Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"Is she calling out to you, Daddy?"

My mind was preoccupied with finding my misplaced wallet. I was in my studio at home, rooting through drawers, utterly lost in thought. It was yesterday morning, and I had ten things to do at the same time.

A sound suddenly froze me. It was a flute, distant and scratchy, a beautiful and haunting memory from my childhood. I recognized the musician immediately. It was my mother. She died two years ago.

Salish, my three-year-old daughter, had discovered an old tape recorder under a pile of books and pressed the play button. I had gathered the books from my mother’s apartment, but I never had the courage to look through them. She died suddenly and unexpectedly, and our relationship was unresolved. The pain of her death was too intense, so I shut it off.

“What is this, Daddy?” Salish asked as she saw my face go white.

“It’s my mommy. She played music.”

“Where is she?”

“She died, Salish.”

We sat quietly and listened to the music. My eyes began to tear up. Salish wasn’t looking at me. She was staring intensely at the wall.

“Is she calling out to you, Daddy?” she asked.

The question was like a kick in the stomach. Where did she hear that phrase?

“I don’t know. I don’t know.” I said.

“Is she sad, Daddy? Is she crying?”

“I don’t think so, Salish.”

“Is she in pain? Is she okay?” Her face was filled with compassion.

“I don’t think she’s in pain anymore, Salish.”

“Is she calling out to you, Daddy?” she repeated.

I was silent. We listened to the dreamy melody until the refrain ended.  “It’s time to go now, Daddy. We need to go.” We left the studio together, and Salish grabbed my hand. “I love you, Daddy,” she said.

Three hours later I was driving to work, the earlier event a distant memory. I was once again spending the day wrapped up in tomorrow’s irrelevancies. I looked at my phone and went numb as I saw the date.

It was my mother’s 70th birthday.

I suddenly recalled a conversation I had with her long ago, as I was setting up her email account.

“What would you like your name to be?” I asked.

She thought for a minute. “Flutist at rest,” she said, smiling.

grandmother and granddaughter

Monday, April 8, 2013

Goodbye to the Man Who Changed My Life

Peter Workman, founder of Workman Publishing, died yesterday morning. I did not know him well- we had a casual acquaintance- but I will be forever indebted to him.

Two years ago, he gave me a chance when nobody else would. He saw opportunity where others saw obstacles.

His prescient staff came to him with a novel idea- a dance photography book set in everyday life. He had reservations, but he did not close the door, as many had before him. Whereas other publishers loved the photos but felt a book would not sell, Peter felt a book would sell because he loved the photos. So he put Dancers Among Us on his list, and in the process he added yet another best-selling title to his distinguished record of achievement.

How many other authors will have similar words of praise in the days ahead? How many dreamers were given an opportunity that had been so elusive, simply due to Peter's innate ability to see clearly through the fog that so often blinded his contemporaries? Countless, I imagine.

There is a famous expression to describe corporate ineptitude: "A fish rots from the head down." If this is true, then the converse must apply as well. The staff at Workman Publishing is brilliant, enthusiastic, and resolutely unpretentious. The offices bustle with creative energy and uninhibited optimism. I'm sure these adjectives will be used to describe Peter as well.

This was Peter's favorite photo from the book, and one he seriously considered using on the cover. As I look at it now, I see a woman ascending to the heavens, bringing with her the beauty and simplicity she enjoyed in life. Those left behind have the satisfaction of knowing that her influence on their lives will be lasting and powerful.

Thank you, Peter.