The World Meets Us More Than Halfway

June 20, 2011

The right chords are all in here; you just have to find them.


I don’t like Mondays any more than do the Boomtown Rats, but the first day of Music Camp was stellar.

The loons on the lake woke me at first light.  Instead of fighting my way back to sleep, I rose and walked to the glass house on the wide dock. As far as I could tell, nobody else was awake — not even the poor souls assigned to make breakfast — so I unfurled my mat alone.  As I stretched and bent and twisted, I shed layer after layer of fleece and cotton and silk long underwear.  By the end I was sweating in the morning cold, loose and limber.  When I was finished, had wrung myself out, it was still only 6:30.  So I started my Monday with a nap before breakfast.

Then, in quick succession, came a series of the things I most love to do.  Drinking coffee.  Freewriting.  Lining out a poem.  Singing melody, then harmony, then a full-throated bluesy Texas waltz backed by a professional band with a real-live fiddle.  I was a rockstar for just that moment.  This series of events unfolded effortlessly, somehow.  I’m not sure who planned this genius of a Monday, but there I was, being the person I was born to be.  I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t just the delivery from the everyday grind that made me feel so good; it was also the way that this place rose to meet me wherever I wanted to be at that particular time.  I wanted to write, and I was writing.  I wanted to sing, and I was singing.  I wanted lunch, and somebody other than me set a delicious feast on the table, with a big pitcher of ice water to slake my thirst.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a Monday like this — if you’re a cranky, difficult person like me, that is.  Easygoing folks probably feel like every day is giftwrapped for their pleasure.  But for me, the combination of learning and expressing — of being stretched and also held by a bedrock of comfort — was an unexpected sort of perfect.  I guess I met it all more than halfway too — I had consciously elected to prime the pump with Yes.  I started noticing, again and again how lucky I was that the world decided to say Yes to me too.

Abigail spent Monday and Tuesday alone on the dock.  We had brought along her fishpole, telling her that if she wanted to catch anything, she would need to dig up her own bait.  Instead, she just dropped an empty hook into the water, hoping perhaps that the metal glint would look like a new brand of fish snack.  Soon enough, some kind soul other than me took pity on her wormless fishing and brought back two plastic containers of Canadian Nightcrawlers, thick and juicy ones.  Without any help at all from a grownup, she would pluck a gooey worm from the dark mud and impale its little squirming self on the sharp hook.

Standing there, without the benefit/curse of adult instruction, she even developed her own fishing technique.  Rather than cast her line out into the water she could not see, she reeled in the line until the hook and bait were nearly at the top of the fishing pole, and stuck it directly into a knot of fish six feet down it the clear, cold water.  She would thrust it back and forth, daring or commanding the fish:  Bite This.

Foolish fish they are, Sunnies.  So each time, she’d get a bite.  Another, and another.  It’s astonishing to me that they remained undaunted and hungry, after the trauma she would put them through to get the hooks out.  She would hold her fish victim flat with one hand, and work the hook out of a little fish cheek, near the little fish eye, ripping at the little fish mouth.  Presumably fish memories last no more than a few dozen seconds, because soon after she’d drop one back into the lake, either he or another of his fish brothers would bite again.  “They don’t mind so much, Mom,” she told me once when I stopped by her post to check in and help her out with a particularly embedded hook.  “I don’t think it hurts them like it would hurt you and me.”  I wasn’t sure whether to find her lack of empathy for the fish horrifying or kickass.

Abigail soon became known on the Island, at this brand new camp, as the Fishing Girl.  She noticed being noticed for this single-minded pursuit, and was genuinely pleased to be recognized — not as somebody’s friend, or sister, or daughter, but as herself.  The girl who fishes all day long, without the tiniest twinge of squeamishness or remorse.

“If you do something you like,” she told me that afternoon,”you can just keep doing it.  And pretty soon, other people know that’s who you are.”  I loved this humble life philosophy.  I loved it particularly because she created it herself, like her spearfishing method.  Nobody told her to spend more than eight hours of the day along on the dock, perfecting the art of sunfish torture.  But when she did, she found home there.  If somebody opens a school where kids fish all day long instead of going to class, Abby will be Valedictorian.

Early on the first day, Grace went off on her own as well.  She took a writing course with me, then wandered off in search of independent inspiration.  First she found a gentle and generous man to teach her the guitar chords to “You Are My Sunshine.”  I used to sing her that song  long before I met her, when she was in my belly growing into a person.  I would sing this to her while driving home from work on the BQE.  Then, like now, my eyes would fill with the tears that music and sweetness always pull from them.  I am so easily embarrassed by the strength of my feeling for these girls, and often by the strength of my affection for the world we share.

She played the song for me, clearly pleased with herself.  And then she went off to play some more.  She is a girl who retreats even from retreat, finding solace in the deeper quiet of her own mind.  She spent the rest of the day teaching herself to play “Country Roads,” a song we’ve sung a hundred times or more.  She would reach for a chord, find it wanting, and then shift to another one to try.  Since she didn’t know all the chords — just the more obvious ones like D, G, A, and E — there were some sounds she wanted, but couldn’t make for herself.  But if she structured the song with the right chord as the tonic, she could strum her way through the whole thing.

It was amazing to watch them deep in play like this — they went so deeply into these pursuits, and were not distracted by a screen or a snack or required shift in the schedule.  I suppose they “should” have gone to a class or two those first two days of Camp.  I sure as hell did, but not because I should.  It was because I wanted to.  So it only felt right to let them do what they wanted to do, as well.  As it turns out, they each had a solitary goal to pursue.  Abigail Fishing.  Grace playing the guitar, searching for the chords she knew were buried there in the strings.  I was off somewhere else writing, singing, and eating lunch that somebody else had prepared.

My girls and me, we were deep in the zone.

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