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17 June 2005

Find your saxophone

"Follow your bliss. Find where it is and don't be afraid to follow it." -Joseph Campbell


If you’ve read 37 days before, you might have picked up on my love affair with actor Johnny Depp. Beautiful, talented Johnny. Quixotic, funny, odd, quirky Johnny. Did I mention beautiful? Ooh-la-la.

What can I say? There’s no defending it. I won’t pretend it makes sense, this long-distance obsession from North Carolina to France, this enormous, smothering, consuming disdain for that little fragile wispy twig of a French blonde he keeps taking to awards shows and having children with for some unimaginable reason. Why, I could take her out in the blink of an eye, the bat of a more well-nourished eyelash, were I the least bit inclined toward violence, which - of course - I am not, having attended a Quaker college (whose football team was paradoxically the "Fighting Quakers," but I digress).


Johnnydepp_pirates_2There’s no need to alert the authorities: I don’t really think about Johnny or Stick Girl too awfully much until I hear the name Johnny, watch “Pirates of the Caribbean” again or see previews for “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” which starts on July 15th, not that I’m counting the days or anything.

Billycollins_2But imagine now a thinking girl’s Johnny Depp and you’ll approximate my passion for former United States Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Heartened by the fact that his first book of poetry was published when he was in his 40s (hope springs eternal even though I missed my first two deadlines for writing the great American novel—in 1985 and 1995, respectively), I was introduced to him by candlelight at an outdoor dining table under a tin roof pelted by furious torrents, the remnants of one of those last hurricanes (scary making), by my friend Gay who, in order to be heard above the rain, had to yell-read Billy’s most fantastic love poem, its verses certainly a rich cousin to Tina Turner’s brilliant “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” in its approach, and all in a beautiful Southern accent under the influence of fine wine and food beautifully prepared by our friend Rosemary, a woman who can make cooking grits look like an exquisite love affair, a sensual, slow, hot tango of hominy and butter.

His (back to Billy, stop dallying at the grits) is a sardonic, quixotic, odd, sensual, beautiful way of looking at the world, with a twist. Hmm. Mr. Depp in poet form, perhaps? Life comes full circle, doesn’t it?

While recently stalking researching my new love online, I found the text of a commencement speech that he delivered at some lucky college in which he urged the “very sharp looking Class of 2002” to “not graduate,” but to always continue learning. The whole speech was witty and memorable and written just for me; there are several pieces of it that I’d like to write about sometime: “Don’t graduate” and “Write in the margins” are two such future ponderings, perhaps. But for today, what stood out was this riff on modern culture:

Lisa_simpson_1“What is truly disappointing about television is to realize that in its vast landscape, there is only one character I would hold up as a role model to you—the Class of 2002—a single character, a lone beacon. I am referring, of course, to Lisa Simpson. I would hold her up for her fierce curiosity, for the courage of her numerous convictions, her outspokenness, her sensitivity to environmental issues. Here is a character who will not graduate—not because animated characters never age—but because, for her, life is a learning experience. And then there is her patience in a family environment most inimical to learning—patience in the face of her father's profound density, her brother's cruelty, and even, yes, she must be included—her dear mother's vacuousness. And let us not forget her commitment to the saxophone, regardless of the results. What I am saying, I think, in this regard, is find your own saxophone. There is one out there for each of you graduates. Your saxophone might be growing orchids or taking photographs of clouds—it might be learning sign language or driving an ambulance. Or your saxophone might be the saxophone itself—that would make things very simple. In any case, find your saxophone and play what you feel on it—even though it might result in your getting tossed out of the school band. That's the lesson, I think, of Lisa Simpson. The only thing that worries me about her is the pearls—I just could never figure out the pearls.”

Note to Billy: forget the pearls. They are simply a tribute to her mom’s long-suffering and yet somehow sweet relationship with Homer, a reminder for Lisa to raise her expectations beyond that patriarchal beacon of manhood, and perhaps also her subtle way of literally throwing pearls before swine.

Lisa, of course, finds her passion in the saxophone, a passion for which she is willing to risk getting thrown out of the school band (weekly, I might add) by playing her heart’s song, not the stiltingly arranged piece of music demanded by the band director. Instead, she riffs and rolls, feeling the music, dancing with it, playing her little cartoon heart out, and – inevitably – being asked to leave, further freeing her to scat all the way down the hall.

What’s my saxophone, I wonder? What’s yours? Are we playing them? Have we even found them? Are they dented? Are the reeds cracked dry from being in the case too long? Are we willing to play our real music, even if it means getting thrown out of the band? Or are we waiting for the newest model of saxophone, apologizing for the tone of our current one, making excuses for our performance? It occurred to me recently—as much as I hate to admit it—that until now I have never done my very best work. Because if I did my very best and if I rid myself of all excuses—too little time, earthquake in China, teleprompter malfunctioned, printer broke, semi-annual shoe sale at Nordstrom, solving world hunger, strep throat, hangnail, protesting the war, tiebreaker on “American Idol,” dog ate my homework—then if people didn’t like what I did, I’d have nothing to fall back on. No more, my friends. What I’m saying to you from now on is here’s my saxophone and I’m going to play it with all the heart and heat I’ve got. Come join me. It will be lots of fun. Rosemary will cook us some grits and Gay will read poetry to us.

There is much to commend Lisa, all of which Billy makes note of (I presume I can call him Billy, seeing as how we are pretty much soul mates by this point)—her passions, her willingness to speak out, her devotion to animals and the environment. In fact, this small yellow spiky-haired girl with the red dress and moral compass has long been a role model for my older daughter, Emma, herself a lifelong vegetarian who writes letters to KFC about their treatment of those poor defenseless little chickens and who proudly plays the massive tuba rather than the delicate flute I had first urged her to embrace.

Yes, I have resigned myself to the fact that Emma has chosen a cartoon character rather than me as her lighthouse of selfhood. And there are very early signs that her 36-inch-tall sister has followed suit, demonstrating a preternatural urge toward emulating Spongebob Squarepants. But that’s a story for another time.

Emma turns 13 in August. I think I’ll give her pearls.

~*~ 37 Days: Do it Now Challenge ~*~

Find your saxophone and play it for all you’re worth. Get thrown out of the band. Hell, throw yourself out of the band. Write a letter to KFC about all that poultry and wear pearls with abandon. And could someone send this on to Johnny and Billy with my love?


"The man who is born with a talent which he is meant to use finds his greatest happiness in using it." Goethe

Ah yes, full circle.

Unrequited? I’ve no idea what you mean.


Billy, Sweet Billy

Go ahead. Read some poetry. Aloud outside in a hurricane. Three poems to ponder by my sweet Billy: Forgetfulness, Reading An Anthology Of Chinese Poems Of The Sung Dynasty, I Pause To Admire The Length And Clarity Of Their Titles and Nostalgia.



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Oh, the alchemistic delirium of merging Sweet Billy and Mad Johnny. Every woman in the world should have just one spin around the floor with Johnny as he pours "Dancing Toward Bethlehem" into our ear:

"...I would like to be dancing it slowly with you,
say, in the ballroom of a seaside hotel.
My palm would press into the small of your back
as the past hundred years collapsed into a pile
of mirrors or buttons or frivolous shoes,

just as the floor of the nineteenth century gave way
and disappeared in a red cloud of brick dust.
There will be no time to order another drink
or worry about what was never said

not with the orchestra sliding into the sea
and all our attention devoted to humming
whatever it was they were playing."

Oh, lawd yes.

I need a tiny rest after that one, Julie. A wee bit of a lean against the wall at the very thought of it. Oh, lawd yes, indeed. What did Grandma used to call it? Ah, yes, the vapors. Thanks for turning up the temperature...!

wow- that was goood
sharing it with many.

The Mayfly

Birth, Life and then Death
In one small day, teaches us:
Seize the Moment.


This is personal to you because I know of no other way to get through. I received your post for a month with nothing in it and no way to pull up the site. This week it has been restored and I can see all the things that I have missed! When I asked my daughter if she knew Billy Collins. She said, "funny that you should ask!" It turns out that she was hired to fill his position when he left Lehman College. Her office is right across the hall from his but she said that she never sees him. She did, however, meet him at Ole Miss when he came for a writers conference. My husband and I have a second home in Maggie Valley, right down I-40 from you! Life is certainly interesting and full of facinating little quirks!!!


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