02 Jan 2009

High Tide at New Year

I love a new year. For some reason the tide of creativity always runs highest for me in January, when holiday making (in every sense of the word) is behind me. I don’t make resolutions, and certainly wouldn’t proclaim such publicly if I did, but I do get ideas. Lots of ideas. I think about things, many many things, over the last few days of December and, in January, all those ideas come bubbling up to the surface, spilling over. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about this week:

I saw a thing on TV, many years ago, about a retired guy who had taken up the violin. He used to play as a child and now that he was retired, with plenty of time on his hands to practice, he’d decided to pick up the instrument again. He was finding the learning process much easier this second time around for two reasons. First, he still had a muscle memory from playing all those years ago, and his fingers knew what to do; how to wrap around the neck of the instrument, and how to hold a bow. Second, he was learning to play using the Suzuki method, which strives to create high ability through use of a nurturing environment. That method wasn’t around when he was a kid, and this new way of learning made all the difference. It meant he got to skip all the boring old music theory stuff, and just concentrate on coaxing lovely sound from his violin.

I can vouch for muscle memory, as I’ve seen it in action. My youngest son, Zach, is a talented musician, who’s skill at the guitar was honed during a rather expensive college education, but is largely due to the fact that he started playing young, at the age of 11 or 12, and stuck with it. His playing undoubtedly improves when he practices, but he’ll keep the skill for life, regardless of how much time he spends at it weekly. His fingers know what to do. He has created a muscle memory that will always be with him.

Like the nameless retired gentleman, I also learned to play the violin as a child. Unlike him, I began with the Suzuki method. The method did teach me to read music, sort of, and sort of not. The skill isn’t based on a knowledge of music theory. It’s relative to the instrument, where a symbol – a black oval, placed at a specific point on five lines of a music staff – means “Put this finger on that string and hold the note for so long.” Not a lot of deep theory in the Suzuki technique, at least not at first, but from this easy first step it’s a relatively short hop to the making of actual music.

I’ve been thinking about playing the violin again. That’s all. Just thinking. Wondering if my fingers remember how to wrap around an instrument, and coax sweet music from its depths. ((There is, according to Tonia, a Welsh idiom, “Take your fiddle from the attic.” In my case the meaning is literal – if I still had a fiddle, I’d be getting it out about now – but the phrase generally means a dusting off of any old skill, and a return to doing something that you once loved.))

I’ve also been thinking about drawing and lettering, and making some kind of marks in a notebook, daily. I found a new source of inspiration, Woolgathering, linked to in Christine Kane’s blog. ((I played one Christine’s songs in the last podcast, and she left a note of thanks. You’re welcome, Christine. My pleasure. I hope many people will use the handy link in the show notes, and purchase your music. It’s wonderful. )) The name of this new-to-me-as-of-this-morning blog should alone explain why I felt driven to investigate.

I hesitate to use a qualifier in describing Woolgathering. (Art blog? Sketching blog?) I haven’t spent quite enough time there yet, and don’t know the story. But it is, quite simply, a delicious collection of sketches and short posts that seem to fall under the heading of “noticing.” I love the way these sketches treat a two page spread in a notebook as a single space. I love the generous use of white space around the sketches. I love that each drawing tells a story, even if it’s just a short one. And I really love this post, from December 27 of this year: “Four years ago today, I bought a sketchbook and began to draw…”

There is a link in the post to a little video of her drawings from the first month, but I haven’t watched it. I thought it might be interesting to see where she began but, upon reflection, I don’t think I want to. It’s enough for me to know that the artist was brave, and she began. I also know myself well enough to realize that if I watched the video, comparisons with my own beginnings would be inevitable. I remember Simon’s Rules from yoga class, “Wear loose clothing, and don’t compare yourself to anyone else.” Wise words. It’s enough for now to just think about beginnings, and let ideas bubble up and spill over onto the page.

Amroth from Coppit Hall
Amroth from Coppit Hall - Boxing Day
Posted on January 2, in Blog


  1. Emily M. wrote:

    I to think a lot at the end of the year, mainly about where I have been this past year. My new experiences, reflecting on goals set and won or lost, how I have grown and where I would like to be by this time next year. I am not a big fan of the five year plan, it was drilled into me my last year of business college and I had enough of it then so now I just think in 12 month intervals, and sometimes not even that long. Many of my friends think me quirky for doing this as they feel that it just brings on the doldrums by showing in stark relief all the things they have missed out on, thus making them feel like failures. I however relish this time, freeing my mind of burdensome thoughts, bringing into focus ideas, and most important new beginnings. Happy New Beginning!

    Posted on 1.3.09 ·
  2. Cindy wrote:

    Since I had not been to your blog since the revisions, I thought this post was just simply…’filling up and spilling over’, your intro line. I thought, yes indeed, certainly an appropiate feeling for the new year. Also, how wonderful to see Chris Williamson’s words again, I love her music.

    Your full post was wonderful. I love however, the depth expressed in the few words of the intro. It is a phrase I have live by, for years.

    Posted on 1.5.09 ·
  3. Libby wrote:

    Seeing that pic of Amroth brought back memories of holidays at Amroth Castle and Tenby as a child. Thank you!

    Posted on 1.6.09 ·
  4. Femke wrote:

    I followed the link to Elizabeth Perry’s website, which then led me to urban sketchers (http://www.urbansketchers.com/). That site is way cool. It’s like seeing the world through all these people’s sketches. Amazing!!!

    Posted on 1.14.09 ·
  5. Margaret Hollis wrote:

    I enjoyed your podcast and sensory memories connected to pie. In my husband’s family from the Deep South, it was his mother’s receipe for Sweet Potato Pie that meant “Holiday” to him and his siblings. After his mother’s death, no one had her receipe and each year brought new remorse that no one had asked her to write it down. I spent about 6 years trying different versions – and this one seemed to strike the sensory chord of memory in his family. So – if you’re “jonesing” for pie and no pumpkins are available – try this one – you might find it “quite nice” as well.
    Mama Hollis’ Sweet Potato Pie
    3 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
    4 eggs, beaten
    1 cup brown sugar
    1 cup sugar
    2 tsp vanilla
    1 can evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed)
    ½ tsp salt

    Blend all ingredients. Pour into 2 pie shells. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then decrease temp to 350 degrees. Continue baking another 40-50 minutes till knife comes out clean.

    Posted on 1.15.09 ·
  6. KP wrote:

    That picture is absolutely mouth watering! I just discovered your podcast, and I could not help but poke around this blog. It is all so delightful and perfect for a creative spirit.

    Posted on 1.17.09 ·
  7. Sara wrote:

    Ahh – for me the fiddle in the attic is figure skating – and I adore the quote from your yoga instructor – it’s very apt for skating too once “stretchy” is substituted for “loose”. My biggest bugger is the competing side of the adult skating world – where one can’t help but be out there alone with everyone looking at you and somehow trying to focus on just being and doing for yourself is hard for this introvert. But – that is what I try to hold on to – b/c really? That’s what matters anyway.

    I’m looking forward to the new episode.

    Posted on 1.17.09 ·
  8. Joan wrote:

    Pumpkin pie brings back many memories to me. I like it, but not on a regular basis – I think my body has an aversion to vitamin A-laden things. But the wonderful smells do bring back great memories – mostly of my grandmother’s cooking and my attempts at cooking. What is so interesting from your blog is the picture of what I assume is the coast of Wales on 12/26/08 – how GREEN everything still is! Here on the east coast of the US, everything is a sort of earthy beigy tan, the only thing green being pine trees.
    Happy New Year!

    Posted on 1.18.09 ·
  9. Kathy wrote:

    I agree with you about the violin. I started to play the fiddle in December 2007 (I’m 46) and I don’t read music, I use tabs to start and then just play by ear on I know the tune. I think that over the age of 40 if you want to play an instrument, you should learn the basics for good form, and then just learn tunes. Each tune that I learn has a technique that I add to my playing, so I’m constantly moving forward, but having fun in the process. Pick up your violin, and have some fun.

    Thanks for a great podcast too!

    Posted on 1.19.09 ·
  10. Caro wrote:

    Forgot to ask on my last message, do you have a family for pumpkin pie? I haven’t found a decent British one! Lived in BC Canada when I was a child and the memory of eating pumpkin is almost like the scent of Channel on your Mum, for you! I think memories are as much to do with taste as smell, just like you! My Mum never cooked it, we only ate it when we dined with friends.
    I never remember seeing canned pumpkin!
    Best wishes
    Caro 🙂

    Posted on 1.20.09 ·

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