When the Music Plays You

“I love trying to spin the world into a web of words. And I love those times when it feels like those words turn into a world of their own.”  — Rose Auslander 

I am seventeen and practicing the piano.  I go at it two hours a day, and no longer need the nagging of my parents, when I used to prefer playing softball after school. The work itself is its own reward, playing a passage over and over at different rhythms, until it comes out smooth as silk.  

I rarely practice after dark, since I don’t want to disturb my father, who may have brought work home.  But now that I’m on the yearbook committee, there are days when I simply have to. It’s winter and the room is dark except for the light over the piano, and I feel my father’s entrance and his quiet sigh as he sits down well away from the piano and me.

It is near the end of my practice session, when I play something for pure pleasure, and tonight it’s a Schubert impromptu, a piece I love to play, complex and romantic.  I am aware that my father is in the room; I am aware of all the ambiguities of our relationship; I know, however, that my ability to play so well has pleased him, and that falls into the complexity of Schubert, me, my father, the abuse, all the pain of never knowing if he has loved me or not. 

Somehow, I throw myself into the music, I become the music, the music — Schubert — is playing me.  It’s transformative. I am no longer in this darkened living room.  My father is still here, because there is a musical line connecting us, and I thrill as the phrases and chords and notes become a world of their own — a world described by incredible beauty and freedom. And at the end, I bow my head over the keys and feel full of the act of love I have just performed.

Photo by Roger Eichholz

Silence

Once again, I have run across a fragment that long ago I stashed in a dark corner of my computer for future use, and I failed to attribute it. I like this piece because it fits so well with my focus on the natural world, both in Evelio’s Garden, and in my daily life. If anyone recognizes this piece or its writer, please let me know so I can attribute it properly. Thanks. SSH

Hello chatter, my old friend.

The sounds of silence are a dim recollection now, like mystery, privacy and paying attention to one thing — or one person — at a time.

As far back as half-a-century ago, the Swiss philosopher Max Picard warned: “Nothing has changed the nature of man so much as the loss of silence,” once as natural as the sky and air.

As fiendish little gadgets conspire to track our movements and record our activities wherever we go, producing a barrage of pictures of everything we’re doing and saying, our lives will unroll as one long instant replay.

There will be fewer and fewer of what Virginia Woolf called “moments of being,” intense sensations that stand apart from the “cotton wool of daily life.”

“In the future, not getting any imagery or story line or content is going to be the equivalent of silence because people are so filled up now with streaming video,” said Ed Schlossberg, the artist, author and designer who runs ESI Design. “Paying attention to anything will be the missing commodity in future life. You think you’ll miss nothing, but you’ll probably miss everything.”

Schlossberg said that, for a long time, art provided the boundary for silence, “but now art, in some cases, is so distracting and intense and faceted, it’s hard to step into a moment. Especially when you’re always carrying a microcamera and a screen all the time, both recording and playing back constantly rather than allowing moments of composition and stillness when your brain can go into a reverie.”

Seeing from the Heart

I believe natural beauty has a necessary place in the spiritual development of any individual or any society. I believe that whenever we destroy beauty, or whenever we substitute something man-made and artificial for a natural feature of the earth, we have retarded some part of man’s spiritual growth.

I believe this affinity of the human spirit for the earth and its beauties is deeply and logically rooted. As human beings, we are part of the whole stream of life. We have been human beings for perhaps a million years. But life itself — passes on something of itself to other life — that mysterious entity that moves and is aware of itself and its surroundings . . . . Our origins are of the earth. And so there is in us a deeply seated response to the natural universe, which is part of our humanity.

Rachel Carson

Another Stellar Review of Evelio’s Garden

I read Evelio’s Garden slowly so as to enjoy every moment to the full. I enjoyed the prose, as well as the combination of the author’s personal moments with the beautiful descriptions of places, landscapes, nature and people, all of which make the reading very agreeable. The strength and positive attitude with which she confronts the vicissitudes and difficulties, without losing her calm and sense of humor, are admirable. The descriptions of some of the situations are really comical: for example, the bonsais, Ruth and the bats, the rice and beans on her bus trip to San José. The relationship with Evelio is truly special; her patience, tolerance and empathy are admirable. The way she describes moments of frustration, pain and anger, along with happiness and humor is marvelous. All of these elements mixed with the descriptions of people, customs, the culture, birds, plants and the countryside, made for me, one of those “trips” that will never be forgotten.  My gratitude for the gift of these memoirs and the hours of pleasure I spent reading them. — Enrique Venegas

Finding the Right Words

For a long time, I have looked for a way to describe my connection to the natural world.  I tried in Evelio’s Garden, but no writer that I have encountered since has come as close as I have the privilege to quote here. Of  course there have been many before me, but none that I have discovered as right on as these two: Robinson Jeffers and Oliver Sacks. (And I’ll keep looking!)

The parts change and pass, or die, people and races and rocks and stars, none of them seems to me important in itself, but only the whole. This whole is in all its parts so beautiful and is felt by me to be so intensely in earnest, that I am compelled to love it, and to think of it as divine. It seems to me that this whole alone is worthy of the deeper sort of love; and that here is peace, freedom, I might say a kind of salvation.

— Robinson Jeffers

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png

The sense of deep time brings a deep peace with it, a detachment from the timescale, the urgencies of daily life. Seeing these volcanic islands and coral atolls, and wandering, above all, through this cycad forest on Rota, has given me an intimate feeling of the antiquity of the earth, and the slow, continuous processes by which different forms of life evolve and come into being. Standing here in the jungle, I feel part of a larger, calmer identity; I feel a profound sense of being at home, a sort of companionship with the earth.

 – Oliver Sacks

Telling Stories

There’s a big difference between writing stories and telling them out loud. This is something I’ve discovered as, over the years, I have recorded bits and pieces of various things I have written. Somehow, the spoken word is infinitely more powerful. Recently I was invited by an interviewer to record a story from Evelio’s Garden, and since her website focused on finding joy in our lives, I picked robins and sea lions. Well, listen and you’ll see how they’re related.

https://open.spotify.com/episode/5UcvOs6GHEna8byGBnyKIY

Georgia O’Keefe on the Art of Seeing

I

GeorgiaOkeeffe_RedCanna_1924.jpg?resize=680%2C823

Georgia O’Keeffe, Red Canna, 1924 (Georgia O’Keeffe Museum)

In a passage originally published in the exhibition catalog An American Place, she writes, “A flower is relatively small. Everyone has many associations with a flower — the idea of flowers. You put out your hand to touch the flower — lean forward to smell it — maybe touch it with your lips almost without thinking — or give it to someone to please them. Still — in a way — nobody sees a flower — really — it is so small — we haven’t time — and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because I would paint it small like the flower is small.

“So I said to myself — I’ll paint what I see — what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it — I will make even busy New-Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.

“Well — I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flower, you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower — and I don’t.”

Listen to the Author Reading “A Thousand Shades of Green” from Evelio’s Garden

When you’re writing, sometimes surprising things spill out. This little prose poem was completely spontaneous; it didn’t follow any plot line nor was it the product of any forethought. It came from a moment of pure presence with what I was doing. I looked at it on the screen, slightly amazed, and decided to leave it in.

Photo by SSH

Sydney Weiss Interviews Sandra Shaw Homer, Author, “Evelio’s Garden: Memoir of a Naturalist in Costa Rica”

Sandra Shaw Homer has lived in Costa Rica for almost 30 years, where she has taught languages and worked as a translator and environmental activist. For several years she wrote a regular column, “Local Color,” for the English-language weekly, The Tico Times.

Her creative nonfiction, fiction and poetry have appeared in a number of print and online travel and literary journals, as well as on own blog, WritingFromTheHeart.net.

Her travel memoir, Letters from the Pacific, received excellent Kirkus and Publishers Weekly reviews; a brief inspirational memoir, The Magnificent Dr. Wao, is available as a Kindle Book; and a second travel memoir, Journey to the Joie de Vivre, details two Atlantic crossings on cargo ships as well as a swing through Europe.

I’m so excited for you to connect with Sandra, check out her writing and her books, and follow along as she continues to remind us of our connection to nature, and its power to transform our experiences.

I’d love it if you’d introduce yourself, what you do, and what you’re working on.

Having lived in Costa Rica for almost 30 years has given me an opportunity to discover what I value most.  At one point I helped found and worked with three environmental non-profit organizations and headed the county environmental commission. This was long before the climate crisis was on anybody’s radar, and our efforts were directed at saving the Lake Arenal watershed from illegal development.  We had some important successes, and I realize now that what we were doing did have implications for our climate future.

How did you get started?

But I’m really a writer!  And that’s one of the reasons I moved to Costa Rica – to find a quiet place where I could start looking within to my creative self and do what I had always wanted.  I’ve always been a writer – for other people, clients, environmental causes.  But I knew that somewhere my own story was percolating inside, and I wanted to get at it.

What inspired the work that you’re doing?

Interestingly, the environmental work I did inspired my writing, so that my book, Evelio’s Garden, is a lyrical exploration of the environment as well as a memoir, my personal story.

What is your biggest passion? Do you feel like you’re living your passion and purpose?

My biggest passion now is to help others connect to the natural world in ways that will move them to work to save it.  And, yes, after a lifetime of work and discovery, I feel as if I’m living my dream.

What is your joy blueprint? What lights you up, brings you joy, and makes you feel the most alive?

A good first sentence. Whatever you’re writing has to start with a good first sentence.  For me, they usually come out of the ether – I may not even be thinking of a particular poem or writing project.  But once that first sentence lights up, the joy of it carries me forward.  There are lots of things that bring me joy: water, mountains, clouds, trees.  But that first sentence taps into an inner creative self that just wants to sing.

How do you live intentionally? Are there tools/resources/practices that you rely on to help you stay mindful and grounded?

Weather permitting, I always sit outside at the end of day to watch the sunlight climb up the eastern trees, the vultures swooping as high as the clouds, the wind singing, my cat trying to squeeze into my car through the partially open window.  These are precious moments in which I am conscious of how grateful I am.

What would your younger self think about what you’re doing now?

She’d probably understand, since those sunset moments were special to her too.  But she was too angry to feel grateful.

Do you have a go-to mantra or affirmation?

A simple “thank you,” directed to the universe for whatever moves me. I read once that the only proper prayer is one of gratitude, and I’ve taken that to heart.

What is your biggest dream?

I hardly dare to think of finishing the novel I started so many years ago. I’m old now. I want to continue to live in peace in this beautiful rural setting in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I want to feel that I’ve led a useful life and be grateful for all the many gifts I experience every day. A Laughing Falcon calling in the wee hours just before dawn. The monkeys howling in the sunset. The stray cat that’s showing up every day for dinner. My loving friends. My sister and her family. Too many gifts to count. My dreams are simple now, things to be grateful for, that’s enough.

To learn more about Sandra and her work you can visit her on Facebook, Amazon , on B&N and on Powells.com.

Joy Corner is an interview-style blog series brought to you by Seek The Joy Podcast. Our mission continues to be a desire to share your stories, truths, joys and inspiration in your words. We invite you to join our corner, and share your joys, passions, and moments of inspiration as we continue to seek the joy, together. Join this series here

Photo by Ruth Dixon-Mueller