Talents (A Birthday Post)

I love February. Not only because it’s my birthday month, but good things always seem to happen in February. This is partly because in Wisconsin, it means beginning to allow oneself to hope for Spring (we all know this can’t really happen until March, but February is when you start to get impatient). My mind starts to open itself up to new possibilities: perhaps Winter will come to an end, perhaps anything can happen: the world will change in unexpected ways and your life will get better in ways you didn’t know you needed. So be ready!

[Part of my birthday present was that this morning I woke up before anyone else in the house and sat down to write this post. It has been a long time since I’ve been out of bed before anyone else (or before baby wakes me up). The best treats are always unplanned!]

My friend JK made this card for my birthday (it’s the Aquarius constellation).


She has been cross-stitching greeting cards for a few months now and they are all as beautiful as this one. Her husband (my friend CK) made this for the envelope:


His artwork is always bold, moving, and whimsical. He often creates imagery with multiple meanings. You look at it and your heart starts to go “thump thump thump” while you try to figure out what it means to him and what it means to you.

Two other friends also gave me handmade gifts. That’s something that makes my heart go “thump thump thump” as well – that I’m surrounded by so many loving and talented people.

Last week we took Alzette to her first movie and theater experience. Duck Soup Cinema is a variety show with jugglers, singers, and other musicians. The main act is a silent film accompanied by a live organist. Alzette loved all the lights and music and the mascot duck dancing around on stage. The film was “The Lost World,” one of the first films to use stop-motion animation. I was glad we sat so close to the organist (Dennis James), because watching him was Alzette’s favorite part (but she soon happily nursed herself to sleep and took a long nap in the dark theater – what a great way for parents to watch a film!).

Turns out watching the organist was my favorite part of the show too. Before the movie he gave us some background: as is not always the case, the soundtrack that he played had been created especially for this film and he was using the original score. The organ at the Overture Center is beautiful: red and gold with the pipes climbing up towards the ceiling. There is a tiny monitor just above the organist’s shoulder, to the left of his sheet music, where the film plays so he can follow along. We were sitting close enough that I could just make out the tiny dinosaurs and people moving around on the mini-screen. He played intensely, every now and then looking up at his monitor to confirm that the dramatic pauses and crescendos matched the excitement happening on screen. Every note was perfect, and I thought about how he arrived to the point of that perfect performance. Where did he practice? Caught up in the theater magic, I couldn’t imagine a smaller organ than this one so I didn’t think he could practice at home. I imagined him watching the film and playing the organ at the theater, over and over again while he made notes on his sheet music and repeated certain chords to get them just right. I knew he had seen the film multiple times and studied it intensely, because he told us to look for a certain moment (a little mistake in the animation) which I thought would have been obvious but that I never saw. I marveled at his talent and thought about what it means not only to have a passion, but how important it is to have something you create with your own hands.

I’ve heard before that working with one’s hands is good for mental health. Spend a half hour writing, playing music, knitting, or framing a picture and this becomes obvious. It’s so hard to fit these types of activities into our lives, but when we do the experience is always refreshing. I am trying to get better at this. I usually push creative activities to the bottom of my to do list, thinking that I don’t have time to sit down and paint a picture, to sew that dress, or even to hem those pants. I always forget that if I work on something with my hands for only 15 minutes I feel so much better. It doesn’t have to be a whole project – if I just start something or work on a small piece of a project my mind feels better (having been distracted from the stresses of the day and working to untangle a creative puzzle), and I feel the satisfaction of having created something (or a part of something). I doubt that organist sat down to play the score to the entire film every time he practiced. Most days he probably just took it one chord at a time.

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