Thursday, July 27, 2017

Musical Tastes

An early musical memory was my discovery of WABC New York, with Cousin Brucie on the radio when I was about 10. This was the heyday of groups like Three Dog Night’s “One,” The Cyrcle’s “Red Rubber Ball,” and Frankie Valli’s “See You in September.” My idol in those years was Dana MacDonald, the 20-something granddaughter of our next door neighbor in Normandy Beach, NJ. She tooled around in her own red convertible and was studying to be a nurse. Dana would hit the sand with her transistor radio, and my favorite songs would blare from her beach blanket. How cool was that? 

I then discovered classical music and was immediately smitten. My love for the classics grew exponentially, eventually embracing the works of Mahler, Bruckner, Debussy, Ravel, and Bartok. When Steve and I hit the road with our six state, year and a half children’s theatre tour, we were armed with cassettes for the (many) times we were out of radio contact. Indeed, we labeled the oft-played Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto “Theme from Tour.”

I continued on this path until 2005, when my undiagnosed bipolar disorder started to upend my life. Suddenly I was into pop music (indeed, anything that teens were into). Death Cab for Cutie, Franz Ferdinand. I not only played their songs endlessly, but I dragged my children to their concerts. My worst summer (2006) I retreated to my earbuds and my music, shutting out the world around me completely.

On the beach with my iPod-- a low point

Emerging from my madness, I found solace in new age music (George Winston, David Lanz, Liz Story). Their songs were a psychic band-aid for my mental wounds, soothing, non-challenging. Over the ensuing years, and especially as several of my children became musicians, my world re-expanded to jazz, to show tunes, to the ‘new” classical music of Adams and Ades and even my son Sheridan.

Today, my musical world is vast. I love the electronic music Evan listens to. I could listen to Rose’s original music forever. Indie? Blues? Jazz? I am so there. And so, as I sit on the beach, with the earbuds that no longer make me cringe, I look forward to the shuffle of tunes. Keith Jarrett? Sonny Rollins? Yo Yo Ma? Whatever is next in the lineup, I am ready to enjoy.

Next month, Sher, Ya-Jhu and several musical friends will present a series of concerts at the beach titled “Celtic to Classical,” embracing a host of musical styles. I look forward to sitting in the audience and applauding an Irish jig, a Sephardic Jewish suite, a Beethoven symphony.

What will music sound like in the decades to come? Who knows? But a CD of music sent into space on the Voyager included gamelan music from Java, aboriginal songs from Australia, Mozart, Louis Armstrong and Stravinsky. Clearly we believe that we can reach out to our alien brothers and sisters through music. What a gift. What a joy.

Hello, universe. Are you there? I know you are! Sing with us!

Monday, July 17, 2017


Catholics are used to being accountable. As a young child, I weekly stood in line for the confessional, where I told the priest my litany of minor sins (I disobeyed my parents; I fought with my sisters). Poor bored Father! The other day I saw a picture on Facebook of a sign from a church confessional booth in Ireland, stating that there was “only one priest for one hour of confession today, so please confess sins quickly and concisely, and don’t go into why you did it.” Yep! Accountability + brevity = win for all.

I am used to being accountable in certain areas of my life. Raising responsible, decent kids? Keeping our house tidy (or, at least, keeping it from falling down)? Checking off my various tasks as spiritual formation director? I can do all of that! But it gets muddy when I have no  clear goals. I want to be a writer. OK, great! Soooo…write! And then, what? Sell my writing!! But if I do not hold myself accountable, I do not write—or, if I write, I do not submit.

Accountability Time!

I have just discovered something amazing called the “Self Journal." It is an attractive and compact book where you fill in your goals for a 13 week period. Each goal is then broken down into weekly, daily, then hourly, nuggets. It is surprisingly difficult to deconstruct my lofty ambitions—which is probably why they have remained unrealized. If on Day #1 I hope to identify ten publications accepting submissions, there is the yawning space to fill with these publications! The perfectionist buried deep within the slob in me abhors a vacuum, so I feel compelled to investigate and notate submittable places. Tomorrow? Well, tomorrow I vow to actually submit to these online opportunities. The procrastinator in me has excuses at the ready: hey, it’s Monday! I have other stuff to do! I need to…dust the bric-a-brac! But I am driven to fill in the blanks, at least for today.

I know, I know, "Poets and Writers"! I should send out my work!

So, as I begin my much-loved annual time at the Delaware shore, may I hold myself accountable. Like the little girl kneeling in the confessional booth, may I own my mistakes and missteps. But then, may I go further. May I also own my successes, my “wins.” After all, both columns appear on the tote sheet of life. I think that may be what the Catholic confessional of my childhood lacked. I believe, with all my heart, that God celebrates our wins, to the point where our losses are both forgiven and forgotten.

Tomorrow I mark Day #2 of my Self Journal. Much as I’d love to erase the unrealistic and grandiose ambitions of Day #1, I have written them in indelible ink. I will leave them as written. And maybe, by Day #52, or Day #102, I will make some progress towards my goals. And if not, I hope I enjoy the journey anyway.

I may not be an accountant, but it seems to me those numbers add up just fine.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Interdependence Day

I know that today we mark the anniversary of our independence, 13 little colonies declaring that they no longer belong to England. I think back on what a crazy/brave thing that was to do, cutting ties with the Motherland in such a dramatic and seemingly final way. But of course, our relationship with Great Britain did not end; indeed, it improved markedly over the decades, until nowadays we are staunch allies. That’s life; we can’t get stuck in the past.

Declaration of Interdependence! Today!

Walking in the Oreland Fourth of July parade this morning, our revelers included several wonderful young families with kids (Braden and Lucy, Charlie and Eva, Alyssa and Bryce). who remind me of the young Seyfried clan from years gone by. We were usually down in Rehoboth Beach by now, but once in a while we were still home for the festivities. I have a photo of a tank (yes!) rolling down Apel Ave. with some of our little ones, with furrowed brows, in the foreground (Oreland looking for all the world like an occupied country).  

 My brood is all grown up, and their independence is clear: all five can survive (and thrive) on their own. I feel like I’m trailing far behind, because I have never lived alone: marriage at age barely-20 will do that to you. I am living in an empty house this week, with Sher, Yaj and kids in Taiwan, 

My heart is 10,000 miles away!!
and Steve getting the Rehoboth Summer Children’s Theatre season going. Setting my own mealtime, worktime and bedtime is unfamiliar territory. The silence is deafening. We have a little mouse we have been unable to trap so far, and I am actually grateful for its company!

 I believe that independence can be way overrated. Instead, I vote for interdependence, reaching across the aisles, and the miles, to clasp hands and keep each other moving forward. When you think about it, we need other people in myriad ways, every day. That is the beauty of community, be it a faith community or any other. Much as we may want to sever ties at times, the ties that bind, bind us still. We share a planet, air, water. I may not always like you, but by God I need you, and you need me.

What would a world that recognizes our interdependence look like? Very different from some currently popular models, that’s for sure. Interdependence requires humility, and compassion, and a true appreciation of one another and what we each have to bring to the banquet table of life. Sharing resources and hopes and dreams, enriches us all.

So can we possibly re-frame July 4th as Interdependence Day, and recognize our ongoing relationship with our fellow travelers? After all, being the United States of America, and still being part of the rich and beautiful tapestry of the world, are not mutually exclusive things.

Today, I wave my stars and stripes, along with the flags of ALL nations. All nations, under God. Indivisible. With, please Lord, liberty and justice for all.