December 24th, 2006
Stars keep the watch when night is dim,
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
bright as sun and moon together.
I am of two minds about Christmas this year. On one hand, I think if I don't finally have a Christmas tree the season will be spoiled. In all the tiny apartments of our past, we never had room for a tree. Last year was our first Christmas in our little house with room for a tree and all the trimmings, but we also had two new kittens, who, I feared, would see the tree as one big challenge to be conquered. This year the house is ripe and ready to be decorated and the cats are calmer and more mature, I reason, and so this is finally the year to have a real live Christmas tree.
But, as I said, I am of two minds about the whole thing. The little house is full to the brim with our lives–can we pack away enough books, plants, tables and chairs to squeeze a tree into a corner somewhere? After all, the piano can hardly be scooted out of the way. Desert climates are harsh on real trees, drying them out until they are a pile of kindling ready to be thrown in the fireplace. And then there are the cats, while older and more sedate I hope, I still can imagine them knocking down the tree with great kitty glee every time we leave the house.
And so, we once again may celebrate the season without a tree. I will still get out the white crocheted angels and bells my grandmother made and the wooden Santa Claus my parents brought back from Germany. We have twinkling white lights around the front door and will hang stockings on the mantle. I have a stack of Christmas books to set out on the coffee table and an angel to hang above the doorway. On Christmas Eve I will line the courtyard, driveway, and sidewalks with luminaria. Somehow, in the midst of the busyness, I will send out Christmas cards and ready packages to be sent back home to our families. Matt will prepare his choirs for the annual Lessons and Carols service on December 17 and for multiple Christmas Eve services. I will fill our stereo with all our Christmas music. In big and small ways, we will celebrate the season.
People, look east, the carol proclaims. The time is near of the crowning of the year. Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table.
Although I have never followed the ritual of spring-cleaning, I am inspired to clean at Advent with great enthusiasm. It seems every year, my world is brimming, and just in time for New Years resolutions I am ready to purge my life of all its excesses. But as I think about the dilemma of the Christmas tree, it stands as a symbol for so much that complicates my life. I am not in need of more blessings, beauty, art, or love; instead, often I am burdened by too much of it all. One more light and the bowl will brim, the carol goes. It is not a question of adding one more good thing to my overflowing world, it is the real struggle of learning to say no to one more thing, however good. "Do you ever say no?" my migraine therapist asked me recently. "Yes, nearly everyday," I responded irritably. And it is true. But still there is the issue of learning to discern what is enough–what constitutes enough work, time, shoes, books, art, orchids, kittens, Christmas décor–and live peacefully and contentedly within that boundary. Especially this year I want to know what less feels like. To rid my life of the unnecessary and not to force one more thing into my too crowded world. Although I am not interested in living in an attitude of scarcity, I need to learn how to embrace the abundance with which I am already blessed.
Julia Cameron, guru of creativity, reminds me that we have to prepare both literal and figurative space in our lives in order to have room for the new to enter. I nod my head in agreement, wishing that if I could just clean out enough drawers and closets I could find an empty day, hour, even a minute to call my own. I believe that editing our lives of old possessions, stained clothing, worn out shoes, scratched CDs, piles of papers, expired prescription bottles, unread magazines, useless habits and patterns, tired ways of behavior, does in fact make us more honest and brings us closer to the truth about ourselves and our lives. But in this season of excess, all the messages around me are screaming "Yes, you too can have it all" and feeding my weakness for adding yet one more thing–one more book to crowded bookshelves, one more gift for people who already have too many things, one more cookie on an already full plate, one more tradition to a life that doesn't yet honor well the traditions I hold dear, one more obligation to an overflowing to-do list. At what point is enough, enough already?
Ironically, it is the phrase, People, look east that keeps twirling around my mind, finding new shapes and meanings. There is a sudden understanding to what some of my practices of yoga and alternative medicine with their eastern thought are telling me. Although I am not likely to renounce my Christian heritage and traditions for the Buddhist faith, more and more there is simplicity about its message that speaks to me. Especially in this season of mindless consumption, the idea of inner stillness, peaceful living, and quiet harmony with our neighbors and ourselves are things to ponder. But even as I write this, I realize that is also the heart of Christianity–that a baby born in the most humble of circumstances, could have a message to turn upside down the institutions and practices of the world. It is only we who have distorted Christ's words.
Talk is easy, actions are hard, and I may yet stuff a Christmas tree into my overflowing month. But something must give. I want to learn to care better for the things, traditions, and people in my life instead of always looking of ways to add more. I want to learn the gentle art of subtraction versus the habit of addition.
People look east, the carol sings. Love, the Rose, is on the way.
December 11th, 2006
Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.
The woods around it have it–it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.
And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less–
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.
They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars–on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
We are approaching a strange transition of sorts; in just a few months, we will have lived in Albuquerque longer than any other place since we got married. This both shocks and confuses us, after all, in so many situations we are still considered to be newcomers to this state. "How are you liking New Mexico," people ask us at social gatherings. "Are you adjusting to Albuquerque?" Clearly, we have not completely become locals, or such questions wouldn't arise. No one asked how we liked Boston and I don't think the absence of that question was due to New England reserve. No, for all our adjustments to life in the desert, there must be still ways we seem to be foreigners.
I am still accused of having East Coast values when I wonder out loud why this passage or that phrase couldn't be played better. (No, they are musical values, I want to shout, not limited to a geographical location!) Serious music students are harder to find here, but I have a full studio of hard workers now. I am impatient with other teachers who whine how none of their students practice. The landscape is less crowded with good musicians out here, true enough, but there are plenty of opportunities for those who seek them out and plenty of room for new musicians to come share this wide-open space.
But still. I miss living in a place with good music schools on every corner and how easy it was to build a career in conjunction with and alongside such departments. I miss the sheer abundance of good students and the casual acceptance of high standards of practicing and music making. I don't lack for work, but I wonder sometimes if this scene will be enough for the rest of my life.
I wonder not only for myself, but also for Matt–who provides the backbone of our security. Without him, we would have no health insurance or retirement, and his work at the church gives us an extended community and family of people who watch over us and care for us. Matt's job is engaging and challenging at this point, but will it still be 15 years from now? I wonder.
And yet we continue in big and small ways to put down roots in this dry land. Our little house is full of art, books, and plants. There is no returning to the 300 square-foot existence of our city days. The shelves in the garage are lined with luminaria ready to line the courtyard and sidewalks on Christmas Eve. We own a wet vacuum. Our annual St. Cecelia day party filled our house with friends and fellow musicians. My grand piano can never be crammed into the small spaces of our past.
This week I am going to NYC to visit my two sisters and to step back, if only for a few days, into city living. I have no doubt that such visit will make me sad, that I will once again be reminded how grand it is to live in a city with art and music at one's doorstep, that I will wish for the simplicity of a cozy city apartment and the forced necessity to simplify one's possessions, that I will long for the life that allows for all the exercise one needs by just getting out and living, sans automobile.
It's a strange place to be in–to be moving into the time when this, this, is the place we have lived the longest. To realize in spite of the turquoise in my jewelry box, I may never completely fit in, and, in spite of this, to choose to live out our lives in such a space. Sometimes I wish the concept of home didn't haunt me so or the need to find a perfect fit didn't obsess me like it does.
Recently, Godiva was climbed on the kitchen counter to hunt for food and stuck her nose in a container of green chile sauce. She shook her head a few times and tried to wipe off the sting with her paw, but then casually hopped down to race through the house with Yun-Sun. While I can hardly believe I am living in New Mexico, I am reminded, that strange as it is, I am raising two cats that clearly are green-chile snorting Southwestern felines.
They cannot scare me with their empty spaces.
Between star-on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
Contact Amy Greer at: email@example.com