August Milestones

My blog and I celebrated birthdays in August. Heart to Harp is three years old, and I’m, ahem, considerably older. The “Happy Anniversary” message from WordPress reminded me of the morning I registered my blog. I was working out my retirement notice and didn’t have a lot of actual work to do, so I used my free time to sign up with WordPress. When I saw Heart To Harp become real on my computer monitor, I was so overcome with anxiety over what I’d done that I had to flee to the Habitat coffee shop, where chocolate and caffeine helped me get over the vapors.

I remember telling myself, while gripping that tall mocha latte, that registering a blog didn’t mean that I actually had to write anything, or god forbid, post something for someone to read. It was another week before I published my first blog post. I didn’t have to worry about someone reading what I wrote – several weeks passed before I received my first WordPress email telling me that someone “liked” a post, and it took even longer to get a comment notice. It wasn’t until the following March that Heart To Harp had its first “follower.” By then the shock of committing to “write in public” had worn off. I was just surprised that someone would want to read everything I posted.

Three years, 276 posts, and over 100 followers later, later, I can’t imagine not blogging. Writing about my thoughts, disappointments, hopes, triumphs, and the giggly weirdness of life is part of who I am and what I do. Meeting and connecting with so many creative, interesting, talented people and enjoying their words and images is an unexpected bonus to being a blogger. I treasure these connections, and don’t want to live without them.

This August also marks one year of playing at the hospital hospice unit. In my very first August 2010 blog post, Where’s The Magic Fairy Dust? I doubted that I would ever be able to just sit down, pull my harp back onto my shoulder, and play a tune, let alone let someone listen to me play. Now, harping at the hospital, with staff and families and patients listening to me, is a normal part of my week, and I can play for over an hour without repeating any tunes.

Last August C.B. Wentworth introduced me to the knitting loom and the irrepressible notion that I must knit socks. I started my first pair of socks on August 21st. Last weekend I finally posted all my knitting projects on Ravelry. I’ve written about being knitting-obsessed, but I didn’t know how bad it really was. In 12 months I completed 13 projects. I knit five pairs of socks on the loom before I picked up knitting needles last October. Despite believing that I could never learn to really knit, I finished another pair of socks, four hats, two scarves, and one sweater, and I have another pair of socks and a lace shawl in progress.

Dr. Noa Kageyama, author of The Bulletproof Musician, writes in a post titled “How Can We Develop a More Courageous Mindset? (Plus the Secret of Life):

There is an interesting study which came out just last week that I think provides some interesting insight. It was called The End of History Illusion and described how 19,000 participants, ranging from age 18 to 68 consistently underestimated how much they would change over the next decade.

They were asked to evaluate how much they had changed over the last ten years – from their personality, to core values, and likes/dislikes. Then they were asked to predict how much they would change in the next decade ahead. Interestingly, no matter how young or old they were, even though they acknowledged how much they had changed in the previous ten years, they consistently underestimated how much they would change in the next ten years.

I suspect that we not only underestimate how much our personality, core values, and likes and dislikes will change, but how much we will change in the domain of expertise and skill development as well. . . .

Ten years ago music was not in my life. There was only a faint glimmer of a long ago dream to play the harp someday. Three years ago I couldn’t begin to fathom how much I would learn, or how much I would change, or how much connection and joy and excitement I would find through blogging, through playing my harp, and through an entirely new craft. I can’t begin to predict what the next three years, or ten years will bring, or how I will change and grow in the process. Life keeps opening up in new and completely unpredictable ways, and I keep being surprised and delighted. Each birthday marks the beginning of another year of adventures.

Yet this year’s birthday also brings a quiet sadness. With this birthday I am the same age my mother was when she died. By the time she was 61, she’d given up on life, trading any possibilities of surprise and delight for the vodka and bourbon bottles. That Thanksgiving the alcohol finally killed her.

I wonder at the essential difference between us: What made my mother see her life as over at 61? What makes me, at the very same age, see my life as an adventure? What makes me see each day of my life as an opportunity to see what happens next?

With this birthday, I’ve never been more grateful to be so unlike her.


You Are More Beautiful Than You Think Reblogged from: Baddest Mother Ever

I don’t do Facebook so didn’t see this video that is making the rounds. Lucky for me, my favorite new blogger, Baddest Mother Ever, posted it today.

It is such a revelation to see oneself through another’s eyes, through eyes unimpaired by the filters that block us from seeing our true selves and our true beauty.

And the video reminds me that it is also a revelation to hear myself play music through another’s ears, to allow myself to listen to the beauty they hear, when what I hear are the mistakes.

You Are More Beautiful Than You Think | Baddest Mother Ever.

Starting Another Trip ‘Round The Sun

Yesterday was my 59th birthday – today I’m embarking on my 60th trip around the sun. (Thanks for fixing my counting, Nanci!) I thought entering the last year of my 50’s would feel a bit more monumental, but so far it doesn’t seem to be one of those high-profile birthdays, not like I anticipate changing decades again will be.

At last year’s birthday, I was anticipating knee surgery and retirement. Beyond that I had no idea what might happen in my new life. My journal entry on August 5th, one a year ago, reads:

“Who knows what another year will bring. In my working world, I could predict a constancy of scenery and activity, with one year likely being similar to another. This coming year, all the scripts are new, and I don’t know what story is being written. There’s room for the new and unimagined, for so many new adventures.”

When I think back to my last birthday and the year that’s rolled out since then, I realize that I’ve done so many things that I never could have imagined doing last August 4th. Doing watercolor journaling – not the slightest blip on the radar. Playing my harp for the retirement home Christmas party – completely unthought of. Taking voice lessons, enrolling in the chorus class at the community college, and then singing the Verdi Requiem – all a total surprise. Writing this blog – just a wee kernel of an idea suggested by my harp teacher, that I was still trying to ignore.

This past year reminds me that it’s impossible to anticipate all the adventures, wonders and possibilities that await me. I can hardly wait to see what this next trip around the sun has in store.

Retirement, Rain, and Coming Back Down to Earth

My heart and my eyes were full as I walked out the door of my office building as an employee for the last time. All the automatic tasks of leaving for the day, like logging off the computer and turning off the cubicle lights, had a strange sense of ceremony, seemed to be a final ritual marking the end of my days in that building. My coworkers were in meetings, or on vacation, or on their lunch breaks, so no one actually saw me leave, saw me walk down the long basement corridor to the outside world, carrying the last box of the things that have kept me company throughout my work life.

And the rain, the soft, gentle life-giving rain started to fall as I walked through the parking lot to my car. It’s not rained at my house for 5 weeks. The creeping phlox is crisp, the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants withered, the blueberries already shedding their toasted brown leaves for the winter. The rain felt like a blessing, a baptism welcoming me into my new life. But I know the rain really had nothing to do with any personal symbolism; it finally rained only because that evening, six of us would be transporting our harps through the rain to our first harp ensemble class of the semester. If our ensemble had started a month ago I’d still be enjoying fall tomatoes instead of pulling dried husks of vines out of the earth.

So much about retiring has felt like a giant leap of faith, an exhilarating leap into a new life and new adventures. Yesterday the leap become quite literal. While leaving the student services building at the community college, my bifocal-ed eyes did not see the edge of a gray terrace nor the 6-inch step to the gray sidewalk below. I stepped into nothingness, and flew in an ungraceful arc across the sidewalk, leaving most of the skin on my knees and elbows behind. The non-surgery knee took the worse hit and now looks more gruesome than any skinned knee I had as a child. The surgery knee has some minor scrapes and a couple of new bruises, but I think I avoided serious damage. I’ll see if the physical therapist concurs on Friday.

This falling, this stepping into nothingness and the resulting bumps and scrapes and bruises of this bit of my new adventures have brought me back down to earth.  Too painfully they are reminding me of the need to keep my head where my feet are, and not in some metaphorical swirling snow-globe that contains my future.  Ouch!

Approaching Retirement and Coming in for a Landing

I have three more days to go to work. I am pretty much dumbfounded by that concept. All the internal debating, considering, planning, and deciding is over, leaving only the doing. The logging off the computer, packing up my work tote bag, and stepping out of the door for the last time.

My coworkers gave me a retirement party yesterday afternoon. People I worked with and supervised over the past 20 years showed up, along with current co-workers and people from community agencies that I’ve regularly consulted with over the past 5 years. I’m not much of a party person – 8 people in a room is a crowd. But I really enjoyed seeing so many people from my past and present work life, and I appreciate that they went out of their way to help me celebrate and to say goodbye.

The party made retiring real to me. I really was saying goodbye to people, some that I’ve known for more than half my life. And I know how unlikely it is that we will stay in touch. Our connection is through our work, and not through any other aspects of our lives. These are good, hard-working, solid folks, who spend their lives doing thankless jobs trying to make the world a little better for people, and I am lucky to have known and worked with them.

People kept asking me yesterday what I had planned, did I have big trips in my future, what would I do without coming to work. I still don’t know what to say when asked that. In an earlier post I wrote that since deciding to retire, I felt like I was living in a snow globe, with the snow still swirling, and I didn’t know what the scene would turn out to be once the snow settled. The snow hasn’t settled yet. So all I can truthfully say, is that I’m going to go forth and live my life, without trying to fit 40 hours of work into it each week. And I’m pleased to know that I don’t want to leave the life I have here, unlike a coworker who intends to flee her life and rent a flat in the south of France when she retires next month.

I might want to do something like that eventually, might want to plug myself into another life in another land. I know I want to return to Ireland, and to visit Iona in Scotland, and now Cornwall is also calling to me. But I am content in my world. My friend Beth eagerly awaits my being able to play with her at her studio any day of the week. I love my weekly harp lesson, and my evening recorder ensemble class. Our harp ensemble starts meeting next week, so again I get to do battle with the sight-reading demons and in the process, make music with others. I’ve signed up for the yoga class I promised myself I would take as soon as I wasn’t working. My garden awaits my removing the heat and drought-tortured summer crops and planting the soil-building green manure, and garlic, and the winter’s worth of spinach, lettuce and arugula in my grow tunnels. Mornings are finally cooler, and perfect for walking the greenway with my dog and watching the day-by-day changes in the trees and the meadows as summer loses its grip and autumn takes hold. Fall crops are already coming in at my Saturday farmers’ market – how could I possibly miss Dane’s dinosaur kale, or Carl’s fall potatoes and red-cored chantenay carrots, or Jennifer’s late tomatoes, or Mindy’s lettuce and fresh eggs, her”Gifts from the Girls”?

No, this life, the one right here awaiting me,  is sweet, and good, and is spread out before me, waiting to be plunged into and savored, swirling snow and all.

Zen Harp, Zen Knee

The principle of No Judgement applies equally well to knee rehab as it does to learning to play the harp. It is what it is. Being discouraged results from my attachment to some fixed idea of what my ability or expertise or progress should be, instead of just being with, and breathing with, the reality of whatever is, at that moment.  Such a simple concept; such a challenge to remember and live by.

Time-Out for Knee Surgery

Another reminder of my age: last Thursday, August 26th, I had arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus, which is apparently part and parcel of being a baby boomer. I’m the sixth person I know in the boomer demographic who had this surgery. Everyone says that it’s no big deal, ’cause it’s arthroscopic, you’ll wake up with three little holes artfully arranged around your kneecap. They don’t tell you that you will awaken to the sensation of having had a concrete block repeatedly dropped on your knee, or that the next weeks will be spent wondering who is sneaking into your bedroom at night and slamming the back side of a hatchet into your kneecap. And while I seem to remember spending the majority of my life with a right leg that bends at the knee upon request, this same leg now swears that no such motion has ever been initiated or successfully completed.

I started physical therapy on Monday. Harp work on turn arounds, cross-overs and cross-unders is currently replaced with leg work: quad sets and heel slides and leg lifts. I seem to be the only knee in the 9 am Monday/Wednesday/Friday time slot. There’s no competition for the stationary bike – I get to complete my assigned minutes uninterrupted. The shoulder rehab people remind me that PT could be worse. I can get through my 90 minute sessions without crying or threatening the therapist with the exercise equipment.   After a week of PT I can walk slowly for short distances, I can climb stairs with alternating feet, but I still must descend one leg at a time. Getting up from a chair requires more arm strength than leg strength. At home I remain tethered to a wonderful icing machine that pumps cold water through a pad wrapped around my knee, and that allows me to forget that I am supposed to be a bipedal being for however long I can stand for my knee to be frozen.

Today I just feel like whining about all of it. I’ve lost my grip on any semblance of a positive attitude, on any sense of perspective about this just not being that big a deal. Combing the newspaper for stories of people enduring far worse has not engendered any sense of gratitude for the current state of my knee being a temporary condition that will be resolved in a few weeks. The physical therapist’s encouragement about how well I am doing has not eased my frustration over not walking, not gardening, not driving, not playing my harp.  I like to think that I am a better, healthier, mature and more evolved human being than the current whining and despondent person I ‘m being. Nothing like pain with a side of immobility to bring out the truth. Inside me lurks a tantruming two-year old who pops out screaming when faced with moderate discomfort and inconvenience.

Alas, I am old enough and experienced enough and perhaps, when my knee is frozen and numb, wise enough to know that there is nothing to be done but get through each day, and hope for grace enough to keep me from making life any more miserable for the people around me.  Today, I’d best sign up for an extra helping of grace.

Music doesn’t care how old you are, and other birthday reflections

My birthday was a couple of weeks ago.  I am now 58 years old. I find this quite amazing, being a child of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the home fallout shelter craze, and weekly “duck-and-cover” drills in the hallway of my elementary school. I live in a perpetual state of surprise that any of us are still alive on this planet.

I am also confused about what demographic I now belong to. I can’t consider 58 to be middle-aged. There’s not too many 116 year-olds wandering around my part of the world. So I guess that I am a young “old-person”.  Not that it really matters. Music doesn’t care how old you are. Neither do dogs, or gardens. And now that I’ve met and know so many incredible, wonderful women in this new club that I find myself a member of, “old” looks to be a pretty interesting place.  There’s way more fun to be had than I ever considered from the vantage point of a “young” person. The territory may be a bit more hazardous than I’m used to, or perhaps it’s just hazardous in a different way.

Fifty-eight is one of those awkward middle decade birthdays. No big sense of accomplishment comes with it. It’s nothing like turning 50. On my 50th birthday, I felt a sense, however delusional, that I had arrived at some milestone of age and wisdom that would make subsequent years seem quite tranquil in comparison to the preceding 50. HAH! Was I ever wrong! For one thing, at 50 I’d not started the harp – that would be another two years away – and all the changes the harp would create were not yet imagined. But even without harp stuff, the last eight years have repeatedly demonstrated that while yes, the tidal floods that overwash my life are somewhat less intense, and I swim much better now, the moon still exerts her same pull on the water, which rises and falls with the same pre-50 regularity.

And from these repeated swims (or near drownings, depending on the changing perspective that time and distance allow) the last eight years have taught me truths that I could not have considered or believed at 50. Here is what I know today: Don’t wait for joy. Say “yes” to as much as I can, unless I know in my heart and in my bones to say “no”. Don’t hold back speaking my truth. Ask for what I want and what I need, and then go out there, or go inside myself, and find it. Be as kind as I possibly can, as much of the time as I can. Tell people that I love them. Tell people that I appreciate them making my life richer and fuller. Go after adventures – and everything is one. Kiss all the dogs I meet. Being scared won’t kill me, but being afraid to live will. Cry whenever my heart is touched (like I could stop it?) and be grateful that my heart is tender enough and open enough to be touched. Whoever or whatever God is, she/he/it wants us to notice and appreciate and love and be grateful and give thanks for and enjoy all this, her/his/its creations. There are people to enjoy and laugh with and connect to everywhere in this world. A cup of tea in a village pub on a rainy Irish afternoon cures loneliness. Something of people I’ve loved survives their bodily death, at least for a while. Dreams do come true, given a clear vision and doing the footwork. You can start over and do something totally new and different as many times as you want. There’s no rulebook, but kindness and gratitude can guide me through anything. I can always change my mind. If I am joyful, I am listening to my heart. Lots of perseverance and consistent work combined with little natural ability gets one a lot farther along than does little perseverance and work combined with little natural ability. Showing up is the right first step for most things. I don’t have to know where I’m going – I just have to pay attention to the scenery and enjoy the ride. Both sides of the Atlantic Ocean are beautiful. Losing my dog breaks my heart, and inviting a new dog into my life fills my heart up again. I’m not too old to fall in love. Farmers and musicians are some of the best people I know. It’s non-negotiable in this lifetime – I have to write, whether or not anybody ever reads anything. Music is what I’m supposed to be doing. Gabriel’s Oboe is good medicine for grief and a broken heart. Everything is a miracle and a wonder. I rarely know what I’m capable of, so don’t assume that I can’t and don’t count out any possibility. Say yes, say yes, say yes.