sit still and follow the stick

Without fail, every single time I attend a city school concert — and I’ve attended lots and lots of concerts over the years, as it’s been lots and lots of years — two things smack me between the eyes or, depending on the sense being aroused and the direction I’m facing, the ears.

One is the sound of winds and strings and beatific voices playing and singing in tune, or damn near close to it. And that’s not nothing. No matter how often grown-ups crack jokes about the squeaks and squawks emitting from student instruments in the midst of practice — as though these sounds are any more aggravating or less mellifluous than any other noises emitting from a child at any point in his or her early life, like, say, whining, farting, shouting for cookies and marathon virtuosic tantrum-throwing  — the fact is, learning an instrument isn’t easy. If a kid is bold enough to wrap hands around a viola or a French horn or an oboe or some other ancient and altogether convoluted melody-making machine and actually create something akin to music, well, huzzah. Let us applaud loudly. Let us applaud the teachers, too.

This leads me to the other fact that smacks me in the face whenever I’m squished in the crowd at a school auditorium — as I was earlier tonight for my son’s middle-school winter concert. It’s the fact that APPROXIMATELY ONE MILLION KIDS are crowding the stage, sitting still, performing an insanely complex, cooperative task, doing so with total coordination, concentration and good nature, and — this is the best part — TAKING DIRECTION FROM A SINGLE ADULT HOLDING A STICK. And not even a big stick. TAKING DIRECTION FROM A SINGLE ADULT HOLDING A PATHETICALLY FLIMSY STICK. 

I watch this spectacle of civilization at its best, and I wonder: Why don’t schools encourage more of this shockingly effective crowd control disguised as art? Why don’t workplaces do it? Whole troubled neighborhoods? Congress? If a mob of squirmy children can get along for several long minutes to perform an arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” then shouldn’t leaders of belligerent nations give it a whirl? Leaving out the cannons, maybe? If they have trouble with it, no probs. The kids can show them how.

counter-clockwise

round and round and round we go

guess we’re going this way

I love to skate. And so long as I’m skating counter-clockwise, I’m not half bad, looping around the rink with a freedom and fluidity that dupes me into regarding myself as graceful. Which I’m not. Believe you me, I’m not.

But on the ice, crossing right foot over left, right foot over left, I’m taller, less klutzy, more confident. I know how to move without crashing. I know how to stop without falling. And I know where I’m going: to the left.

Today at the Empire State Plaza, I found this westward motion strangely reassuring. As my youngest and I tooled around the smallish oval alongside the bundled, happy crowd, I felt the crushing grip of the week behind me loosen its cinch. This was a one-way street. I either skated counter-clockwise or not at all. I couldn’t just go renegade and skate to the right, not without toppling gooey young couples and retirees on vintage skates and pre-schoolers wobbling on double-runners, their parents wobbling along behind them.

How natural, after a loved one dies, to look back and log the days without her. My best friend  died on Monday; I’ve spent six days Pam-less, so far. So I backspin to the last time we gabbed, or the last time I glimpsed her, saying goodbye, or that day we kicked the soccer ball around with our boys, flushed with exertion.

But we live on an orb that rotates counter-clockwise. It presses to the left with an insistence that feels impossibly cruel. And yet, and yet. It keeps us whirling forward. We have no choice. We go to work, chat with colleagues. We go home, make supper for our children. Later on, a little too much later, we go to bed.

And in between, if we’re lucky, we skate.

vote here! goldfish poll!

After deep linguistic analysis and months, I mean seconds, of rigorous and discerning discussion with my three children, I am pleased to announce finalists in the First and Last Annual Name My Goldfish Competition of 2013.

Some of these names, “Sushi” included, were suggested in comments right here on the blog. Others, such as “Chunk,” were suggested in a thread on my Facebook page. “Pudge” is my daughter Madeleine’s idea. The idea of highlighting the plight of this sad creature to begin with was suggested by my friend Jane, whom I should have credited from the start but didn’t because I’m an ungrateful and insensitive wretch. If I weren’t, I would have named the fish years ago.

Go ahead and vote. Just once will do. Voting will close same time tomorrow, unless I change my mind and extend it, because I am flighty as well as ungrateful and insensitive, and because, as you are no doubt aware, the First and Last Annual Name My Goldfish Competition of 2013 is bigger news than the Grammys. So you’re all clamoring for the chance to express your opinions on piscine pet monikers. So I’m going to shut up now. So you can vote. Go on. Vote.

you talkin' to me? probably not. No one does.

you talkin’ to me? probably not. no one does.

name my goldfish

Such a sad face.

Such a sad face.

Okay, people. I need a break. Tonight I give you a post that has NOTHING TO DO WITH DEATH, GRIEF and/or SNOT POURING FROM FACIAL ORIFICES.

Instead, I want you to name my fish. This is the ill-appreciated aquatic pet to which I alluded disrespectfully in  last night’s post, which also involved DEATH, GRIEF and/or SNOT POURING FROM FACIAL ORIFICES.

Give me your ideas below. I will consider them harshly, weed them out and boil them down (or employ other such violent gardening and cooking methods) until I have a few worthy finalists. Then I’ll post a poll.

I’ll start you off with my son’s nominee: Jesús.

(I’m not enough of an authority on goldfish sexual characteristics, either primary or secondary, to establish its gender.)

what i have

After any loss, we fixate on the absent. I do this. I did this on Monday, when I first got the news that Pam had died. I’ve done it every moment since. I’m doing it now. I’ll do it tomorrow, zeroing in on everyone I ever lost.

They’re all there, gathered around a blazing fire pit in some grand backyard, having a high old time without me: My best friend. My husband. My sister. My father. My mother. My second mother. And so on. And so on. And so on.

But I can’t always focus on the departed, no matter how dear they are. I need to tally up my blessings here and now. And not just the good things; I have to include the annoying things, the meh things, even the bad things. Because when life shakes out in the end, whenever that end may be, the good and the bad will have muddied and merged, and we won’t know the difference — or we won’t care.

So, just for a moment, I’ll aim to be grateful for everything that put me here, keeps me here, makes me Amy, makes me sane.

What do I have?

I have my three children, indelible, spirited, compassionate and brave.

I have my family, so large and so loving, whether related by blood or not.

I have my friends: each of them individually; all of them as a whole; the possibility of new ones tomorrow.

I have a bad habit of apologizing too much for everything.

I have a foul mouth. You’re shocked by this revelation. I can tell. Sorry. Continue reading

Pamsadoodle

Tonight I have too much to say and no right words to say it: I just lost my best friend, Pam, one of the brightest gifts in the long arc of blessings that illumined my way. She helped me through my husband’s death. She helped me through my sister’s death, becoming my sister, too. She was the sweetest, humblest, kindest, funniest person I knew, with the most infectious laugh, and the thought of moving forward without her boggles my mind and breaks my heart.

But I know I will move forward. Because I know she’ll be helping me and everyone she loved and loves still. I know she’ll be laughing with me, though I won’t hear her wild giggles again until I’m a cranky old fusspot and I die in my sleep and she finds me in the crowd at the pearly gates, eyes crinkling, sidling up with some wacky story of some weird guy in the line ahead of me. Someday we’re going to double over again with laughter, and heaven’s occupants won’t know how to handle it. We’ll make too much noise. They’ll have to send us back.

I just saw her a little over a month ago — and sure enough, after eating subpar sushi on a Saturday night, we fell into a bout of laughter that left us with aching bellies. “Amesadoodle,” she used to say. “Amesadoodle, wait’ll you hear this. I have a funny story to tell you.”

She always did. She will again. I’ll be waiting for it.

So tonight, in Pam’s memory, I’m asking you — whoever you are, be you friend, family or random stranger — to call up the person in your life with whom you laugh the most radiantly and contagiously. And let it rip, the both of you.

‘good afternoon, wicked thighs’

photo (1)

Tracking back my blessings on Friday got me thinking about Wykeham Rise, the wee girls’ arts school in Washington, Conn., where my mom taught music and I learned to make pinch pots while singing “Caro mio ben” (although not simultaneously) when I wasn’t combing my hair at oblique angles and squinting through my bangs. Now closed, Wykeham had about 85 kids, tops. Most everyone was an artist or musician or actor of some sort, and those who weren’t might as well have been, because we were all so gloriously and floridly eccentric.

I loved that place. No one cared that I was a nerdy introvert with clanging dental hardware; I was a Wykeham Chickham as much as anyone, and before long, nurtured and valued at a school where my voice seemed to matter, where people seemed to care, I became less introverted. Though no less nerdy. And still prone to squinting. And, for the record, a space. 

The teachers at Wykeham were as eccentric as the kids.  One of them, a Mr. David I Forgot His Last Name, sketched the portrait above.  I was being spacey at the time. He felt Continue reading