Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Peace on Earth?

With the holiday season under full sway, I can't help opining that for most of us modern women, preparations can be so hectic the actual day isn't much fun! After all, how can you appreciate the the joyfully greedy sound of ripping paper when you're the one who so carefully taped the paper on in the first place?!My first Christmas as a new wife I groused about the fact that were it not for me, my inlaws might not have had a present under their tree. (They would have had something eventually...) It takes a certain kind of awareness to buy something when it's on sale, wrap it, label it and get it in the mail in time to arrive by a CERTAIN day. (Same goes for Birthdays, Weddings and Anniversaries.) I just hadn't realized that when my mother gave me a book of stamps and a calendar with all our family members' birthdays written down, that it was actually an initiation--perhaps a greater milestone to "becoming a woman" than purchasing my first lipstick. The first three years of my marriage I yelled and nagged. Then I realized that if I were single, I would be the one leaning over the eaves on a rickety ladder with a staple gun and a string of lights. So now I confine myself to obsessing about having enough cookies and in enough variety to make a "pretty" cookie plate on Christmas Eve, and whether I have to give all of my daughter's teachers equal gifts even if I think one or another has chosen the wrong profession and would be better off stuffing envelopes in a back room where they didn't have to talk to actual people. (Or maybe it's just that they need to talk only to people over the age of 30?) I've learned to make lists and start early and not to promise or expect to accomplish much else during the month of November. (If it ain't in by November 1st, don't expect it until the New Year.)

This year, Christmas came a bit early. We celebrated mom/dad/daughter Christmas on the 12th of December so we don't have to lug our gifts to the inlaws on the 24th. Less to carry and lose and whine about later. So what am I going to do for the next 2 weeks? I don't know. I truly don't know. With nothing much to complain about, I'll have to find other ways to amuse myself. Like napping. Or bathing. Or handing out unsolicited advice in this blog. Here's my gem for today:

Merry Christmas--don't MARRY Christmas, and you'll have a much happier New Year.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Restless Muse

For years I was told by well meaning professors that I needed to "focus" in order to succeed. That was code for "pick something and stick with it." But that has never been my nature. At Lawrence University, a small, fabulous liberal arts college in Appleton, WI, my multiple interests and talents were both encouraged and rewarded. With a double major in Spanish and Music Composition, I found one interest fed another. My senior year I combined all my passions, completing an Honors Thesis on the Life and Music of Heitor Villa-Lobos and presenting a lecture recital on the 100th anniversary of his birth. To complete it I had to combine my training in composition, music theory, history and analysis, research, piano performance, foreign languages (most of what had been written about Villa-Lobos was published in Spanish, Portuguese and French) and writing. When I earned a summa cum laude on my project, I decided to pursue graduate studies with the aim of becoming a professor--a career in which I could employ all my interests, talents and training.

It was not to be for reasons I may write about some day. I earned a Masters but left shortly after. I thought my career was over.  But over the years I struggled and fought my way back, fought against the powers that tried to limit my advancement, my goals and ambitions. I had seen the ugly underbelly of academia and decided I wanted no part of it. But I had no idea what to do next.

I sought the advice of a career counselor. My advisor had a unique approach. From a series of writing exercises in which I listed people I most admired, I discovered what they all had in common--multiple careers and interests. They were Renaissance comrades in an era of specialization--both/and people in a world where we think in either/or terms. My wise advisor listened to my lists and essays and summarized my personality in a word. "You are a bridge", he said. "You are good at making connections between careers, between people, between ideas. You're so-called 'lack of focus' is your strength. Don't be afraid to be yourself."

It has not always been easy, and I often feel torn in too many directions at once. But I have learned to honor my "restless muse". These different passions and parts of my personality are like children: they each deserve equal attention, and if I neglect one too long I become morose and tired and difficult to live with.

I now hold fast to the liberal arts ideal that Lawrence instilled in me so long ago, and follow my own path. In this symphony that is my life, I will not neglect the strings, or the brass, or woodwinds or percussion, but give each a chance to sing, and revel in the glory of the whole that is more than the parts. For that is what I find most beautiful. That is why I am here.