PAD 1: She Majored in Music

It’s that time of year again, folks–National Poetry Month! As in previous year, Writer’s Digest sponsors the Poem-A-Day (PAD) challenge on it’s “Poetic Asides” blog. I’ll do my best to keep up. At the very least, I’m starting on time! I read the prompt this morning and ruminated all day, and then when I finally went into my “office” to write, I came across a spam-ish email from a former student which sparked some lovely memories of teaching the young woman how to play the flute during after school sessions. Since today’s prompt is to write a reminiscing poem, this random email struck just the right chord.

She Majored in Music


A clear, soft tone

Of a silver flute.

Crisp and clean.

We’d meet after school

And practice and learn.

Sweet music almost as melodious

As her laughter.

Her joy was contagious,

Even after a long day,

Especially then.

I think that I, the teacher,

Learned more from her

Than she ever did from me.

She’s like a lily,

So clean and defined,

That knows what it is, and

Is proud of it.

The flowers stand tall;

The scent is unmistakable.

The purity and goodness

It symbolizes.

She shared with me:

Her joy, her music, and her faith.

Simple and profound

And topped with a hat.



Medicine and Music

Last month  we went to a memorial service for my father-in-law given by the medical school to which he had donated his body.  You see,  he died two years ago this past April, and per his wishes,  his body was donated to Hofstra Medical School. After two years, the school holds a service for the families and friends. There were eight families present,  and to my surprise,  many medical students as well. The room was filled to overflowing.

I didn’t know what to expect. But I certainly hadn’t thought about medical students reading poetry or playing music. This was a real memorial service complete with music and personal reflections.  Several students played musical instruments and sang. One read her reflection on her own relative’s decision to donate. Unfortunately,  the med student who had written a poem for the occasion was called away,  and we did not get to hear it, but what we did hear was lovely,  heartfelt, and a testament to the creative spirit and to those generous people who donated their bodies to the school who became these medical students’ “first patients.” My sister-in-law also read a beautiful reflection on my father-in-law and his decision to donate.

In talking with the young med student who was one of those for whom my father-in-law was “first patient,” we expressed our surprise at the creative, mostly musical, hobbies of these med students. He told us that he too plays an instrument (I forget now which one). Though he has little time to pursue music, it is a welcome diversion whenever he can find the time. Music, like most creative endeavors, requires a concentration on the moment at hand. It is a release, momentarily, from the stresses and rigors of med school. Of course that makes perfect sense. Why wouldn’t med students be like the rest of us who yearn to express ourselves in some creative fashion? Why wouldn’t med students need the creative release of playing guitar, violin, piano, or writing a poem, or drawing a picture after hours of studying organic chemistry? I had not thought of it before. Medical shows like ER and Grey’s Anatomy focus on the quick moving, cut throat, and life-saving world of medicine. We become conditioned to look at med students/doctors as narrowly focused on their specialties in medicine. But real doctors, real med students are more complex than that; they are multi-faceted human beings. The beauty of creativity is how it allows all of us to experience the world from different perspectives. This is a wonderful skill for anyone, but especially for the people who help us when we are at our lowest.

PAD 28: Matter/Anti-Matter

It’s the last two-fer Tuesday of the month. Today prompts are matter (what things are made of) or anti-matter. I went with the former.

What Things Are Made Of


It matters, you know,

What things are made of.

Is the sweater acrylic? Or Wool?

The dryer cycle will let you know

If you don’t already,

But it matters, what things are made of.

It matters, too, if the gold

On the edge of the plate is paint

Or real. Will it create a spark, a fire

In the microwave, or not?

And what about you?

What are you made of?

Do you believe what you tell me,

Or do you tell me what you think

I believe?

Are we real to each other? Or

Just visions of what we think

The other believes real?

I will come clean.

I will be true.

What am I made of?

Catholicism, Literature, Art,

Music, Writing, Family,

Books, Yarn, Crochet, Sewing…

But most of all, I am made of

You and me…

And our baby, our kitty, our Leo.

I am made of our family,

As we define it.

Solitary, Solitude, Solitaire

Today’s creativity musings revolve around the idea of being alone. Much of the time creativity is a solitary practice. We write by ourselves, often paint by ourselves, frequently sew by ourselves, practice instruments by ourselves. Yet the finished products are released to a wider world. It’s a strange dichotomy, isn’t it. We work in solitude. We are alone in our rooms, studios, at our desks–or we convince ourselves that we are out in the world by writing in bars and coffee shops, but ultimately, the work is done alone. 

However, in that first solitary stage, we are not really alone are we? We writers are surrounded by our characters. We inhabit their world with them and let them tell us where they want to go next. They become real to us. Sometimes they hijack the story. We begin writing with one thing in mind, but frequently, a character’s voice becomes too loud to ignore, or less frequently too soft to hear. I’ve had a minor character fight with me to be the big dog. And he’s won. I’m sure it’s the same for many of you. Diana Gabaldon author of the Outlander series said that the book became a time travel novel because Claire kept saying things that didn’t fit 1793 Scotland. She had to come from somewhere/when else. These characters we create are all around us whether we’re sitting at the keyboard, swishing on the elliptical machine, or even interacting with other “real” people at a cocktail party. This solitary pursuit, this time in solitude is peopled with our own creations and they follow us into the world at large.

I’d say the feeling is similar for the visual artist. Paintings may not necessarily be peopled, unless one is working on a portrait, but the concentration, the consumption the artist feels for the form, the hue, the darks and lights surrounds him/her even when the studio is empty of other humans. And frequently I find that on my best painting days, I “get in the zone” and the other people in the studio seem to disappear–even if just for a few minutes. That solitude in the midst of others occurs when one is most connected to one’s art. 

How about the musician? The scales and arpeggios are a solitary pursuit. Practicing a piece takes place alone in a room. I’ve sung with a choir that has brought in soloists for certain parts, and the first time all the soloists, choir, and musicians appeared together has been the dress rehearsal. Even in the choir, we would each practice our parts at home in addition to the once a week rehearsals. Yet even in our individual rehearsals we can connect with the music and the singers/musicians we will eventually join, not to mention the artists who have performed the piece in the past.

Eventually, however, the solitude is not enough. Eventually, the art must become public. We must join the other voices; we must let our “children” out into the world and hope for the best for them and for us. There will be praise; there will be critique. But eventually, there must be a sharing.

And what about solitaire? That’s an addiction that keeps us away from our solitary family! 🙂

Create Fun

Here it is, the unofficial end of summer. Labor Day weekend. A time to celebrate the diligent labor that created this country. Do we still have that work ethic? Do we still work hard for the sake of a job well done? One thing is for sure; it is easier to persevere in our work when our work is what we want to do, when our work is not work. Creativity should not be work, right? But of course there are revisions and edits that need to be made, practice routines that must be accomplished, clean up after a project that can’t be ignored. Sometimes, even when we work at what is our passion (or follow our creativity outside of our salaried positions), sometimes even the creativity seems drudge-full. Everyone goes through moments like this. That’s when we need to remember our work ethic. That’s when we need to remember our creative desire. That’s when we need to create fun.

Did you ever babysit? Or are you a mother of a young child? Do you remember making a game out of cleaning up the toys before the parents came home? or before moving on to the next activity? “Who can toss the most stuffed animals into the box?” “Can you drive the train into the station?” “Time to practice parking–the tricycle goes over here!” For our children we make up games to get the drudgery done and re-establish some order to the space. Why not do it for ourselves?

Sometimes the answer is as easy as putting on some music or talking to a friend. Recently I was painting a tiny, tedious white picket fence around a porch in an oil painting. First, I sketched it in with charcoal, giving it my undivided attention. Then, I took a little break and chatted with a friend in the studio. Next, I went back to it with paint and again gave it my undivided attention as I painted in those tiny pickets. But soon, someone else came in and I took a quick break to say hello. Back to the painting–more concentration. Step back, observe, take a drink of coffee. More attention. Ask advice. Back to the pickets–adjusting size and color for the perspective and shadows. Was this a quick way to achieve a small portion of the painting? No. Does that fence look good? Yes. Was I looking forward to painting that fence? No. Am I happy with it and did I feel good when I finished? Yes. So maybe we also need to give ourselves time to slow down when the going gets sludgy–as long as we don’t stop. And try to remember that feeling of “it’s done, and it’s good” we had the last time we ran into a tedious revision.

Today, I think I’ll finally do some editing. I also have “work work” to do answering e-mails and creating courses. But think about it–in creating or updating my courses for next year, I get to read some really great poetry or short stories. In editing, I get to revisit my characters and see how they are doing, make their journeys smoother. What’s not fun about that? And I’m sure there’ll be many cups of coffee, glasses of water, and walks around the garden to motivate me.

How do you make those down moments fun? What do you do to keep a smile when the creation becomes a monster? And can anyone convince me that  running scales on the flute is fun?