Category Archives: healthy rhythms

Feeling September-ish. Or, how Over the Rhine reinvigorated my life last weekend.

This post switched directions a number of times as I wrote it this morning.  There are just a lot of big ideas swirling in my brain this week about music and art and words.  The short version is that music and lyrics breathe life into us.  If you want to take the long way around, read on.

Perfection, to me, often involves traveling with the right kind of music.  In college, I drove on State Route 73 in southwest Ohio at least three times a week.  Most of the time it was early evening when the light softens or at night–and out there you can see so many stars because Oxford, Ohio is surrounded by farmland.  Since I was in Oxford from September-May, these drives often were accompanied by open windows and the heat on my feet.  And of course, the right kind of playlist.  My car became a sanctuary of sorts that allowed me to have time and space to think by myself and my music–the 5 inch binder of CD options–was what spoke to me.  I’m realizing looking back just how important those moments of listening to music and lyrics was to my mental and emotional health.  Those were the days when music like Over The Rhine and Ryan Adams and Patty Griffin were brand new to me.  I heard Bela Fleck’s Big Country for the first time.  The Dixie Chicks threw some attitude into my country music and Nickel Creek pulled me into bluegrass.

Since moving to New York ten years ago, my rhythms with music have changed considerably, mostly because one can’t take the subway and look out on farmland at the same time.  Ten falls ago I walked with my tea to the Hudson River at Riverside Park seeking healing from homesickness and took the music that felt like home, namely the OTR’s Ohio album.  When I moved downtown my river walks and runs changed me along with Iron and Wine and Sufjan Stevens and of course Drunkard’s Prayer.  When I moved to Brooklyn, I commuted by foot and rotated The Head and the Heart, Fleet Foxes, Alicia Keys, Miranda Lambert through the streets of my neighborhood, along with a heavy dose of The Long Surrender.

Last March I moved out of the apartment I lived in by myself into one a stone’s throw from work. It took me five months to realize that music wasn’t playing in the way it once was.  Luckily, this realization came right before a new school year started, and therefore is helping to set the tone for this new season of my life.  September is essentially my new years, after all.  I was lucky enough to escape to Cape Cod during the four days before school started and poetically, Over the Rhine just released their latest album. I knew that to appreciate it fully I needed to hear it not just while doing dishes in my apartment, but away from the city.  I had just read an article about their writing process and learned that my life-line song on their last album was inspired by one of my favorite poets, Adam Zagajewski.  I also read how one of the new songs was inspired by Anne Lamott.  It all seemed too perfect a way to start a new year of teaching reading and writing–and to be reflective and writerly along the way.

So, I was with kindred music listeners.   We put it on as soon as we got past anything that felt like city life, and my ability to breathe deeply coincided with Karin Berquist’s voice and Linford Detweiler’s piano and the rapid increase in trees outside my window.  That was when I was reminded of driving on 73 in my home state–where the music and the lyrics hit you right where they need to and your lungs can fill with air again.

So all weekend, on near empty beaches, with coffee and Bailey’s, and in a hooded sweatshirt I listened to Meet Me At the Edge of the World and felt whole and at home.

Rhythms and Anchors: life truth from young adult literature

I’ve been reading up a storm lately, but you couldn’t tell by looking here.   I recently finished Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rivka Brunt and reread Crank by Ellen Hopkins with my students.  I  also reread the young adult Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes for my graduate class and loved it just as much the second time around.  It is set in a small Ohio town in 1973 and the Karl, the high school senior protagonist has been a part of a therapy group at school since elementary school.  They dubbed themselves the Madman Underground, since they know everything about each other’s lives, but generally stick to their own social circles outside of therapy.  Karl’s dad passed away and his cat-hoarding mother drinks her nights away and steals Karl’s money to pay for it.

This calendar year has felt like a whirlwind to me: planning a wedding, moving to a new (fixer upper) apartment, and going back to graduate school on top of grading essays and state tests has left me feeling scattered and in survival mode–I’ve spent quite a bit of my walking time getting from one place to the next dreaming about getting upstate with some English breakfast tea, hiking boots and a pile of books.  In the midst of the crazy, I came across this passage from Madman from a scene when Karl feels exhausted and overwhelmed and looks over to a list of household projects and chores that his dad made for him before he died:

Dad had left me a list, month by month and week by week, when to do all the stuff he’d shown me how to do.  I couldn’t always keep up with it, between Mom and the cats. I knew it would all fall to shit the minute I left for the army.  Still, mostly I kept it up.  Nights when I couldn’t sleep, I’d just turn on my desk lamp, point it at the wall, and read that list to myself til I knew where I was in the world again (110).

I actually teared up thinking about Karl re-grounding himself in rhythms that were passed down to him by his father and the way that rereading them enabled him to remember his true identity.  This is the piece that I have often gone without this year–I have kept going and going and the easiest things to let go of were the rhythms and anchors that remind me of who I am–be it through writing, running in the park, cooking a meal.  We are also in the midst of our final unit: studying Coming-of-Age literature and thinking about what it means to grow up, and this wisdom from Karl is some of the best advice I could ever give a teenager, and also helps put their lives and craziness into perspective.
There was a crazy day last week when I didn’t have time to cook but couldn’t bear to order in food that wouldn’t feel good to my body.  So I decided to make a meal that would take the longest to make, of course: risotto with spring vegetables.  I was filled with anxiety and my mind was looming with deadlines, but decided that it was worth it to walk to a grocery store much further than the two closest to me to get higher quality vegetables.  Within a block of walking I was so taken by the late spring evening light and my neighborhood’s energy that I was able to completely reset my mindset.  It was a mental miracle.  

So.  I realized that I needed to build in some time for anchoring myself just like Karl did.  This week I started reading Brene Brown’s The Gift of Imperfection with a friend of mine (after seeing her game changing Ted Talks last fall and being blown away).  One of the first things she talks about is recognizing the moments when you feel yourself becoming depleted and to do something about it in the moment–remembering your anchors and truths.  This past week I’ve been able to climb out of the craziness bit by bit and breathe.

It also helps that summer is so close.