Making Connections

I once heard a wonderful lecture about liberal arts that solidified my belief that the different parts of life can all be interconnected. It’s not just for college classes. I have been finding connections in my daily routines, and I would like to write a few of them down, if only to explore them for myself.

I have been reading Henry James’ A Portrait of a Lady, which contains much psychological insight within the relations of the main characters. The conversations between these people are striking, but what lies underneath the actual spoken words is very deep. So when I came across this post by one of my favorite bloggers, Miriam from Writing for Myself, I couldn’t help but make a connection. She makes sauerkraut, but beneath this act of cooking lie more threads from her past and from her present emotional state of mind. Read on to the end of the post; it is rewarding. In fact, it sparked another connection for me.

If making sauerkraut is Miriam’s way of processing different aspects of her life, then piano-playing is my way of reacting to different aspects of my life. Piano-playing is not just about making music. It’s not only a means of doing something creative, adding beauty to my home, practicing an art. It is that, but for me it is more. I often go to the piano when I am stressed out. In fact, I have told my son to tell me to go play piano when I’m acting overwhelmed or frustrated (and he has done so!). It is calming, but it’s not just that either. There is something deeper. It’s a form of reaction for me. I could react to stress by being angry and yelling. I could react to sadness by crying. I could react to frustration by throwing things. I could react to extreme joy by becoming hyper. Or, I could play piano. I’m not very good, but I have several years of lessons under my belt, and I have some favorite classical songs. “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven is especially important to me. So many emotions can float under the rhythmic waves of that beautiful song. There’s a special fast song I go to when I need to pound on something. When I want to lose myself in singing, I open the church hymnal. I play until my back hurts, and then I play some more. I’ve grown to like that dull ache in my spine. It means I’m doing something that is more than just a pastime. Something inside me is healing.

Now I want to write another important connection I have recently made. A couple nights ago I sat down at the edge of my bed, picked up my Bible, and turned to Isaiah simply because I like Isaiah. I found Isaiah 65:17, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” I couldn’t believe it! I have such trouble forgetting things. I don’t really mean bad things that other people do to me. I mean bad things I have done in the past, failures, low points, disgraces, embarrassments. I have trouble moving on from those things. My last paragraph talked about using the piano to react. Yes, I can remember specific times when I used piano-playing to put a new direction on my depression, my low times. Those times seem to be with me always. And here I read that they will not be with me always. In the new world, after Christ returns, I won’t remember those things! It is a relief. It is pure grace.

I also connected this verse with the ladies’ Bible study I am leading. We are going through Nancy Guthrie’s book, The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Books. Isaiah is not a wisdom book. And yet, I found some great wisdom there. This isn’t surprising in itself; I know the entire Bible is full of God’s wisdom. Yet, I know from our Bible study that wisdom isn’t always obvious. We recently studied some of the Psalms that are about royalty (both King David and King Jesus). It is not obvious that the connections we make between David and Jesus are pieces of God’s wisdom. But I think that is where Guthrie is going with all this. Wisdom is finding those connections between what God is doing and who God is. And applying wisdom means involving ourselves in this connection. What God is doing and who God is is part of my life. It actually is my life. I am nothing without God. I am nothing without His great plan.

This exploration turned out better than I planned. I actually made a connection about connections. I think. Now my mind is starting to swirl. I’m going a bit too deep, I suppose. I need to surface again. My plans for the rest of the night: read more blogs, read more of the Guthrie book, and read more of The Portrait of a Lady. Maybe I’ll have an awesome dream connecting all three in some strange, fluid way.

Cezanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire

Paul Cezanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1900

Paul Cezanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1900

Cezanne painted this mountain in France so much it came to be known as Cezanne’s Mountain. Why did he obsess over this one mountain? Maybe it was convenient. Maybe it was interesting to him, charged with personal meaning that we don’t know about. Or maybe it didn’t matter that it was a mountain. Maybe he was making some sort of point about abstraction; you can look at anything and see it a little differently each time. You know what I see? I see a landscape sketched loosely onto a canvas and filled with beautiful colors with much attention paid to the values of the colors. I believe Cezanne was very interested in colors and their relations to each other.

I had a college art professor who was very interested in color, to the point that his obsession drove me away from an interest in color studies. But as the years go by, I see the wisdom in his approach. The more exactly we can see something, the more freedom we have to paint what we like. An inexperienced eye might see Cezanne’s painting as sloppy. It is probably very exact and calculated. I think Cezanne is an artist who paints on the bridge between realism and abstraction.

Playing Sorry

I’m putting this post in my “Quiet Life” category, but it’s really the opposite of that. I played a game of Sorry with my six and five-year-old this afternoon, and it was anything but quiet. My son does not know how to lose graciously, my daughter kept trying to move her game pieces when it wasn’t her turn (“I’m going to sneak into your safety zone! Look, if I go here I can slide. Wheee!”), and I had to be loud and jolly to push back the rising irritation. I really wanted a Mountain Dew. And a book. And a a room to myself. But, we finished the game, which was actually quite an accomplishment. Usually my son stomps off when he finds himself losing.

I’m left wondering… when will playing a board game with my children be a relaxing rainy-day activity? I have fond memories of playing board games with my Mom after the Sunday noon meal. And when my siblings came home from college we often gathered around the table for rounds of Shanghai, a long card game. On New Year’s Eve my parents would play Rook with the friends they had invited over. Before the kids were born my husband and I played Risk (my favorite board game) with his best friend on Sunday afternoons. I have these idyllic visions of myself pondering a Checker board (really a Chess board, but I’m constantly forgetting how to play chess) with one of my children, while listening to the rain tapping against the windowpanes. Will this ever happen? Or will game-playing be rowdy and stressful for years to come yet? Now I’m wondering if anything about raising kids aged four through six is peaceful. Maybe the moment after they fall asleep at night? That’s about it. Reading books to them can be peaceful as long as they all like the same book, and the one on my lap doesn’t have to go potty. I’ll keep reading to them. Maybe someday we can play my second-favorite game, Scrabble.

The Portrait of a Lady

I call people rich when they’re able to meet the requirements of their imagination.

– Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady, 1881

I am in the midst of rereading this book. It’s one of my favorites. Henry James has such of a way of delving into the human condition that I come out of the book feeling like I have never properly known anyone, and neither have I had a real meaningful conversation. I love knowing James’ characters, and I adore the things they say to one another. The quote above is something Ralph said to Isabel. I’d like to write a bit to figure out what it means.

Both Ralph and Isabel are wealthy, thanks to the money left to them after the death of Ralph’s father. So what does it mean to meet the requirements of your imagination? I think it means being able to make your dreams come true. Throughout the book Isabel is accredited with much imagination. Although she doesn’t do much, it is what she doesn’t do that makes her interesting. She doesn’t accept the first (or second) marriage proposal that comes her way. She doesn’t want to settle down until she has lived life, experienced things, seen people, gone places.

What I like about Isabel is the way she is always moving forward. She doesn’t go back to her old life in the States. She doesn’t regret things. She’s always looking to the future, accepting the present, moving onward. That requires imagination.

Perspective

I spend my life with my kids. I talk to them, teach them, play with them, train them. I can see a mood coming on before it even crosses my child’s face. Then, I take them to a place where they are with other kids, busy interacting with other people, and I can see things I don’t see from close up. I see how young five-years-old really is. That is what struck me today. I look at my kids and think how young and vulnerable they are yet. What a strange learning curve they have! On one hand they are being taught the sophisticated rules of reading and arithmetic. On the other hand they are still in love with stuffed animals and favorite blankets, and they want to be rocked a little before bed.

It must take a lot of wisdom to keep little kids in perspective. I hope we all grow in wisdom.

Gloucester Harbor

Gloucester Harbor, Winslow Homer, 1873

Gloucester Harbor, Winslow Homer, 1873

I wanted something calming tonight. Sailboats on calm water. The lap, lap, lap of little waves. A seagull calling. Bigger-than-life clouds reflecting the sunset. Smooth movement of the oars, and the slow pull across the harbor. Breathe in that salty air.

In the Marsh

October in the Marshes, John Frederick Kensett, ca. 1872

October in the Marshes, John Frederick Kensett, ca. 1872

At mid-afternoon my six-year-old comes running up to me with his binoculars and says, “Let’s go to the Horicon Marsh!” His sisters immediately make alternative suggestions (Park! Beach!). I hadn’t planned on going anywhere. After demanding some time to think about it, I decide to grab the water bottles and go to the marsh. The day already had its ups and downs and I don’t think sitting around the house is going to improve anything. When we get there we decide to take the trail backward (woods first, and then floating boardwalk). Halfway through the woods I actually say out loud, “I already wish we hadn’t come.” I don’t know. I was in a bad mood or something. God has a funny, ironic way of showing His grace because when we get to the long floating bridge a man with a gray ponytail and the high cheekbones of a Native American starts showing my kids the sea-snail shells he collected for them (he had seen us on our way there) and then goes on to teach them about sea snails. He has a pleasant, conversational teaching style and genuinely wants the kids to be interested in the marsh wildlife. He goes on to show us two leopard frogs hiding in the reeds, a dragonfly nymph, a turtle sunning itself on a branch, a great blue heron perched on a distant treetop, a lone pelican flying by. He lends us his glossy, full-color marsh wildlife brochure. He focuses the telescopes for us. He warns my son not to fall in when he leans too far over the edge. A free, unexpected nature guide waiting for us only a minute after I wished we hadn’t come! I am humbled. And grateful.