Progress, Not Perfection

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Mary Oliver

Shofuso Japanese House, Spring 2021

“Trust the timing of your life.”

Words that are so much easier said than followed, believed or acted upon, but we all hear them so frequently for a simple reason: they’re true.

I didn’t mistrust the timing of my life when I changed college majors from Music Recording Technology to Corporate Communications after two years in school. Not when I chose to focus on my career instead of other things I loved, like this blog. Barely when I became single at 30. And certainly not when I felt so deeply the loss of my aunt in 2016 that I drove myself to the Virginia Harp Center to try to fill the hole in my heart through music once again.

So why, at almost 32, does a small but nevertheless perceived inadequacy so easily detract from months and years of progress?

It’s been so long since I have played music with other people, I cannot count the years. So, in the course of the pandemic, when I re-found the lever harp and purchased a pedal harp, I jumped at opportunities to set something up when I inevitably emerged from the Dark Time. I reached out to harp ensembles, multiple orchestras – and I made a connection with a local conductor who has since actively kept in touch with me, inviting me to play with an orchestra as early as tomorrow.

My scheduling issues notwithstanding, the harp part for the piece they’re playing – Franck’s Symphony in D Minor – is listed at advanced level. I consider myself a beginner-intermediate or, since we are all our own worst critics, an intermediate player at best – and I’m an amateur musician whose full time job is (sometimes regrettably) not playing music.

Declining the invitation was tough. Admitting to myself that I am just not ready to do this was even tougher. But in the midst of the toughness and the disappointment, while listening to my best friend who has gone through similar situations and reflecting on my own progress not only as a musician but as a woman, a professional, and an individual, I realized that I’m not at the place where I totally throw away my orchestral dream.

I’m on a journey, of which playing in an orchestra is only one part.

It’s not, “I’m an intermediate player at best.” It’s, “In under four years and with a full time job, I’ve progressed from early-beginner to mostly intermediate level playing, and I’m about to be featured in Harp Column magazine for my dedication to the instrument.”

It’s not, “I am not a good harpist because I can’t play this harp part.” It’s, “I know a ton of pieces, including one and a half method books’ worth of songs, and have made four successful video recordings of intermediate level pieces.”

It’s not, “I won’t be able to play in an orchestra for another 15 years at this rate.” It’s, “Let’s start simpler, perhaps with Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers.”

They say that self-talk is everything, and truly, it is. Self-talk, self-care, self-respect, self-love. Pull all of it together and you’ve got a self-actualized person who follows dreams and lives passions and savors the moment and delights in progress, not in perfection. Why mistrust the timing of anything with an attitude like that, with the understanding that growth is a never-ending, beautiful journey?

As Mary Oliver says in her poem, Wild Geese, quoted above, we have only to let ourselves love what we love. The rest is gravy.

Our Heart Is Our Temple

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”

–Henry James

Remember: kindness is never weakness. You will not be left vulnerable. You will not be left resourceless. No one will think less of you. Give, because there are far too many in this world who take without thought. Share your abundance.

I read an inspiring story today about Robin Williams. It was one of those stories you read on Facebook, so it’s up for debate if it’s really true, but the thought of it was inspiring nonetheless.

A company employee wanted to book Mr. Williams as an entertainer for some sort of event. As all entertainers do, Mr. Williams sent his “rider” to talk to the company employee before making the deal. “Riders” are individuals who explain to prospective bookers what requirements the entertainer has that will need to be fulfilled in order for the entertainer to perform.

Usual requests include first-class airplane tickets, water bottles, green rooms, hybrid vehicles, or even green M&Ms. Mr. Williams’ requirement?

Employ as many homeless people as you can to help get the job done.

That, my friends, is paying it forward. That is an opportunity that Mr. Williams took advantage of to touch the lives of others and improve others’ circumstances.

We are all on this earth for different reasons, travelling different life paths and reaching for different goals. But we all have one thing in common, one thing we need to do before we leave: make the world a better place.

So smile at everyone you can today, hold open those doors, help your neighbor carry in his groceries. We can’t all employ homeless people to help us do our jobs, but we can give them a hot meal. Be kind, always! Pay it forward.

That Which Cannot Remain Silent

Music without words opens you to feel something while creating your own story in your mind’s eye. But how many of those songs aren’t on movie soundtracks or aren’t parts of orchestral symphonies?

Explosions in the Sky have been around for a long time. I found them when I was in high school, probably through a friend of a friend’s Myspace background music. They haven’t gotten any less brilliant as time passed.

The way a string of adjectives describes a choice noun, riffs and reverb bring to life a single image planted in your mind through a song’s title: Our Last Days As Children, First Breath After Coma, Your Hand In Mine.

Your story goes from there.

What is so wonderful to me about this song is how my own story changes while the singular image of holding hands with someone I care for stays with me. Just through the act of listening, I feel long dreams of love all over again, no matter where I am in my life or who I’m with. I listen, and I’m brought to that place, whether I want to be there or not.

Like finding the perfect word to finish a sonnet or haiku, Explosions in the Sky find the right hook, the right note, the right tempo to conjur a very specific emotion and image.

Their music propels you into an undeniable, unrefusable exploration of emotions and self.

There is a universe inside of you, and this music brings you closer to knowing it.

Burst Into Flame

“One day, whether you
are 14,
or 65,

you will stumble upon
someone who will start
a fire in you that cannot die.

However, the saddest,
most awful truth
you will ever come to find–

is they are not always
with whom we spend our lives.”

I’ve spent a lot of time lately retooling myself. Making sure I keep my negative thoughts in check, consciously thinking of three wonderful things in my life each day, trying to emit my own frequency instead of absorbing the world’s. I’ve been working on responsibility, accountability in every aspect of my life. If I’m a little late with a post or an article at work and my boss asks me about it, my response is, “No excuses, sir.” (Because now there are only three ways to answer a question: “Yes, sir.” “No excuses, sir.” “I don’t understand the question, sir.”)

But only so much can be done with oneself before we need the support of another. Certainly, happiness must always come from within and not without. An external situation should never influence how happy you are with yourself and your life. Why? Because you can change any of those things. Because you are in control of the path your life takes and you are in control of your own feelings. There is no such thing as circumstance or coincidence, and there will never be a time when anyone or anything makes you feel a certain way.

There are times, though, when you least expect it, and you meet someone who brings out the best in you. The things you had long forgotten, the things you hadn’t loved in eons, the favorite things that had been buried under years of mental or physical dust. The reason you feel happy around them is because they’ve lit that fire in you — they’ve reminded you of a person you once were, and you can harken back to those days and try to bring that past happiness to life again.

In my experience, no, I will never spend my entire life with those people. We won’t be roommates, we won’t be in touch 24/7, we will never get married.

But the author above, in an effort to explain the godawful “truth” that not every wonderful relationship continues throughout your entire life, neglects to mention the myriad of capacities in which people can exist with you.

If someone lights that fire in your life, you do not let them go. If it’s as intense as a “fire that cannot die,” you keep them in your life, no matter what or how. Even if you don’t talk to them every day. Even if you don’t end up with them as your significant other or your best friend. There is always a way to keep someone in your life who affects you so powerfully.

All you need to do is reach out.

And don’t be selfish about it. It was Osho who said, “If you love a flower, don’t pick it up. Because if you pick it up, it dies and it ceases to be what you love. So if you love a flower, let it be. Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation.”

There will always be someone you’d love to be your sun, your moon, and your stars. And the author of this poem is right — that can’t be the case for everyone who ignites your fire. So, they may not be your “everything.” But that doesn’t mean you have to go without.

If there was ever a time you were looking for a sign to contact that special person, or the person you valued deeply but haven’t talked to for any length of time, this is your sign.

Get out there. Make the effort. Don’t feel like you have to do anything alone.

And never, never let that fire go out.

The Wanderer

What is she like?
          I was told–
          she is a
          melancholy soul.

She is like
          the sun to night;
          a momentary gold.

A star when dimmed
          by dawning light;
          the flicker of
          a candle blown.

A lonely kite
          lost in flight–
          someone once
          had flown.

–Lang Leav

A Wanderer by Keid-89 on deviantART

Click for source.

Special thanks to my friend Gian over at for the inspiration to post this. Lang Leav is a wonderful writer, and so is Gian, so check him out if you get the chance.

Devotion to Duty

Today is National POW/MIA Remembrance Day in America. Theoretically, we should be gathering together as a country and mourning our losses from wars past: individuals who fought for our freedom but were never granted their right to come home from our nation’s enemies’ soil. Today, we should be renewing the promise we made to them when they enlisted: that they would never be left behind.

pow_mia_poster_2013How many of us think of the meaning behind those words when we say them: “no man left behind”? Do we truly understand what we’re saying when we use the phrase? That we’re referencing one of the most highly regarded promises rooted deeply in the tenets of our country’s Armed Forces?

Last year, my generation displayed an ignorance to this cause that made me sick. Mispronouncing the acronyms. Wondering what they even meant. Displaying the flag on their motorcycles and houses just because “it looks cool.”

Perhaps that is because POW/MIA is not something that people my age have to worry about. Science has made it nearly impossible to create a current-day “unknown” soldier, and modern warfare all but removes most human presence from certain battlefields.

But yesterday, at my activity’s POW/MIA Remembrance Program, the cause never seemed so pertinent to my identity as an American. Keeping the promise never seemed so important to me, a civilian who doesn’t even have any war vets in her family. The photos of the men brought home, the stories, the maps and the statistics never seemed so vivid, even though I had been to several similar programs before.


Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Matthew Clark assists the recovery leader map grid units while conducting recovery operations with DPMO. Click for source.

Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Matthew Clark assists the recovery leader map grid units while conducting recovery operations with DPMO. Click for source.

Let me share with you a touching story shared by our guest speaker, Col Ward Nickisch, USA retired. Several years ago, Nickisch had the opportunity to be involved in a case involving a man who went missing somewhere in Southeast Asia. After fifty-two years of time spent in foreign soil, this man’s remains were brought home to America… to his never-remarried widow of fifty-two years.

For that long, this woman held on to the hope that her husband would be brought home to her. Every day, she prayed. Every single day, she thought of her husband, missed him, wished for him to come home. She wept for him at first, hoping for his safety, but eventually she realized that if he did come home, it wouldn’t be alive.

So her hope slowly changed. Fifty-two years after her husband had gone missing, when the recovery team brought him home to her, she wept again. She was so overjoyed that her NEW hope would be fulfilled — truly, at the end of it all, she wept from happiness that she could definitively be buried with the love of her life.

Before yesterday, that kind of love existed only in the movies. That level of pain existed only in books. But now, it has been brought home to me that too many people in America are experiencing the travesty of not knowing where their loved ones are, not feeling like their loved ones are safe, unable to get closure on their losses.

Over 80,000 Americans are POW/MIA. Every day, organizations like Department of Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) and JPAC work to get that number down. They track down eyewitnesses in foreign countries, drop mannequins off of cliffsides to find locations of remains, dig so deep into rice paddies to find aircraft that the sides of the hole have to be fortified 10+ times as they dig deeper, and spend over 240 days each year away from their families to accomplish the mission.

And yet people back home in my generation, military or civilian, remain either unknowing or uncaring. No, not many of us have experienced the sadness of being forced to leave a comrade behind in enemy soil, of knowing a brother-in-arms who dropped off the face of the earth without a trace. Not many of us have had to experience the slow death of hope as each day passes without word of their existence.

But we devote so much time and energy into finding missing persons on our own soil. We create TV shows and movies and spend weeks watching the trials of kidnappers on the news.

So I question why I have yet to hear the story of a brave Korean War vet who became MIA… I wonder why no one knows about the return trip of 19 Marines who sacrificed their lives during WWII on Butaritari Island… Why there is no strong emphasis in our culture on the courage and strength of these men and the importance of bringing them home to their families.

The presentation I watched and listened to yesterday was arguably one of the most moving and eye-opening Veterans ceremonies I have attended in my almost three-year tenure at my activity. Unfortunately, it was quite poorly attended.

POW/MIA LogoToday is National POW/MIA Remembrance Day. As they say during the Missing Man Table and Honors ceremony, “Freedom has a taste to it that those who haven’t fought for it will never know. Let us always remember, and never forget.”

A Toast to Youth, to Romance, to Love!

Usually during my morning commute to work, I listen to something that gets me pumped. Music that gets into my head and wakes me up. Electronica, rap, whatever I’m in the mood for that’s loud and a little bit obnoxious. I’m not a morning person, so it helps to hear the boom of the bass during Hardwell’s Apollo or Jay Z’s 100$ Bill. (What’s that I hear? Is someone screaming, “Sarah, you’ve got such horrible taste!!!”? Couldn’t be…)

Today, however, I was feeling particularly under the weather and decided to change up my usual morning music selection. Enter the brilliance of the Honey and Clover animated series and all of its beautiful background music!

The series itself is a work of art even without the soundtrack. A dramatic series centering on the lives of a group of soon-to-be college graduates, Honey and Clover is a coming-of-age tale with simple insights into life that can take your breath away – despite being almost a decade old. Oh, the lessons of life never change!

But what’s considered “good” and “bad” music does.

That’s why the Honey and Clover soundtrack is so amazing. Listening to the lyrics, hearing the rhythm, the style, the quality in each and every song that was chosen to be a part of this series… With or without knowing what happens when the songs come on, each piece is arguably just as poignant as the scene it enhances.

Often, “older” music has a way of making it known that it is, indeed, old. With the small sampling below of the 40+ song soundtrack, I’ve found that that’s not the case at all.

“I’ll hang out with you in an empty town square / Every time our eyes meet, we smile”…

“The streetlights illuminated our shadows / As they stretched out towards your house, then disappeared / I wonder if tomorrow holds good things for us”…

“You washing mud from the root vegetables, / our child playing on the porch, / and the soft lazy sunlight / are part of the cycle of the soul that never ends. / Stuffing the nonsense from that day in a silver box, / I say goodbye, goodbye”…

Maybe we’ll never be able to call these songs “timeless.” Maybe, like so many others before them, they’ll fall into obscurity in a few years when the bands break up and the series is forgotten by all but a few die-hard fans. And that’s fine.

The beauty of the series, the soundtrack — I think it’s meant to be interpreted as the bright flash of light that fades away after the great “pop” of the firecracker, I think it’s supposed to be like those cherry blossoms lining the Fairmount Park entrance that blossom brilliantly for several days and then die soon after. A fleeting moment that is appreciated in all its glory, for everything it is, as it is being experienced.

10/10 would recommend watching/listening 🙂

Dear One Absent This Long While

by Lisa Olstein

It has been so wet stones glaze in moss;
everything blooms coldly.

I expect you. I thought one night it was you
at the base of the drive, you at the foot of the stairs,

you in a shiver of light, but each time
leaves in wind revealed themselves,

the retreating shadow of a fox, daybreak.
We expect you, cat and I, bluebirds and I, the stove.

In May we dreamed of wreaths burning on bonfires
over which young men and women leapt.

June efforts quietly.
I’ve planted vegetables along each garden wall

so even if spring continues to disappoint
we can say at least the lettuce loved the rain.

I have new gloves and a new hoe.
I practice eulogies. He was a hawk

with white feathered legs. She had the quiet ribs
of a salamander crossing the old pony post road.

Yours is the name the leaves chatter
at the edge of the unrabbited woods.

“Rain in Novosibirsk” by ~rain on deviantART

How many times have we all heard, “Don’t make someone your priority if they only make you an option,” or, “Don’t chase people — the right ones will stick around”? Yet still we go in circles, trying to learn the toughest thing there is to learn: to stop longing for those people you want in your life. To stop trying. Essentially, to learn to gracefully give up.

Every day, I’m bombarded with mixed messages. News feed posts about never giving up on someone, leading an inspirational life, being supportive and being there for people when they’re having a tough time or even when they may not see you at all. “Do unto others as you would have done unto you,” they say. So, which one is it? When, all of a sudden, you aren’t as important to someone as you originally thought you were, how do you choose between giving up and remaining steadfast?

Do you allow yourself to feel sadness as powerful as the hope you have that they will one day return to you? Or do you let go quietly, painstakingly, with naught but the memories of your “Dear One” to keep you company when you find pictures, movies, music that you’re sure they’d love to experience?

When you think you have unbreakable bonds, when you and this person have gone through hell and back and survived, when together you’ve prioritized fifty times that knowing each other is more important and sacred than reputation, how can you let go gently?
When you’ve invested so much time and energy into another, reading everything a certain way, playing all of your cards right, only to find out that the Ace of Spades you thought they were about to play was actually a Queen of Hearts, how do you move on gracefully?

Maybe, like Lisa Olstein and perhaps like many of you, I have too many expectations. I expect them to show up – to be in my driveway, on my phone, in my inbox. As I look at the clouds while walking through the park, trying to pick out the shapes in them, I can’t find anything but their names. A lot of this post has just been me asking questions. I wish I had the answer to even one of them.

Instead, I’m left to pick up the pieces before the aftermath has even begun, put them back together haphazardly and misshapen, and make a lesson out of it. So far all I’ve got is, “Not every connection is meaningful or lasting.” A bitter taste in my mouth, after everything we’ve seen.

P.S. I know I’ve really only been posting about poetry lately, and I apologize for that. It’s just easier for me to do this, to put them before my posts because most of the time, they echo the feelings that I struggle to write about without them there. I promise more fun things to come!

Five Lessons I Learned From My New Puppy

Thirteen days ago, I drove to another state to pick something up that would turn my life upside down: a puppy. It had been over eleven years since I last had a hand in raising a little one, so I have to admit, I walked into the situation relatively blindly, despite reading all sorts of books, magazines, and websites about dog cognition, nutrition, and training. I say “blindly” because everything I expected to happen simply did not happen. But that’s life. 🙂

Kiba1Kiba has been in my life for less than two weeks, and already he has taught me more about humanity than some of the people I’ve met. (Gasp!) It is astounding how life lessons can come from the most unlikely places. That said, I encourage you to look all around you, at every experience, and get the most out of everyone you meet – human or otherwise! – and everything you do. There is a lesson in everything, and in my case, within thirteen days, there happened to be five. A big number for someone so small!

1) Life isn’t like the movies.

And nothing goes as planned. Ever heard the saying, “We plan, God laughs”? Yes. The same applies to raising puppies. When I brought my little one home, I had a clear image of what I wanted: a stereotypical-looking Brittany with a quiet personality. He’d be easy to train, would always play fetch, and would love without boundaries. When I brought my little one home, this is what I got: a Brittany with unconventional markings who has a boistrous personality. He’s difficult to handle, loves playing keep-away, and also loves playing favorites. So there I was with my darling opposite and piles of books telling me how to teach him to stop digging. Nothing about him was what I expected — he was simply not what the books and shows and magazines told me he’d be like. (With the exception of his activity levels.) My life lesson? Throw out the expectations of perfection! Appreciate what you’ve got, and enjoy it for what it is. Now to get him to stop nipping…

Causing trouble...

Causing trouble.

2) It’s the simple things that count.

Never in my life would I have imagined that an empty plastic bottle could make someone so excited. I mean, it’s just trash, right? Wrong! If you’re Kiba, it’s as good as a brand new Ferrarri. Happiness can be found in the smallest of places — you just have to look for it. My simple happiness? Coming home to a puppy so excited to see me that he wiggles and starts crying. And when I say, “Leave it!” and he actually drops my shoe.

Not sure if shoe or plaything.

Not sure if shoe or plaything.

3) There’s no time like the present.

Dogs have this uncanny ability to simply not care about the past or the future. There they are with their unbridled happiness, living in the moment as they chase that squirrel off into the horizon. They are not bogged down by unhappy memories or worried that they may not get to chew their boney-bone tomorrow. What matters to Kiba is that he is able to chew his boney-bone now, and it makes him ridiculously happy. Living in the present is what brings him joy, and he takes full advantage of it to live his life to the fullest — even if it gets him in trouble. $25 lip liner? Sure, he’ll chew that, because it’s what will make him happy in that moment. And even if Big Sis yells at him, he’s over it moments later and he’s giving her kisses because he knows it’s better to bounce back and look for the positives in life than to dwell on things that’ll just continue to make him upset.

Out like a light after a way too exciting trip to Petco!

Out like a light after a way too exciting trip to Petco!

4) Pain is relative.

We’ve all heard the phrase: “Time heals all wounds.” Maybe the philosophers really meant literally instead of figuratively, though. Just thirteen days in, I have scars, scabs, and bruises everywhere from my hands to my face. Sure, they get better in time, but I’m always angry when I get them. And then I remember — the reason I have them is because this lovely little guy is so excited to see me, he can’t help but scratch my face in an attempt to get closer to it! Scars? I survived a battle. Scabs? I’m his Big Sis who he loves to play with the way he’d play with his litter mates. Bruises? Just an attempt to keep him safe and instead I hit a cabinet. Sure, I was in pain because of him. But being in pain means being involved with something or someone worth feeling pain for, and that’s the beautiful thing.

5) Sometimes, it’s not more fun to want things than to have them.

When I was little, my father always advised me that “wanting things is better than having them.” I’ve found that, for the most part, he was right. Anticipating a new computer is so much more fun than having one! You get the new computer, use it like crazy for a couple of days, and then life goes back to normal. You save up for a designer dress for months, and then you wear it out a couple of times, and then life goes back to normal. But puppies? As much as I wanted Kiba, and as much fun as it was to imagine our life together, it has been way more exciting to actually have him in my house than to sit around thinking about it. I realized that the things that are fun to want aren’t the things that really matter. Wants that matter involve life’s intangibles. Love.