Life With Horace

poetry & essays


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The right note

Tomorrow might have been fifty-two,
not just thirteen since thirty-nine.
The day, aligned with family and gratitude,
always reflected joy, the heat of our love
folded into stuffing.
The missing of him has gotten harder
but it seems he knows. I came upon
the sound of his small gasp
that wrapped me up each time
in beauty gauze, when (finally ready)
I presented myself to his gaze
before our evenings out.
Deliciousness itself, just
knowing that he would, when I did,
that he always meant it,
and I can smile now, the memory
a pitch perfect gift.


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the piano duo

My godmother, Anne Hull (left) and grandmother, Mary Howe, about 1920. They were both pianists and composers, and performed together as a piano duo from 1912 until 1935. They met at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore in 1905, when my grandmother was studying piano with Ernest Hutchinson. She later returned to the Peabody (with the full support of her husband) to study composition with Gustav Strube, gaining her diploma in 1922. She was active musically until the early 1960s, an internationally recognized composer, and a founder of the National Symphony.

Anne was studying for an Artist’s Diploma and Teaching Certificate. She had a rich musical life, never married, teaching first at The Institute of Musical Art in New York, and later The Juilliard Graduate School, retiring in 1968 at the age of 80!

Friends for the rest of their lives, they did extraordinary things in a world that sometimes considered them dilettantes (they weren’t) and not to be taken seriously (they were).

My grandmother’s unequivocal take on being a woman composer, circa 1950:

“Women composers should be played more than they are. I don’t think conductors have a prejudice against women composers now. But no one puts women writers or women painters in a class any more and they still do with women composers. I know I considered it a handicap to be a woman when I started composing. I’m not a feminist. But I think I would have gotten along faster if I’d been a man.”

I generally admire her pieces, and think her art songs were her strongest. She knew many poets, and read poetry voraciously. Her friendship with the poet Elinor Wylie, whom she met at the MacDowell Colony, is a story in itself. A particular favorite of mine is her setting of Wylie’s poem “When I Died in Berners Street”. I have been working on it with my voice teacher, and like to think she would appreciate the effort, if not the result!


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a creative mother, or how I learned to love dance again

Mom once said that one of Martha Graham’s dancers was awful to her husband and little boy, but when one saw her on stage none of that mattered any more. Of course my teenage psyche salted that one away to use later and say “see?”.

Sitting down I was all set to do a “meaningful”, plaintive post about my mother, and life with a parent whose art was in many ways more important to her than her children. Turns out it doesn’t matter as much as it used to, because, along with having a self-absorbed modern dancer mom, I also had an artist mom who painted zoo animals, including a never-forgotten giraffe, all over our Colorado Springs bathroom walls.

I had a mom who continued to learn and grow and create well into her eighties. I had a mom who regained a love life in her sixties after a long drought, meeting a wonderful man who was her partner for almost twenty years, who took photos while she sketched, was her personal “sag wagon” driver on the many Cross Minnesota MS Bike Rides she did, and who showed her she could open up again.

I had a mom who morphed from a modern dance teacher and choreographer into a fitness visionary and advocate for homebound seniors in the Twin Cities. I had a mom who loved me, but couldn’t always show it.

No turnaround happens all at once. There was my culture writer friend Susan who got tickets to everything cultural in Washington, DC. She loved to take friends with her for birthday presents. One year she took me to the Trocks, aka Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

We watched this all male dance troupe perform technically brilliant and hilarious parodies of ballet and modern dance. Re-imagining Pavlova’s “dying Swan” with molting feathers. A hysterical Dance of The Little Swans. Side-splitting send ups of Balanchine, Martha Graham, and Doris Humphrey.

I also realized that I knew what I was watching, understood the parody, appreciated the incredible technique and elegance of those men en pointe. All of it a gift from my mom. Life changing.

I also began to grow up. Not to the point of losing the wonder and delight I cherish in myself. More along the lines of figuring things out, coming to terms with a parent’s humanity and limitations, acknowledging her often ill-expressed love. And simply moving on, putting things I now understood better and no longer feared behind me.

With gobs of emotional dreck hoovered away, the closet cleaner and tidier, some shelves empty (isn’t that a lovely thought), I’m busy filling things up again. I had no clue that I needed to do this. That the best new stuff(ing) would be my own. That I would go on a creative bender of sorts that shows no sign of slowing down.

It helps to be ready to be open. There’s an understatement. Six years ago life took a powerful turn. I joined a virtual creative group, and cannonballed into the deep end with little idea of what I was doing. I still find myself zooming about, trying things that look interesting or challenging. At first I wasn’t sure I could do more than one thing at a time. Now I know the answer is Yes. Of course. The wonderful thing about open thought and its life partner creativity, is that they take up so much less room, feeding the spirit instead of diminishing it.

Best of all, they are infinitely renewable.