Tag Archives: Writing

Memoir, Beethoven, and a Letter from a Friend

I wish you could trace a soul. Map it out, perhaps, like a musical score.

I wish I understood what gives me goose bumbs when I read aloud to kids or tear up every time I hear Chopin’s Fantasie in C # minor. I don’t understand why dimples on a child make me melt. Or how a few words written in just the right order can physically stir my insides.

My favorite books also do this.  A few nights ago I decided to read up on memoir. I was in tears over the challenge to plow through layers of my writing (and my life) to find truth and meaning.  It’s not a natural thing for us anymore, is it? To pull back on the layers of our life…to take time to reflect and notice? I much prefer to bask in the obvious beauty of my life. But our lives house layers upon layers of stories of failure and triumphs–feelings of every kind, from hurt and disappointment to hope and compassion.

And yet. These things are hidden by what we decide to notice– what we decide to tell.

As I was reading these challenging words, I got an announcement from a friend that after a year of planning to move away from the City, she is staying. Suffice it to say, her words were gut-wrenchingly honest and moving. As the gorgeous and reflective person she is, she had not only been brave enough to peel back layers to get to a beautiful, new level of truth, but she allowed herself to be guided by it.  Her heart called for honesty and she answered.

She was living the very heart of memoir. She took on the bravery I was not ready for.

Pulling back layers might mean tears or apologies… or disappointment. And that scares me.

In another life, I was a clarinetist with a dream of being a conductor. (Hardly anyone knows this about me  anymore.) When I was 17, I had the opportunity to conduct Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. I will never forget studying with my teacher on day 1 when he handed me the score for the first time. I had memorized all 4 movements and thought I was oh so ready for my session. I knew all the major cues. Cellos here, tympani there..  I thought I was really going to impress him.    What’s that old saying.. Pride goes before. . . what? That’s right.

I looked down at a BOOK of sheet music and instead of reading 1 line at a time as I was accustomed to doing, I had 23. TWENTY THREE individuals stories to make up what I heard in my head. I could no longer choose to notice, with biased ears, the clarinet solos and familiar bits. I was forced to pay attention to the other parts. As it turns out, that clarinet solo at the end of the second movement would be NOTHING without the back and forth singing fugue coming from the strings. Before seeing the score (and the dozens of other parts and lines… stories… of the other instruments), my ears had heard what they wanted. I had only been focusing on the obvious melodies. I had no idea what was hidden beneath.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the beauty came from all of it. In fact, it depended on all of it. (*I see this even more now when I get out an old piece of music and try to play it with no piano accompanist or orchestra to help!)

I often think in analogies but I am just now realizing how much our lives are like a musical score, filled with not just 1 melody, but dozens…maybe even 23! lines and parts, all with different timbres and dynamics. Some come and go. Some repeat. And some last only a brief moment. But they are part of 1 whole that is US.

Conductors have no choice. They have to notice all the hidden parts. They must know them intimately to understand the true beauty of a piece.    Us? We have a choice every time we pick up a pen (or type on a keyboard).  How many times are we satisfied by paying attention to the obvious? The sad part is, it yields decent writing that we’re o.k. with. But where’s the beauty in that? Really.

Beauty lies in risk and the risk lies in what’s deeper. My friend and my book (and Beethoven) have shown me the power in this…  the freedom for ourselves and the connection it builds with others who are also waiting to say the unsaid.

I think we (I) need to let my heart to give in to itself and and peek at the layers of truth that hide oh so well. I need to be brave like my friend and let it change me.

Thirty might be one of my favorite recent pieces.  From afar, it’s vulnerable. But  the conductor, writer, and beauty chaser in me (yes, I’m a dork) know exactly what I must do now.

Thank you, Memoir.. Thank you, Beethoven.. Thank you dear, brave friend.


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my indoor sunset

there is something sacred and intimate about having the sun go down around you when you’re in a room by yourself.

Phase 1: i get home, half-dead.  in migraine pain to the point of passing out SO i crawl into bed. [Outside: cloudy,  Shades and curtains: drawn, Comfort: Hulu, diet coke, electric blanket. ]

Phase 2: still freezing, under the covers, beginning to feel better [Outside: sun breaks through, Shades and curtains: still drawn,  Comfort: twizzlers &  a  dvd of a mini lesson on poetry. (i’m shaking my head/laughing along with you)]

Phase 3: feeling better [Outside: nyc sunset after rain. this is the best kind because the light on the building is extra-pretty. and the clouds go from pink to peach to purple.  Shades and curtains: tied back now, Comfort: a new teaching book and Pandora,vivaldi station]

Phase 4: it’s dark, quiet. not enough light to read, but I don’t want to turn on my lamp. I reach for it, but stop. no one knows I’m home. I’m introverted today, so I like it this way.  even my music is off now. no words. no voices. no sound. calm. it’s funny how the ingredients for loneliness can also be a delicious blanket of comfort. I stare out my window in complete contentment. goodnight, day.

*one thing is omitted from phase 4. there were words. -akindoflibrary.blogspot.com-  there was a dearest friend and teacher and a bit of poetry. and you can’t read an author like her without wanting to write a bit yourself. i love you dear friend. you are the best kind of writing partner.

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my stone of remembrance. a poem from the girls.

can one actually form coherent sentences while their eyelids insist on closing the curtain for the day. not without putting periods where question marks go. I must push through. because what happened today was one of those things that I will return to on bad days.. days when disappointments clobber me…

All teachers have this kind of stash. Letters, post-its, pictures. Remnants of glory. Stones of remembrance. It reminds me of the Old Testament story. The people of Israel were told by God to “lay up stones of remembrance” to declare God’s protection and favor. This was so that years later, as the Israelites journeyed past the stone, they could rejoice and remember their deliverance. And be reminded that deliverance would come again. So I keep a stash… and in the rough times, it reminds me that I’ve had some sweet days.. and sweet days will come again.

Today I broke up 2 fights. FIGHTS. I used to be able to promise that those things didn’t happen in “my class.”    Oh i have been humbled. But. that’s not the story.  In addition to all of that, I  found myself in a 15 minute conversation -mid class-with a student over friend troubles. (Her best friend was taken from her home and is now in foster care. We don’t know where she is. We all miss her. Especially her best friend.) Imagine dealing with middle school drama WHILE your best friend has just been ripped from your life with no explanation.  So I ignored the 31 other kids to talk to her.  You can’t say no to hurting tears of your students. So we talked and cried and I sent her back to her seat.

Within seconds, I hear from across the room (so much for a “private” conversation): ” Ms. Reyes.. you just.. i just…you always make us cry!!!  Like in our hearts! ”  I felt a little invaded that they’d heard my conversation. But let’s be real. I also loved it. Then,  the second eve’s dropper walked up to me and granted me with the most beautiful  benediction of a comment. I GUSHED.. called it Poetry.. and begged her to write it exactly as she spoke it. And she did.. thus, giving me, my newest, most prized STONE of REMEMBRANCE.

Dear Ms. Reyes

I just realized that when you talk to us

You go deep in our hearts

and make us realize what we really feel inside

is not what we show on the outside

So we thank you with all our hearts.


Stephanie, Genesis, Jadu, Miranda, Daniela, and Yaritza

So today… the day I broke up a fight.. and heard the F word in my own classroom, I also received a sweet gift. A stone.  I will look at it to rejoice. I will look at it to remember. I will look at it to hope. I love my job.

I also found this entry recently. It’s dated just several months before I began my own teaching career 7 years ago. Exactly 7 years ago. 🙂 I WAS aching to teach. I kinda love that nothing about that statement has changed.  I love that I look at this and smile as I remember I AM A TEACHER. 


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