Monday, December 01, 2008
In another photo, purposely not posted here as a favor to you, he caught me semi-snickering at my own playing and looking impossibly uncomfortable in the outfit specifically chosen for comfort's sake.
We did a fine job of creating a seamless backdrop of music for the congregation despite our not having worked together before. This setup was more successful than when I accompanied myself on harp a time or two before, where my strange decision to use a small thin voice was born out of the shock that yes I can sing and play simultaneously and the expectation that any moment the congregation would enthusiastically join in. Turns out a strong male voice may better encourage group participation than a weak female one -- or were they just being kind then and not wanting to disturb my obvious effort?!
It's not that I don't know how to sing -- in my chaotic catastrophe that was college, my myriad of scheduling conflicts mandated I take individual voice lessons instead of group voice for non-majors. Taking lessons meant performing in front of the voice faculty at the end of the quarter for a grade based on the delivery of the German and English and some other language piece accompanied by the major instrument that for once this soprano wasn't playing, while fighting the inner scream about what a fantastic waste of time this was for all involved including the opposite wall through which a hole was bored in embarrassed concentration to hit the high notes.
But I am starting to wonder if the human voice would better capture some of what I want to convey through my own music. Rawness, hunger, pain, elation -- what voice?
Of course this would be the moment to go to the harp and find this out, but the harp isn't here. The positive spin on this is that it will come back better than ever but the other side is that I never want to be without my instrument this long again. Early in the morning I drive north again retrieve the harp from very capable but probably very frustrated hands and in them place a piece of paper on which will be scrawled "$" followed by a heart-stoppingly long little row of numbers. And I will come home and put it in its place and teach and play and again wonder -- what voice?
The other night I was listening to Ani DiFranco's bold story-telling and gut-wrenching lyrics and suddenly between the songs she spoke to me:
Detroit Annie, hitchhiking
by Judy Grahn
Her words pour out as if her throat were a broken
artery and her mind were cut-glass, carelessly handled.
You imagine her in a huge velvet hat with great
dangling black feathers,
but she shaves her head instead
and goes for three-day midnight walks.
Sometimes she goes down to the dock and dances
off the end of it, simply to prove her belief
that people who cannot walk on water
are phonies, or dead.
When she is cruel, she is very, very
cool and when she is kind she is lavish.
Fisherman think perhaps she's a fish, but they're all
fools. She figured out that the only way
to keep from being frozen was to
stay in motion, and long ago converted
most of her flesh into liquid. Now when she
smells danger, she spills herself all over,
like gasoline, and lights it.
She leaves the taste of salt and iron
under your tongue, but you don't mind.
The common woman is as common
as the reddest wine
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The new David Byrne / Brian Eno compilation Everything That Happens Will Happen Today can be heard in its entirety by clicking here. It includes a synopsis by the two artists of how the music came to be.
When I listen to music, I hear the rhythm and melody and shape first. I don't listen to lyrics. So Strange Overtones was instantly interesting because of the pairing of punctuated rhythm and Byrne's sailing voice. After several listens I finally read the lyrics and concluded the song is damn near perfect. It's available as a free mp3 download here.
Andrew Bird is releasing his next work Noble Beast in several formats. The Deluxe Edition features two discs, one of which is purely instrumental titled Useless Creatures. Purely instrumental! I know! One track from each disc can be heard by clicking here.
Bird's lyrics are always fantastic swirls of wordplay. He has admitted to approaching words / lyrics in an unconventional way and not caring for instrumental music. I'm anxious to see how he came to terms with each in this new release, which you can pre-order here; the formal U.S. release date is January 20.
And finally, in his aching multi-loop and perfect-pitch glory, using only violin but wearing the guitar just in case, Bird during a soon-to-air appearance on "From the Basement."
Update: The food looks better... and tastes amazing. Happy Thanksgiving.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The above advent calendar was a fun challenge due to the size of canvas I chose to use. The original idea came from a felt and velcro version I made while attending a Waldorf grade school. This version should last longer than that one! See the Etsy store for a more detailed description and additional pictures. A larger version of the advent calendar (sold) also appears here, though it's an example of an older painting style. For fun, also check out my Floorcloth Design Gallery for pet mats and other items -- amazing what you find on your own website when you go looking!!
This heather grey afghan sold immediately. Another in light tan / caramel / camel (how to adequately convey color over the internet?) is available, and another in rich garnet red is coming soon. Working on these is the perfect way to while away the dark hours listening to music while keeping warm. The pattern results in a blanket with good heft and the pattern is classic and timeless!
It will be interesting to see decisions around giving / buying this holiday season. Predicting is pointless -- I have more harp jobs this season than I expected. It's a time of hope and joy and thinking more creatively than ever.
Monday, November 24, 2008
My eyes are glued on Michelle to ensure I literally don't miss a beat -- too bad the camera caught it. Michelle Lucey, vocals and keyboard; Tammy Wallace, vocals.
This photo and others are posted in the scrolling album on our MySpace page, as are some of the pieces we performed that evening. Of the six listed on MySpace, four are the trio; Moonlight (featuring Tammy, joined by Cathy Wicks and Michelle), Polar Bears, Garden Song, and Evolution. Moonlight is the newest tune -- Michelle and I are now working on pieces for just piano and harp.
Working on my own material has continued to involve incorporating jazz theory into my performances. I am very interested in what BW is doing over on her blog -- she designated November as a month to compose at least 8 bars of music each day and post them no matter how they turned out. BW and I were at the first Deborah Henson-Conant workshop and I love how committed she is to what we were exposed.
Typealyzer offers a way to determine your blog's Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The idea is to determine whether your blog and personality are the same MBTI. How seriously do I take Myers-Briggs anything? I have a very good friend who, because of her massive position as one of the top Human Resources gurus in the nation, takes this test frequently. Her MBTI often differs from the previous time she took the test. My MBTI (determined years ago) is an INFJ, and my Typealyzer results for my blog is an ISFP. The Typealyzer revealed this MBTI after picking up this post. Prior to this post, my blog was an ISTP. Um, yeah. For the Typealyzer to work, your blog address must be the main web address.
Today was cold and rainy and dark, so while I didn't have time for it given my teaching schedule, it was the perfect day to curl up with my new favorite Yogi tea, a blanket, and a good book.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Diving headlong into any live or recorded performance is now unavoidable despite a myriad of distractions. Below -- undeniably, irrevocably, achingly relatable.
Monday, November 03, 2008
Delivering the ballot entailed driving into town before this morning's lessons. Of course the Board of Elections is in the new building across town, the one with the all-glass atrium and escalator and shiny new everything, and not the older building in the middle of town I first visited whose pay-for parking lot is a block away. Within minutes of entering the double doors of the correct building, I'm typically yet inexplicably fielding questions. A woman politely demands a clipboard with a sheet of paper to fill out because everyone before her and after her seems to have one. A man asks if he was supposed to bring the documents with him that contain errors in need of correction. The woman in front of me, a newborn snuggling under her chin and another beautiful small child at her side, explains she is in line because she has to see someone in person to correct the last name on her ballot. It was beyond misspelled, a different name entirely. What kind of system requires a mother with no childcare to stand in line for this?
Why did she wait until today to take care of it? I don't know, why did any of us wait until today, or even tomorrow? Maybe we were all still hanging onto the unrealistic hope that we could chuck the entire current system and start over.
Ohio, and in many cases Columbus specifically, has been touted as THE place to watch on several national news broadcasts. Can I be okay with myself if the candidate I support less than the other wins because I cast my vote for a party that comparatively speaking gets no press/money, no matter how in line that party is with my true ideals? How ridiculous is it that I make my decision this way?
And, really, we vote like this??
Risking ridicule for stepping out of line, I hold out my sealed envelope to the man directing citizens to what he hopes is the right place. The envelope reflects, for various reasons, an incorrect last name that matches other incorrect last-name documents, all of which I can finally alter after election day without creating an identity stir. The man steps back, refusing to touch the envelope, pointing to a blue box. I throw it in, turn and join other voters exiting the buildling looking stricken. That's it??
To further my attempts at self-empowerment, I go to the bank to deposit and move money. Having worked in a bank in my former life, at the drive-thru (wait, no drive-thru voting?) I throw several tickets at the teller and wonder if the process I'm using is out of date. No, but cheerily I'm informed that my account with the smallest amount went dormant.
Dormant? To reactivate it, I must come in and fill out some papers. Papers? Or close it.
But I'm very attached to this account! It's the very first one I ever opened, the one I used to squirrel away earnings from jobs that had nothing to do with my college degrees. The pot where I collected enough so I could move out on my own, purchase my car, my harp, my own house, and run my business. I have the account number memorized. We've been through everything together. It doesn't earn any interest at this point, doesn't serve me in any possible way, I've outgrown it. Money is sitting there that would serve me better if I moved it. I can't close this account!
From which space do I make this decision -- practical or emotional? If it's not serving me where it is, and is many ways now inaccessible, why elect to keep it there? One morning I will wake up and know.
On the way home, I drive the road along the river. I stop to walk out on a stone slab I can now access because the water is so low; I'm in the middle of the river, where I can see clearly upstream, or down. The water simply flows past. That's where I want to be.
But I go home and ready my studio for students, one of the rooms awaiting a flooring decision.
My students tell me how the election causes racial fears in their school. Upperclassmen elected to sell candidate-name headbands to raise money for prom. But the student body is afraid to purchase them for fear they'll be jumped after school for being racist.
Times are chaotic -- can we afford to settle?
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
The harpist was in her traditional black garb meant to fade into the formal background of any wedding, but in this case did anything but in this beautifully pale setup.
September 11th has always been a difficult day, for each of the past seven years. Seven years ago a just-left love phoned to check in as a soon-to-be new love did the same. Now that new love is also an old love gone. So many feel this deeply today.
The journal hasn't yet been visited and so thoughts around this day spontaneously appeared in a uninhibited email to a friend:
"Today and maybe the entire week or even month is pregnant with loss. The music community lost BC this week, a close friend of the LM band and its members, and a formidable force in the local jazz and other-genre world. He was my age and though I didn't know him personally, the void he left creates a sorrow so palpable it's impossible not to cry. His calling hours were today.
"This morning I played a 9/11 memorial service -- it was me, the minister, and two other people. Very very quiet harp. This is always a little unnerving because the harp sounds best when it can really resonate, and I depend upon its resonance to help me resonate with my surroundings... playing quietly can make the instrument sound dull and ironically playing this way takes a lot of effort. But the season and reason this time was reflection and hope and peace so quiet harp accompanying a crying minister was the only thing appropriate.
"And then I walked the labyrinth in the church, this strange turning and twisting walk that visually is completely symmetrical and straightforward...
"I came home thinking that loss is so prevalent and my efforts to stop it are pointless. This doesn't apply to my getting rid of things. It applies to things exiting without warning, or exiting with warning and no logic, or worse yet with warning and an obliteration of all that was meaningful just prior to exiting.
"I didn't figure out until afterward that emptying the firepit of the mound of ash today was so very symbolic of my attempting to transform loss and obliteration into growth and regeneration. The ash went into flower beds and around plants in an attempt to nourish them. If they all don't die soon, this was a very good move.
"And the spreading of the ash was my tribute to B and all those lost in 9/11. I just didn't know it until after the fact. A very small whisper of an answer to the voice that is screaming, 'What are you doing with your life??!?' Instead of calling hours, instead of trying to mend a botched rehearsal attempt, instead of reading thousands of names.... I know fire well and why not use the outcome of that, fire as my link to both life and death. Ugly ash that hopefully calls forth more life and less death.
".. diminishing the ash pile (is necessary) so that said plywood has the room to breathe to burn. Because the loss of... trust / friendship / love / intimacy / security... ultimately demands, in some twisted and serene way, room to breathe, in order to burn..."
Peace, love, light to all, today and in all ways.
Saturday, September 06, 2008
-- Unknown, but very known, from an old friend
I've unintentionally been posting weekend weddings and other happenings one week after they occur. So, illogically, look for the wedding I played today one week from now.
The Franklin Park Conservatory wedding found me performing from a vantage point I don't usually take -- behind the guests.
From this position I could watch the mothers and wedding party tentatively make their way down the curving staircase, then steadily wobble past me and down the aisle to the "altar."
Navigating through the Conservatory is much easier now! That is, when the doors to which Security directed me are unlocked, I don't leave my keys in the car in my haste to get in the building after locked-door-delay, and the plants intending to deter passerby from heading outside aren't placed exactly where I need to make my exit.
The Taylor Mansion boasts an aging patio in the front of the building; a hedge of sorts separates this spot from busy Broad Street. Setting up on one side of the fountain seemed appropriate.
But then I moved to the other side after realizing I needed a better view of the wedding party as they entered, and equally important, to keep a wary eye on the western sky. A waterfall of rain through which the sun oddly blazed graced the wedding site just as I got the harp in the car after the ceremony.
Last weekend's two weddings were capped off with the first gathering at my house in a very long while. Really good fresh food, great people, and a bonfire for purging items / thoughts that no longer fit in our lives conjoined under clear skies. The house actually felt good despite its various states of construction -- turns out plywood floors are a hit -- and preparing for this was a healthy way to complete projects in and around the house. There is nothing better than being amidst the glowing positive energy of new and old friends.
The work I've been doing to step up with the harp is paying off bigger and sooner than I anticipated, creating a strange amalgamation of distress and wonder. Balancing attempts --> planning another get-together, listening to a diverse array of music, chopping off a good amount of hair, experimenting with limited-ingredient vegan cooking, and eating dark chocolate. Oh, and consuming chocolate-covered strawberries -- the instructions specifcally say they must be eaten within 48 hours of delivery and I'm behind.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
-- Henry J. Heimlich, M.D., Heimlich Maneuver® fame
Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.
-- Charles Mingus
The Franklin Park Conservatory has undergone significant renovations, and I can't wait to get inside to play harp for one of this weekend's weddings to see what has changed. Maybe I won't have to haul equipment through the myriad of fifty thousand doors and tunnels to get to the Palm House. In the meantime, last weekend I played outside on the patio and the client was lovely for providing an umbrella to shield the instrument and its player from the hot midday sun.
At last weekend's Main Street Delaware wine-tasting event, attendees recognized me from playing brunch at the now defunct Eckel's Lake and other events, and several new connections were made. This experience somehow shocked me into realizing what I've been doing over the past several years and where I now want to go. I put several of those ideas into action already but today -- perhaps because it is rainy and cooler and fall-ish -- some of the vim is gone. In the meantime, I continue to work on clearing out what I don't need or want from the house.
This stack of pavers is the first of many that I'll be moving off my property by hand accompanied by a stream of expletives. For now, this stack has merely moved to the side of the house in the new configuration of a simple temporary barricade. It is very unsightly and wonky and I don't plan to keep it there, but once these 82 pavers are gone, a nicer barricade will emerge. Perhaps it will be the ever-evolving barricade until all the bunk material vacates the premises.
Tonight I was listening to a special on minimalism in music. As they played a familiar piece from Philip Glass' Glassworks, I realized how much I needed this music during my studies. Others detested it while I was very much drawn to it. Peripheral listening leads to the assumption that nothing is happening, that it's the same thing over and over again, a very irritating style of music. Listening more closely, you see it's changing all the time. Listen more closely still, and you see exactly how it's changing in a very simple way. On the surface it sounds like a barricade of repeated complication, but in essence it's a network of simple shifts that yield it exquisitely beautiful.
One of my piano students, the founder and CEO of a major pizza chain who sold his business to an international mega-gazillion giant and then BOUGHT IT BACK, is no stranger to success and goal-achievement. But tactics he used to propel him forward in his business aren't effective in piano study. We're running up against definitions of success that make the entire piano experience feel insurmountably complicated. It's time to re-define. J's goofy pun today: I am helping this student "think outside the pizza box." Heh.
Simplifying the complicated starts with rethinking boxed-in definitions.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
One hundred nights
To know a man's heart...
And a little more before
he knows his own.
-- Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, 100 Days 100 Nights
One hundred days / nights would be, what, three months? Ha.
The Grand Valley Dale Ballroom is one of my new favorite places to play harp.
Entire weddings -- ceremony, cocktails, and reception -- can all be easily housed here.
I don't need amplification for this setting!
You would never guess the regal interior belongs to this exterior.
This is the fourth wedding in two months where Premium Catering and I have worked the same event -- really wonderful people.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Is that you believe what you're saying
What bothers me
Is that you don't know how you feel
What scares me
Is that while you're telling me stories
You actually believe that they are real
-- Ani DiFranco, As Is
Unacceptable truth #1 -- I have a stack of unread copies of my favorite magazine (and I have many subscriptions) -- Paste. It comes each month with a CD of tunes from artists of all genres. This publication perfectly offsets the Complete Frustration of the Everyday. I'm now listening to John Scofield's "The Low Road" from one sampler; it followed The Innocence Mission's "Into Brooklyn..."
Unacceptable truth #2 -- all my CDs remain packed up in bags and boxes since last year's renovation. Citing a lack of an appropriate storage unit is lame, as anything is better than where they currently reside.
Callie the Bengal cat enjoys the year-old subfloor,
not questioning when she'll see the real thing.
She's just grateful she no longer has to worry about
falling through to the basement.
I cannot get enough of Sirius Radio Channel 16 -- The Vault. "Deeper Classic Rock" means old Genesis, Yes, Led Zep, Cream, Pink Floyd, Bowie, Hendrix, etc. that terrestrial radio didn't play. These were my first examples of improvisation.
I cannot get on top of my yard. The current prevailing weed is Queen Anne's Lace, taller than I. Pretty in the picture, isn't it? It's carrot scent doesn't redeem it's overwhelming presence in my beds.
They were right when they said that at the three-month post-surgery mark you will finally start feeling like yourself. I have big plans in the works.
A billion weddings since the last post. This was one of my favorites -- thanks to J & S for the opportunity to share their special day at the Park of Roses.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
One of the builders this year hired me to play for Preview Night, which is just like any of the other tour days except slightly less crowded due to the higher price tag, and food like crab cakes and a lot of drink are actually permitted beyond the designer home thresholds.
To set up in the corner of a designer home next to the remote-controlled fireplace and play solo selections of your choice while actually being heard and having already been paid your going-rate fee is a very good gig.
It's a very good gig even when transporting all your gear will require at least three trips through a half mile myriad of tents, tripping hazards, and speeding golf carts, and it’s the closest you can pull up to the gig site because you are proudly sporting your special worker’s pass and parking permit.
Not every event requires amplification. But when it does, the pre-gig loading experience becomes atypical. The bench must make way for the amp, which means the bench must wait until the last minute to be loaded via the passenger-side back door. This is a perfect setup for the trying-to-be-on-time driver to close the garage door and leave the bench in the garage where she put it down and not realize this until 3/4 of the way to the gig.
Fortunately, the Home Show coordinators locate a chair whose seat is fashioned to accommodate human anatomy. It's actually the perfect chair as chairs go, but because playing the harp defies all aspects of human anatomy and ergonomics, the interplay between the non-cushioned seat and the ischium of the performer becomes an all-out war. Poising on the edge of the seat requires concentration and generates discomfort but is the only way to keep from sliding down the plastic void-of-cushion surface to a place that renders pedal-changing footwork impossible.
Aside from seating issues, it's comfy and cozy in a designer home playing in an air-conditioned corner while thunderstorms barrel overhead; retrieving the car in dress clothes, however, from a parking pit where all that rain has fallen, is not. Mud-caked shoe removal was required to retrieve the harp from the designer home and bump the harp down the steps to the white-painted-floor garage. If bumping the harp on the cart down the steps doesn’t isn’t attention-gripping enough, hunkering down and positioning the harp at a precarious angle to clear the doorframe in what looks like bare feet certainly is.
Onlookers mistakenly assume pushing the harp around on the cart is more problematic than carrying the 38.4-pound amplifier any distance. The harp is truly the only piece of equipment that passerby should not touch, especially at an event where a lot of drink is involved. A golf cart was available at the beginning of the gig for amp transport, but was not at the end as tent flaps had fallen thereby making golf cart access out of the question (as explained by golf cart driver). How do you carry a bulky "perfect for any event!" amp that distance? By balancing it on one thigh and then the other and straining-smiling-out-of-breath for the third time at the cop sitting comfortably at the exit who's placidly explaining to those who don’t get it that they cannot leave with open containers.
Some might sweetly suggest that it might be a good idea to bring a helper to such an event. But really, what would the helper do for the entire three hours that I'm playing and stupidly not taking breaks? A tan, skinny blonde with 8-inch stilettos and a short sleeveless dress with sparkly stuff around the bosom had no problem -- see, there she is talking to an older tropical-shirt man who is telling her about himself as if they've just met and she is listening with rapt attention while sipping her drink as they quickly head to the nearest exit...
Seeing a harp in an unexpected place evokes childlike glee. I actually do understand what’s really being said despite my knee-jerk unedited silent sarcastic responses.
"Wow!! That's a real person at the harp!"
No, it's a fake person at the harp.
Translation: “This is live music and not recorded!” Often this is one of the highest compliments one can pay to a working musician.
"Do you hire/rent yourself out?"
Translation: Um… unfortunately you cannot assume men who ask you this are seriously considering having you play for their next upscale gathering at their place of business or formal high-end residence. Especially when such a question is followed by, "Here, I'll be your pimp -- we'll put your business cards out here." This is when you immediately turn your attention to the person who is now holding his head and screaming,
"WHOAH -- I had no idea you could run a HARP through an AMP!!"
Of course, especially if I expect to be heard in an environment fraught with speaking volumes such as what you just used!
Translation: “My only experience is with guitars!” I actually love explaining how my harp is amplifed, and happier still if they're interested in the nitty-gritty specifics.
“There goes an angel, with her harp!”
What I’m thinking right now is anything but angelic, and I and the harp are wearing nothing but black.
Translation: “My only concept of harp is this age-old stereotype!” Luckily, this person can keep holding onto this image and never have to know what you have to do, say, and be to actually earn a living this way.
“Are you okay / can you get that?”
Of course I can, I do it all the time. I can’t tell -- are you offering to help?!?
Translation: “I am sincerely concerned about your well-being – that looks heavy and cumbersome and I have no idea what you are doing.” A harp is an unusual sight, and watching a solitary female transport it is overly perplexing to some. You can shove an amp in their arms and go through the time-consuming effort of explaining what is happening / needs to happen, or, just assure them that you’re fine and get on with MAKING IT HAPPEN.
There is so much to watch and learn on a solo gig... so much so that it isn't necessarily a solo gig, is it?
Thursday, June 12, 2008
I wanna -- er, WILL -- play harp with:
Explosions in the Sky
The Arcade Fire
Deborah Henson-Conant -- (again)
Andrew Bird (MySpace page)
Absolutely, unquestionably, harp fits perfectly with all of them.
Monday, June 09, 2008
Lemon sorbet from Graeter's eased some of this humiliation, as did settling in for a night of Maggie Green and Canto Poetico -- she was on FIRE debuting her own tune.
Day two = wedding on the green of a small county golf club. Aside from playing the typical wedding fare -- the most important piece tacked down with office clips -- it was my job to drown out the generator that ironically was powering the equipment used to amplify the harp. Though I was booked to play longer, at the end of the ceremony the groom affirmed I successfully distracted the guests from the roaring equipment but should "prob'ly quit cuz dat's 'bout gonna run outta gas."
Day three = church service at the Columbus Center for Spiritual Living. J was recently hired as interim musical director to provide radically different music from one week to the next. The topic of the day was Mystery. Did his recently-composed piece Tristery -- a title combining my name and "mystery" -- have anything to do with why I was contacted for this? We mysteriously improvised with harp and piano and later I performed a snippet of Crimson (go here to hear). It was not a mystery that we found we can play together well, especially on the fly -- set a key and see what happens.
A mysterious weekend? It's a mystery that one day I figured I could find a way to get my car out if on a freak day my garage door opener died, and the very next day that is exactly what happened. It's a mystery that in the middle of the night I couldn't sleep and *PING* heard a harp string break downstairs, and once it was replaced as it needed to stretch to be in tune for an early gig the next day, fell asleep immediately. It's a mystery that I happened to be in the gardening section of a store and spotted just one super-on-sale plant I haven't been able to find anywhere else to complete a section of my always-needing-weeding landscape. It's a mystery that on the day after I run out of dark chocolate, I'm asked to share a bar of the darkest I've had yet -- this is high-octane Extreme at 88%, my friends. It's a mystery that one week I fret about being able to continue to make my living teaching and playing, and the next week am contacted about lessons and gigs.
Or is it?
Monday, June 02, 2008
It's been a little over one month since surgery, which I struggled to fit between previously-scheduled gigs. I actually played a wedding and Luceys Maze gig two weeks post-surgery and performing felt worlds better than sitting at home facing all that I could not do. Moving-the-harp muscles are different than affected-by-surgery muscles, a discovery of course made through simple trial and error.
Courtyard at COSI
Breaking and replacing a big fat 5th octave A string ten minutes before I was scheduled to play the wedding prelude this past weekend was an adrenaline rush, to say the least.
This is a strange time of year for the self-employed performer and teacher. For those outside the field, it's filled with excitement and anticipation over the schoolyear ending, increased energy from warmer weather, and vacation inclination thinking. But with students that take a "summer break" from lessons, a huge yard to clean- up / maintain and house still under renovation, somewhat slower than expected recuperation, a colleague (?) playing and securing gigs for 1/3 the going rate, and a tight budget to create due to increased and additional bills of all sorts, this time of year can feel downright frightening.
So it's back to consciously deciding (every minute) not to panic, and instead focus on intention and trajectory of the creative work I've committed to do, hoping the details become clear. Real life = hazy fertile middleground between heaven and hell.
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Monday, April 28, 2008
Monday, April 14, 2008
'A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth - that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.
I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when a man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way - an honorable way - in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life, I was able to understand the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.'
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
maybe really good pizza
or a very deep sleep
or a warm rushing water walk.
I am unmoored
searching the horizon
but the horizon is busy, overpopulated.
From the assinine sterile beeping bed
she searches my eyes
looking for an anchor
afraid she is making waves.
Afraid she is painting
a picture of pain
that I will buy.
I want to tell her: Don't think.
just breathe, breathe deep
there is nothing else to do.
You can't protect me from reality
I'm already here, by choice
Close your eyes, just breathe
You've always been good
at not denying pain.
Our roles are reversed again
I'll navigate and steer
over the waves of fear and pain
while you absorb the quiet.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Tattered pale frail
That quicksand quagmire
This endless bright hot dust
Darker meaner tighter
Careless shred slash gnash
Ravaged flurried white
Is it enough
Bare bones breathing
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
It's winter in the Midwest of the United States, and that can mean bleak, endless gray days that cast a lot of us into some form of depression. But according to Eric Maisel, PhD, the author of the book The Van Gogh Blues, actively making and maintaining meaning is the "creative person's path through depression" regardless of the time of year.
Below is an interview with the author, a San Francisco-based creativity coach who is the leading expert about the creative life and make-up of the creative person. The following interview is part of the "blog tour" for the paperback version of the book that just came out (click here for the interview about his last work, Ten Zen Seconds). See the tour schedule to read other interviews about The Van Gogh Blues -- some questions are repeated from interview to interview while others are unique to the blog on which they are posted.
Please tell us what The Van Gogh Blues is about.
For more than 25 years I’ve been looking at the realities of the creative life and the make-up of the creative person in books like Fearless Creating, Creativity for Life, Coaching the Artist Within, and lots of others. A certain theme or idea began to emerge: that creative people are people who stand in relation to life in a certain way—they see themselves as active meaning-makers rather than as passive folks with no stake in the world and no inner potential to realize. This orientation makes meaning a certain kind of problem for them—if, in their own estimation, they aren’t making sufficient meaning, they get down. I began to see that this “simple” dynamic helped explain why so many creative people—I would say all of us at one time or another time—get the blues.
To say this more crisply, it seemed to me that the depression that we see in creative people was best conceptualized as existential depression, rather than as biological, psychological, or social depression. This meant that the treatment had to be existential in nature. You could medicate a depressed artist but you probably weren’t really getting at what was bothering him, namely that the meaning had leaked out of his life and that, as a result, he was just going through the motions, paralyzed by his meaning crisis.
Are you saying that whenever a creative person is depressed, we are looking at existential depression? Or might that person be depressed in “some other way”?
When you’re depressed, especially if you are severely depressed, if the depression won’t go away, or if it comes back regularly, you owe it to yourself to get a medical work-up, because the cause might be biological and antidepressants might prove valuable. You also owe it to yourself to do some psychological work (hopefully with a sensible, talented, and effective therapist), as there may be psychological issues at play. But you ALSO owe it to yourself to explore whether the depression might be existential in nature and to see if your “treatment plan” should revolve around some key existential actions like reaffirming that your efforts matter and reinvesting meaning in your art and your life.
So you’re saying that a person who decides, for whatever reason, that she is going to be a “meaning maker,” is more likely to get depressed by virtue of that very decision. In addition to telling herself that she matters and that her creative work matters, what else should she do to “keep meaning afloat” in her life? What else helps?
I think it is a great help just to have a “vocabulary of meaning” and to have language to use so that you know what is going on in your life. If you can’t accurately name a thing, it is very hard to think about that thing. That’s why I present a whole vocabulary of meaning in The Van Gogh Blues and introduce ideas and phrases like “meaning effort,” “meaning drain,” “meaning container,” and many others. When we get a rejection letter, we want to be able to say, “Oh, this is a meaning threat to my life as a novelist” and instantly reinvest meaning in our decision to write novels, because if we don’t think that way and speak that way, it is terribly easy to let that rejection letter precipitate a meaning crisis and get us seriously blue. By reminding ourselves that is our job not only to make meaning but also to maintain meaning when it is threatened, we get in the habit of remembering that we and we alone are in charge of keeping meaning afloat—no one else will do that for us. Having a vocabulary of meaning available to talk about these matters is a crucial part of the process.
A main strategy to averting debilitating depression is simply to become aware of the concept that meaning does not exist until you make it and that it does not stay afloat unless you actively maintain it.
You mention that intimacy and personal relationships are as important to alleviating depression as are individual accomplishments. What is the link between the two and are they forged in similar ways?
It is important that we create and it is also important that we relate. Many artists have discovered that even though their creating feels supremely meaningful to them, creating alone does not alleviate depression. If it did, we would predict that productive and prolific creators would be spared depression, but we know that they have not been spared. More than creating is needed to fend off depression, because we have other meaning needs as well as the need to actualize our potential via creating. We also have the meaning need for human warmth, love, and intimacy: we find loving meaningful. Therefore we work on treating our existential depression in at least these two ways: by reminding ourselves that our creating matters and that therefore we must actively create; and by reminding ourselves that our relationships also matters, and that therefore we must actively relate.
Depression has many negative connotations. How might depression help bring to light issues that other more positive states of being may not?
It isn’t so much that depression brings to light these other states. It is rather that, at least at this point in the evolution of our species, to don the mantle of personal meaning maker, which is the righteous and proper thing to do, means that you look life squarely in the eye and do what it takes to manifest your potential and act as the hero of your own story—and by accepting all this you open the door for depression, since it can be depressing to see the truth about reality and depressing to struggle so hard to bring forth beauty and good works. The depression isn’t any kind of blessing or positive state, but it may be an inevitable by-product of our decision to live honorably.
Based on the premise that creative people inevitably will experience depression because they regularly experience doubts about the meaningfulness of their work, how might having a strong religious/spiritual faith both benefit and hinder the struggle to find and make meaning?
This is a tricky question for me because I am both an atheist and an anti-religionist who believes that god-talk is a betrayal of our common humanity. As soon as you inject that a god has told you something, you have trumped any rational discussion of a subject. Naturally, a believer may find it easier to avoid feelings of meaninglessness because he can take comfort in his beliefs and in this sense he may have an easier time maintaining meaning. To my mind, to make meaning is to accept that you are the sole arbiter of what is going to count as righteous and meaningful in your life.
How does The Van Gogh Blues tie in with other books that you’ve written?
I’m interested in everything that makes a creative person creative and I’m also interested in every challenge that we creative people face. I believe that we have special anxiety issues and I spelled those out in Fearless Creating. I believe that we have a special relationship to addiction (and addictive tendencies) and with Dr. Susan Raeburn, an addiction professional, I’ve just finished a book called Creative Recovery, which spells out the first complete recovery program for creative people. That’ll appear from Shambhala late in 2008. I’m fascinated by our special relationship to obsessions and compulsions and am currently working on a book about that. Everything that we are and do interests me—that’s my “meaning agenda”!
What might a person interested in these issues do to keep abreast of your work?
They might subscribe to my two podcast shows, The Joy of Living Creatively and Your Purpose-Centered Life, both on the Personal Life Media Network. You can find a show list for The Joy of Living Creatively here and one for Your Purpose-Centered Life here. They might also follow this tour, since each host on the tour will be asking his or her own special questions. Here is the complete tour schedule. If they are writers, they might be interested in my new book, A Writer’s Space, which appears this spring and in which I look at many existential issues in the lives of writers. They might also want to subscribe to my free newsletter, in which I preview a lot of the material that ends up in my books (and also keep folks abreast of my workshops and trainings). But of the course the most important thing is that they get their hands on The Van Gogh Blues!—since it is really likely to help them.
Friday, January 11, 2008
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Perhaps I want everything:
the darkness that comes with every infinite fall
and the shivering blaze of every step up.
So many live on and want nothing,
and are raised to the rank of prince
by the slippery ease of their light judgments.
But what you love to see are faces
that do work and feel thirst.
You love most of all those who need you
as they need a crowbar or a hoe.
You have not grown old, and it's not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out its own secret.
Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Robert Bly
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
I've needed a place to post some of these links from the workshop mentioned below -- this blog is it.
This sound clip was sent to me in July -- scroll down to "Who Will Sing for the Nightingale." I first listened to it today; Deborah Henson-Conant is a genuis of a musician but also a phenomenal storyteller. Amazing how violence shapes our lives and sad how many of us can relate.
The video below was shot by L during one of our workshop sessions. I get chills every time I hear it. The riff is repeated over and over to facilitate focusing on embodying the riff as you play it. B is on violin -- and those high voices!! Probably Deborah and one or both of the Irish ladies. I'm on the natural finish harp near the end of the video.
I am distressed to learn that this year's workshop dates conflict with a wedding I'm scheduled to play on the night of the workshop's final performance -- the most important part!
A, one of the Irish ladies, performs a piece by Richard Thompson. Is there anything more beautiful?