Category Archives: arts

Save the Humanities!: Everyday Magic, Day 894

Photo by Stephen Locke, used with permission

The kids were already in the front seats when I arrived at the Coffey County Library branch in Gridley, Kansas to present “Kansas Weather in Life, Literature, and Photography,” a Kansas Humanities Council (KHC) program. In this town of 341 people, the library is the place to be, and not just for kids. By the time I began, people aged 9 to 90 filled seats, ready to take in Kansas poetry and photography (via Stephen Locke) about how our extreme weather shapes our lives and builds our character. We also shared their stories of communities coming together in the face of wild storms, close calls, beautiful vistas, and what our weather tells us about who we all.

One of many KHC programs, Water/Ways focuses on the impact of water (and by extension, weather) on our history, traditions, daily lives, and in the face of climate change, our very future. Such programs also bring together communities, helping us find the essential dialogue, diversity, and unity that is the bedrock of democracy.

Now a wild storm is threatening all of America, especially far-flung rural areas where there is little to no funding for arts and humanities programs except from state humanities councils. With the current U.S. president calling for eliminating the National Endowment for the Humanities, programs like the one I just did, that bring together people to share stories of hard-won wisdom and emerging visions, would vanish. As well, we would lose initiatives such as KHC’s “Migration Stories” on the experience of Africans in Midwestern communities, “Freedom of Speech in Kansas” on the importance of free speech,  “FLIKS” promoting short documentaries on unique stories in our state, a vibrant speaker’s bureau, a long-standing book discussion program that has reached people in every corner of the state, and the state poet laureate program (which is completely funded by private donors).

I’ve had the honor of being roving scholar with KHC since 1994, as a book discussion leader, speaker’s bureau presenter, and the 2009-13 Kansas poet laureate. Living in a 400-mile-wide state, I’ve rambled many miles to talk about everything from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God to David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars, books that give us intimate portraits of American history, from African-American communities in the Everglades in the 1920s (Huston), to Japanese-American communities before, during and after internment in the 1940s (Guterson). Such discussions help all of us grapple with our collective identity as Americans.

I’ve driven through snowstorms and ecstatic displays of lighting, up and down the Flint Hills by starlight, and across the high plains on startlingly bright mornings to meet Kansans of all ages eager to talk about what the humanities tell them of how to live with greater verve and meaning. In traveling far and wide to also talk about books with Jewish content, such as Alfred Kazin’s Walker in the City, I’ve shared traditions and history of my own faith, and by extension, participated in powerful interfaith dialogues about life and literature.

I’m a humanities scholar because I believe in face-to-face dialogue, community-building that includes many perspectives, and intergenerational exchanges about lessons learned or ahead of us. I love how humanities councils enable us to mek connections between urban and rural residents, and people of various faiths, ethnicities, and histories so that we can truly engage in forming “a more perfect union,” as stated in the preamble to our constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

To keep forming that more perfect union–along with safeguarding justice, tranquility, liberty, and yes, even prosperity–we must save the humanities, which provide us the gathering ground to more deeply understand our birthright along with ways to learn how to better be true to ourselves and our communities.

If you believe in the humanities–in other words, please contact your legislators today. Here’s a link to find contact information. And join us at humanities programs wherever you live: here’s a link to find your state humanities council. It’s so easy to tear down programs that give us greater vision, and so hard to build such programs. Let’s not lose what helps makes us more human.

A Tale of (at Least) Two Quilts: Everyday Magic 894

IMG_0869Quilting is like climbing into a time machine and disembarking in the future with a magic treasure. You start the quilt in one season, end it in another, each step holding its stories, terally for me since I listened to a lot of podcasts of The Moth, This American Life and Radio Lab while sewing these babies together.

I started the bright blue quilt with the crazy quilt squares — controlled chaos is how I see this design glimpsed and phone-photoed from a quilting book — at the end of the summer, thinking this would be a good transition project. I had just finished organizingIMG_0940 the Power of Word conference for two years, and with the last of my sons moving out, it was empty-nest heaven, trembling and confusing heaven at times, but nevertheless a time of extra time. I felt like I suddenly gained an extra hour each day. So off to the fabric store I went.

I cut the squares for hours one night while listening to “A Night on the Town” on public radio, then whatever came on after that, and after that. Thanks for my sister-in-law, Karen, who is a superb quilter, I learned how to use that great see-through plastic ruler and fabric cutter (just like a pizza cutter, but smaller with no crusts left behind).IMG_0976

We laid out the squares — Ken helped since I needed his eyes for the best color arrangement — on the floor of the playroom. This was the room where once babies tried to eat Legos, and bringing in piles of sharp pins would have been unthinkable. It was hot out and in, and it took a long time to figure out how to place fabric together in ways that didn’t clash or repeat too much. Then I started sewing, and here’s where the mistakes came in.

A helpful woman in the sewing store enthusiastically handed me a flyer featuring IMG_0127upcoming quilting classes when I told her how inexperienced I was. Sure, I’ve made about five other quilts, but far more simple ones and always without knowing what I was doing. Yet when it comes to learning new crafts, you’ll find me in the corner with a seam ripper, undoing a six-foot-long body of tiny machine stitches, rather than actually going to classes or reading instructions. Some of us learn best by mucking around in the mud, and I got to learn about the muck generated by terrible mathematics errors that meant re-cutting and re-sewing big sections, and lots of time rushing back to the store to get more fabric.

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Cat above investigating cat below the quilt

In the end, I delivered the whole enchilada to professional quilter Kris Barlow, who did a gorgeous job turning this big hunk of fabric into a nuanced and three-dimensional piece of beauty.

But while the quilt was with the quilter, I started getting itchy to make another quilt, especially after I spied some stained-glass window quilt designs.

Off to the fabric store again, then IMG_0438out with the ruler and fabric cutter. The problem was that this quilt was, to a person to could only do basic multiplication, more like advanced geometry. I spent far more time than you would expect drawing squares and rectangles and counting out inches for what I would need to cut. Then I realized I forgot to figure in the fabric between all the colorful windows, and since some pieces would be long rectangles alongside shorter squares (each with fabric between them), the addition quickly got beyond me.IMG_0437

In the end, though, I found that quilting seems to be 90% adding and subtracting numbers, and cutting fabric. The sewing part, aside from the bothersome refilling of the bobbins just when I’m on a roll, was a lot like, once the car is packed after weeks of planning, hitting the open road for the much-awaited IMG_0363vacation.

The end of any great sewing project is just a pause in between one kind of weather and another. A trip to see the sandhill cranes in Nebraska landed me in front of a pile of golden and gorgeous crane material, and now there’s a whole pile of fabric to measure and cut. That lure of what different things will look like wedded together by many stitches is irresistible. So I’m climbing inside this springtime-leaving, autumn-bound time machine to see where I land. No doubt I’ll be wearing a new quilt like a super-hero cape, pretending I can fly.

 

Jerry: Everyday Magic, Day 829

10858376_10152644835063208_4719828656362117011_nWe were unlikely friends. He talked slow, walked slow, thought slow and deep. I tend to run fast. I can’t even say when I met him, although I know it was through the Kansas Area Watershed Council, our local and long-lived bioregional community, and sometime, somehow, we became great pals. By 2001, we were doing the lion’s share of the work to organize the Continental Bioregional Congress on the Prairie — Jerry in charge of bookkeeping, travel arrangements and registrations, and me in charge of the program, publicity, and the overall coordination. For the next two years, we spoke on the phone or emailed often 4-5 times each day, just about finishing each other’s thoughts about how to handle any issue that arose.

10858644_10152644832843208_4356927544652366850_nHe went from Jerry Sipe to Jerry to Jer, aka #7 (his and my favorite number) on my speed dial. He was around us often, and quickly became the only adult my three children — through teenage years and beyond — always hugged. I hugged him a lot too, both of us close to the same height, as I felt his heart beat in mine.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, I discovered what many already know about wandering through the world of serious illness: some people fall away, and some people run toward you, ready to help in any way possible. Jerry just about moved in with us, joining us so often for dinner that when I fetched groceries, I aimed for his favorites along with our own. He was quiet, patient, and utterly present. The night before my final surgery, he called to find out what time I was going to the hospital. “But don’t you have to work?” I asked, knowing he had taken off a lot of time already for my previous surgeries. “Work? There’s no way I can go to work tomorrow,” he answered, and sure enough, he was there with other close friends and family, praying, singing, chanting and lifting me through surgery and its aftermath.

From there, he built our front porch with Ken. The project that was supposed to take a few months took over two and a half years, and although it was slow-going, the craftmanship is superb as was his installation of our pellet stove, which kept him hanging out at our place for months. There are signs of Jerry everywhere, not the least of which are the photos he gave us over the years,IMG_2135 each visionary and perfect in what he shows us of wind, spider webs, the moon and sky.

Jerry seemed quiet from a distance, but up close, he could be a regular chatterbox, although not in the conventional way. When he started to tell a story, like the time he went AWOL in the early 1970s because he no longer believed in the Vietnam War, it was advisable to get comfortable because he had a lot to say. When it was his turn in the circle — at KAW Council or other bioregional gatherings — he often had a lot to say about what the earth and sky were saying to him. It was obvious he had long conversations with the natural world. He often told me of fields, including the field just south of our house, that he was friends with, and how, in the presence of such places, he entered into deep communion.

10858388_10152644834493208_8539725373344188220_nEach morning, at least for many, many years, Jer would step outside, lift his arms overhead, close his eyes, open his heart and then his arms out wide, asking the living earth to tell him what its will was for him today. “Thy will be done,” he answered the call.

For many years, I counted him as one of my besties, yet in the last three or so years, we were at a bit of a distance. To be honest, I was pissed at him for not getting all possible medical and other healing help for what sure seemed like major memory issues to me. I wanted him to put up a good fight, reach out for support, and be relentless in his own healing. Like others close to him, I was also worried about him living alone and how, in time, he might be found close to death in his apartment. I didn’t understand that he, being himself and not me, was making his own choices and/or that his health issues may well have precluded him from choosing differently. A man close to the earth, he basically, as one dear one of his remarked to me recently, went to the woods to die. He was found last Sunday in his apartment, profoundly dehydrated, having lost close to a third of his body weight, and suffering from double pneumonia and other issues.

This last week, any distance dissolved. I’m eternally grateful to Jerry for this gift of forgiveness, intimacy and friendship. He held tight to my hand while, in his hospital room, I sang prayers and chants, off key and scratchy-throated, to him. One night, I sat close to him for a few hours, sharing song after song from my phone. When I got to James Taylor, particularly “Blossom” and “You Can Close Your Eyes” — music I knew he loved — he opened his eyes, lifted his eyebrows, and looked for moment, even while on a ventilator and in ravaged body, peaceful. He also looked into my eyes as well as into the eyes of many of us who visited with a kind of intensity I’ve only seen in the eyes of my son Daniel right after his birth and in the eyes of my father a few months before his death.

I remember telling Jerry about that moment with my father, and how my father asked if I recognized him. “Yeah, you could have said, I finally recognize you,” Jerry told me. With Jerry, it wasn’t an issue of “finally” recognizing him or being recognized by him. Jerry was born to see, evident in his photos of the prairie as well as his friendships and family connections.

10347556_10152644834623208_7289269370764009355_nHe was also born to make it rain. He once told me that according to a native person he knew, each of us had to make it rain at some point in our lives — we had to save lives and land in some small way. Jerry said that shortly after learning this, he was marching with others to save the Haskell Wetlands when a car sped through the intersection toward the marchers. Jerry saw that the car was about to strike a woman and her baby, riding in a  stroller. He left his slow ways behind and raced into action, positioning himself right in front of the car to save the mother and child. Then he stared into the eyes of the driver, who hit his brakes in time. “I made it rain,” Jerry told me.

Tonight, a little over a day after he died, he may be making it rain again, in the hearts of many of us who love him and also all around us as a very unusual December thunderstorm moseys on in, slowly. It hurts so much that he’s gone, but I’m so grateful for this rain, feeding the parched earth and and reminding me that love heals, always.

Why I Buy Myself Flowers Each Week: Everyday Magic, Day 813

photoOnce again, I received a gorgeous bouquet of flowers from one of the ones I love. Each Friday, I go to Dubai Dillons aka Euro Dillons aka Dapper-Not-Dirty-Anymore Dillons on 19th and Mass., and voila! I buy myself the bunch of blossoms that says, in no uncertain terms, “Take me, I’m yours.”

I didn’t always buy myself flowers each Friday, and actually, I’m not even sure when I started, but it was sometime in the last five or so years. I’ve always loved receiving flowers, but like many of us, it wasn’t as if a weekly floral offering was in my horoscope. I remember being in a play in high school, and my father, who was anything but outwardly loving (or inwardly much of the time) knocked my socks off by getting me a bunch of daisies. Many years later, I recall being in a large room where someone was giving a talk when I saw my new boyfriend, who has since become my old husband, walk in with a single black-eye Susan. I fell in love and just kept falling.

But it wasn’t really until my father-in-law that I got in my head that I should have flowers often. Whenever roses were on sale, he would go out and buy a dozen for his wife and a dozen for me. Because he always had a key to where he lived, he would go to my house, and put the flowers in a vase on the kitchen table. No note was necessary. “You left me flowers?” I asked. He just shrugged. “Well, I had to because my no-good son was going to get you some,” he joked. I was elated everyday and also blown completely away, having grown up in a family where my own dad didn’t express (or feel) affection. It also seemed, as he got older, that flowers were on sale all the time.

I do grow some of my own, and some weeks, I don’t need to pony up the $10 or so at Dillons to have a bouquet of Asian lilies or daffodils. But most weeks, I find a way to give myself these weekly messages from heaven. Having a super-sonic sense of smell (both a gift and a curse, depending on what ally I’m walking down), the scent of so many flowers brings me exquisite joy. I’m grateful to be gainfully employed enough to treat myself to these beauties each week.

For years, I beat myself up for not resting on the sabbath, truly taking a day off electronic devices (seems I can’t go for more than half a day without “needing” to check something) and other work and making a proper Shabbat. Now I realize the flowers have been bringing me Shabbat, showing me the divide between the workaday world and world waiting just under the surface, each petal a reminder that life is vastly more beautiful than I can fully comprehend.

In Memory of Pete Seeger: Everyday Magic, Day 762

I grew up on Pete Seeger, his music and his voice coming to me through the radio, the television, and perhaps just in the wind. Of course there was the Beatles, the Monkees, Herman’s Hermits, Tom Jones, Sonny and Cher, Simon and Garfunkel and many songs coming through the small transistor radio I held to my right ear under my covers at night, but folk music and show tunes were my first love. Pete Seeger, as everyone knew in the 60s (and 50s) and every decade since knows, was the sea from which so much else seemed to evolve.

I was so inspired by Seeger’s rendition of “This Land is Your Land” that, at age nine that I performed it in a summer camp talent show. In a tutu. Twirling a baton badly (simply turning my wrist one way, then another). Marching back and forth. The other campers were unduly quiet during my performance. I won a special talent show award, not for singing, twirling or pacing, but “the guts award,” something they made up on the spot for me. Hugging the trophy, which was a plastic train filled with candy, to my chest on the way home, I knew Pete would be proud.

I knew every verse of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, “If I Had a Hammer”, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” (Pete is 93 in this version) and especially “We Shall Overcome,” all of which we sang in the massive peace marches my wise mother took me to in New York City when I was a kid. Singing “Forever Young” to myself at hard moments in high school was a refuge. After college, when I worked in the union movement, I thought of Pete often when we belted out “Solidarity Forever” and “Union Maid” at the end of meetings before drinking copious amounts of beer. In the bioregional movement, “Somos El Barco” became a central song we sang often in opening and closing circles.

One of Pete’s new verses for “Turn, Turn, Turn” has the lines, “a time to get, a time to give/ a time to remember, a time to live,” reminding us what time it is. As for Pete being dead? Arlo Guthrie said it best in his Facebook post today: “‘Well, of course he passed away!’ I’m telling everyone this morning. ‘But that doesn’t mean he’s gone.'”

How To Paint a Bedroom (and Yourself): Everyday Magic, Day 714

DSCN1566It was time. I hadn’t painted my bedroom, and neither had anyone else, since we moved in 18 and a half years ago. Besides, with Ken out of town for his annual siblings vacation  an extra trip to Home Depot while I incidentally had a credit card in my hand and a certain blue and green in my mind, and my happy success in painting Forest’s room a few days ago, everything morphed into one imperative: Paint, Caryn, paint!

DSCN1570
Some of the lots of little stuff to move, including wedding vows

So I bought my colors, found some brushes in the basement that didn’t have hardened bristles akin to a a dead mammoth, and got ready.

DSCN1569
Definitely move this

Once I caffeinated myself to the optimal point, there was the work of moving things. Luckily, painting a bedroom means you have a big bed to hold lots of little things. It also means you have a great surface to attract big furry animals who love to jump on and roll in lots of little stuff, which necessitates the herding of the animals (not so easy with Shay, who can open doors and probably will be unlatching windows any day now).

Beyond the moving of mammals and stuff, there is the masking of everything in sight. I’ll spare you the pictures, but let’s just say three full rolls of masking tape had a

Put a lid on everything
Put a lid on everything

showtime moment. I also got myself thoroughly tangled in plastic sheeting that had to cover everything because when I paint, I paint sloppy.

Knowing myself as a painter, I remembered to put on a cap (instead of having blue and green hair), and I got down to it. I love the rhythm of painting: the texture and sound of the roller, and the intermittent brush to do edges. Then there’s the smoothing together colors rolled and brushed into one surface. Two and a half hours after brushing and rolling a hint of peach-infused vanilla, early greening of cottonwood leaves green, and almosDSCN1577t-dark-out periwinkle blueberry (my names for these colors), it was over.

Except for putting everything back in place, and  the cleaning, which was substantial. Despite painting in a plastic covered room, splotches of all three colors were all over the floors, which meant crawling around with a scrubbie, hot water, and a towel. The brushes had to be cleaned too. Mostly, I was the real mess though: my arms and legs looked like a Jackson Pollack painting. Soap, a scrubbie and a long bath took off most of DSCN1581the paint, and I figure the rest will fade or peel off a few weeks or months.

Meanwhile, I’m thrilled to be in a room made semi-glossy and new again while on the radio, someone sings “Home on the Range.” Indeed!

 

Spray-Painting a Bunch of Stuff: Everyday Magic, Day 707

downsized_0603131921Spray painting is the daredevil, extreme sports version of painting, not to mention mostly thrilling (except for the pressure on the button of your forefinger) because of its long tradition as the tool of choice for graffiti. Given the choice of sitting quietly with paint can and brush or spinning around an object while shooting out color, I go for the spray paint.

Today gave me three opportunities to wield some spray paint colors, namely bright blue, grape purple and deep green, while aiming at a chair, a file cabinet, and a little wooden cabinet that has been recycled from holding baby blankets to remote controls and wii boards to its next assignment of holding fabric. All these objects are going into my office, which is quite a mess of revision as it changes from mere place to write and pay bills to grand art table, sewing space and writing studio. There’s also an astonishingly heavy door involved, which I was wise enough not to spray paint.

downsized_0603131922I spent the afternoon in the shaded part of our gravel driveway aiming and pushing, and because I can’t leave well enough alone, I ended up mixing colors for each object. There’s enormous satisfaction in spraying over rusted edges, scratches and blotches, not to mention a high gloss finish.

Now it’s the quiet wait while all dries enough, the great exertion of energy to carry and haul them into place, and then the dazzlement of however they look together. There may be fumes in the air, but there’s also a palpable buzz carrying me through a project that doesn’t require much thinking, clock-watching, speaking or writing. Sometimes the project that leads to future projects is the most happy of all.

“The Gift Must Move” and the Changing of Kansas Poets Laureate: Everyday Magic, Day 705

downsized_0523131641aAs soon as I finish writing this, it’s on with the spanx and heels (a dress too so as not to shock anyone) and out to the Lawrence Arts Center where we celebrate and formally install Wyatt Townley as the fourth Kansas Poet Laureate. I have a large fake sunflower in the back of my car, and a survival kit of sorts put together by Denise Low, the second Kansas Poet Laureate, and myself (essentials included: a detailed atlas, chocolate and wine). In my heart, I carry joy and ease: the seemingly complicated and weighty homelessness of the program is now firmly resolved, thanks to the vision of the Kansas Humanities Council and particularly its director, Julie Mulvihill.

This moment is especially sweet for me. My term, which has been easing to a close with the announcement of Wyatt’s appointment at the end of April and now this ceremony tonight, ends, appropriately enough, poetically. Spring is at downsized_0523131641its height, irises abound all directions, and in the past 24 hours I’ve had glimpse after glimpse of poetry-inducing moments, some easy (watching the sun balancing on the horizon after some tortillas and refried beans last night at my home) and some more challenging (listening to a gorgeous jazz ballad as I drove through the lovely moonlit night in my nightgown at 3 a.m. to pick up my son from the almost-all-night high school graduation party). One irony of being poet laureate, although I tended to be in denial about it most of my term, is that you experience all this poetry-catalyzing beauty, tenderness and inspiration without having adequate time to write about it. Now that time is returning to me, and despite a mild case of sleep deprivation from last night’s interruption, I’m already feeling energized about writing a lot of new poetry.

I’m also inspired to write more about some of what I experienced over the last four years, so much of it an honor and a gift. The gifts were sometimes literal. When a former colleague interrupted a faculty meeting I was in at Goddard College, where I teach, to give me a lovely painting featuring a Kansas stamp to celebrate my laureateship, I told my colleagues, “Oh, yeah, people often give the poet laureate gifts.” They laughed with me at this, but it was true: I amassed wonderful books, an occasional bouquet of flowers, a hand-made vase, a whole lot of dinners, a few beautiful stones, a Navajo rug, and most of all, moments of connection with people I never would have met otherwise.

“The gift must move,” one of my favorite prose writers, Lewis Hyde, writes in his superb book The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. The gift filled me up, and I reciprocated however I could along the four-year journey. Tonight, we honor Wyatt Townley, who not only has the distinction of having one of the best possible first names for a Kansas poet laureate but who writes with power, precision, an eye for the magical underpinnings of the ordinary and an ear for the music that poetry gives us. I’m grateful for the gift of her poetry and presence, and I’m ready to bop her (lightly, of course) on the head with a certain giant fake sunflower at this changing of the poetic guard. Praise to all who made this happen, and may the overall gift of the poetic power of language continue to imbue our lives with meaning and light.

Brave Voice’s Round Rainbow: Everyday Magic, Day 703

IMG_0328At Brave Voice last week, we sung a new song repeatedly, a signature tune for the week:

A round rainbow is called a glory.

What you survive in life is called a story.

You only see the arc of it after the storm.

To see the whole miracle, you have to hold on.

The workaday miracle is where you belong, where you belong.

The story of how this song came to be may be a pebble in the ocean of the story of where this song is going, now that it’s inscribed in the memories and hearts of all of us who took place. But the song came in a miniature miracle kind of way: several week ago, watching Kelley Hunt perform at the Dakota in Minneapolis  I couldn’t help thinking of one word repeatedly: miracle. It’s a miracle she gives us this life-lifting music, and it’s a miracle that so many of us who create in any form for 376920_10201106479481349_1759454154_na living/for a life find sustenance for our art in this culture. But we do, and it kept coming to me that this was a workaday miracle, the kind you help to unfold word by word, note by note.

On the way home from Minnesota, Ken took a photo of a round rainbow with the shadow of the plane in the center of it. I posted it on facebook, and past Brave Voice participant Sandy wrote that “a round rainbow is called a glory.” Both Kelley and I emailed back and forth about that line, the photo, and the idea of a new song that encompassed all this.

A day later, I was walking the dog when we both got tired. I sat on the gravel driveway with Shay, and I began singing quietly, not really paying attention to myself. Shay cocked his right ear and leaned in. Soon I realized, I was singing “A round rainbow is called a glory./ What you survive in life is called a story…” and the rest of the song. I soon went to Kelley’s house, sat with her at her kitchen table, and sang this. “I think it’s the chorus of a song,” I told her, but she told it would work beautifully as a little song. Within a few hours, she found/created several other parts, mostly comprised of stretching the word “glory” into beautiful arrangements. We decided this song would travel with us to Brave Voice, but once there, Kelley found some verses to grow this little song.

401952_10201113625019983_517343383_nOn Tuesday morning, Kelley led the group singing in three-part harmony to this little but mighty chant, and on Wednesday evening, we ended our performance with the fuller song, complete with breathtaking cello playing by Teresa (one of the BV partipants) before surprising everyone with the chorus they all knew by heart. The song itself became a round rainbow for all those present in that moment.

Singing this song with others all week, by myself while walking across the prairie at Brave Voice, and in my mind as I fell asleep many nights, I feel its power seeping into me with each repetition. The glory of the workaday miracle is where we belong.

Top photo by Ken Lassman; other photos of Brave Voice by Dianna Burrup.

Playing It Forward: Everyday Magic, Day 682

DSCN0891It was a watershed moment for many who performed, and one of the glories of our lives for Kelley Hunt and me, who co-facilitated a series of workshops culminating in a coffeehouse of wonder – “Play It Forward,” a program envisioned and put into reality by the wonderful folks at the Lied Center of Kansas.

DSCN0799We began close to a two years ago, meeting with Karen and Anthea at the Lied Center to talk about what might make for a great collaborative community education program, particularly because the Lied has been bringing in premier women performers — Suzanne Vega, Regina Carter, Ragamala Dance, and Nnenna Freelon – for a year-long program called Play It Forward. One idea sparked another, and Kelley and I came up with a program to help writers and musicians come together, bring more of their courage, creativity and vision into play with each other, and from there, create poems, stories, essays, songs and more they could play forward at a community coffeehouse.

We met the 29 wondrous souls who signed up in October for the first all-day session, saw them again for another day DSCN0826session in January, and this past Saturday was the Play It Forward Coffeehouse (after afternoon consulting sessions to help prepare people). Each session was a tapestry of humor, art, surprise, connection, delight and depth, some of our participants driving in from as far as Carbondale, IL and Lincoln, NE for our time together.

As for the performance, afterwards, we were joking that we saw just about every kind of performance but burlesque. People shared songs drawing from folk, rock, jazz, blues and even country traditions. Writing included poems (even some awesome alphabet poems, each word consecutively beginning with the next letter in the alphabet, such as, “A boy, comma….”), stories, essays, mDSCN0936ixed genre and memoir. There was even one performer, Maria, who shared paintings, yoga, prose, singing and piano, and this was all done, as all the other 20 performances, in 3 minutes or less. We heard about train whistles, dirty dishes, old love, support for the arts, the kindness of strangers in the middle of Israel or right in our own backyard. There was rhyme, meter, heartbreaking bridges, expansive high notes and gorgeous gravy low notes in music, poetry and prose.

Although Kelley and I put everyone in an order we basically divined on the hoof, hoping it would work well, strange and magical juxtapositions ensued. Iris belted out a hysterically funny song about “cleaDSCN0931ning up my kitchen, getting rid of you,” only to be followed by Jerrye, singing a beautiful tune celebrating long-term marriage and family. Sandy’s poignant prose/poem on the needs of children growing up against the odds followed an invocation on a more generous vision in the form of one of Cindy’s songs. Each performance was a delight, brushed free of static and bursting with spirit whether the performer DSCN0872had only sung in the shower before or recorded CDs for years.

The joy in the audience and the participants plays forward in myriad ways we can only glimpse. Already, I’ve heard from participants about how they’re playing forward the gifts of what come when you open your voice – on the page, aloud, in community or alone – to find the words and sounds you’re meant to share with the world.