Flow Moment

Last week, when I was taking my dog, India, out for her morning walk, I found myself stopped in front of a modest Chicago brick two-flat.

I wasn’t sure why I stopped.

It was 7:00 AM and quiet. Very few cars were moving along the narrow street and commuters were not yet scurrying off to the nearby train station. India was not curling her butt down in preparation for her toilet routine, nor was she stationed motionless in front of a tree, waiting for a squirrel to come down and rejoin her on the earth plane.

I felt compelled to stop as if some invisible force wanted me to notice something –- and damn if I could figure out what was special.

Unconsciously, I took a deep breath in. I tried to decode the mixture of fragrances of springtime flowers my neighbors planted along their small, neat front lawns.   I scanned the street for activity, looking for other dogs (and their people) that we should try to navigate around.

A small bead of sweat rolled down my back. I thought about the dew point and conjectured that it would be getting uncomfortably humid as the day wore on. I mean, if I was sweating already this early in the morning….

What was special? Nothing and EVERYTHING.

I don’t take the same route every morning. And today, I found myself looking at an odd sort of fountain in front of a home on Eastwood.

The fountain itself was noticeably out of place. A stone figure, like a 15th century Botticelli angel, poured water from one pot into another vessel. It belonged in Rome or at Versace’s ornately decorated mansion in South Beach.

But here it was in 60625.

I tuned in to the sound of the water flowing. Ah, what is it about the sound of water?…

I thought about people who like to sleep near the ocean so they can hear the sound of waves. I thought about my own childhood in Melrose Park.

There used to be a small channel that ran along the perimeter of the modest shopping center on the corner of North and 9th. We called it Silver Creek and, to some extent, it was more of a dumping ground than a body of water.

Before everyone was concerned about environmental impact, people threw all sorts of things into Silver Creek. It was rumored to have gotten its name because Sherwin Williams, which had a manufacturing plant nearby, used to dump paint into it, giving the water a grayish tint.

As a twelve year-old, when hanging over the rail of the tiny pedestrian bridge that crossed it, I’d see crumpled soda cans, store flyers and coupons soaking in maybe 6” of water, tree branches, large stones, abandoned shopping carts other kids pushed in on a lark…

And still the current flowed. The direction and force of the stream changed depending on the curves of the channel at any point and the randomly landed objects, the garbage, the water had to move around.

Silver Creek was basically full of crap –- and yet it flowed.

There is something so comforting about the way water flows… despite obstacles, despite limited volume. Its movement is purifying and generous. Whether coming from mountains, or from larger bodies of water, it flows until there is no more.

I know the flowing water of the small lawn fountain in front of me worked with the help of electricity, but in its own magic, I could feel the pull of gravity and the pull of my own conscious focus. The sight and sound of the cascade brought me to so many different places while I stood still in one place. I felt so grateful.

I feel grateful for anything that makes me stop and take a deep breath; listen with unexpected openness; think of journeys instead of destinations; marvel at the notion of movement — even if it’s subtle, even if something is traveling only inches or from one container to another; grateful to be reminded of ways to refresh myself…

Stopping in front of a fountain, and basking in a flow moment, is no small thing.

Private Audience

Ah February. Although the calendar page will tell you it’s the shortest month, it can feel like the longest.

Yes, there’s the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day, and, if you’re really hard up for an occasion, many people like to make a ritual observation out of the groundhog’s comings and goings. It’s a short stretch of four weeks that feels like an eternity.

For me, February is no different than every other month. I might make a pot o’ jambalaya for Fat Tuesday, but my daily life is pretty much the same as it is in September or June.

I enjoy watching the pro sports of the season on TV. I’ll pick up a book to read, and I’ll take walks with my dog.

I’m always on the lookout to fulfill one of my personal lifestyle goals — to see live music a couple times a month. When going to an outdoor concert is not an option, and I don’t want to hang out in a bar, this can be more challenging.

On the east side of Francisco, there’s an adorable collection of storefronts. It includes a dry cleaner, a beauty parlor, a neighborhood attorney’s office, the First Slice bakery and café, Le Petit Ballet Studio and Narloch Piano Studio, where private lessons are given.

A few weeks ago, as I was walking India, I looked at a couple handmade posters in the window of the piano studio. They were advertising a Friday night recital. It featured a youngish performer with an impressive resume. It was planned to be just over one hour and only cost $15.00.

The poster mentioned the composer and pieces slated for the upcoming Friday performance. Bach’s Italian Concerto, Beethoven’s Pathetique, and something by Schumann. Right away, I knew I had to go.

I asked a few friends to join me but was happy enough to go alone. The studio was only a five-minute walk from my home.

A small standing sign was placed in front of the studio. SHOW TONIGHT. At only fifteen minutes to show time, I seemed to be the first to arrive. There were cookies placed on a table at the back of the studio for after the show.

I liked looking at the walls. They were decorated like a bulletin board outside of a principal’s office in an elementary school. There were colored marker drawings of Mozart and Bartok and other composers with fun historical facts about their lives, contributed, I assume by young students.

The owner of the studio and the soloist, an attractive twenty-something year old- woman, sat in the back. There were maybe 25 or 30 chairs set up in a few rows and along the wall leading to the door.

The soloist wore gloves to keep her hands warm. A shiny black grand piano occupied the front of the studio.

At 7:55, the place just filled up. Local music lovers ended up occupying almost the exact number of chairs that were set out.

I had never been to a performance at the studio before, but it was clear that the other concertgoers knew the drill. A small metal cash box was placed near the front door. Everyone handled their monetary transaction themselves.

The soloist was very good. Each piece was memorized and a lot of attention was given to dynamics, to the subtle and grander changes in volume and mood.

I loved the music, but I really loved experiencing the music in this venue.

It was INTIMATE. And isn’t that what classical music is about? In a very small room, on a beautiful instrument, the nuances of each composition and the soloist’s personal rendering of them, felt like they were emanating from inside of me.

I got to see my neighbors’ faces. Even though I didn’t recognize anyone, I liked knowing that people living only blocks away from me would come to a local piano studio on a Friday night. I got to thank the performer personally for a great performance.

I really found the whole evening especially beautiful. It was so quiet in the room. The sound of the piano was the only thing that was audible.

I couldn’t hear the sounds of candy wrappers or rustling programs or latecomers taking their seats. I could only hear notes from the piano…and the silence in between the notes.

Hearing the silence between the notes is no small thing.

Midnight Circus

midnight-circusLight and fluffy snowflakes are coming down. I hear the sound of my neighbor running a shovel blade across the walk. I have food in the fridge and nowhere I have to be.

Here, at home, life seems very peaceful. Inside the snow globe, the movements of the world seem like MAGIC.

At this time of year, TV commercials show new luxury cars tied up in red bows sitting on suburban driveways, sending sparks of glee to the lucky family who unties the ribbon and enjoys keyless entry and the envy of their neighbors (at low monthly rates).

This image is supposed to convey the MAGIC of the season.

But I have another recent memory of magic, one that is far simpler and feels far truer.

Back in October, I went to see The Midnight Circus, at nearby Welles Park. During the summer months, The Chicago Shakespeare Theatre stages productions of the Bard’s works in neighborhood parks.

During September and October, The Midnight Circus sets up its tent, and parks its popcorn machine in many of the same parks.

I had no recent experience of going to the circus. I remember when I was around four, my father pulled some strings to get front row seats to the Ringling Brothers Circus.

My sister, who was only one year older, and I got upset and scared by the humongous elephants. And when the clowns (face it, clowns are pretty scary) pulled a stunt where they pretended to set their hair on fire — well, we screamed so loudly, that our poor father had to take us home.

The Midnight Circus was a much tamer affair. The largest animals they had were dogs no bigger than a Cocker Doodle. There was a high wire act, but the wire was about as high as a basketball net.

The circus troop consisted all of young people, spanning in age from ten to twenty-five. Mostly acrobats and jugglers, they wore tight fitting and colorful outfits and moved with energy and grace.

There was no balding middle-aged ringmaster in a top hat and red jacket with gold epaulets. And thankfully, there were no scary clowns.

A very eclectic range of music was amplified and, except for one intermission, there was no stoppage. I watched a constant flow of acts.

A young girl dangled from the top of the tent on a large swatch of purple cloth, arranging her Gumby doll-like body into configurations I didn’t think possible.

A teenage couple leapt and danced across a wire, stepping through hoops and tossing each other different objects from opposite ends.

There were comical chase scenes and dancing segments featuring the whole ensemble. Two hours of non-stop entertainment. In my little neighborhood. UNDER THE BIG TOP.

I enjoyed the skill and simple beauty of human bodies in motion, but there was another element that was MAGICAL to me.

As I looked around the crowd, maybe around two hundred in total, all sitting on benches, arranged in tiered circles, everybody’s eyes were on the performers. There were families with young children and twenty-somethings on dates. All ages were represented – and nowhere did I see the glow of a smart phone.

This shouldn’t be so rare, but I’ve been to too many concerts and too many nice restaurants where it seemed that the main attraction was texting cryptic conversations with people who were not around.

Here, people were sharing an actual experience in real time. They were seeing the same thing at the same time and fed off of everyone else’s awe and delight. Everyone together under the big top. To me, this was magic.

Enjoying entertainment with friends and neighbors – in the moment — is no small thing.

“Mine” Fields

book box ourtsideI was walking down Wilson Avenue the other day, only a couple blocks from my home, when I saw the silhouette of a wooden box on a post on the edge of a front lawn.

On closer inspection, I discovered the orange and black box was an informal sort of library and, dare I say, a social experiment.

Sporting a graphic depicting a row of hardcover book spines, as if lined up on a shelf, and the invitation to Take a Book, Leave a Book, the box represented a mini lending library, one with no requirements for membership cards or due dates (or fines).

Littlefreelibrary.org appeared in smaller print on a silver strip near the bottom of the box in case passersby wanted to learn about the movement and how they might install a similar box in front of their home — and, maybe, change their neighborhood.

When I visited their website, I was charmed and inspired by both their mission and testimonials from Littlefreelibrary stewards, as they seemed to call themselves. One attested to an important secondary benefit, after promoting literacy, getting to know your neighbors.

I found myself delighted at the idea but a little skeptical.

Their mission: To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.

Sounds good, but does the system get used? Do people ever open the box? Do they take a book and leave a book as they’re instructed to do.

Several times over this past week, I walked my dog in the direction of this mini library. I observed other dog walkers, teens, young fathers and mothers -– swinging open the Take a Book, Leave a Book door and perusing the titles. I witnessed a couple pick-ups and drop-offs.

When no one else was in front of the box, I took a look for myself.

There were large print Doctor Seuss books, a book by Maeve Binchy, a popular Irish author who turns out novels for a fairly literate crowd, and a couple John Grisham or Robert Ludlum page turners. In a collection of maybe 30 books, I saw something for most tastes.

Chalk it up to the perfection of randomness… or maybe something else was at work. Maybe we can find most of what we need — even when it comes to entertaining reading — within our own community, from what someone else doesn’t now need.

I thought about friends who are dealing with aging parents moving into retirement complexes, or even facing their own challenges to downsize.

Over time, people collect so much stuff. Even after receiving advice from professional organizers or some list-icle type article from a lifestyle magazine about getting rid of things that haven’t been used for six months, people seem to be reluctant to give up their stuff.

People so often think of things in terms of owning or possessing them.

I think of young children learning the word MINE shortly after they learn to say momma and dadda. This brings up lots of serious conversations with caretakers.

It seems like a big sacrifice to a three-year-old to SHARE a cherished plaything after brandishing it about screaming MINE, MINE.  Even at an early age, people identify so much with objects as belonging to them.

There are so many traps in thinking of yourself in terms of what you possess; what objects are in your home and how much you paid for them.

To some extent, the only thing you can claim as YOURS are your experiences.

Take a book. Leave a book. I love it!

Isn’t it great to know that others are reading what you’ve read?   They might have similar experiences or maybe very different ones from the same material.

Expanding your understanding that BELONGING is more about sharing an experience and values than it is about claiming something as a possession is no small thing.

 

book box inside