Tag Archives: harp

six word memoir

Aesthetic Unfolding: Lucky Loss Connection Release

I was recently inspired by posts here and here.  Can you write your memoir using only six words?

Give it a try~ leave your six words in the comment section, and we can get to know each other better.

Aesthetic:in childhood I devoured stacks of books, smiled though harp lessons and filled and notebooks with poetry. These days I don’t have as much time for reading, music or writing, but my soul is stirred by the birds flying through the air, the flowers blooming in the garden.  I move my hips to a great song on the radio, and the perfect written word makes my toes curl. My relationship with beauty and art is lifelong and the source of much joy.

Unfolding: I believe life is a journey, a discovery.  Through the aging process we can come to know our true selves and realize who we are meant to be.

Lucky: I am lucky. In being born where, and when, and to whom, I have known love and respect from my first days on Earth.  Wealthy by global standards, I live in a country of abundance and have never known hunger or serious illness. I was blessed with characteristics that have made success relatively easy for me, and I had parents that supported my education and my dreams. My professional calling happened to coincide with national nursing shortages and, lucky me, I landed my dream job before the age of 30. Really, the list goes on and on, but there is no question that I am unbelievably blessed.

Loss: Despite being lucky, I also have experienced tremendous loss.  Life is about saying goodbye to those that you love the most and what you hold the most dear.  If yours isn’t, just wait, it probably will be someday, if you live long enough.

Connection: I am a nurse, and both in my professional and in my personal life I find great joy in  connecting with other human beings. I love hearing your stories.  It has been a lifelong challenge for me to find and maintain boundaries so I can keep myself healthy and sustain myself in relating with others.I also feel connection and meaning in the natural world, and spending time with nature re-energizes me in a way that is difficult to put into words.

Release: it’s all about letting go, baby.  This one is difficult for me too.

all that I have

What should have been, would have been rolls around in my head like a marble in a tin can.

dink. dink. dink.

She should have lived longer.  She would have taken care of Grandma, and Grandma would have spent her last days surrounded by a love as encompassing as the sun.  She would have been so happy.  

It should not take an act of God for a healthy woman to get pregnant.  She would have rubbed my back during labor. She would have cooed into my baby’s ear. She would have been so happy.

She should have had a sixtieth birthday, a seventieth, an eightieth.  A retirement party. She should have traveled with John to Europe, Asia, British Columbia. Bisbee. They would have sent me postcards from beyond, taken couple photos kissing at a vista wearing matching cargo shorts. She would have been so happy.

dink. dink. dink.

There is no would haves or should haves.  There is only the now, and the now echoes with her absence.  Grandma has dementia, and will need to be placed in a care facility soon.  My stepfather is lonely and distraught. I have no baby. Our hands are empty and searching.

I become sad.  I become angry. I long for a future that can never be; I rage at a world that brings beautiful things into existence only to tear them apart.

Moments of reprieve come in glimmers, where the tin can rattle stops for a second, a minute or an hour.  I walk. I run. I feel the earth so sure beneath me, as though pressing upward to meet my feet. I feel the air slip between my fingertips, travel down my throat and out my nose.  I lay in bed and feel my blood warm the tips of my toes, pushed forward with every squeeze of my relentless heart.  My fingers meet my harp strings and I feel comfort in a meaning that exists beyond words.

I don’t have what I want, what I thought I would get. But my grief opens me to the gifts of the present:

The breath, the heartbeat, the shuddering of trees in a rainstorm, the beat of a wing against a yellow sky.

The clouds build up.  The sun lights them in a show of fiery splendor.  Then darkness comes, and they disappear as silently as they were created.

facing fear

Today, I faced fear. I surprised a lucky stranger by singing “happy birthday” while strumming away on my ukulele. This occurred in a public place, orchestrated by her wife.

It was scary for me.  Music performance has been tangled up with my perfectionism for many years, and  I’ve long subscribed to the story that I have a terrible voice. I only know a scattering of chords on the uke, hardly an expert with the skills to make an audience go “wow!” And the combination of singing and strumming.. oy!

I don’t know when I stopped having fun performing.  I recall feeling confident and calm at my harp recitals as a child. But as I became more self aware, I disappointed myself.   I never could quite be the musician I wanted to be, even though I tried in my studies to be perfect, to hit every note just right.  Problem is, I’m just not that good. And I’m kind of lazy, and have many interests beyond music that called to me with a siren song. I wanted to be, want to be, a great musician, and to become this way effortlessly.

I studied harp from the age of 10 all the way through college, and didn’t have the fun as I could have. I squandered years with performance anxiety and by telling myself “I can’t.” I squandered the benefits of my hard work by focusing on what I had not accomplished, how I had failed myself or my teachers in some way.

I’ll never get that time back, but when my coworker asks me for my presence and my song I can say yes.  I can shrug my fears aside like an ugly, too-small jacket that clings across the shoulders, and just do it. I can sing and I can smile.  To quote the Hokey Pokey, isn’t that what its all about?


connection to the past

I’ve started to say that Mom passed away last year.  As opposed to “December,” “[X] months ago” or “recently.” Maybe because it does feel like a new year.  The garden is bursting forth with life.  We are already sweating during hot afternoons.  Tucson has been sweltering the last few days- an early summer, it seems. Already, we have broken 100 degrees, and my shoulders are burned from long, slogging jogs with Bruno. The cold rains and short daylight hours that colored my Mom’s last days seem like a long time ago, seasonally speaking.

I’m playing harp more than I have in years.  My dear friend Kathy is getting married on Saturday, and I am providing the music during the ceremony. These days, I’m practicing furiously to try to rework rusty pieces and learn a few new ones too.  My sheet music is totally disorganized, and in between the loose papers I have old recital programs, notes from my harp instructors… even an old bus schedule, circa 1999, which would bring me from South Minneapolis to St. Paul, where I studied in college.

Music speaks to the core of all of us, provides a soundtrack to our life.  This is especially so if you are a musician. I work through this repertoire from 10+ years ago, and I feel the heat from the stage lights shining down on me, blinding me to the audience present.  I feel the anguish of my failures– for some reason, those are more vivid in my mind than my successes. When I play these old pieces, I also remember my mom sticking her head into my room when I was practicing. She’d beam an encouraging smile and exclaim “I just love that song!” or “Sounding really good!”  I feel her hugs after my recitals, hear her voice on the end of the line asking “how did it go!?!” when I’d call her after completing my juried performances.

The notes, the rhythms connect me to the past in a palpable way.  I play these songs and again am transported back to an earlier time.  Maybe jr high, high school, or college. A time when I was focused on music, and I had a living, breathing mother.


a history of the harp

Mom gave me harp lessons for Christmas in 1990.  She wrapped up a borrowed lab harp from a coworker who had built it from a kit, and she arranged for lessons from a  man who lived in a dusty house in South Minneapolis. My teacher, a gentle and humble soul who wore a uniform of cowboyboots and polyester slacks, charged 10 dollars per hour, a steal even 20 years ago.  I went on to study with him for the next eight years in his livingroom, which was filled to the brim with books, harps and houseplants.

I saved all my money starting at the age of twelve with the goal of buying a concert-sized harp.  Part of the way I made money was to play publicly at weddings and events during junior high and high school. My family would help me lug around my Troubadour, a black harp which stood on the floor and was ackward for me to carry. For some time during my early teenaged years I pasted a photo on my bedroom wall of a blond concert harp, with flowers carved into the collumn and gold vines trailing up the soundboard. I thought it was the most beautiful harp I had ever seen. With patience, frugality and the help of a generous grandfather, I bought that very model of concert harp at the age of 19.

The first time I appreciated the harp’s ability to heal was when I was about 13 years old.  My mom worked at an inpatient treatment center for women, and I provided a little mood music during a graduation ceremony.  There was a baby crying in the audience, and whenever I played, she fell silent.  As soon as I stopped playing, the crying resumed. The pattern continued for about 45 minutes. The mother joked with me that I should come home with her, and I was in awe that the music could have such an effect on others.

I kept on playing.  The harp has taken on varying degrees of importance throughout the changes of my life, from being a music major practicing 9 hours a week in college, to a busy new-grad RN who was lucky to pick it up once in 3 months.


playing at my mom's house in 2008


Flash forward to today.  I brought my lap harp up to Phoenix this weekend as a little surprise for my mom, who ended up getting admitted to the hospital with fevers and low blood counts.  I brought my harp to her room last night and played simple, peaceful tunes which floated through the whole unit.  I saw my audience of family and staff start to relax their shoulders and breathe a little deeper.

I’m grateful for my family support in taking me to lessons, encouraging me to play, and facilitating my performances throughout all those years.  I’m not the player that I used to be, but I still have some ability to unleash magic on the harp. There are songs so ingrained in my neuropathway, they will be with me for the rest of my life.

Music matters even more in times of fear and uncertainty.  Life gets busy, but I’m going to try to remember that its important for me to play, and for others to listen.  I feel better when I carve space for music in my life, and others can benefit too.