Author Archive | Becca Rowan

Sunday Salon: The Shadow Side

My cousin called me the other day, checking in as she is often so thoughtful to do. “How are you doing?” she asked. Normally I answer those kinds of inquiries with a “fine,” or “good,” no matter what the real truth of the matter might be.

But that day, I decided to tell the truth.

“I’m just sitting here having a little cry about my dog,” I said. (Our beloved Shih Tzu, Magic, died in July.)

My cousin has a multitude of struggles in her life right now, struggles which were increased by the loss of one of her pair of sheepdogs a couple of months ago. “Aw, I know,” she said. “I still cry about my dog.”

We discussed the trauma associated with that loss, how horrible it seemed in so many ways. “And if one more person says something to me about that stupid Rainbow Bridge I’m gonna slap their face!” she said laughing.

“I agree,” I said, chuckling in spite of myself. “Sometimes I just don’t want to hear those happy little stories.”

A few minutes later we ended our conversation feeling immensely better for having admitted that sometimes we’re not filled with sunshine and light, even though we might pretend to be. We’ve become conditioned to hide our darker emotions – grief, fear, loneliness, anger – because society seems to frown upon them. We’re encouraged to “look on the bright side,” or “find the silver lining.” Our spiritual friends will advise us to “give it all to a higher power” because “it’s in their control.”

And what if we can’t? What if we live in the shadow of our grief, our loneliness, our fear for longer than society deems acceptable? The task of trying to “get over” those feelings becomes overwhelming of itself as we begin to feel inadequate in our life and perhaps our faith.

Later in the day I had lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. “Are you okay?” she asked at one point in the conversation. “Sometimes when I read things you write, it seems as if you’re sad.”

My first impulse was to deny it, to reply quickly, “Sad? No, I’m not sad.” Instead, I answered her truthfully like I had answered my cousin earlier in the day.

“Sometimes I AM sad,” I told her. “I think there is always an undercurrent of sadness within me. It’s been deeper lately because I’ve had some pretty significant losses, but there is always a shadow side to me, one that’s extremely sensitive to pain and injustice and loss and loneliness and fear. Maybe we all have that and some people are more in touch with it than others.”

In her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “When I stopped trying to block my sadness and let it move me instead, it led me to a bridge with people on the other side. Every one of them knew sorrow. Some of them even knew how to bear it as an ordinary feature of being human instead of some avoidable curse.”

As artists perhaps we are more often aware of this ambiguity, this tendency to live in more than one emotion, to feel joy and sorrow, irritation and satisfaction, hope and despair, all at the same time. A character in Grace Paley’s short story “A Woman Young and Old,” says: “I’m artistic, and sometimes I hold two views at once.”

There is no profit to denying the shadow side – it exists in our spirit just as it does in the celestial sphere. Sadness and joy dwell simultaneously in us at all times, just as the moon remains in the sky during the 24-hour cycle even as the sun shines brilliantly above it. Honesty about my feelings of sadness yesterday provided a bridge between myself and my cousin – it gave us both an opportunity share feelings with someone else whose own shadow side was predominant, and freed us to move forward into the day feeling connected with another human being who understood. “Sadness does not sink a person,” Brown continues. “It is the energy a person spends trying to avoid sadness that does that.”

Last month the moon totally eclipsed the sun, in one of those rare celestial events that draws a great deal of scientific and popular attention. Nature has much to teach us about the inner workings of our emotional life. There are forces of darkness at work within each of us. We’d likely all be better served if we took time to become aware of them, and learn to live comfortably with them.

About the Author: Becca Rowan

becca_rowan_bio_may2016Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their dog, Molly. Her new book, Life Goes On, a book of personal and inspirational essays about women’s experiences with family life, aging, and loss, is available at Amazon in print and on Kindle, as well as on her website. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

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Sunday Salon: Sands of Time

Sunday Salon with Becca Rowan

 

“Lately I’ve been hearing a whispered admonition in my ear as I go about my business. Or perhaps admonition isn’t quite right. It seems more of a quiet, urgent instruction issued from a place in the deep anterior that holds within it everything I still need to know… Be careful, the voice says.” ~from Hourglass, by Dani Shapiro

Hourglass, Dani Shapiro’s elegant new memoir about her marriage, arrived in my mailbox early last week. The timing was perfect – my own wedding anniversary is tomorrow, and reading this book provoked much thought about the nature of long term relationships, the role of memory, and how our expectations change.

The book’s structure mirrors thought, so it feels as if we’re inside Shapiro’s head as her thoughts bounce back and forth between the present and various memories of her 17 year marriage to film-maker Michael Maren (whom she refers to only as M. throughout that book). She quotes from her own journals, the ones written on their honeymoon and in the early days of the marriage. She recalls events in their lives that illustrate the complexity and steadfastness of their relationship. She interjects pertinent quotes from writers and philosophers that illustrate her thinking, like this one from philosopher William James that stands alone in the middle of a page: “The constitutional disease from which I suffer is what the Germans call Zerrissenheit, or torn-to-pieces-hood. The days are broken in pure zig-zag and interruption.”

Looking back over the course of a long-term marriage – and mine spans 41 years tomorrow – it does seem marked by thousands of zig-zags and interruptions, any of which could be altered and the course of life changed forever. What if – we had moved from our old neighborhood a long time ago? What if we had had more children? What if one of us had taken a different job?

But it’s useless to dwell in the land of might-have-been. What concerns me at this stage of the game is the what-will-be. At 61, there isn’t nearly as much of it left as there once was. It’s important to handle it carefully and thoughtfully. Shapiro seems to be coming to that conclusion herself. That whispered admonition she writes about, the one that hold within it everything she needs to know. “Be careful,” it says.

“I’ve become convinced that our lives are shaped less by the mistakes we make than when we make them,” she writes. “There is less elasticity now. Less time to bounce back. And so I heed the urgent whisper and move with greater and greater deliberation. I hold my life with M. carefully in my hands like the faience pottery we brought back from our honeymoon long ago. We are delicate. We are beautiful. We are not new. We must be handled with care.”

After 41 years, a marriage is, in many ways, a sturdy old thing, more like a strong wood box than a delicate piece of pottery. But lately I too feel that whispered admonition. Be careful. I want to shield our time together from outside intrusion. I want to protect us from the stumbles and falls that would have quickly healed in our younger selves, but that could be disastrous at this stage of life. I want to hoard every moment of tenderness and passion against the time when one of us might be left alone.

Time. Memory. Like sand shifting through the narrow passage of an hourglass, piling at the bottom of the glass. I look back and see the kaleidoscope of years: the white wedding dress, the chapel filled with people, countless dinners cooked, holding hands on the sofa watching endless television programs, pushing a stroller and walking our dog, being  separated with traveling for work and long days and nights alone. One parent dead, then two, then all four, gone. The loneliness of a child moved far away, the joy of a grandchild’s arms around your neck.

Four decades of marriage. A lot of sand in the depth of that hourglass.

Time to turn it over now, let the new memories begin.

 

About the Author: Becca Rowan

becca_rowan_bio_may2016Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their two dogs. She is the author of Life in General, a book of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking with the dogs or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Sunday Salon: Seeking the Still, Quiet Voice

Sunday Salon with Becca Rowan

It’s a lovely, sunshiny morning here in southeast Michigan. I have about an hour to spend before the rest of the family rises, so I brew a cup of tea and park myself at my desk upstairs. I even open the window beside me because I want to hear the birds singing, although I need to wrap a soft scarf around my shoulders because the incoming breeze is still cold.

I was hoping to access a still, quiet voice inside me this morning, but, like so many mornings lately, the terrible din of the outside world has intruded and my still, quiet voice has been drowned out. 

Like many people, I’m increasingly disturbed by the situation in the world.  Our leaders often seem inhumane, lacking in decorum, diplomacy, and democracy. Their actions and ugly rhetoric are an endless piercing screech in my ears.

As someone who believes in the power of art and literature, I had hoped to use whatever small talents I have in those areas to inject small moments of beauty and clarity and thoughtfulness into the world around me.

As someone who believes in the power of compassion and empathy and kindness, I vowed to use those traits every day in my dealings with people on every scale, in hopes that such small acts of goodness could multiply and grow and help to heal this fractured world.

As someone who believes in the lessons of history, I had hoped that at least some of our  leaders would recall the examples of the past, that they would find the courage of their convictions and rise up to resist those outlying forces of evil attempting to usurp our very fabric of government.

And yet those screeching voices silence my efforts and my hopes, make them feel ridiculously ineffectual and send them slamming into oblivion,

John Adams had a simple prescription for a civil nation: “To be good and to do good,” he advised. “It’s all we have to do.” Where is the “good” right now? What “good” are they trying to achieve? What examples do they set for future generations? For now we must teach our children to be not as they are, do not what they do.

More than ever it feels to me as if it’s up to The People – meaning You and Me – to do good ourselves, and insist upon it amongst those who purport to lead. Already, it feels like an endless uphill climb. And already, I am tired.

So more and more I seek the still, quiet voice inside me. I toss the newsmagazine in the nearest trash can, only half read. I switch the television channel from CNN to the latest episode of PBS Masterpiece. I swipe the screen of my iPad clear of Facebook, Twitter, The Washington Post. I try to silence the bitter noise from the outside world. I turn on Mozart piano concertos, Beethoven quintets, Scarlatti sonatas. Even Chopin nocturnes sometimes, although they often make me cry. I lose myself in novels, in memoirs, in poetry. In those voices, I’m able to forget for a while, able to quiet the anxious beating of my heart, quell the angry bile that rises in my throat.

Nancy Peacock, a writer I admire, recently wrote this on her Facebook page:

 “I feel that I am pulling too much out of my gut without replenishing the well. So I am off to write and walk and visit the big rocks at the top of the hill. I am off to watch the turtles in the pond as they vie for basking space on the half-submerged log. I am off to cook some good food and feed my soul in the kitchen. I am off to do research and highlight paragraphs in yellow and read novels.”

Sometimes the traumas and troubles of the world threaten to drain the wells of our creativity. I have been struggling to find ways to restore that flow, to heal those wounds that threaten to destroy the enjoyment of my creative living. I hope to find it in the easy domestic routines of spring days like today, enjoying the sunshine and cool breeze blowing in the window, sipping tea and delving into the pages of a good novel, writing in my journal, copying out favorite passages from books and poetry.

From sitting with the still, quiet voice in my own heart.

 

About the Author: Becca Rowan

becca_rowan_bio_may2016Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their two dogs. She is the author of Life in General, a book of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking with the dogs or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Sunday Salon: In Search of a Perfect Morning

Sunday Salon with Becca Rowan

More mornings than I’d like begin long before the crack of dawn, begin with the whimper of a elderly dog  whose bladder won’t wait another moment; begin with the apnea induced snoring of the man I’ve slept beside for over 40 years; begin with my own anxious thoughts rolling ticker-tape fashion through my only half-lucid brain. I’ve heard that disrupted sleep is the curse of middle age, this tendency to waken at ever increasingly early hours, unable to return to sleep. And so I accept and endure, as I do with much of life.

Though not “perfect” by my standards, these early mornings and I have come to an understanding. Usually I ease myself out of bed and creep down the stairs to the kitchen, brew myself a cup of herbal tea, warm my lavender scented heating pad in the microwave, and settle back into bed with a pile of pillows. With the heating pad at my back, a light shawl around my shoulders, and the dog curled up at my side, I take up my book and read. Thus lulled from my anxious thoughts, warmed through and through with hot beverages and comforting heat wraps, many times I will drift off for another hour or two of sleep.

Sometimes I take these early morning wake up calls as a gift. I go full throttle into morning mode and make a short pot of coffee (four cups instead of the usual six), emptying the dishwasher as it brews. Once it’s done, back upstairs I go into my “office” and take up my journal or fire up the computer and write.

When I grouse about having woken early, my friend Christa reminds me that in days of yore it was customary to go to bed at dark  – what else could one do before electric lights, television, or social media? – and then rise during the middle of the night. Creative people especially made remarkable use of those early hours, to write, paint, sculpt, practice the lute (or whatever medieval instrument they favored). Fresh from sleep, undisturbed by the tasks of the day, it was a time when creative energies surged and they made good use of it.

Though there is truth in that, and though I’ve made my peace with these early mornings, they are not my idea of “perfect.” No, the perfect morning is a leisurely wake up at 7 or 8, the stairway to the kitchen illuminated with sunlight. A perfect morning is two cups of coffee and hot buttered toast, carried upstairs on a tray. A perfect morning is me, sitting in the sunny alcove of our upstairs bedroom reading my book, while my husband sits in bed reading the morning news. A perfect morning is 30 minutes of journal writing, a walk around the neighborhood with the dogs, time at my desk with the windows open and birds singing.

Call them rituals or routines, the way we begin each day has a profound impact on the way we carry on with the hours that are left. My persistent early morning wake ups led to the need for new routines, new ways to respond to circumstances that weren’t ideal but were reality. So whether my day begins “perfectly” or not, it begins in a controlled and orderly fashion and in a way that’s meaningful to me.

That’s about as perfect as I can make things in this crazy mixed up world we live in.

 

About the Author: Becca Rowan

becca_rowan_bio_may2016Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their two dogs. She is the author of Life in General, a book of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking with the dogs or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Sunday Salon: A Room of My Own

Sunday Salon with Becca Rowan

As I write these words, I’m sitting in a soft chair, upholstered in warm buttercream colored fabric, my legs tucked underneath me, my computer propped on the chair’s wide arm. There is a cup of coffee on the walnut cedar chest beside me, along with piles of books I’ve been reading lately – poetry books and memoir and Zen Buddhism philosophy. A summer breeze shushes through the open window, and it occasionally strikes a chord on the wind chimes, which hang from a strong tree branch outside.

There is a desk in this room, a wide topped writing desk, on which stand pictures of my son as a baby, another of my two dogs nestled side by side, and one more of my mother holding my grandson on her lap. A cup filled with pens, pencils, markers and reading glasses is close to hand. There are two heart shaped paperweights which I sometimes use for their original purpose (propping open the pages of a book) or occasionally as something to hold in my hands while I ponder my next move on the page. More books stand in the corner, books I refer to time and again when I need some inspiration to keep me moving – through writing and through life. I’m careful to keep nothing on this desk that doesn’t pertain to writing – no bills, no to-do lists. All those practical matters are taken care of in the kitchen at a small counter I’ve appropriated as a daily desktop.

This desk belongs to me and to my creative work. So does this room.

We just got home after spending six weeks in a rented vacation home in Florida, a lovely home with a heated pool, a water view, within a stone’s throw of  lovely restaurants, shops, and sunsets on the beach. The weather was warm, the sun shone every day, and I began to see the appeal of leaving midwestern winter winds behind for an annual sojourn in the sunny south.

You wouldn’t think there was anything missing from this scenario, would you? And I feel selfish even suggesting there was. BUT, although there was plenty of time for musing, there was no room of my own, no quiet place to retreat where I could enter into the world of my own thoughts and imaginings.

It was novelist Virginia Woolf who first introduced the idea of a woman needing such a room. “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write…” she says.  Of course, she referred not only to the need for space,  but also to the need for time. For most women, writing time comes in fits and snatches – after coming home from a job, feeding children, preparing meals, helping with homework, walking the dog, collecting the laundry, watching a soccer game, paying some bills, putting gas in the car, reading bedtime stories …and on and on and on. Finally, at the end of all this, there is a few minutes to gather thoughts together and put them onto paper – that is, if there is one ounce of energy left.

My child care days are over, and my working life has winnowed down to mostly volunteer activities. I have room and time and space in my life to create.  I am so fortunate to have a sanctuary in my house, a place where I can retreat at any time of day to read, write, meditate, listen to music, or even take a nap underneath the cross-stitched quilt my great-aunt made for me when I got married over 40 years ago. The furnishings are feminine, gentle, and meaningful. The room is on the second floor, it’s bright and quiet, and I’ve set my desk in the corner between two windows so I have an expansive view of the yard and street.

It’s perfect. It’s mine.

A room of my own.

 

About the Author: Becca Rowan

becca_rowan_bio_may2016Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their two dogs. She is the author of Life in General, a book of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking with the dogs or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Dear Storyteller

Dear Storyteller,

Right about now, you may be thinking that what you do isn’t very important. After all, in this uneasy, divided world, with threats abounding on so many fronts, what’s the use of telling stories? How important can it be to share our experience, to open our hearts on the page, to put words to passions and feelings and long unexpressed truths?

Let me tell you this, Storyteller. You are more important than ever. Those stories – your stories, my stories, the stories of our sisters and brothers all over the world? They could be the one very important thing that makes all the difference.

The other day I read a newspaper article which quoted a very wise man who said: “The thing that brings people together to have the courage to take action on behalf of their lives is not just that they care about the same issues, its that they have shared stories. If you can learn how to listen to people’s stories and can find what’s sacred in other people’s stories, then you’ll be able to forge a relationship that lasts.”

There is something magical about sharing stories, whether they are bound together in the pages of a book, typed out in an email, scribbled on a notecard, or lovingly penned on fine stationery. Whether fact or fiction, they allow us to enter into the hearts and minds of others and obtain a glimmer of what life is like for someone who might be very different from ourselves. Stories incite compassion and empathy. They provide knowledge and information. They astound and confound.

Most importantly, they connect. They enable us to “forge a relationship that lasts.”  My friend Andi Cumbo-Floyd (who writes wonderful stories by the way) recently said:  “We tell stories because they connect us to one another in a way that facts and culture and experience sometimes fail to do. They tie us together – barbed and gorgeous as we are – at the heart.”

What we need, my storytelling friend, is to re-connect. In these days when we so often feel at odds with our fellow man and the world seems to be drawn into boxes surrounded by thick black and white lines, what we need it the color and nuance that story provides. We need to have thoughts deeper than those incited by a 140-character Tweet. We need to enter into the world of an African American nurse who is wrongfully accused of manslaughter in the death of one of her patients. (Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult). We need to become acquainted with a young man who grew up poor in a rust belt town but graduated from Yale Law School and wrote a book about it all. (Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance). We need to revisit the the poets and philosophers who wrote of nature and contemplation and knew that mankind was only an tiny speck in the infinite lifespan of this great universe. (Wordsworth, Emerson, Thoreau)

I read another article last week (I’ve been a reading a lot these days, dear storyteller) based on an interview with President Barack Obama. In it, he spoke of the importance of reading and stories throughout his life, and how particularly important it’s been during his tenure as President of the United States. “Fiction is useful …as a way of seeing and hearing the voices, the multitudes of this country,” he said. “It’s a reminder of the truths under the surface of what we argue about.”

So, dear storyteller, don’t for one moment think that what you do isn’t valuable, isn’t necessary, isn’t important. People have been telling stories ever since they could scratch symbols into the walls of their caves.  This is definitely not the time to stop.

President Obama concluded his interview with these words: “The role of stories is to unify – as opposed to divide – to engage rather than marginalize. It is more important than ever.”

I believe it is certainly more important than ever, my storytelling friend.

Go read stories, and go write stories.

Go out and tell YOUR story – let it echo far and wide.

And make them hear you.*

With love from one storyteller to another,

Becca

About the Author: Becca Rowan

becca_rowan_bio_may2016Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their two dogs. She is the author of Life in General, a book of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking with the dogs or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

*Make Them Hear You, from the musical Ragtime

Sunday Salon: Resolute

Sunday Salon with Becca Rowan

“Resolutions are often heavy, self-imposed expectations. Better to open your heart to life’s invitations and opportunities.” – Thomas Moore

To resolve, or not to resolve. That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to determine a list of sure-to-be forgotten promises, or to forgo the whole process altogether in favor of a more spontaneous approach to life in general.

With apologies to The Bard, you can probably tell I’m not fond of New Year’s resolutions.We are already a week into the new year, so perhaps it’s a moot point anyway. This year we are spending the month of January in Florida, renting a home on an island near the Gulf of Mexico.  January is normally synonymous with snow and icy winds, and while the warm Gulf breezes are welcome, they are somewhat disconcerting to this displaced Midwesterner.

So no resolutions. Not even a new calendar.  And anyway, after 60 years I recognize the veracity of Thomas Moore’s assertion: Resolutions are heavy, self-imposed expectations, all too easily cast aside, leaving the resolver feeling guilty and disappointed.

How much better then, to do as he suggests: Open my heart to life’s invitations and opportunities.

If I were to open my heart, what would I invite it?

I would open wide the door to Music: To more time at my piano where the intricate harmonies of Chopin or the joyous and orderly progressions of Mozart might knit the frazzled pieces of my mind.

I would throw open the window sashes to Art: To beautiful paintings and shapely sculptures, to delicate blown glass and vibrant fiber art creations.

I would unlock the portal to the magic of Words: To reading the stack of books piled high on my shelf and stacked next to my bedside table, to learning from authors, to falling into the worlds of others.

I would take every opportunity to Dance, even if it’s most often alone, my dance floor the hardwood surface in the dining room in front of that window I find myself gazing out of so often.

If I were to Resolve – not that I will, mind you, but just saying if I did – I would be Resolute in accepting every invitation life might offer to soak up the sights, sounds, and sensations of ART. It is the medicine my world-weary soul needs. It is the mandate for 2017.

So often we forget our most effective medicines. We get caught up in habits that suck the life from our creative minds. We become confused with all the expectations swirling through our networks of friends, family, and colleagues.

When our resolution fails, we need those doctors, need to soak up the beauty of creativity in any possible way. Especially in these days when the world is fraught with anger and uncertainty, when ugliness in word and deed is strewn before us everywhere, we desperately need to embrace the beautiful intersection of life and art in every possible way.

Going forward into 2017, that’s where my resolution lies. How about you?

 

About the Author: Becca Rowan

becca_rowan_bio_may2016Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their two dogs. She is the author of Life in General, a book of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking with the dogs or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Sunday Salon: The Magic’s in the Music

Sunday Salon with Becca Rowan

My neighborhood is all decked out for Christmas, and my own halls are quite proverbially decked as well. I love bringing light and color into the dark days of December. It’s an important way I get into the holiday spirit.

Holiday parties and gatherings are starting to pile up on my calendar. I love catching up with old friends, connecting with family, sharing good food and happy conversation. This is also an important way I get into the holiday spirit.

My checkbook is getting a workout these days. I love making donations during the holidays, sponsoring good causes both large and small. Doing small generous acts is an important way I connect with the holiday spirit.

But the real holiday magic? For me, that comes from only one thing.

Music.

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“There’s a profound sense in which music opens a secret door in time and reaches into the eternal,” writes John O’Donohue in his book Beauty, The Invisible Embrace. When I first read that sentence, it felt as if O’Donohue himself had opened a secret door into my soul and discovered the secret magic music brings to my life.

When you really listen to music, when you allow yourself to enter into it’s particular rhythm and nuance, you can be lifted out of time and place and into another realm, one where beauty and elegance and story and feeling all meld into one. Where precision and tone and harmony and breath come together to create something new and completely organic. When you really listen in this way, with your whole heart, you will be surprised by how it touches your heart, how it finds emotions and memories you had thought long forgotten.

Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes music finds things in your soul you wish would stay hidden. But at the same time, it heals the pain with it’s own sweet, melodious balm. And there are certain times of life when music touches you more deeply than others, evoking more memories, transporting you to different places in time, connecting you with a long line of listeners through the ages. Certainly the holidays are one of those times.

O’Donohue writes: “Perhaps music renews the heart precisely for this reason: it plumbs the gravity of sorrow until it finds the point of submerged light and lightness. Unconsciously, it schools us in a different way to hold the sorrow.” Sometimes, especially during these bleak winter days when the world seems to weigh heavily on my shoulder, I come to music as a way to heal.

It never fails me.

I have played music in some form or other for nearly all of my life. I started playing piano when I was 6 and never stopped. I’ve played in orchestras, sung in choirs. Now I play with a group of wonderful musicians in a handbell ensemble, and you can imagine how busy we are during the Christmas season. (Bells and Christmas are a natural combination, apparently.) We start working on holiday music at our first rehearsal in September, and don’t stop until the last program is over in mid-December.

I have piano books of Christmas arrangements that I started playing over 45 years ago, and I dig them out of the music closet every year without fail. Playing those pieces connects me with Christmas past as surely as Ebenezer’s ghost does- but in a much more pleasant fashion. I remember playing them in the living room of my childhood home while my mother and grandmother were cleaning up the dinner dishes. I remember playing them in my own living room while my son built a fort for his stuffed animals underneath the grand piano. I remember playing them in the house all alone, with no one but my two little dogs to listen. Each time I sit down at the piano and start to play, a lifetime’s worth of memories flow from my heart into my fingertips.

And when I finally push back the piano bench, or step away from the bell tables, or even turn off the speaker on my iPad, I feel a surge of both strength and peace. It’s a feeling of deep soul-satisfaction that like no other.

“The soul is the force of remembrance in us,” O’Donohue says. “It reminds us that we are children of the eternal and that our time on earth is meant to be a pilgrimage of growth and creativity. This is what music does. It evokes a world where that ancient beauty can resonate within us again.”

That is magical indeed.

 

About the Author: Becca Rowan

becca_rowan_bio_may2016Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their two dogs. She is the author of Life in General, a book of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking with the dogs or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Welcome to Issue #4: Mystic or Magic

mysticormagic2

We stand outdoors on a cold winter night, bathed in darkness with our very breath visible in front of us, and turn our eyes to the heavens. An infinite number of stars scatter overhead, stars that have hung in those heavens longer than modern science can determine. We are struck dumb with the mystery of all that is unexplainable. We feel the mystical power of our connection with every living being who, throughout eons, has stood upon their own ground and gazed upon those same stars.

This is Magic.

We come indoors and savor the warmth of our home, bend down to caress the soft fur of a beloved dog or cat who rubs against our cold ankles. The aroma of food we’ve cooked for dinner inspires a rumble of hunger in our stomachs, an instinctual response that ties us to every living creature of every species throughout time. We light a candle, mindful of the ease with which we can dispel darkness. We turn on some music, and let it run free in our imagination. We sit at table, admire the beauty of our plate or cup, and offer silent words of gratitude for food, shelter, water, and light.

This is Magic.

We treat our life in the world as a problem to be solved with technology and hard work, rather than as a mystery to experience with love and wonder. We look at our creative lives the same way, imposing schedules and spreadsheets and lists rather than opening our eyes to nature, simplicity, and beauty. What if we think about fostering a deep appreciation for the sacred and holy in every aspect of life: nature, work, home, even business and public affairs? What if we could shift our priorities toward developing a sense of sacredness in the particulars of ordinary living?

That would be Magic.

Welcome to Mystic or Magic, the fourth issue of Modern Creative Life. We’ll explore ways to enchant our creative lives with everyday magic, to connect to the mystical powers of the universe through art, music, words, nature, and the beauty of everyday objects.  You’ll peek into the daily lives of other creative folk in our Studio Tours and Typical Tuesday series, and meet people walking fascinating creative pathways in Conversations Over Coffee. With photos and fictionpoetry and promptsessays and enlightenment, you’ll find a myriad of ways to cast a spell over your creative living.

Gather around as we stand with open arms and hearts uplifted to survey the magic of a starlit night, letting the depth of  the heavens envelop us.  How do you connect with the magical elements in your everyday life? How do you access the deepest layers of enchantment in the universe? Where do you carve out space in this cacophonous world to revel in the mysteries and wonders of nature?

We hope you’ll share your discoveries with us. We are open to single contributions as well as new regular contributors. Email your submissions to moderncreativelife@gmail.com.

 As always our mission at Modern Creative Life is to honor the pursuit and practice of joyful creativity. We believe that the creative arts enrich our everyday living, enhance our environment, create lasting connections, and sustain our souls. Please join us as we bring a plethora of enchanted creative offerings to nourish your imaginative spirit and return you inspired and invigorated into your own Modern Creative Life.

About the Author: Becca Rowan

becca_rowan_bio_may2016Becca Rowan is Executive Editor here at Modern Creative Living. She honors the magic in everyday life by spending time in nature, playing with words, making music with friends, and caring for her family (which includes her dogs, one of whom is named Magic!).  She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on FacebookTwitter, or Goodreads.

Sunday Salon: Natural Artist

Sunday Salon with Becca Rowan

 

My living room is bathed in golden light.  Relaxed in my favorite chair, a cup of fresh coffee waiting for my first sip, I am surrounded by the  vibrant colors of autumn. The trees in our backyard are at the peak of color, so bright I want backyard-treeto put on sunglasses. The sky is a blue so sharp, it almost hurts my eyes. The contrast of crimson, gold, and russet leaves outlined against the blue makes a palette any artist would die for. Later on, when I go upstairs to my desk, my window is filled with the outline of orange leaves pasted against the background of azure sky. It’s tough to get any work done with that amazing vista right in front of me.

In Michigan we’ve had an exceedingly beautiful autumn, warmer and drier than most. The leaves have taken their time in changing and maintained their beauty far longer than normal. My morning walks are a feast for the eyes, even here within our neighborhood. When I’m out and about, one of my normal routes takes me through a hilly landscape with a river running beside the road, a landscape so distracting I have to consciously pull my eyes back to the road. Talk about distracted driving – fall foliage is as dangerous as the cell phone!

In autumn, nature is truly a work of art. And though I personally don’t have any natural talent in making visual art, I am grateful to be enriched by the spectacle of this natural art all around me. It’s like living in an art museum and being surrounded by nature’s inspiring palette.

For me this has been a year of looking for refuge, of desperately seeking beauty and inspiration and a sense that -as the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich wrote –  “all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”  My pantry of creative ideas feels bare, the river of inspiration runs rocky and dry. Yet the trees outside my window only have to BE and they are beautiful. They stand rooted in their space on earth and allow nature to work it’s artful magic. Then they simply glow with radiance.

Could my own glowing come that easily?

The poet Mary Oliver writes:

I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay – – – how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

Maybe I search too hard for my bright visions. Maybe all I need to do it is live in the momentary pasture of autumn and the bright visions of life will find their way to my feet. Life offers so much inspiration all around, free and easy for the taking if we open our eyes and hearts to it.

Like the leaves that fall in a sea of color all around me. Naturally beautiful. Naturally inspiring. Naturally art.

 

About the Author: Becca Rowan

becca_rowan_bio_may2016Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their two dogs. She is the author of Life in General, a book of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking with the dogs or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

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