Come see my new website!

As of today, it’s still a bit sketchy, but it’s beginning to take shape. Currently, I’m blogging at my new website:

www.kathleenavins.com

I do want to thank all of you who have been following me here. I think there are about a dozen subscribers (hi there!) and countless others who just surf on over from time to time (and hello to you!). I hope you’ll feel free to drop in on my new internet home. Love to all of you!

Clarity.

That’s my word for 2012.

I’m ready.

Clarity.

Bring it on.

Things I didn’t know I knew.

The other day, I was watching Scrooge with my family. You know — the musical with Albert Finney? It’s one of my favorites.

At one point — shortly after the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, I believe — my twelve-year-old daughter (aka the Mercurial Maiden) turned to me and said, “The past is all sad and the future is all creepy and scary, but the present is jolly and fun.”

Almost without thinking, I remarked, “Well, maybe that’s because living in the past makes us sad, and living in the future makes us scared. Our best chance for happiness is in the present.”

Then I stopped and thought about what I’d just said.

Yeah.

Unwrapping the present now, to see what treasures it contains…

Emergence (a prelude)

This post has been rattling around in my head for months now. It wants to come out, but it isn’t ready yet. Or is it that I’m not ready?

Anyway, here are a few notes — a beginning.

***

I have a deep sense that I am coming home to myself.

I was soul-sick for a while there. The months and years of being in the doctoral program, with such painstakingly slow progress, so much discomfort around that — it colored everything. Wherever I walked, in the world or in my own interior landscape, there was a shadow, at the edge of vision, whispering, Failure.

One might think, then, that letting go would have broken me. Finally failure. Really, finally, failure.

But that isn’t what’s happened.

I laid my burden down, I released it…and all that energy came back.

Free.

Free to be myself, in any way I choose. Free to drift and dream, to follow my fascinations, without the weight of something else I’m supposed to be doing.

How many times, in recent years, did I say, to myself or someone else, “Well, that would be a fabulous dream to pursue, but I can’t begin it until I finish this degree”?

How many blissful, flow-filled moments were muddied by the nagging sense that I should be doing something else?

It’s been a revelation, a revolution, a daisy chain of epiphanies, these past few months: there’s no reason I shouldn’t record my music. No reason I shouldn’t explore new directions in my work, in my business. No reason not to go outside and play. No reason not to write…whatever I want.

Oh, sure, I know that, just like Jacob Marley and Ebeneezer Scrooge, a lot of the chains I was wearing were of my own making. They were still chains. For whatever reason, they were there, and they were slowly squeezing the life out of me.

No more.

I’m back. I am here.

And I keep thinking about the relationship between emergence and emergency.

Friday Fragments 8: torn between two titles

I couldn’t decide whether to call this post “Eight is Enough” or “To Infinity* and Beyond!” That’s because I can’t decide whether or not to stick with the Friday Fragments format.

So, I’m not deciding. Ha! Either this will be the last Friday Fragments post, or it won’t. Time will tell.

***

I’m singing in two choral concerts this weekend. We’re doing the Beethoven Mass in C Major, which is an under-recognized little jewel of a piece. It’s tiring to perform, though. I left dress rehearsal last night feeling utterly drained and desperately thirsty.

Oh, but what a glorious performance space for this particular piece of music! It’s the kind of cathedral where the sound just echoes, and Beethoven put plenty of dramatic, climactic pauses in the Mass, where everything stops but the sound just keeps ringing. Magical.

It means a lot to me, getting to do this kind of work. Choral singing is very special, and singing with an orchestra is like riding a dragon. I try my best not to take any of it for granted, to savor every moment.

***

I had a Secret Sabbatical last week. It was a very sudden thunderbolt of an inspiration: I used the week leading up to Samhain as an opportunity to reflect on different facets of my life. Each day, I focused on one of my major life roles, asking myself these questions:

–What qualities are associated with this role?
–Is this my role forever?
–What do I look like in this role?
–By the time I am 50, how would I like this role to be for me?
–What is working for me in this role?
–How would I like this role to change?

It was really a wonderful week, filled with insights and inspirations, just as I had hoped it would be. I really had the feeling of coming home to myself.

Yet now I’ve had a couple of hard days, and today I find myself in a downward spiral. My inner demons are taunting me, telling me that the renewal I felt a few days ago was just a tease, a might-have-been, a nevermore. “Yes, that’s who you used to be, and wasn’t she wonderful? but you can’t be that person anymore. Your life is a tangled mess, and you’re lost forever!”

Deep down, I know that can’t be true. In the moment, though, it feels true.

I’m torn between two truths, I guess, as well as two titles.

Stay tuned. One thing I know for certain is that things are going to change.

(*You know, because when you turn an 8 sideways, it’s a symbol meaning infinity…)

Friday Fragments 7: the fragments are in my closet…

…which sounds, somehow, like a lost Pink Floyd lyric. I’m not sure why.

This coming weekend, I get to do something that I’ve been wanting to do for months: I get to de-clutter my closet.

Actually, I’ve been working on it in bits and pieces for a while now. I cleared out the clothes that, for one reason or another, didn’t feel right for me anymore. I organized the remaining clothes onto color-coded hangers (seriously!) and into attractive boxes on the shelf. I have a hanging shoe caddy, and I’m not afraid to use it.

So, now it’s just a matter of sifting through the drifts of clutter on the floor.

And here’s where it gets tricky. Because this is paper clutter. My Achilles heel.

Photographs. Old love letters. Birthday cards and Valentines. Concert and theater programs. Offers to settle old credit card debt, probably long expired. (Wait, forget I said that. Nothing to see here. Move along.)

My old school projects. The Mercurial Maiden’s old school projects. One example of the drawing she used to make over and over again when she was three, that looked like fireworks but that she said was “my brain!”

How can I possibly get rid of this stuff?

But if I don’t want to get rid of it, and I also don’t want it cluttering up my closet, where on earth is it going to go?

Not many people know this, and you’d surely never guess it to look at my house, but I have been known to do the Flylady thing. I like de-cluttering. I find it extremely satisfying. I’m usually the one in the house saying, “Do we really need this 20-year-old toaster/three pencil sharpeners/these socks that keep getting moved from bedroom to bedroom because nobody thinks they’re theirs? Can we just get rid of this stuff?”

(Mind you, there was also a time when I owned more than a dozen books on how to simplify your life. That’s probably worth keeping in mind.)

If there’s one thing I do hoard, though, it’s paper. Keepsakes. Mementos.

I can probably cull some of this stuff, mind you; I’ve done that before. I don’t know about the photographs, though. Last week, I was visiting my parents, and discovered a stack of albums filled with old pictures from my father’s side of the family. There was me at age five with my arm in a sling from one of the handful of times I broke or sprained bones that year (it was an adventurous year!). There was my father as a teenager, holding his infant brother. There was a great-grandmother I had never met, looking astonishingly like some character from the Little House series.

If I toss out my old photographs, I’ll be discarding someone’s future treasures. True, my daughter seems fairly indifferent to these things now, but there may come a time when she won’t be. Plus, I have nieces and nephews, and some of them may someday have children. Someone may care. Heck, I don’t even have to look to future generations; I am absolutely certain that every one of my siblings who reads this post is thinking, “No-o-o-o-o! Not the pictures! Send them to me if you must, but don’t throw them away!”

But where to store this stuff? Would the attic be safe? If so, would it be a little too remote?

Where is the happy medium between cherishing the past, simplifying the present, and creating space for the future?

I’m interested in your thoughts here, but please, please, don’t tell me what you think I should be doing. You can tell me what you would do, or what you have done in similar situations, and I will gratefully read and reflect. Thanks!

If this were an actual post…

…It would actually say something.

I’d probably tell you that for the last month or so, I’ve been putting my metaphorical house in order, taking care of assorted tasks and projects that had been shoved under the equally metaphorical rug while I was grappling with the doctoral dragon.

I’d tell you that I long to spend more time with you here, and that I will, and that this post — if it were a post — is a step in that direction.

I might begin reflecting about the things I’ve done and the ways I’ve changed over the past year, because now that it’s autumn, those kinds of reflections are beginning to surface, and I want to bring them out where I can see them and honor them.

I’d probably even tell you what I’m planning to do this weekend.

But this isn’t a post, exactly. It’s a placeholder. This is me, planting my flag, to say that I was here, and I am here, and I will be here.

It’s a promise.

And, perhaps most of all, it’s a quick hug for September 2011, so that I won’t have gone a whole month without posting.

Hello, September. And farewell.

I’m looking forward to October.

Morning becomes nostalgic.

This morning, everybody overslept. Maybe it was the greyness of the sky. Maybe we just all needed the sleep.

It was fifty minutes after the alarm went off, twenty minutes past actual getting-out-of-bed time, when the Wizard* and I rolled over, stretched, noted the time, and went oh. Ten minutes before I was supposed to leave for my work assignment. I threw on clothes, ran a comb through my hair and a toothbrush through my mouth. Grabbed my pocket things (phone, wallet) and my journal and pen. Kissed the Wizard, who was still dressing.

Went to the Mercurial Maiden’s* room. “Have a good day, sweetie.” “…Mmmf mmff, mmmmfmmmmf.” “I love you.” “Mmmf mmmf mmf mmmfff, mmmmfmmmf.” Then, through the haze of drowsiness, she made a heroic effort at intelligibility: “I love you, Mommy.”

Went down to the Samurai’s* room. “Have a good day, love.” Sleepy, bewildered: “Oh, you’re leaving already? I’m sorry I overslept.” “It’s okay, we all did.”

Sometime last fall, we began the practice of rising early (at six or six-thirty, depending on schedules; believe me, for us, that feels very early) and having breakfast together. Before that, I very often found myself in the position of kissing sleepy people goodbye. Come to think of it, we all did, at different times. Sometimes the Wizard had to get to work before any of my appointments. Sometimes the Mercurial Maiden had to catch the school bus before any of us stirred ourselves; she’d fix herself some cereal, read a book, and say goodbye. Then I’d be the one making Herculean efforts at coherence: “Have a good day, sweetie, are you wearing a coat? It’s supposed to be cold today.”

A year ago, I’m not sure I would have believed that I could get myself out of bed before 7AM on a regular basis. I spent a lot of time saying I would, and then when push came to shove, not wanting to do it. When we all decided to do it, though, it became a commitment, and things changed.

I like the newer rhythm of breakfast together. Sometimes we’re cranky and get on each other’s nerves, but that’s life, and usually we don’t. It’s a good start to the day. Even so, when I got to re-visit a previous rhythm this morning, it felt oddly endearing and nostalgic. Kissing sleepy people goodbye makes me feel trusted, and loving, and loved.

*The Wizard and the Samurai are my two partners. The Mercurial Maiden is my daughter.

Friday Fragments: The River Six

I saw the most adorable thing ever this morning: about half a dozen little pigs riding down the interstate in the bed of a truck, happily eating. I would probably never have guessed that this would be the most adorable thing ever, but I can assure you, it was. Their little faces

I just wanted to follow them wherever they were going, but it’s probably just as well that my exit came up about a mile after I noticed them. Once I saw them, it was hard to want to look at anything else, which made safe driving a bit difficult.

The Mercurial Maiden and I are going out of town this weekend. We’ll be staying with her paternal grandfather and his lady, but we’ll leave early enough on Sunday to do something that she’s been wanting to do for ages: re-visit the neighborhood where we lived until she was seven years old. She wants to see the townhouse that was our home, have a meal in the diner we used to frequent, drive past her old school, etc. I can understand this. I remember, on family trips south to visit relatives, wanting to drive past the house that I remembered living in when I was little. There’s mystery there, and mists of memory. No, of course it won’t be the same, but that’s part of the point.

We may even get to the beach on Sunday, because if there’s one thing I miss about where we used to live, it’s the ability to get onto the nearest highway, just drive east, and reach the ocean in under an hour. We’ll have to play that part by ear, though, depending on time, weather, and traffic. We did spend a long weekend in the Outer Banks last month, so I’ve had my ocean fix for the year. I guess. *sigh*

We’re also gleefully looking forward to the road trip aspect of the whole thing. We’ve got our music all planned out!

This news deserves a post of its own, and in fact will probably have multiple posts when all is said and done. (Just say it, Kat. Just say it.)

Last week, my father was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

(I keep typing the words, “His prognosis is…” then backspacing, then typing them again, then backspacing. I can’t say it. I just can’t.)

I can give you facts: this morning, he had a procedure to put in the ports for chemotherapy, and a nerve block to reduce his pain. His chemo treatments begin on Monday.

My parents live a long day’s drive away from me. I forget how long. More than eight hours, I think.

That’s enough for now. There will, of course, be more to say. Of course.

Complicated harvest

This year, inspired by a comment from my sister, I decided to toast a marshmallow for Lughnasad. We happened to have a bag of extra-large marshmallows, purchased for Horde Weekend (our annual house party) but never opened. My family all gathered on the deck just outside the kitchen, and the Wizard lit a fire in my small cauldron. The Samurai declined to indulge in a marshmallow, but the rest of us gathered around the tiny fire, two at a time — the Mercurial Maiden and I were first, then I stepped back to make room for the Wizard when my marshmallow had caught fire. I watched it burn, watched the flame slowly cover the smooth, white surface, while I softly hummed, “Keep the Home Fires Burning.” Then I consumed the marshmallow. Then, while the fire was still burning, I took the small bloodstone that has been carrying my hopes and dreams for 2011 ever since last Yule, and held it gently over the fire. I circled it around the cauldron three times, deosil, murmuring, “One, two, three — so mote it be.”

My harvest this year is…complicated. This past weekend, I decided not to complete my PhD program. After nine years of confused and conflicted effort, enough is enough. I realized that I had reached a point where I was really only still in there for two reasons: because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, and because of all the time and money I had already invested. Do I want a career in academia? No. I want to continue my work as a music therapist and an artist — in fact, I want to amplify my work as an artist, expanding into new areas, letting my light shine brighter and further. I want to remain self-employed, blazing my own trail and deepening my own sense of sovereignty. Do I need a PhD for any of that? No.

Someone from the outside might look at the shape of my year and say that I had a poor harvest, that my crop had faltered and failed. I disagree. Lughnasad is a time, among other things, of sacrifice. For years now, I have felt compelled to sacrifice many things that I love, things that make me me, in service of this doctorate. Even during the times when my progress towards my degree was pitiful — and those times were plentiful, I can assure you — I still was paralyzed in my other work, because my psyche (and my inner demons) knew what I was “supposed” to be doing. Now, at long last, it is time to let the big thing go, and make room for all the little dreams to be nurtured and thrive.

I feel some sadness, yes, and I can’t help feeling some fear about what others may think of me — but please believe me when I say that mostly, I feel liberated. Among other things, I celebrate a decision to stop the endless struggle for outside validation. I am the master of my ship; I am the captain — and the queen — of my soul.