Friday, May 22, 2015

“The Art of Transformation”

Blog Post #28

*Dear Friends, I am pleased to share this article written for a recent issue of The Mogul Muse Magazine, of which I am currently Writer-in-Residence.
“You can fly, but that cocoon has to go!” – Mary Ellen Edmunds
There is a word feared and avoided more than most in the English language. It threatens, it cajoles, it looms, it surprises. It induces stress and heightens anxiety. It is both menacing and nurturing. Innocent in its intentions, it is the standard-bearer of growth. In most cases, innocuous, it can brighten one’s perspective, act as a harbinger of hope, and create anticipation and excitement, yet in the same breath, it may grip one with fear. What is this simple word? It ischange.
Why does change create so many diverse and emotionally charged reactions? I believe, by its very nature, it suggests the unknown. Let’s face it—the unknown can be unnerving. Especially when change creates unknowns in things close to one’s heart—one’s being, one’s thinking, one’s relationships, or one’s way of life.
Change is like that. In a moment, the Unknown may rear its precipitous head, and normal life goes topsy-turvy—a layoff, an accident, a death. But in all fairness, change doesn’t necessarily denote something bad. It can also bring happy surprises. A new baby, for example—one moment, in mother’s womb, the next, cuddled and adored by the whole family. (The household still turned upside down, but the repercussions are, for the most part, positive.)
Here are a few possible examples of positive change: a new job, a wedding, a new home, or a move.
Now, consider if you will, a few possible examples of negative change: a new job, a wedding, a new home, or a move.
The power of change as a force for good or ill depends largely on how we choose to view it.
Change Apron
Interestingly, it is the nature of change to be unsettling, even in the best of times. Clinging to the apron strings of any kind of major change are tinier seeds of change that potentially produce positive or negative results, or both. A new job may bring better pay, but longer hours and more stress. A wedding brings blissful joys at the same time generating expenses, difficult decisions, and perhaps stirring up familial issues. A new home may mean a fresh start, more room, or better location, but it may also mean leaving an old home, changing schools, and leaving friends behind. A move is, at best, stressful, but may open up a variety of new opportunities.
Like foxtails that work their way into the fabric of life, tiny seeds of change riding on the backs of greater changes poke and prickle until one takes notice. For example, an injury may carry with it foxtails of fear and uncertainty about one’s future, as well as cockleburs of faith and determination. The injured may choose complete debilitation by cultivating the seeds of fear, or he or she may choose nurturing faith over despair, engendering newfound strengths and the ability to inspire others. In choosing to nurture the good or the bad seed, a transformation will occur. Plucking out the annoyance, while planting and nourishing the good seeds of change, will over time, transform those seedlings as they grow into good fruit. Neglecting potentially good seed, while allowing bad seeds to fester, will eventually cause bitterness and further tribulation.
‘Change” may, at first, appear to be the ‘bad guy.’
Changing oneself is the most disconcerting transformation of all. Purposely seeking to change aspects of oneself may mean recognizing an inherent quality that is unhealthy, destructive, or unworthy. On the other hand, it may mean cultivating positive attributes that are underdeveloped. In purposeful transformation, change may itself appear to be “the bad guy” (it’s difficult, it nags, it’s demanding). But after effecting change, “the good guy” emerges (it got easier, I no longer need reminders, I triumphed). The fruit of change then appears and validates with improved health, healthier relationships, increased gifts and talents, peace, hope, and shared joy.
The fruit of ‘change’ has the power to convert ‘bad’ into ‘good’
Some seek change for the wrong reasons, such as to fit someone else’s standard or ideal of beauty, or to feel a part of a group, cult, or clique. While it may be advantages to conform to higher standards of morality and appearance related to a worthy institution or belief system, to seek to lower one’s true nature for the sake of popularity or acceptance is self-deceptive and may very well be self-destructive.
A classic example of transformation is represented by the life cycle of a butterfly. At first, a caterpillar eats and eats and eats, preparing for the pending change of circumstance. Once it builds its chrysalis, it fearlessly faces the unknown—it doesn’t know exactly what it will become, or what the process of “becoming” will be like, but it is committed to fulfilling its mission. Consequently, it is bound-up in a tight spot of its own making for a while. I suspect it is cramped and uncomfortable, and endures growing pains during the process of transformation. At last, it emerges, a new being, with a new demeanor and wardrobe, and a new means of transportation. No longer will the caterpillar be forced to creep and crawl, but will now have wings to flit and flutter about the garden.
Does the butterfly fret and stew over the chrysalis? Does it drag it along wherever it goes? Does it cling to its old ways of doing things, crawling instead of flying? The answer is an emphatic NO!
Indeed, the butterfly embraces the change in its entirety. It moves forward with a sense of mission and purpose. It is fulfilling the measure of its creation, and by so doing has and gives joy.
Transformation may be rooted in our thinking and belief systems. If we believe change is good, or that we can or should change for the better, then we stand a better chance of effecting positive results. If we believe there’s no point to change, and that we can’t change, we will essentially remain stagnant.
Consider the following two versions of a wonderful fable of transformation, each having a different result.
1 – The Eagle Who Thought He Was a Chicken:
A baby eagle became orphaned. He glided down to the ground from his nest but was not yet able to fly. A man picked him up. The man took him to a farmer and said, “This is a special kind of barnyard chicken that will grow up big.” The farmer said, “Don’t look like no barnyard chicken to me.” “Oh yes, it is. You will be glad to own it.” The farmer took the baby eagle and placed it with his chickens.
The baby eagle learned to imitate the chickens. He could scratch the ground for grubs and worms too. He grew up thinking he was a chicken.
Then one day an eagle flew over the barnyard. The eagle looked up and wondered, “What kind of animal is that? How graceful, powerful, and free it is.” Then he asked another chicken, “What is that?” The chicken replied, “Oh, that is an eagle. But don’t worry yourself about that. You will never be able to fly like that.”
And the eagle went back to scratching the ground. He continued to behave like the chicken he thought he was. Finally he died, never knowing the grand life that could have been his.     
My First Blog Post EVER! 2 – Fable of the Eagle and the Chicken:
When an eagle was very small, he fell from the safety of his nest. A chicken farmer found the eagle, brought him to the farm, and raised him in a chicken coop among his many chickens. The eagle grew up doing what chickens do, living like a chicken, and believing he was a chicken.
A naturalist came to the chicken farm to see if what he had heard about an eagle acting like a chicken was really true. He knew that an eagle is king of the sky. He was surprised to see the eagle strutting around the chicken coop, pecking at the ground, and acting very much like a chicken. The farmer explained to the naturalist that this bird was no longer an eagle. He was now a chicken because he had been trained to be a chicken and he believed that he was a chicken.
The naturalist knew there was more to this great bird than his actions showed as he “pretended” to be a chicken. He was born an eagle and had the heart of an eagle, and nothing could change that. The man lifted the eagle onto the fence surrounding the chicken coop and said, “Eagle, thou art an eagle. Stretch forth thy wings and fly.” The eagle moved slightly, only to look at the man; then he glanced down at his home among the chickens in the chicken coop where he was comfortable. He jumped off the fence and continued doing what chickens do. The farmer was satisfied. “I told you it was a chicken,” he said.
The naturalist returned the next day and tried again to convince the farmer and the eagle that the eagle was born for something greater. He took the eagle to the top of the farmhouse and spoke to him: “Eagle, thou art an eagle. Thou dost belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth thy wings and fly.” The large bird looked at the man, then again down into the chicken coop. He jumped from the man’s arm onto the roof of the farmhouse.
Knowing what eagles are really about, the naturalist asked the farmer to let him try one more time. He would return the next day and prove that this bird was an eagle. The farmer, convinced otherwise, said, “It is a chicken.”
The naturalist returned the next morning to the chicken farm and took the eagle and the farmer some distance away to the foot of a high mountain. They could not see the farm nor the chicken coop from this new setting. The man held the eagle on his arm and pointed high into the sky where the bright sun was beckoning above. He spoke: “Eagle, thou art an eagle! Thou dost belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth thy wings and fly.” This time the eagle stared skyward into the bright sun, straightened his large body, and stretched his massive wings. His wings moved, slowly at first, then surely and powerfully. With the mighty screech of an eagle, he flew.
Both stories are from Walk Tall, You’re A Daughter Of God, by Jamie Glenn
Truly, you are not caterpillars. You are not chickens. Figuratively speaking, you are butterflies and eagles. Embrace worthy transformation….
What if I fly
© May 22, 2015
From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.


Blog Post # 27 
I just returned from practicing a piano duet with a wonderful friend who loves the sweet cadences and depth of feeling that pour from heart to fingers to keys to ears as much as I do. What an absolute joy to share one piano keyboard to make beautiful music together!
Mommy Amanda Duet 2
Hands: my mother’s and my       niece’s.      Duet.
When my sister, Karen, and I were young, we often “jammed” at the piano, later adding other instruments to the mix. It was at the piano that we learned to sync our hands and hearts. From Chopsticks, and Heart and Soul, we graduated to our own rendition of a tune from the now defunct Disney attraction, Country Bear Jamboree, banging out the song with knee-slapping, joyful abandon. We felt the other’s timing and touch so well, we could duplicate the unison parts with perfect accuracy. This translated to other parts of life: finishing each other’s sentences, and reading each other’s thoughts from across the room.
My mother during her college days
It was my mother’s love of music, combined with her proclivity toward the piano in particular, that bred a long line of piano players among her posterity. Duets were a natural outcropping from the bedrock of piano-loving family members, and remind me of a time when my mother was still alive. She was a fine pianist and loved to play hours at a time. I recall falling asleep to piano sonatas and waking on a Sunday morning to sacred hymns. I would come home from school to find my mother and one or the other of her two piano-playing friends at my mother’s baby grand, their hands executing complicated dance moves as they flew across the ivories revealing a classical masterpiece arranged for four hands. I knew the expectation—I was to wait until they stopped before interrupting them for anything, with the exception of an emergency. Some of those pieces lasted ten or fifteen minutes—a long time to wait for an anxious young mind. After waiting what seemed an eternity, I finally interrupted—Sheryl had been hanging on the phone wondering if I could come over to play! If that wasn’t an emergency, I don’t know what was!
Album 03-018a Veneta at her beloved piano, 1946
My beautiful mother, perhaps playing Liebestraum or the Harp Etude so many years ago…
When I grew older, my mother invited me to join her playing piano duets. She had high standards of excellence, and insisted I fix any technical errors at the very moment they were discovered—repeatedly playing a bar or two until I had mastered the phrase. I was never technically adept, but I made up for it with unsurpassed expressivo (feeling), for I certainly felt the beauty and emotion of the music, even if I couldn’t always play the notes correctly. Still, she wanted me by her side, and over time, I improved.
images b0367-2-150dpi
After I had a family of my own, my mother and I performed at a church function an involved arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever (the famous, easily recognizable march by John Phillip Sousa). It was a marvelous experience! I think the rehearsing was as much or more fun than the performance. A unique kind of bond forms when playing piano duets. There’s something about triumphing over difficult passages, hearing rough sight-reading sessions resolve into a harmonious whole, and feeling the emotional drama unfold with dynamic expression. I think the most satisfying part is when you feel an emotional connection to the music, and you know that an entirely different person sitting next to you is also feeling the music in exactly the same way you are, because you can anticipate and respond to what they’re feeling with perfect harmonious unity. (This doesn’t necessarily mean every note is perfectly executed, or that there is flawless technique. It means that two individuals are, for the moment, one in spirit.)
Amanda MommyDuet
Amanda playing duets with her grandmother.                                               So special.
MOmmy Amanda
Amanda with my mother.
When grandchildren came along, besides building puzzles together, and intensely competitive games of Scrabble, my mother invited them to play duets with her. While several enjoyed this privilege, one grandchild in particular latched onto this opportunity. Amanda excelled in playing the classical cadences and disciplined execution of the pieces my mother most enjoyed, which was satisfying to my mother. They made a good team, sometimes performing at church, and frequently for the family. I will venture to guess that Amanda formed a uniquely intimate bond with her grandmother through these duets.
Dogs & Primary Kids  August 14 and 25, 2005 001
My son and his wife playing piano together.
Dogs & Primary Kids  August 14 and 25, 2005 003
They really get into it!
When my own children were comfortable enough with the piano, I did my best to wrangle them into playing duets with me, however most preferred going solo. It wasn’t until my youngest daughter Caity grew adept enough to participate that I found a duet partner among my children. Even during trying and difficult teenage times, we found common ground and a laughing place sitting at the piano together. Our repertoire ranged from Mozart to Joplin—all played with equally blatant disregard for correct technique and execution. What we lost in technical expertise we made up for in expression. We loved the dynamics of the theme from Mozart’s Symphony No.40, and Burgmüller’s Arabesque. They were our wide-awake pieces. We blew threw them at Nascar speed, and with a roar to equal the revving engines! Who can resist every piano student’s favorite, Ellmenreich’s Spinning Song? We couldn’t. We dashed through it with unparalleled velocity and vigor, laughing all the way. We didn’t limit ourselves to lively pieces, however. Once, when playing an arrangement of Erik Satie’s First Gymnopèdie (which is serenity itself) we became so sleepy, we literally dozed on the bench. A much as we liked the piece, we haven’t played it since.
Two of my grandchildren. When they visit, one or the other, or both are always at the piano. I LOVE IT!
I found a much simpler arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever that usually brought up the rear flank of our duets each time we played. Racing to beat each other to the end of the unison octaves forming the introduction, we immediately stalled into a belly-scraping crawl—plodding through the bars forming the first strain. The oom-pah-pahs in the secondo part (the bottom hands) were just too much for Caity to play full-speed, yet she insisted upon playing the lower part. I can attest to the fact that it really is difficult to play anything while laughing uncontrollably. We created more guffaws than music.Stars and Stripes became the backbone of hilarity for our duet sessions, and bridged difficult moments with laughter. How grateful I am for the time we spent at the piano together—we made more than music. We engraved musical notes into a stone monument of love. From time to time, when she is in town, we pull out the duet books and laugh it up all over again.
My mother with my sister, brother and me singing Christmas carols. Another great tradition at the                     piano.
There are many forms of the duet other than those played on the piano. Singing together creates a similar experience and bond, as well as playing other instruments together. But duets don’t have to be limited to music. Four hands, or two souls, when combined in a mutually appreciated and unified effort have the same effect. Duets can build structures, repair cars, prepare meals, dance, climb mountains, and serve others, to name a few.
Hewletts with Caity Brad and Cait at Soapstone 2May 2005
Caity and Brad
I’ve watched as my husband Brad with one of our sons or daughters repaired a car, or saddled the horses for a ride. There’s something special in that. There’s a shared feeling of accomplishment and triumph when they both roll out from under the car with greasy hands, unitedly having solved a problem. Other kinds of problems may be solved, or circumvented in the process, as hands and minds repair, restore, or tune-up a thing of greater value—a relationship. There’s a connection when two set off alone on a moonlight ride. They return with a bit of moon inside of them—a bit of that light that warms and unites two hearts against the darkness.
The same may be true when four hands cook or bake side-by-side together, creating a culinary masterpiece or a simple peanut butter sandwich. It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s in the doing together that the bond is created.
Daddy McKay Piano
My father with our granddaughter–his great-         granddaughter–where else, but at the piano.
There are other valuable duets: mentor and apprentice, hero and sidekick, teacher and student, peer and peer, friend and friend, parent and child, sister and brother, grandparent and grandchild, husband and wife.
 One of the most rewarding duets outside of family relationships is when two work together to serve another. Four hands lifting and assisting someone in need, or lifting and serving each other. I have witnessed the power of this duet. It is strong, powerful, and life changing. When two combine their personal gifts and strengths to help another, they develop an unspoken bond. It’s difficult to pinpoint or explain, but I have experienced this, and can tell you that you feel one in purpose and one in heart when you lay aside other plans, and together with another like-minded person, give your time and energy to serve someone in need. You don’t even have to know the person with whom you serve prior to the moment of service. When you are finished, you see them through a familiar lens of understanding and compassion. You are like them and they like you—linked together in a uniquely special way. Four hands, two hearts, one mind.
It is not my purpose to lessen the value of trios, quartets, or other numerical combinations of people gathered for a unified experience. Not at all. Having participated in trios, quartets, double-quartets, and choirs composed of hundreds of souls, I can attest to the fact that there is a shared and harmonious unity in those experiences—even an unparalleled thrill to be part of such a group effort.
Me at the piano as a teenager–many eons ago.
Playing solo also has its place and benefits. It can provide lessons of courage and accomplishment, and boost self-confidence. Spending hours alone at the piano, alone with one’s thoughts, and the beautiful and inspiring music created is therapeutic.  Pounding out frustration and thinking things through are endeavors worked out on piano keys or through music throughout the ages. All of these are productive, purposeful, and enjoyable.
Amanda and Grandma playing the piano together, 1997?
Some of the family enjoying a duet.
But when there’s only one, there’s no one else to share the thrill and joy of the experience. When alone, one’s focus tends to center on self—one’s vision narrows. One—a single entity—benefits from another who can provide balance and communion. With two, the focus shifts to the other. What is the other feeling? Will I be able to tune myself to his or her mind and heart? Will we be able to connect and create a thing harmonious and beautiful?
When we du-et, (do it) it’s magical!
End Piece
© May 6, 2015
From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

It's About Time

Blog Post #26 

(*Originally written March 29, 2015)
Last night, I discovered I had allowed my domain account to expire. This means that my blog disappeared. I called my excellent blog savvy daughter for help (she helped me set it up in the beginning) and through her instruction got the domain reinstated. However, this morning, when I checked my blog, it was still gone. Feeling a little panicked, I called my daughter again. She began the task of trying to get my blog platform back on track.
My daughter has a busy life, and already spends a great deal of time dealing with internet/computer issues. I felt terrible taking up so much of her time trying to fix my problem. I might have sidestepped this puddle of problems if I had had more foresight. It bothers me to think of the time she has been wasting on my account.
In contemplating this, I began to think about Time, and why I hate to see Time wasted. What is time, anyway? It is something elusive and intangible, and yet can be such a taskmaster. It drives us out of bed in the morning, dictates meals, events, chores, and other activities, commands punctuality, but begs for relaxation, and may even wake us from a sound sleep in the middle of the night worrying about meeting its demands later on.
We willingly submit to Time’s regimentation, too. By choice, we invite Time to control our very existence in offensive ways. For example, we set clocks—sometimes, right next to our heads—to blast annoyingly loud and obnoxious sounds at ridiculous hours to startle us out of bed. We wear Time as jewelry, or as part of our clothing ensemble, to carry its nagging influence with us every waking hour. We even place large timepieces in conspicuous places in every venue we visit to remind us who, or more aptly, what is in charge. For it is Time that people rush to meet, check on to stay within obscure but rigid bounds, and that tells us when we can take a break. We are literal slaves to Time.
So what is Time? It’s one of the most difficult things to define and capture. It has no substance, no shape, no mass, nor profile. It cannot be visualized except by how it relates to things that happen during its reign. A timeline depicts key events occurring during Time’s tenure, but it does little to help us understand the true nature of Time itself, except to point out that it exists—you guessed it!—throughout the span of TIME! Yes, for millennia, mankind has bowed to its strict dictatorship, without ever catching hold of what it is.
Interestingly enough, for all the things Time isn’t, there is one thing Time is: Time is measureable. We can calculate how much we need, how much we’ve used, how much is left, and how long till we press the “reset” button to have another chunk of Time to use or waste as we see fit.
For me, it is a rare and precious commodity. I have been known to hoard it. I have often wished for more of it, but it is extremely stingy and precise. It gives the same to everyone—be they king, peasant, homemaker, or businessman. It matters not where on the globe you live, or how rich or poor you are. It treats all people—young and old—with the same tacit economy. Either you adhere to its dictates, or you live the life of a vegetable. Ha! Even a vegetable bows to Time—for vegetables grow and change and decay, and growth and change of any kind need Time in order to occur.
What of wasting Time? I detest the thought of it. What do you consider wasted time? I have a long list of things that fit into that category. Some of the things I might consider a waste of Time, you might find valuable and high on your list of worthy uses of Time. It is a personal thing. It can be hard to define. On any given day, something you once considered a total waste of Time may become of great value, and on another day, it may be the opposite. Through the lens of Time, things can become distorted, or possibly, more distinct and accurate. Priorities shift, bow, and adjust to Time’s influence.
An ever-changing spectrum of activities spins round us on a daily basis—one eternal round of things to be done that take up a tidbit of Time here, a boatload of Time there—taking more Time or less Time than is adequate or desired. Even things done routinely may be categorized as requiring more of our precious Time than is truly needed. Take, for example, dishes, meal preparation, and laundry. They make their appearances in a routine fashion—day after day—to the point of becoming a burden or a nuisance to many. They hover there in the vacuum of Time while we try to wish them away. Thinking about them may take more Time than actually doing them, making Time deceitfully cunning at stealing away Time from the unwary, or more especially, from the Procrastinator. (A Procrastinator is Time’s evil twin incarnate.) If we “time” how long it really takes to clean a meal’s worth of dishes, we may find it only takes a matter of minutes, whereas the Time spent dreading and thinking about the chore may eat up hours.  
Wasting Time can be a stress inducer. It can cause an otherwise sane person to have bouts of temporary insanity. An example of this it when one wakes up with a list of  pertinent “to dos,” but fills the early morning hours sitting at the computer dillydallying with social media, instead of effectively knocking off things on the list. Another example might be when one gets sidetracked by a box of old school memorabilia when one intended to clean the closet in which said memorabilia was found. By chance, one looks up at the (ever nagging, blatantly scolding) clock, and notices hours have passed, and that in thirteen short minutes one is supposed to be showered, dressed, and out the door for an important engagement! One suddenly moves from a state of relaxed euphoria to a panic-stricken maniac! Suddenly, everyone and everything in one’s way is at fault, and an obstacle to one’s top priority—being On Time!
This is not one of my time wasting issues. I learned my lesson about wasting time in that manner a long, long time ago.  I trifle more with Time at a different level. I try to outsmart it. I lie in bed of a morning, after watching the clock every hour on the hour to make sure I don’t oversleep, and bargain with Time: “If you will give me fifteen minutes more to sleep, I will make it up later on by going to bed fifteen minutes earlier.”    Or “If you will make this hour that I need to get ready for company go by at a slower pace, I won’t complain about the slow hour spent in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.” (Only sometimes, I still complain.)
Ah, such are the lengths some of us go to try to manipulate Time, all the while knowing, deep down, that Time is staunchly unwavering. It is as constant and consistent as the rising of the sun. And aren’t we grateful for that? For how would it be if we couldn’t depend on the very seconds, minutes and hours of life to mark out their space exactly as they do? We would be like a child at the beach, ever chasing the waves lapping the shore—in and out, back and forth—never exactly knowing which wave will overlap another, pulling and tugging and catching our toes unaware, ever knocking down the sandcastle plans of our lives.
For Time, all are “created equal,” and this is a blessing. No one can gain the advantage over another by having less or more of it, or of moving within it more quickly, or more slowly. No one can travel back in time, or into the future. It is fortunate, indeed, that no one can tamper with time, wreaking havoc on the lives of innocent people and creating immeasurable chaos. Time is an “equal opportunity employer,”—how we choose to use the Time given us is what matters. Those who squander it will never be able to make up for that which they lose.  Those who respect it, using it carefully, prayerfully, and wisely will be able to look back on their Time without regret.
How I wish I had taken the time to keep my blog domain up to date. I currently wouldn't be suspended in time—waiting to post this to my blog. It is a lesson well learned. I grew up with the saying:  A stitch in time saves nine. I have supposed this meant that if one made the required stitch when a hole first appears in a garment, one would save nine extra back-pedaling stitches to repair a larger hole. (Sadly, I have experience with this.) I would like to translate this saying as meaning: taking appropriate action at the appropriate Time will save nine minutes, nine hours, nine days, or maybe nine years.
This has long been a favorite poem of mine. It is taken from a Time marker—a sundial—at Wells College, and was penned by Henry Van Dyke.  I share it with you as a last, profoundly accurate statement on Time:
The shadow by my finger cast
Divides the future from the past:
Before it, sleeps the unborn hour
In darkness, and beyond thy power:
Behind its unreturning line,
The vanished hour, no longer thine:
One hour alone is in thy hands,--
The NOW on which the shadow stands. ”
*I am happy to report that all issues with my blog are now resolved, thanks to my very capable daughter, Thalia.
You may have noticed the new platform for, and format of my blog. A little change now and then can be a good thing.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.
End Piece
© April 9, 2015