On Writing, Time, and Tangling with Leonard Bernstein

October 4, 2018 § 10 Comments

zz osheaBy Heather O’Shea

“Oh, no!” I thought. What have I done?

In recent weeks when kids were being shot at school, immigrant babies were being yanked away from their parents, and beloved icons were deciding they had had enough of life on this planet, I found myself quoting Leonard Bernstein. Specifically, a quote I found on the bulletin board in my church’s choir room: This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before. 

Yes, I thought the first time I saw it. Yes—let’s double down on art and music and prove we still believe that love wins in the end. I love making music, and I believe in its redemptive power. When I’m not writing, you’ll likely find me singing in a choir or playing my piano, mandolin, or violin. But as weeks passed and the world kept spinning through a never-ending meteor shower of violence, I started losing patience with Bernstein’s words. He wrote them right after JFK was assassinated; he was replying to a specific act of violence that had a beginning, a middle, and an end.

I started working on a blog post in which I argued that making music wasn’t going to cut it this time. I wasn’t sure what I wanted my musician friends to do instead, but I didn’t want them to retreat to their studios and practice rooms and leave the rest of us out here alone, trying to pick up the pieces every time something new breaks. I worked on the essay for weeks, but I couldn’t make it work. Everything I wrote sounded too cynical. I finally left that post to languish in my drafts folder and moved on.

But something else Bernstein said started haunting me. I’ve recently made some huge changes. Not only did I leave my teaching job, my husband and I sold our house and are in the middle of a cross country move from New Mexico to Florida. I’ve cleared all the decks—work, the choir I sing in, violin lessons with my granddaughter. I’m moving away from everything and everyone I’ve been saying yes to for decades. My calendar is clear.

Instead of fitting writing in around the edges, in my new plan, all those edges will radiate out from a firm core of words. In just the first few months, I’ve completed the revisions on the novel I’ve been wrestling with for the past four years, guest-posted for another blogger, added new content on my own blog, and started sending out work that’s been gathering dust for years. In other words, I’m killing the new plan.

I’ve also adjusted my relationship to money and things, as it has become necessary to live a little more lightly in the world. I purged and packed and packed and purged until 3,400 square feet of house (who needs 3,400 square feet of house?) could fit into an 18-foot truck and whatever room my husband and the golden retriever don’t take up in the Subaru. I’m dreaming of spending my life sitting on the lanai, writing words that people actually read.

I’m training myself to say lanai instead of porch or patio or stoop since I am moving to Florida. I like lanai. It makes me think of Joan Didion. If I weren’t in the middle of a move, I could go to my bookshelf and look at my Joan Didion books and figure out why lanai makes me think of her. Unfortunately, my bookshelves were built-ins, so they are holding up someone else’s books and knick-knacks now. My books, if I can believe the man who drove away with them, are stashed in a warehouse in Austin. They should join me in Florida sometime in November, when my new house and its lanai are completed.

But I digress. Why did I start this essay with an “oh, no!”? During the weeks when I was busy clearing the decks and struggling to write a blog post arguing that playing music just won’t cut it this time, I stumbled on these other words, also supposedly spoken by Leonard Bernstein. “To achieve great things, two things are needed;” he says. “…a plan…”

Check. I’ve got a plan.

“…and not quite enough time.”

I flip through the newly blank pages of my planner, empty as a night without a dream. Oh, no, I think.

What have I done?

Heather O’Shea is a freelance writer and author of the blog LiveLoveLeave.com. Her work has appeared in The Sun, the Daily Good, the Notre Dame ReviewBlue Mesa Review, and Cold Mountain Review. Heather left a career in business for a career in education, and just left that career to fulfill her dream of writing full-time (on or off the lanai). Any day now, she will be looking for a publisher for BookEnds, her first novel.


§ 10 Responses to On Writing, Time, and Tangling with Leonard Bernstein

  • Margaret says:

    I loved this piece. So well crafted, but also there are many points of recognition which really struck a chord with me. (Apologies for the pun).
    I would love to know why you decided to make such a big move and how you coped with the sense of loss that must surely accompany down-sizing in such a dramatic way. Was it a deliberate choice to start afresh in a new place or were there other drivers?

    • heatheroshea says:

      Hi Margaret,
      Sorry I didn’t see this comment sooner! This piece https://liveloveleave.com/moving-florida/ comes as close as I’ve managed to explaining how we made this decision. Coping is a work in progress; friends sent me off feeling ridiculously well-loved, and that, added to the excitement of the new, is carrying me so far. It’s all journey!

  • Our home has half the square footage of yours, but we emptied our attic, sorted closets and cupboards and shelves, thinned the books, and everywhere simplified. Sometimes we consider selling out and moving to Iceland or Portugal. It is the modern way to change our lives by altering our living arrangements. I will be interested to learn if your lanai works for you.

    • heatheroshea says:

      I will be interested to learn that, too! So far, still homesteading in a friend’s condo while our house rises ever so slowly from the ground!

  • Elizabeth says:

    Yes, yes, I say while reading this piece. But in the end the question remains, “What have I done?”

  • Brenda says:

    Thanks for the reminder that including beauty in one’s life – through art, music, writing, nature, and an occasional change of scenery – is an essential antidote to the stresses of modern life. All the best to your new life on the lanai.

  • Margaret says:

    Hi Heather,
    This article sounds so like where I am at just now. Intrigued by ‘The Notre Dame Review’ also as I attended Notre Dame High School aged 11 -16 years and wondered if there is any relationship.

    • heatheroshea says:

      Hi Margaret,
      It’s good to know I am not alone! I graduated from the U. of ND in 1986–the piece was in their literary journal. Good luck on your travels!

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