The Audacious Magpie

A Novel in Real-Time

Part 2


Chapter 6: The Canyons, The Smorgasbord and The DJ

March 28, 2014



I asked Gus to join me for a piece of performance art at the Museum of Art and Design.  The theme was belief, with the four performers each sharing a unique perspective on the world -- from the virtues of capitalism to the power of divination. 

This was just the type of event that drew me to the city in the first place.  It was an assorted crowd gathering to celebrate and embrace different viewpoints.  I was thrilled that someone would create such a show.  I was moved that it could be hosted at a major cultural center and that a crowd of 100+ would show up for the experience.

New York was showing me over and again the maxim so often repeated by my dear friend Claire. There are so many beautiful ways to live a life.  I was really falling for this place.


After the show, Gus suggested dessert at Cafe Fiorello by Lincoln Center.  "You'll die, Lenny.  Their specialty is chocolate mousse to share.  You get a bucket of mousse and a bucket of whipped cream for the table.  I hope you're ready to indulge."

I salivated.  I was ready.

Tucked in a side booth, Gus and I dished up bowls of the stuff.  It was a perfectly chilled concoction of creamy cocoa.  My eyes fluttered back.  "Heaven."

"The pearly gates at last," Gus agreed.

"Oh!" I suddenly remembered today's gift.  "I know we're eating dessert, but I almost forgot I have something for you."  I handed her a brown paper bag.

"The Big Ample gifts are meant to be anonymous, but I wanted to give out candy this time around, which doesn't work so well with strangers.  I gave bags to the ladies in my French class and to some friends from the gym.  They were all so generous to help spread the cheer.  You're welcome to pass them out if you'd like or keep them for yourself if you wish!"

"Brilliant," Gus said as she read the note. 

"Cheers on another gift," she said, clinking the lollipop to my glass. "You have to tell me though, Ms. Magpie, how do you keep up the enthusiasm for it?  Ever since last week I've wondered about these lessons from your grandpa."

"Oh, yes!  Of course!" I savored another bite of mousse and pushed away my bowl.  After wiping my mouth and sipping some water, I began.


"Before my first year of junior high while I was at their farm for the summer, I confessed to Gramps that I was wildly nervous to start 7th grade.  He listened carefully and then promised we could speak every Sunday.  He said there was no need to fear jumping into a new school because he'd be there at the end of every week to catch me.

"Throughout the year, Gramps patiently listened to my adolescent triumphs and woes.  I told stories and asked for advice.  Like Rumpelstiltsken, he turned the scattered straw of these conversations into gold. 

"To the outside world, Gramps is the silent and stoic type.  However, there's a marvelous current of creativity running beneath that steady exterior.  His lessons were intricate analogies laced with his philosophy on life. 

"He shared three lessons with me that year:  The Canyons, The Smorgasbord and The DJ."

Gus smiled and put her chin in her hand, settling in for the story.  "That's quite a trio."

"First, the canyons," I paused to take another bite.

Gus nodded, listening intently.


"During the first weeks of school, I was tossed about by the ever-changing sea of middle-school emotions.  One week I was elated with my perfect lab group in biology.  The next I was crumpled because my smattering of freckles earned me the nickname Sprinkles.  During another week I wanted to be someone totally different -- more bold, flirtatious, athletic or stylish -- just anything but myself.  Each week it was some new theme, with me being vexed a great majority of the time. 

"Gramps listened patiently for some weeks and then weighed in:

Skata, (Swedish for Magpie) now is the time to create yourself as you wish to be and build the fortress that will hold you strong in the shifting winds of this world.

I speak of creation not as a sculptor fashions a figure from clay and calls it complete.  It is a constant and shifting process, like the evolution of a great canyon. It is not a finished masterpiece you must pursue, but an evolving formation that grows ever more beautiful and profound with time.

The important thing to remember is that you have a choice in how the canyons of your soul are formed. 

You can let life flow through and leave its mark.  On their own, storms will alter the walls and sun will beckon green to emerge.  Shifting winds will dent and smooth the surface.  If you allow these forces to take over, they will shape you at their will.

On the other hand, you can choose to shape the canyon yourself.  By constantly deciding how you'll react to the flow of life and the inevitable storms and sunshine, you strengthen the walls and deepen the ravines on your own.  By carefully examining your reaction to the weather of the world and choosing how you bend or beat against it, you decide the depth and vastness of your canyon. 

Over time, if you listen carefully to your heart and follow its rightness, the canyons of your soul will retain their grandeur despite the storms that blow above.  Deep reservoirs will nourish the green even when the rains don't come and the sun doesn't shine for weeks.

The key is to retain the choice.  Rather than letting life shape your soul at will, you create the canyon that steadily withstands the thwarting of life."

"Wow," Gus said softly with wide eyes.  "You grasped all of this when you were 13?"

I laughed.  "Parts of it, yes.  I've understood it better over the years and Gramps has added to it as well.  For example, he says our flaws are like caves in the canyon wall.  First, they must be explored to understand why they are there.  If they don't serve us, we must work to smooth them out so they disappear over time."

"It is quite an analogy."

"The smorgasbord lesson is easier to swallow," I smiled.  "Pun intended."

"Ha!  You sound like Izzy" Gus laughed.  "Please, continue."


"As the first semester ended, we were directed to choose our classes for the second half of the year.  As 7th graders, we had two electives.  Coming from elementary school where there were no choices in curriculum, this was an intimidating process for me. 

"In my young mind I worried that my choices should be exactly right.  My mind raced years ahead and I imagined this class selection would impact my college major and ultimately my career.  Those are heavy thoughts for a 13-year-old!  I fretted over my decision to Gramps.

"This was his take on it:

Life is a delectable smorgasbord, Skata.  There are so many scrumptious options available to you.  Try everything.

If the charcuterie calls your name, munch a bit.  If it is the bowls of fruit, grab a spoonful.  You'll never know what you will really love if you don't get a good sampling. Dive into the deliciousness of variety in this world. 

When you find something especially satisfying, that's where you should go back for seconds, thirds and even more.

"He then laughed a bit and recalled a memory of me at age 8.  He and Gran were visiting and we all went to San Francisco together.  At Ghirardelli Square I drank an entire chocolate shake without coming up for air. I found it so decadent that I just slurped and slurped.  When I finished and finally looked up, the whole family was staring at me. To this day my brothers gently tease me about it.

"He said:

Gulp down the things you love just like you did with that chocolate shake.  Hold on to that voracity for the passions in your life.  Pursue them ravenously and savor them with your full attention.

"Then he added:

"But don't worry if one day all that cream and sugar starts to bother your belly and you want to explore the veggie tray for awhile.  Even if everyone says they've only known you to love chocolate ice cream, don't keep slurping it down to fill their expectations.  Perhaps cauliflower is the only thing that will fill your hunger for a time.  It is perfectly okay that your tastes should change.  The important lesson is to fill your plate with things that you're most hungry for or new things to try.

"Like chocolate mousse," smiled Gus.

"Yes!" I laughed.

"I love the smorgasbord lesson," said Gus.  "And you said the last analogy is about a DJ?"

I nodded.

"I love that your grandpa would use a DJ for an object lesson.  He's super hip for a farmer."

"Well, he's taken the smorgasbord lesson to heart.  When he was about 60 he took a DJ spinning class."

"No way!"

I laughed.  "Can you believe it? He never was a DJ anywhere, he just wanted to understand the art of it."

"That's one of the most inspiring things I've heard," Gus said, shaking her head.  "So what was the lesson?"


"Well, in the final months of that year, I found myself straddled between three groups of friends.  Those from elementary school, another set from a language club and the third were new friends from that year, one of which was a boy I really liked. 

In the silly games of loyalty that young teenagers play, I was feeling pulled in different directions. 

"To this quandary, Gramps advised:

Fill your life with people who make your heart sing, Skata.  Notice what your heart is feeling when you're with someone.  Is there the buzz of a melody? Those are the friends to keep around. 

The songs will be different, of course.  The important part is that they make your step a little lighter and your mood a little brighter.  It's all about synchronization and finding the groove that fits your taste.

There will be some who don't match your rhythm and that's okay. No need to spend time dancing to a song that you just don't like. 

"I listened carefully and then, thinking about my new crush, I asked if Gran made his heart sing.

"There was a long pause and finally he said:

Gran is the ultimate DJ.

There's a lullaby when I feel her sleeping next to me and an opera when we watch the sunrise together. When times are tough, she's my soothing jazz. When times are bright, she's my exuberant polka.  In our travels together she's upbeat big band and soaring classical.  When we eat dinner together, it's reggae and rap.  As the days closes, it's all soul. 

"Then as if reading my mind he added:

I know you're far from finding the one, Skata, but when the time is right find your ultimate DJ. Don't settle for anyone who plays a song on repeat or only puts on his favorite music.  If he makes your heart sing, it's a sure sign that you'll always be dancing together.

Gus leaned back and smiled with a glimmer in her eyes.  "That's beautiful.  I love your grandpa."

I could only nod and agree.