Tag Archives: friendship

Friends in High Places

24 Sep

img_5986Recently, I made friends with a green Lynx spider in my garden. Which is stupid, because spiders and people can’t really have relationships. But we humans love to anthropomorphize the creatures we come in contact with, so in my mind, “Lynxie” and I were friends. I’m sure our friendship was the furthest thing from Lynxie’s mind; she probably considered me a nuisance, if not a predator, as I spent a great deal of time examining her up close.

I was drawn to Lynxie because she was spectacular: a beautiful green color with an intricate geometric design on her back. She had made her home on a large black-eyed Susan plant, as her green color exactly matched that of the leaves. After I posted a photo of her on social media, friends on Instagram and Facebook set out to discover what kind of spider she was. In a matter of hours, I knew all I needed to know about my new best friend: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peucetia_viridans

For weeks, I checked on her each morning, watching with fascination as she waited patiently for her prey (mostly bees and moths) to get close. My family got involved as well, making it a habit to check on her every time we walked by the flower bed. Soon there was an egg sack attached to the stem—and we were thrilled—babies were on the way!img_6052

Days passed, and she stayed put, but something was different: she was no longer catching and eating her prey. She began to shrink, and her vibrant green color began to fade. It was as if she was putting all her energy into her babies. I began to worry about her.

Yesterday morning, I stopped to check on my friend. She was gone. Panicked, I inspected the entire plant to see if she had moved to another leaf, but I couldn’t locate her. Did she move closer to the ground to have her babies? Had another predator spied her egg sack and thought it was a delicious hors d’oeuvre? Or even worse, was she sick of my constant scrutiny and decided to flee?

Whatever her reasons are for ghosting me, I wish her luck. She brought me and my family great joy, and I don’t regret a single moment we spent together.

Proof that her sudden disappearance has affected the entire family:

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Encouraging Words

9 Nov

IMG_4512I’m almost done and I’m scared—terrified is more like it. When I first started writing my novel over three years ago, I didn’t believe I’d even complete a few measly chapters, let alone finish the damn thing. I now realize that I should’ve never told anyone in the first place. Now that I’m on the last chapter, people are going to want to read it.

Oh, god—what have I done?

Thanks to self-publishing, there’s a plethora of good writers out there who are getting their work read. On the other hand, there are also a lot of bad writers who publish as well. I follow a few Twitter sites that promote self-published novels and sometimes I’ll click on a link to see what’s out there. Sometimes I cringe at what I read—much of it is downright awful. I find myself hopping up on my literary pedestal and turning into this judgmental critic who actually takes delight in finding poorly written sentences, bad grammar and trite dialogue.

I’m better than that—right?

Deep down I know that I’m a decent writer and editor. What I don’t know yet is if I can tell a story well enough to connect with a reader and to keep them interested in the characters and the plot. I also know that like most writers, that lurking self-doubt leads me down that road of wanting to do anything but finish what I started.

Lucky for me, I’ve surrounded myself with those who believe in me. My family, my friends, my beloved writing group. The other day out of the blue, a member of my writing group sent me a text. He’s been a dear friend since high school and although we lost touch for close to thirty years, we’ve re-connected over the past three and our friendship has blossomed. At our last group meeting, I expressed to my fellow members that I was feeling a bit blue about finishing my novel and how much work I was facing in the coming months to get it ready. This is what he wrote to me:

Hey there. I just wanted to say that I’m so, so proud of you for what you have accomplished in getting your novel written. It’s a huge and massive undertaking and you’re nearly there and ready for rewrites. The percentage of people who never finish that novel (myself included) is so high as to easily discourage first timers. But you have done it, Jessie. I know there may be a little energy sag now or soon, but never stop appreciating and applauding what you have done here. It’s really quite something and I hope you will give yourself more pats on the back than disparaging remarks. There is more work to do, of course, but it’s clearly a labor of love. Please don’t forget that as you move into this next stage, you have done a wonderful and extraordinary thing. Don’t forget to appreciate yourself with as much love and consideration that you offer others. I’m proud you’re my friend and I’ve had the privilege of watching this creation from the front row!

He didn’t have to take the time to text that to me, but because of his generous spirit, he did. And with those encouraging sentences, his words managed to lift me up out of that mire of self-doubt and fear.

At least for today.

Losing Susan

18 Jan

yellow, orange rosesHer favorite colors were orange and yellow. I didn’t know this about her until after she died—when I had to ask her family what color flowers were going to be ordered for her memorial service which I was helping to facilitate. All these years she’s been my friend and I never knew that she loved orange and yellow the best. How did I not know that about her?

For over twenty years, Susan Samuel and I have seen each other at least once a month at our music teacher meetings, recitals and musical events. Although she often talked about her family, I had never once met her two grown sons or said more than a quick “hello” to her husband on the phone. I knew that she was originally from Montana; that she was a micro-biologist before becoming a piano teacher and that she loved music. I knew that she was a brilliant, funny and kind person and that I always felt completely comfortable being around her. I knew that I loved her even though I never once took the time to tell her that. Now I wish that I had told her how much she meant to me.

Two weeks ago, Susan suffered a massive stroke. She was only sixty-seven and in excellent health. She went to her yoga class, came home at noon and was discovered unconscious by her husband later on that afternoon. That night, after emergency brain surgery, she was placed in drug-induced coma until a week later when the difficult decision was made to take her off life support. She died peacefully with her family at her side.

Susan’s memorial was held at the small church where I’m the pianist; Susan also held her piano recitals there, so her husband thought it would be appropriate to honor her in a place where she had a connection. The church was standing room only—people stood against the walls and packed the foyer to listen to the musical offerings and spoken tributes in honor of Susan. It was a meaningful and emotional service.

I had the honor of speaking at Susan’s memorial and this is a part of what I shared:

You may not know this, but we music teachers are a nutty bunch. We’re highly emotional, often insecure and have a habit of taking things personally. We can also get quite hot-headed if things don’t go our way.

It’s not our fault—we can’t help it. After all, we’re artists, and as artists our greatest desire is to bring as much beautiful music into this world as possible. Who has time for organization, protocol and good sense? Who has the skill and ability to handle all those annoying details so that recitals and events run smoothly and easily?

Well, once in a great while, along comes an artist who has all of aforementioned attributes—someone who was passionate about music AND was able to keep a level head and civil tongue, as well as a smile on her face. That artist was Susan Samuel. And to be honest, I don’t know how anything ever got done in our music teachers’ organization before she came along.

When I was nominated as president of our branch, I took Susan aside and told her I didn’t want the job. She looked me right in the eyes and said, “Yes, Jessica—you do want the job,” in that reasonable, no nonsense tone of voice which meant, you’re doing it whether you want to or not. Well, okay then. Then she invited me out to lunch to talk about the job responsibilities, and I thought, “Good. Here’s my chance to pick her brain about how she does everything so effortlessly.”

But that didn’t happen when we went to lunch. In fact, we never even discussed it. Instead, she asked me about my other life—my husband, my children; my gardening and my writing. It was the start of many meaningful conversations over the years where she would tell me about her life—that how before she was a piano teacher, she was a micro-biologist; what Montana was like during the summer; about her two brothers and their struggles; about her father’s antique car collection; about how she loved to play the piano. She especially liked to talk about her husband, Chuck and how proud she was of her two boys, Jon and Dave—and how Jon’s wife, Emilia was a keeper. Oh, yeah—and the grandson on the way. She really liked to talk about that—a lot.

Susan was always our go-to person. At one time or another, most of us in our branch have relied on Susan to give us the correct answer or word the sentence in exactly the right way. I know I’ve never once made an important decision without calling her first to ask her opinion. Last week, when I found out that Susan had suffered a stroke, I wondered when it would be appropriate for me to send out an email to the membership to let them know what happened and my first thought was: I need to call Susan and ask her what I should do.

The fact that none of us call Susan any longer is beyond my comprehension. That we won’t see her smiling face at our monthly meetings and listen to her laugh or watch her roll her eyes over something ridiculous. That she is gone leaves a huge space in our lives and I can say with certainty that our branch will never be the same again.

Susan touched us all with her warmth, her kindness, her graciousness and her humble nature. We will miss her intelligence, her wit, her funny, yet gentle sarcasm, and especially how easy it was to spend time with her. We will miss how she kept us grounded.

Yes, it’s true that we musicians are artists, and we often walk around with our heads in the clouds. Sometimes we ignore the details; sometimes we forget to be diplomatic; and sometimes we fly off the handle. But Susan set the bar for us—she showed us how to do it right; and how to do it well, and for that we will be forever grateful.

We will always love you, Susan. Rest in peace, our dear friend.

Since Susan died I have been walking around with a lump in my throat and a burning sensation behind my eyes. I realize it’s because Susan is the first close friend I’ve lost.  I know there are many profound lessons to learn from her death,  but as I’m in the midst of grieving it’s difficult to figure out what those lessons are right now. Perhaps it’s that I need to learn to live each day as my last, because it may very well be. Or that I should not be afraid to say aloud to those people I care most about the words I should have expressed to Susan: Thank you for being so wonderful. I love you. 

Susan Samuel 1946-2014

Susan Samuel
1946-2014

I’ll leave you with two poems—the first on was written in honor of Susan by a member of our music teachers’ group and the second was read at Susan’s memorial by her close friend. I believe that both capture the essence of Susan’s spirit.

What I knew of you

was warmth,

humble rays of winter sun

and solidity,

like the piano’s ivory keys.

Your music is a hand

now secured

between our shoulder blades,

your steadfast kindness

a melody

humming within our ribs.

–Linda Holland

Let Evening Come  

Let the light of late afternoon

shine through chinks in the barn, moving

up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing

as a woman takes up her needles

and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned

in long grass. Let the stars appear

and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.

Let the wind die down. Let the shed

go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop

in the oats, to air in the lung

let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t

be afraid. God does not leave us

comfortless, so let evening come.

–Jane Kenyon

Hey, Girl, Hey!

11 Dec

beach viewIn most areas of my life I don’t take good very care of myself. I don’t exercise enough; I eat too many sweets and not enough green vegetables; I don’t spend money on new clothes for myself because deep down I believe I don’t deserve nice things (that, coupled with the fact that I hate the way my body looks in a dressing room mirror.) I spend a lot of time primarily taking care of the people I love while neglecting my own needs or wants.

Then I go and do something HUGE for myself: I agree to spend a couple of days in a rented beach house with ten of my best girlfriends whom I’ve known since our days together in junior high school.  Somehow, against all odds, we’ve managed to remain close friends for almost forty years. Every so often we plan a getaway together without husbands or partners, without children or pets. Just us.

The beach house at Mussel Shoals was stunning—right on the water between Santa Barbara and Ventura with the most spectacular views of the ocean imaginable. Everyone brought a ton of food and we all pitched in together, cooking up gourmet meals and then cleaning up afterward. As the wine flowed and the coconut cake was passed around, we talked for hours and hours about our lives; our families, our joys and sorrows.

We laughed—actually, we hooted, we guffawed—we pretty much shrieked like uninhibited second graders running around on the playground during recess. We were vulgar and crass and stayed up until two a.m. talking trash, (Hey, Girl, Hey!) laughing so hard our stomachs hurt the next morning—or maybe it was just the red wine and chocolate.Hey girl hey

After a brunch which included juevos rancheros and mimosas, we took a long walk on the beach and with the cold December wind whipping at our faces we shared our stories with each other. Some of our tales were joyful, filled with newly found love or excitement over a new creative project in the works. Other stories were filled with sorrow and devastation. And then we cried. We cried because we were in a place where we felt safe to open up and reveal our pain to each other without judgment or criticism—a place where love, concern and support for each other decanted faster than the bottles of red wine on the kitchen counter.beach walk

After spending only two days with these women, I became funnier, prettier, and more talented than I was when I first arrived. These women, who’ve only become more beautiful as they age, allowed my capacity for love to expand like a hot air balloon—and not just the love I feel for them, but more importantly, the love I feel for myself. They brought out my best—that special part inside of me that sometimes gets lost in the messiness of life.

As I drove toward home, I felt lighter and more emotionally buoyant than I have in a very long time. I was full up again, satiated with the unconditional love and acceptance that these women offered up so freely to me. As I headed back to my ordinary life, I realized that what I had just experienced over the past two days was indeed extraordinary and I felt blessed.

Off to my left, as the Pacific Ocean unfurled like a sparkling blue comforter laid down just for me, my spirit soared with gratitude.sunset at mussel shoals