A Harp and a Stone

Harp Camp photo by Mary Dessein
Harp Camp. Can you imagine such a divine experience – to be with twenty other harpists over a weekend to play together, to learn, to be supported in your music wherever your expertise is, without competition?

The event’s official name is the Puget Sound Folk Harp Society Annual Summer Harp Retreat. It was Harp Camp to me. Not only were my companions of kindred spirit, we were at Camp Casey on the west side of Whidbey Island, right on the beach, where I could wander and see the Port Townsend ferry going back and forth as I skipped rocks. Smooth, flat rocks like my dad showed me were the best to propel across the water.

Of the total twenty-four people there, I knew one person. And she knew one person there: me. So, compatriots.

This Harp Retreat has been going on for over twenty years, I was encouraged to attend it by my harp teacher a few times. I always had a reason I couldn’t go: timing, work, finances, kids – I was not very creative. The real reason being, of course, that I was afraid I wasn’t good enough and in such a situation, everyone would know!

The event was planned so well: we had two-hour breaks for meals which allowed us time for wandering, socializing, walking to the Admiral Head lighthouse, and/or jamming together. As I walked the beach, I kept a vigilant eye out for the flat, round, palm-of-my-hand sized skipping stones. I also saw tangles of cola-colored kelp, empty tan and orange crab shells with green algae growing on them, long strands of green quarter-inch wide seaweed all carried up onto the rocky beach in the calming soosh of the waves.

I was skipping along in my life, doing things I enjoyed, with a rather whimsical approach, not really knowing or planning where the skip would take me, yet enjoying the hopping along.

Certainly I had heard the various guides to success: make a five and ten year plan; focus on your goal; Action Changes Things. I read and enjoyed Steven Pressfield’s books on artistic endeavors, including ‘The War of Art’ and ‘Do the Work.’ I am a walking, talking example of the power of Resistance, Steven’s embodiment of the things that combine to sway us from our creativity.

Harp Camp got over late morning on Sunday. I visited with others, helped clean up, made a last walk to the nearby beach. Then launched toward home. My intuition guided me to the longest route; going straight home was not an option. I returned to the Admiralty Head Lighthouse, then walked on the beach at Ebey’s Landing a couple hours, at Deception Pass Park another hour, and stopped on the Deception Pass Bridge for a while. The beauty, wonder, energy, insight, and honesty were swirling around inside me, forming words so I could understand the swirl.

I knew what I felt: wonder, excitement, connection to new friends, hope, humility and … a clearer knowing.

Smack-a-roo right in my face: I could be a better harpist and better musician. Why wasn’t I doing it? I knew clearly what I wanted: to make music, write books, teach along the way, and perform.

My friend Greg D., richly experienced and skilled guitar player and performer, has gotten on my case about using more harmony and options with my left hand. I processed this a few ways, including telling him once that I am a harpist not a guitarist. Yet, what I now see, one of the things he was pressing me to do was be better. And that he believed I could be.

Marianne Williamson’s words come back to me, words I have used often in teaching, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? …Your playing small does not serve the world.”

I can coast along and do fine. There are many things I am good at, thank you very much. Is fine good enough?

As my earthly clock is ticking much faster now, my mortality has become more real. Health concerns? Not significant ones, but I’ll never see 50 again. So…I must now dispel my denial that I will actually really die one day as well as my tendency to procrastinate doing creative things in order to do a myriad of other ‘important’ things. Yes, for other people or entities, hence the shadow.

Steven Pressfield identifies the ‘shadow career’ or ‘shadow life,’ as something I am good at, may even excel at, yet is not my passion or my talent, nor does it fulfill me the same way engaging in my creativity does. It is a shadow in that because I am successful doing the shadow activity, it fools me away from my passion; my ego may join forces with the shadow, “You’re good at this, don’t rock the boat.”

As I look back on Arthur Storch’s comment to Aaron Sorkin, “You have the capacity to be so much better than you are,” I admit I wanted to shine but have been afraid to shine too much. Some is okay but too many people noticing me? Nope, uh-uh, no way.

I am now seeing the limitations I have put on myself. The allowing myself to chase nearly every shiny thing I see has certainly brought me some interesting experiences (walking on the Great Wall of China, putting my hand on the pyramids at Chichen Itza, paddling a gondola in Venice, climbing the 284 stairs to the top of L’Arc de Triomphe to view the vista of Paris) and there is value there. Yet, I need to find the balance.

Yup, it is time to be honor my talents and step out. I will up my game. “… playing small does not serve the world” or me. As a child on the beach with my dad, there were times when I had just the right stooped-over-to-the-side posture, my stone hit the water at just the right angle, and I sailed a stone so that it skipped seven times in its dance across the water.

My skipping stones are now stepping stones.

Peter, a Dragon, and a Candle

Peter Yarrow. 2018
Peter Yarrow had his 80th birthday a month ago. He wrote ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ fifty-seven years ago when he was in college, inspired by a poem written by Leonard Lipton, about children growing up and losing their belief in magic and wonder.

Last night at the Mount Baker Theater in Bellingham, Washington, Peter invited all the children in the audience up on stage to sing it with him as the closing song for the first set. Then considering the audience demographics, he added, “And if you’re a parent, or grandparent, come up with your child. Or if you’re a child at heart.” The audience chuckled. At least fifty people trickled up the steps to join him on stage, from pre-schoolers to elders.

I felt tears sliding down my cheek as he held the microphone to a 6-year-old boy who sang solo, “Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea, And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honahlee.” Then he held the mic to a little girl who sang it, to a middle-aged woman who sang it, then to a man in his thirties who sang it, and to several others who sang solo to the enraptured audience. And of course, for the rest of the song, the audience was singing with him. Peter encouraged that throughout the concert. “Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail.”

Peter Yarrow was himself. Calm, rich with experience, and experiences. He marched for civil rights in the March on Washington, D.C. in 1963; he was at the bedside of Pete Seeger in 2014 as he was dying; he founded Operation Respect to reduce violence and bullying in schools, and as part of the iconic trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, released something like thirty albums.

Calm, funny, relaxed, sincere, heart-touching, Peter made no attempt to break new ground. He sang what people loved and were moved by. Folks songs, songs by Hedy West, John Denver, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, as well as gems by he and Paul Stookey. He told stories nearly as much as he sang. He threw out invitations, and challenges, to build bridges and community. He was himself, doing what fulfills him.

This was about legacy. He no longer needs to prove anything to anyone. In his relaxed manner, his generosity seemed endless: he talked with scads of people, posed with countless folks for pictures, signed books and CDs. The concert went nearly three hours.

A legacy of the strength of music, of respecting diversity, of building community and relationships, of honoring our military personnel, and of speaking up for what’s right. A legacy of hope.

“Light one candle for all we believe in, That anger not tear us apart.”