The magic of music ~

The magic of music ~

You know those multiple intelligences tests that go around every so often? Well, I used to ask my students to take them. They’re a good ice breaker, and as a long-time teacher, and one of the (very few!) folks who read alllll of Howard Gardner’s book on multiple intelligences, I agree with his conclusions: folks have various ways of learning that are easier for them than others. It’s not rocket science..😉

I always asked my students what they thought my ‘intelligences’ were. They began w/ verbal, since I teach reaching & writing. Nope, I would respond. Not even close. After a few blinks, they would say, interpersonal. And again, I’d reply Nope. I’d counter that actually I’m almost on the spectrum: I’m VERY low in interpersonal skills. I tend to misread folks, although usually to their benefit & not mine…😏 I like to think folks are basically well-intentioned. Politics lately have reminded me that this is not true.

Then they would begin to popcorn sugestions: science? Art? WHAT, Britt?? And almost never (well, to be honest, I don’t remember anyone EVERY suggesting) outdoors. Then music. Verry close together, folks. I adore being outside, and music is my first language. Not even poetry, which depends on both word & song, but music. Which for me, at least, is a kind of magic.

So today, while I was making myself heartsick reading how we are failing so many Americans in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, my younger son sent me a song. It was a cover of a song I always loved. And it totally changed my attitude! Seriously — I found myself dancing in the chair beneath the umbrella outside, my Ipad & keyboard totally forgotten as I listened.

I remembered why music IS one of the ways I process the world: it keeps me balanced. I put that song on like a 16-year-old — playing it over & over for 1/2 an hour, as my bleak dark mood lightened, finally dissipating entirely. I shared it w/ my beloved, as well. And he smiled, caught up in the melody & lyrics. Given, it’s a particularly happy tune, but really? Music is just magic.

I can’t think of anything else — not food, not drink, not books, not even the laughter of my grandsons — that has the same kind of impact on me. Music takes me outside of myself, to some place other. I couldn’t tell you where that it is, or how that works, to be honest. Nothing else, however (well, nothing but being outside…) has that kind of healing power for me.

Anyway, if these dark & grievous times are preying on you like they do me? Well, here it is, so you can enjoy it too. I hope it helps. I know we all need some light these days…

Small things, big differences ~

Small things, big differences ~

Sometimes very small things that other people do ~ a 2-3 minute Google search, that turns up an important fact (at least to you, or, in this case, me) ~ have BIG impact. And yes, I’m thinking of something specific.

I have a background in science as well as writing. In 10th grade, I actually wanted to be a geneticist (seriously), and did my term paper on the science of organ transplants, still very new then. My hypothesis was that if we transplanted ovaries, women would be having the biological child of the transplant-er’s genes.

My teacher told me it was an unseemly topic for a young girl. UGH.

Later, I would weld a seam between my love of biological science & my love of writing, working as my daily newspaper’s medical & science journalist. One of my all-time fave jobs.

These days, I read science-based non-fiction for fun. Every year, my husband used to buy me the Best of Science & Nature Writing anthology for Christmas. Lately, I can’t wait that long, & check it out of the library when it’s released!

So trust me when I say I thought my knowledge of basic genetics was pretty accurate.

Offhandedly, I told my elder son – father of my two adored & adorable grandsons – that I had made my peace w/ the fact that my genes weren’t going forward in his wo boys. My X chromosome is not represented in them; they have their mother’s. And I thought that was fine.

But my sensitive elder son somehow caught on to my hidden sadness, and looked up gender & chromosomal inheritance. Mom, he messaged me, only one of your 26 chromosomes is gendered. You live on in the boys. 

I burst into tears when I read that.

It couldn’t have taken him more than minutes. But I doubt I ever forget that my perfect grandsons really are mine as well as their father’s, mother’s, maternal grandparents, paternal grandfather… The long line of my own beloved family line is there in 25 of their chromosomes. And I’m the richer for having that knowledge, as well as a son who took the time to find it out & let me know. Oh! And his sense that it was important, even when I didn’t know myself.

Not a big thing in the schema of his day. But huge in mine. It really is the small things that make big differences. 💖

Oh what fools: Hotei, and the joy of belief

Oh what fools: Hotei, and the joy of belief

I read a blog once (from The Dalai Grandma) on ‘the fun-loving Buddha.’ DG muses over the ways people respond when she mentions Buddhism (especially Zen) and ‘fun’ in the same breath. Oxymoronic for most folks, she concludes. Why? Why do people think Buddhism — even more than other religions — is so serious?

To be fair, most religions are seen as ‘serious business.’ Prescriptive, proscriptive. Restrictive…:) But I don’t feel that way about Buddhism. And probably Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Baha’i et al don’t feel that way about their own spiritual paths, either. Most people see their spiritual beliefs, I’d wager, as rewarding, if not ‘fun.’

The difference, at least for me, is that for many Buddhists, Buddhism isn’t really a ‘religion’. There’s no god associated w/ it, unless you create one from history and/or ritual. There’s no real ‘ritual’ or even dogma. Unless, that is, you buy into that package. You can simply follow the Five Precepts — or even the 8 — and be on the path. You may not get there as quickly (there’s a reason the Buddha says you need a supportive community of practice, and practice), but you’ll probably get there eventually. You can be a Buddhist and a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim or a Hindu. That’s not true of most religions’ teachings.

(We’re going to get back to ‘fun,’ I promise.)

A friend of a friend says that all religions are ladders to the same God. For Buddhists, substitute ‘place’ for ‘God.’  That’s always been what I believe. Even as a child, I was pretty rational. Mystic, too, however — I believed that all things made in the image of living things (dolls, teddy bears, stuffed animals) had feelings. You had to treat them kindly, as you had to treat all living things kindly. You couldn’t even kick a tree — it would hurt its feelings. But there was also a kind of child’s logic. I believed in Jesus — after all, wasn’t the Bible like a history book? Wasn’t the family name of Jesus written in the Roman census? — but not, perhaps, God. After all, who could see or really know the author of everything? hotei2

But still, I made bargains w/ God, once I began to believe in a divine force (who was always a lot more like the Indian Great Spirit than a Judaeo-Christian father figure). So hey ~ you do this for me and I’ll do this thing I’m pretty sure you want me to do (if you want specific things for specific people, that is). Okay?

Small girl wishes — please don’t let Grandma & Aunt Bonnie die before I get home. Never realising that once I left, I wouldn’t have a real home for many many years… And I don’t remember what I offered up to that small girl’s deity. Slower temper? More obedience? (Neither were or are my strong suits.) It seems to have been a promise I kept — Grandma and Aunt Bonnie were there to welcome me when I returned.

Despite the seriousness of my wishes, I never felt my beliefs precluded ‘fun.’ After all, what about Hotei? The Laughing Buddha who to this day reminds me of my father? And for Christians, what about St. Francis, who loved all the animals? How can you not play w/ a puppy? Or pull a string for a kitten? And what about whirling, dancing, Dervishes? And funny koans and parables? What about religious riddles and everything the world seems to have ordered up to make us laugh? Like flowers and the fat bees that work them. And birds that perform acrobatics in the snowy outside, one red-bellied woodpecker stretching his neck to reach the suet block above him.

At 10, I would climb into the plumeria tree down the street and sit, hidden in the fragrant white and yellow flowers. The ants would march up and down the twisted branches — like another kind of ladder into heaven — harvesting nectar. Content to perch above the world, a book curled in my lap, I was invisible. Rarely did anyone think to look up to find me. Back then, that 10-year-old girl climbed trees 10, 12, 15 feet up. She twisted like a small monkey princess through the iron bars on the 2nd-floor  window to sit on the roof below it, looking into the villas below. It was a kind of godly vision — impartial, non-judgmental. A quality I seem to have traded for acrophobia.

It was the best of play ~ creative and absorbing and beyond time. It was pure fun.

plumeriaAnd yet it was also a way into believing. Somehow, perched up in the tree, I knew I was part of the ants, the bees, the blue geckos (poisonous, our amah warned us). The bees, apis cerana, would walk with their feathery legs over my arm, while the geckos caught the ants with tongues that flickered like light. I sat with my back against the warm living wood of the tree’s support, cradled and safe. It’s the way I’ve always felt w/ trees: as if they love me back.

Once, years later, my life was falling apart, as lives have a tendency to do periodically. Kind of like when your computer crashes. I felt as if nothing in the world would ever be good again. Each day, as I walked from my small apartment close to Grandma & Aunt Bonnie, I would reach up and touch the branch of a Southern mimosa that hung over the sidewalk, scratching out a life in the dry scrabble earth of an apartment building shoulder. I swear the branches hung down just for me. And long into the late fall — November, I’m sure — there were the soft sweet feathers of its blossoms for me to smile at. It bloomed its heart out for me, knowing how very much I needed it.

Every time I passed beneath her, I told that mimosa thank you. Sometimes, when I needed her love as a talisman, I broke a blossom from her ferny branches, and carried it with me, inhaling the light fragrance. The mimosa didn’t seem to mind. She may have known it made my difficult life a bit more manageable.

I can’t say my life then was ‘fun.’ In fact it was dead awful — my folks were overseas. My boyfriend had left me for a friend. My dog had to be given back to the breeder because he bit people (not me). I was living on $350.00/ monthly, working at the university library. Even way back in the Stone Ages it wasn’t enough. Life was definitely NOT fun.

But the relationship between the mimosa and me….that was wonderful. It wasn’t religious. Or even ‘spiritual’ (the lovely catch-all term that we use when we mean we don’t go to church regularly…) But my love for the mimosa, the plumeria, the ants and bees and lizards and later the biting dog and the unfaithful boyfriend and the three-room apartment that caught fire and infused all my belongings w/ acrid ash and smoke? Those were all wonderful…the fool

If you check out the etymology of ‘fun’, you find some interesting contradictions: it now means a diversion, an amusement. But it used to mean ‘cheat’ or ‘trick’ — from the Middle English fonnen, ‘befool.’ I imagine the shift is because it was fun to be fooled — the old shell game. The magician’s sleight of hand. So of course no one today would see any congruency, any overlap in things spiritual/ religious and things ‘fun.’ And certainly no one wants any whiff of ‘shill game’ about religion :).

And yet… And yet… That isn’t a bad thing. Old religions — the far older religions of Wiccans, pagans, and animists, for instance — hold fools/ tricksters as holy. Coyote is a trickster. So is Br’er Rabbit in the old Uncle Remus stories. And the Fool, in the Tarot Major Arcana, is the journeyman on a trip of discovery.

But here we are again at what I believe. Not perhaps what others believe, but it’s all connected. And it’s only one way (of so many) I know that everything is part of a/the web. The mimosa, an outsider like me. The bees, working to make honey from the plumeria that was my sanctuary. The ants, who fed the small geckos that slid like ribbon through the branches. The sky above, the earth below. And me on the twisted Middle Path between. Usually having a lot of fun.