if i should mourn the loss of my old friend, welcome the new one, or just realize that it's the same person, but somehow distilled, aged, and almost purified, like a fine wine, having simply left some of the annoying detail behind.

but i know she loves her family, her students, her friends. i know she loves me.

and i'll be in the front row for that recital, no matter what's on the program, for it will speak the same long, rich, life, perhaps heard embellished in liszt or just kept simple in in the sinfonias of bach.
spiralflames: (Default)
on sunday, i attended a poetry reading. my 83-year old mentor and retired musicology professor, bob, has published a limited edition of a volume of 14 poems entitled "among the displaced." they're recollections of being young, scared, and in england during world war 2.

bob is aged and frail, his voice is a bit weak. he was entirely at home, though, at the library's community room, among hastily-shelved books and the friends who had come to hear him.

most of us know bob as a lecturer and professor- i studied undergrad baroque history with him, and then as a grad student, took his wonderful seminars on faure' songs and the wagner _ring._

poet bob is a new being. he's read them to me over the years- i could never tell if they were so moving because the poems were wonderful, or because this aged soul, so much more at home over renaissance manuscripts and harpsichord editions, was talking about what it was to be scared, alone, sick, dirty and in a foreign country, over half a century ago.

true teachers, i'm convinced, are never truly aware of their influence on their students over the years. they are responsible for so much, appreciated by so few, and so seldom thanked for their efforts by the people who have appreciated them most.

when i was ill, bob mailed me something almost every day- once he sent me a month's worth of new york times literary supplements "just so i would have something civilized to read."

i can't even begin to count the generations- literally- of students and colleagues who have profited from knowing this kind spirit.

the afternoon brought a few tears, a few chuckles, and a new appreciation for a side of a man who should never have gone to war.

no man should ever go to war.

spiralflames: (shimmeringglobe)
today is the anniversary of my teacher's birth.

i have difficulty even beginning to write about him, because the relationship i had with this man- spanning thirty years- is without exception the most difficult, thorny, frustrating relationship i've ever had. it had moments of beauty, deep understanding, profound friendship, and love. it also had great swatches of frustration, sadness, verbal abuse, and damage.

he was a force-of-nature personality couched in forced insecurity. he was both brilliant and educated, but could revert to a deer-caught-in-the-headlights, north dakota "what? who, me?" expression quicker than lightning on a summer's day.

he was, in his youth, an elegant gay man who partied in new york with ned rorem and paul bowles, and in his older age felt great ties to his upbringing in small-town north dakota. he'd received an artist's diploma from the conservatory in basle, switzerland, and later lived with ernst von dohnanyi when dohnanyi was on faculty at florida state. when i knew him, he wore sweaters of doubtful heritage and looked more like a factory-worker than a college professor.

his music-making was absolutely sublime, as heard in CD's made from various tapes found only after his death. his insecurity caused him to perform seldom during his university career, and then almost always in the role of accompanist. hearing the solo playing in the CD's was revelatory.

his was the ultimate standard for immediacy- he said exactly what he thought, no matter what the consequence. it took me years to understand that his storms were, like an irate toddler's tantrums, quick to strike, quick to pass, and, just as quickly, forgotten.

it took me years to realize that *I* spent way much more time dissecting his every word, thought and action than HE ever did.

our Walk became much easier and much more companionable after that knowledge was gained and our formal academic relationship ended. i was also by then no longer a kid from the suburbs, but someone who'd gotten old enough to be able to evaluate when he was totally blowing off steam, being serious, or when he was actually allowing himself to be vulnerable.

i finally had a thicker shell, a less defensive nature, and was just plain older. it worked.

we shared lovely music, often sitting in his darkened living room late into the night and listening in silence, both of us occasionally moved to tears.

the non-verbal was the truest conversation. after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, we became the most comfortable.

i inherited my solid knowledge of teaching and of music from this man. i also received, from those early undergraduate days, a feeling of worthlessness that i am just now, years after his death, truly beginning to jettison.

i will love, miss, resent, be confused by, adore, wonder about, make friends with, justify myself to, STOP justifying myself to, smile with, (no longer cry because of), this man, every day for the rest of my life. his spirit is one i welcome, since both of us have mellowed and grown over the years.

a few days before his death, he told me he loved me. too moved, i said the famous avoiding-phrase: "love ya."

fortunately, the next day, i was able to correct that- i gave him a hug and said "i love you, too."

it was an honorable life, an honorable death. i hold him in my Heart.
spiralflames: (Default)
here is a moment that has wanted to speak itself for some time.

when PF was dying, i went to his house to visit almost every morning. ivan stayed there at night; i would show up mid-morning, and jim would come when i needed to go to work and stay until ivan returned in the evening. PF was becoming weaker, and it was imperative that someone was there most of the time.

one morning when i let myself in through the basement door, i was surprised to see PF sitting in the living room. he was wearing a white bathrobe, probably a christmas present that had been in his closet, unused, for years. his eyes were twinkling and he looked like he was keeping a secret. "i have a great idea!" he said, patting the cushion next to him, motioning for me to sit down. "bridget has a half-finished room in her basement, i can go there. see, there's something left in the old brain yet!"

(bridget is one of his nieces.)

"ok." i said. "do you need me to smile and agree with you, or do you REALLY want to know what i think?"

"i really want to know."

"honey..you can't do that. bridget works all day, and she has a 7 year old son to take care of. you're thinking that we'd all be able to come and visit you there, like we do here. jim and ivan and i just can't walk through her house without her permission, and you shouldn't stay alone. honey, you need to let someone bring your bed downstairs here and you need to not have to try to get up and down the stairs any more, we're all afraid you'll fall."

his eyes seemed a bit brighter, made shiny with an unwanted tear. he nodded. "all right."

he gestured toward the bookcases. "take anything you want, now." he said. "take anything you can carry. everyone needs to understand that Paul Does Not Live Here Any More."
later that evening, ivan called. "nan! thank you thank you thank you..i don't know what you said, but he let us move his bed downstairs this afternoon, he'd never let us do that before."
for thirty years, i mediated for PF. i listened to his students play, listened to them complain when he was too rough on them, confronted him when they were too afraid to speak to him directly, took conciliatory messages back to them when he was too proud to apologize for his unvarnished comments.

his niece never knew she almost found PF and his suitcase and his bottles of Ensure in her basement.

i did good work.

the next week, he patted my cheek and told me he loved me. i avoided..did the "love ya!" response. a few days later, sitting by his bedside, adjusting his pillow, i said "i wanted you to know, i love you too."

the following week he died.
spiralflames: (vangogh)
it's august.

brad, PF, verna, ivan and i are up at Halcyon. it's a perfectly still, cricket-rich, full-mooned evening..the moonlight so intense that your form casts shadows.

we decide to climb down the rickety 40 stairs that lead to a small private beach. this is a pebble beach, totally enclosed at both sides and at the rear by 30 feet of cliffs. we grab blankets, flashlights, and set out, walking carefully.

down on the beach, lake superior is absolutely still. the moonlight illuminates a silver path from itself to our feet over the breathless water. we set out blankets. respectful silence seems natural.

a very slight breeze ripples the water far out to Sea. an occasional insect, seeking a mate, squeaks out a hopeful 4/4.

i decide to stretch out on a blanket. one by one, everyone else joins me. after a bit of adjustment and removal of a few pebbles that are still arrogant enough to have rough edges, the 5 of us are spooning, all facing the same direction, no direct contact. i think i can feel someone's warm breath on my neck..not even sure whose..or perhaps a puff of august...

someone, i'm not sure who, begins to hum. nothing melodic, nothing with purpose. quiet. mmmm....ahhhhh. someone else's voices joins at the 3rd, at the 5th. all 5 voices are quietly interweaving, changing, modulating from major to minor, dropping out, joining back again later. there's a consistent, hypnotic, natural sound. our Souls are rubbing their legs together in a rhythm as casual as the crickets' steady, insistent rhythm.

nobody speaks. nobody touches.

after awhile the voices drop out...5, 4, 3, 2..one. total silence. the water laps a bit at our feet.

the pebbles are beginning to feel a little less comfortable on our bones now, and there's a vague sense of returning to a more grown-up, more self-conscious world-view. someone says something cadential..time to go in, i think the fog is moving in. we really should get some sleep, don't you think?

the moonlight is brighter yet..and our eyes have adjusted to the point where we don't need our flashlights to make our way up the steep stairs and back to the house.

the house's lights are on, welcoming its family back Home. the boys bring in some firewood for morning. there are smiles and not much chatter, and by mutual silent accord we move to our various sleeping places.

the harmony of silence is the Heart of Halcyon.


Aug. 16th, 2004 10:43 am
spiralflames: (Default)
today, i learned about the demise of one of the Places of my Heart..my beloved Halcyon Harbor is no more.
here is the link to a picture of my favorite cabin and the essay i wrote about it:

the place is for sale, and who knows if it will be purchased, or if it is, whether some ugly hotel/resort place is erected there in its place.

the houses were truly magic. i think the owners just couldn't keep up with the maintenance- once they had to sink over $40K into the property alone, putting steel girders into the cliffs to keep the foundations of the houses strong. the magic of the place was its location right on the cliff overlooking lake superior- when a storm hit, the house would rumble under your feet as the waves smashed into the cliffs.

very romantic, that, but not practical for owners who'd like to see the structures stand rather than toppling into said lake.

i think literally everyone who was significant to me over the last 20 years was taken to this place. the memories, the ghosts, the joy, the tears. my book could truly be one of what i learned at halcyon.

rest in peace.
spiralflames: (Default)
my friend ivan is moving away.

he is the last of my circle of friends from college with whom i shared the "combat years" of undergrad and grad school years. i am in my 40's (hard to believe)and so many of my closest friends have died. this is not a typical pattern. this usually happens to people in their 70s, that their contemporaries, their companions from school, are passing away.

jim wolf, of cancer. marion, of cancer. chuck, of a heart attack. brad, of boredom. PF, my teacher, of cancer. now ivan is moving away. he had a complete physical and emotional breakdown and subsequent alcoholic episode after PF's death. he's been unemployed since september. finally i called an intervention and his brother flew up here from south carolina and took him home. he came back a few weeks ago..and realizes that his life here is really over. he's moving back closer to his family. for him, that's actually a good thing, i think.

saturday, driving home from teaching, i turned on the radio. schubert c-major quintet. i had to pull off the interstate and i burst into tears. oh god, so many intense times of sharing that music with my chosen musical family! up at halcyon harbor, sitting in silence, watching the angry Lake Superior smashing itself on the rocks. driving, comfortable in silence, with vast landscapes of schubert matching the snow-swept fields. sitting companionably after an italian dinner, bellies full and spirits quiet- again, schubert.

schubert spreads out its peace like a benediction- it heals like God on the water- it asks nothing of you except patience, and sometimes, like the sea, hides grave secrets in its seemingly placid depths. schubert is not for the faint of heart, it is not for the nervous nor for the insecure, and to share it with an Other is to be confident in yourself and your companion, since anyone not up to confronting it will quail and pout and fidget like a 7-year-old in a tight collar during a Lutheran church service.

schubert is not usually for lovers, since lovers need to focus on one another and are easily distracted. schubert is sometimes too daunting to be listened to alone, since the brooding it might inspire is not always welcomed except by the overly-secure or the martyr.

schubert is best shared by a friend with whom one is comfortable being alone.

i have listened to schubert with ivan.


spiralflames: (Default)

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