Saturday, July 20, 2019

How to achieve an EXCEPTIONALLY worthwhile life

If, in fact, “the unexamined life is not worth living”—thank you, Socrates—then my life today must qualify as exceptionally worthwhile!

I’m re-reading letters written to friends long ago, retained by the recipients and returned to me years later.  I have two sources: ten-or-more years ago Margaret, whose acquaintance I made at my first job after college, returned letters I’d written to her in the ‘60s after she and her family moved to southwestern Washington; recently Tony, the son of my dear, deceased-friend Karen, sent me the letters I wrote his mom in the ‘70s after my family and I moved to Wisconsin. 
I also have a few taped memories: some are letters, retrieved in the ‘90s after my mother-in-law died, dictated on the then ‘newfangled’ portable tape cassette player; others are narratives made on a reel-to-reel machine and were transferred to a thumb drive (although much of the content is inaudible) in 2018. One of those reels contains Jay’s practice-session for a TV host job interview in the early 1960s and my critique of it. Both were excruciating to hear fifty-five years later.

Needless to say, I am reading and hearing things I had completely forgotten: depictions of family harmony and conflict, mother angst and worry, anecdotal joy and concern from high school through widowhood.

To this odd time-capsule comprising one-off narratives, then add a lifetime of hobby writing. Two weeks ago I had FedEx print out four hundred pages (just a start) of personal essays, poetry, and short-fiction pieces I’ve written, reaching back as far as the ‘50s. No wonder I feel bogged down in terms of my everyday, household routines. 

Reading over these pieces about both my families (one of origin and one of choice), relationships and friends, anecdotes and events, triumphs and disappointments, has created a very self-centered person for the moment. Silly things, sad things, and bad things in my life are depicted and have settled into the forefront of my thoughts. It’s all I can do to look up and look out . . .  beyond the me who has created all this.

I know—as most of us do—it’s only natural, while on a long road trip, to pull out the map to see  how far we’ve come. What started out as an unmapped journey can be traced by looking back, and it’s satisfying to see those long miles highlighted along the way—be they interstate highways or back roads. This look-back on life through memoir is like that, and it’s probably a good thing. But it feels almost incestuous to be so preoccupied with myself after thinking I was living as much for others as myself. If it weren’t for Socrates’s almost clich├ęd dictum, I might feel very guilty about the self-centered aspect of this experience. Yes, I know he was talking about philosophical examination, but I’m choosing to take the quote literally. Thus, you could say I’m just making my 'almost twenty-nine thousand days' worth living.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Jarring juxtaposition awakens a memory

Milwaukee Sentinel November 8, 1980
 Milwaukee Sentinel  
Recently I 'Googled' myself--that is to say, I put my name into a search engine just to see what would surface. About a dozen hits--mostly because of this blog and several links to my published articles online, plus some volunteer connections and donations made public by various non-profits I support. Nothing too surprising except for this: "Sara Glerum, Wauwatosa, Wis, Finds Bible Inaccurate."

Well, that got my attention!  I immediately clicked the link and rediscovered a letter I'd written published in the Milwaukee Sentinel on November 8, 1980, entitled 'The Value of Life.' The letter summary of someone else's letter was adjacent to my name, thus confusion of erroneously associating my name with that other letter (I added the big X for clarity's sake). Click on the link below the clip here:
Rereading what I had written The Sentinel in 1980 took me back to how indignant I had been at a front page story the newspaper had just published. But I'd also forgotten how thirty-two years later in 2012 I received my first-ever "Private Message" on Facebook. It was from a woman named Deanna--a total stranger to me. She explained that friend, Beth Umolac, was the woman who had been murdered in 1980, and how she, Deanna, was willing to keep on looking for the right Sara Glerum to thank, if I wasn't the  one.

I'd all but forgotten how hearing from Deanna made me feel then--sad, of course, remembering the story of a murder, but also gratified because apparently my letter had made Deanna feel a tiny bit better. I was incredibly touched that after more than thirty years, she was still wanting to thank me. That she searched me out and found me still strikes me a beautiful gesture and proves the adage, "What goes around, comes around."

I've written posts on this blog about people from my past finding me because of something I'd written on it, and it never fails to thrill me when a connection is made this way. Meanwhile, I do encourage my readers to 'Google' yourselves, and you might find yourself recalling things you'd all but forgotten. And besides, it doesn't hurt to know what's out there floating around with your name attached.  

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Color spots (and more) connect the dots

A recent road trip to Westport, Washington, with my long-time friend, Lucy, brought back memories and plenty of nostalgia. There's too much to say in a short post, so I'll start with sights and sounds and smells.

Colors: Certain colors are so specific to locale, such as the yellow of blooming Scotch broom in and about the dunes. Yes, I know it's an invasive plant and I should detest it, but I can't help loving the way it looks in contrast to the prevailing beach grass and pine.

Likewise, the purple of wild lupine scattered among the tall hay-colored grass reminds me of children peeking out from behind curtains--imagining they aren't seen by anyone. Golden and pink highlights accent rolling clouds as the sun sinks low in the sky. And then there's the biggest expanse of blue I've seen in years! Something about standing on the beach without skyscrapers (even three-story apartment buildings) or tall trees delivers a message about our human insignificance that becomes freeing. Nowhere else on earth can provide such a breathtaking glimpse of sky as an undeveloped ocean shore.

Sounds: The ocean's steady roar (maybe closer to a loud hum in summertime) is a sound I'd all but forgotten . . . until I heard it again. The foghorn (far away on buoys) is the oboe of an orchestra, periodically tuning up the instruments for the concert--gulls, other birdsong, and the steady din of waves breaking.

Smells: The sea. The salt. The seaweed. The wind (light but always there for those three days of June) makes it impossible to escape the pure ambrosia of locale-specific scents.

Only at the extreme western edge of a continent can the shadows get this long. And for me, the shadows also were mental and emotional--recollections of many visits to this beloved spot.

Lucy and I both agreed that this visit couldn't have been better, even if it had been (we wished) longer.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Word Play

If you look it up in the dictionary, the word means a number of things, all bad. 

Lately when I hear the word or say the word, I feel happy. Contented. Fulfilled. Hm-m-m. What's that about! 

It was a secret while her parents and I discussed it. Then we agreed we could make it work (school in Canada goes till the end of June).

Then it was a birthday gift announced over the long-distance phone call. The call was pretty spectacular, if I do say so.

Then there was a month of eager anticipation on both sides of the border. And, finally, it happened! 

Her mom brought her to Seattle; she and I went to the national tour of Wicked; and everything we felt afterwards was anything but the meaning of word. 

Go figure! 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

My New Love

I just returned from a short music-and-art trip to Los Angeles with fifty other people, most of whom were seventy-plus years old and . . . tah-dah . . . I have an announcement:  

I'm in love . . .

with a performer! His name is Conrad Tao and he’s twenty-five years old. I returned from my trip last night, unpacked, ate a frozen dinner, watched a couple of pre-recorded TV shows, then fell into my own bed to sleep nine hours. When awoke, I lay there for a while, reflecting on the delicious jam-packed trip with three-full days of art and music in the company of many fascinating and nice people—led by a gracious and delightful tour leader, Norm Hollingshead. But my thoughts quickly turned to Conrad Tao, so over my morning coffee I reached for my iPad. 

Subsequently, I’ve spent much of the morning, between loads of laundry and breakfast, sobbing in front of my iPad as I watched him perform his musical enchantment close-up.Those tears have made me feel like a thirteen-year-old again, springing from the same passion I felt in eighth grade when, for the very first time, I grasped how the performance of music, with its fusing talent, technique, intellect, and emotion, turns into something greater than the parts. Apparently when an artist touches that chord in me, that soft spot, I fall in love . . . and cry.

My love back then was Pablo Casals—an old man of eighty—triggering emotions in me that had never been tapped. It was his visceral reading of the music in which he occasionally, audibly expressed his emotions as he played his cello that got to me. I knew him only from his recordings (in the days before Internet), but he could be heard sometimes humming over the music, spontaneously joining his cello's [and his chamber-music colleagues in their] execution of Schubert, Dvorak, Schumann, and Bach. That sound—an old man’s involuntary surge of vocalization—prompted my own emotional response (yes, the same as today, sobbing through the music), and I became his lifelong fan. 

Not surprisingly, few peers back then shared my adoration. Maybe no one else reacts that way, but there's a trigger point for me in terms of emotional override. Over the years I’ve felt similarly about other cellists—Yo Yo Ma, and more recently Joshua Roman. But this is the first pianist who's generated that feeling in all my seventy-nine years!

Watch his performance filmed in a special studio by New York’s WQXR on Listen to his interview, as well. Not only is he a spectacular musician (both pianist and composer), but like Casals, his body emulates the music as he executes the work. I love that he’s barely begun his career at age twenty five. Not only is he a pianist, he’s also a composer, and . . ..  I’ll stop lest I embarrass myself with too much raving. 

See and listen for yourself. Ironically, when I booked the trip with Norm Hollingshead’s Opera Plus Tours, we were going to hear Lang Lang perform Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto. But Lang Lang’s tendinitis prompted a replacement for that work and Conrad Tao was the artist chosen for the honor. What a serendipitous event!

Monday, April 29, 2019


What's fifty-seven years old, holds soup to nuts and everything in between while maintaining the versatility to become a toy, musical instrument, and even part of a costume?

When I received this set of mixing bowls at my bridal shower hosted by my mother's best friend in 1962, little did I expect they'd be a mainstay of my kitchen these sixty years later. As I chilled hard-boiled eggs before Easter this year, I realized what an amazing gift the bowls had been. At the time, I was unimpressed. Stainless mixing bowls?  Too practical to be exciting.

Within the first couple of years of my marriage and its subsequent arrival of babies, I became deeply appreciative of them, however. My toddler children played with them endlessly, inevitably discovering them in the one low kitchen cupboard that didn't have a child-proof lock on it. Stacking them was a source of endless delight--and the ringing of the steel as the bowls bounced off each other is also really fun sound when you're under two.

I've soaked beans in them and whipped up everything you could imagine from waffles, muffins, dips and granola, egg salad and jello. I've tinted frostings, cooled soups, and prepared and served endless offerings of salad and fruits in them. They've been used for water-play in the backyard, worn as hats in neighborhood parades, and been beaten with spoons for in-house celebrations. And every time I reach for one, I think of Harriette McLean, my mother's life-long friend who gave them to me so long ago. Thanks, Aunt Harriette. You sure knew how to pick a useful and lasting gift.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Walking along the local bike/foot trail, I noticed this reflection in a puddle.

The universe, or at least a teeny overhead bite, was staring back at me from the ground. Of course, I had to pull out my phone and snap a picture . . . and just to make sure I'd know what I was looking at, I intentionally included my foot.

Black and white photos are fun to take on a whim. Only a decade ago, I would have been carrying a camera with film in it. There certainly was no way to decide to take a b&w photo if colored film was loaded, and vice-versa. Ah, the modern world.

Despite the poor reproduction of these shots (not enough pixels, perhaps?) I like the idea of looking down to see what's above.