Artistic Legacy

I am writing this week’s blog in honor of my mother and her musical family. This family of nine siblings did not have an untalented one among them. Raymond, with never a lesson or practice, could pick up any instrument and play like a master. He also had a spine-tingling tenor voice. George, a.k.a. Red, was lead singer and guitarist in his own band.

My mother, Louise, her twin, Lorraine, and their older sister, Margie formed a trio at a young age and were performing publicly (with their father as chaperone) by the time they were fourteen.

The Redbirds, a.k.a. The Nelson Sisters

The Redbirds, a.k.a. The Nelson Sisters

My Aunt Margie (in the middle with the guitar) passed away a few weeks ago at the age of ninety-three, and her granddaughter put together a video collage with a few rare recordings as the soundtrack. I have listened to it repeatedly, tears streaming down my cheeks, as their voices reached to the depths of my soul–because of who they are to me, but also because of the shear beauty of the sound they created.


Their three-part harmony–voices blending like the colors of an evening sky–strikes a deep, rich chord in me. They gave me my love of music, my ear for harmony, even though I can’t sing it.

And so I write this to honor them for sharing their gifts, but also to remind myself and others that we are not here forever. We do not have an infinite amount of time to use our gifts and talents. My mother and her sisters chose family and a conventional life over a creative life. Am I judging them for it? How could I? They sang when they were young. They traveled, they had a radio show, they devoted themselves to their art when they were young. Then they moved on. But those experiences were a part of the women they became. That creative spirit never left them; it became a part of their legacy.

They sang whenever they were together, but those times became few and far between. Eventually, they were spread out over three different states, hundreds of miles apart as age and illness made it increasingly difficult to travel.


Singing at a family reunion

My point is, some of us pursue our art when we’re young and then move away from it for one reason or another. If we’re lucky, we may migrate back to it in later years. I have a high school friend who revived his music career after retiring from his job. Kudos to you, Dan! I also resurrected my desire to write after I was “over the hill,” as we used to say.

Or maybe we never got to live those dreams as a young person, due to a lack of confidence or time or any myriad reasons.

I want to say it’s never too late. But eventually, it will be too late. What if that insidious disease, Alzheimer’s, steals your mind? (Although, I do believe being actively creative can forestall that.) Or arthritis robs your dexterity? Or illness consumes your energy?

What I’m saying is, do it now. Sing, dance, write, paint. Give something of your creative self to the world, or at least to your family.

What about you? Who marked you with their artistic legacy? Will you leave your own mark?




Journal Mining

Day after day, month after month, year by year, I scribble my thoughts in journals, sometimes faithfully, at other times skipping whole chunks of time. I will call them journals, although most are Morning Pages–three pages daily of stream of consciousness handwriting, as prescribed by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way.

Scribble Stix

Scribble Stix

Many days I wonder what purpose this serves, dumping my thoughts onto the page, as I rarely go back to read them. Recently, though, I committed to contributing a piece to an anthology themed “Life Unexpected.”

A couple of fitting experiences came immediately to mind, so I looked to my journals to refresh the details. After retrieving nearly ten years of notebooks from various places I’d stashed them, I stacked them in chronological order, isolated the time period I wanted to focus on, and started reading.

IMG_1531Memories, and the accompanying emotions flooded back. I sensed that I was holding the feelings at bay, like viewing events through a telescopic lens. Was this because I have achieved a level of detachment that only time can provide? Or are those emotions still locked away, trapped in the pages of the notebooks?

I told myself, I’m just skimming now–strip mining, so to speak. Strip mining is a practice used to remove overlying soil or rock, waste material that covers up the rich minerals underneath. The reference seems appropriate here; I unearth a gem now and then, like this quote from Mona Eltahawy:

“As a writer it is my duty to poke the painful places.”

IMG_1537My journals are where I “poke the painful places.” Revisiting those rough times–the life unexpected–I extract the lessons learned and, through the alchemy of writing, transform them into gold.

At least that is my goal–to transmute my experiences into stories  others can identify with and benefit from.


Do you journal or write Morning Pages? Do you mine them for material or keep them, and the stories they contain, locked away?