Wednesday, July 22, 2009

SDCC and pianos

Nora is much better than me

All the artists' I love are gearing up for San Diego Comic Con which starts this weekend. I have never been and from what I hear it has little to do with actual comics and more to do with movies! video games! Hollywood! selling books! and storm troopers! and some people draw there too.

This means, among other things, that the websites I frequent won't be updating which leaves me no choice but to dedicate some time to this here blog.

During my excellent piano lesson yesterday I learned that, in addition to having remembered how to play the right notes (it's been three weeks since my last lesson), there is a similarity between the art of drawing and the art of music. I am learning to speak in the language of emotions, as music is universal and the person playing can express their deepest feelings in a way that is understandable to everybody. When we're happy we say we are "upbeat" right? (get it?).

In my attempt to unlock my own understanding of music I recognized a connection. While engaged in the act of drawing one's mind sort of goes on autopilot. Yes, you are engaged with the subject matter and the process by which you lay line on paper but while all this is happening your conscious mind slips away. You do without doing.

While I am drawing I am deeply involved with what I am drawing and but at the same time, on a separate level, I am aware of my surroundings. I can sense how close to me Bailey is sleeping, I can hear the cars sloshing by, the music I am listening to (I can even hum the song) and I know the clank and clatter of mechanic's garage I am drawing in. I can paying attention to both things at once. Not just to listen, but hear both things. I can tell you what model car Matthew just brought in based on the sound of the engine and exhaust, whether or not it's on the lift, what tools he might be using, all while I am writing this to you. I am penetrating both experiences at the same time.

We all do this all the time. We do it while reading in a waiting room, making dinner for our girlfriend, watching the babies and the Red Sox at the same time it's called multi-tasking and we are experts at it.

I am absolutely incapable of doing this while playing piano. When I sit to play I have a very limited understanding of the notes, what they should sound like, which ones they are, and so my focus on the music is heightened. I am actively deciphering (often stumbling) my way through a piece, blocking out the white noise. I am like a child learning to read. There is no flow. The. Dog. Went. To. The. House. And. Sat. On. The. Floor.

It's not music yet.

So what if I attempt to learn music faster by unpacking my brain? By actively attempting to split my consciousness to include the noises around me. My music would become only part of the whole. Maybe if I can loosen my focus a little the notes will begin to come together in strings and phrases, whole pieces of music instead of staccato bits and pieces.

In Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya sisterhood Caro says "I find when I sort of blur my focus the pieces fit together better."

The biggest problem I can see with that is that my hands are learning to do two things at once. Which feels very much like I have to split my brain in half already. Imagine typing on two separate keyboards. Now, imagine you are writing two separate but related pieces, one from each hand. The left hands write:

"To whom it may concern. Please excuse Tana from class today as she has been up all night with the babies and may have to take them to the Doctor's office today as we feel it is entirely likely they are coming down with something."

while the right hand writes

"My head is ringing, I can't see straight and when I exhausted like this the whole day seems to go slower. If I don't get more coffee soon I'm going to fall down. Now if only these cramps would go away I stand a chance of not passing out right here at my desk."

You are writing them both at the same time.
Imagine it.

Only now the left hand is playing the melody...

While the right hand plays the tune.


It's a start anyway.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I Can't Stop

This is also by Billy Collins and it brought me near to tears.
I can't explain it.

On Turning Ten - Billy Collins

On Turning Ten

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light--
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

More Vices

More poetry. More really beautiful, sad poetry.

this one is from Billy Collins and it's called:

Special Glasses

By Billy Collins

I had to send away for them
because they are not available in any store.

They look the same as any sunglasses
with a light tint and silvery frames,
but instead of filtering out the harmful
rays of the sun,

they filter out the harmful sight of you --
you on the approach,
you waiting at my bus stop,
you, face in the evening window.

Every morning I put them on
and step out the side door
whistling a melody of thanks to my nose
and my ears for holding them in place, just so,

singing a song of gratitude
to the lens grinder at his heavy bench
and to the very lenses themselves
because they allow it all to come in, all but you.

How they know the difference
between the green hedges, the stone walls,
and you is beyond me,

yet the schoolbuses flashing in the rain
do come in, as well as the postman waving
and the mother and daughter dogs next door,

and then there is the tea kettle
about to play its chord—
everything sailing right in but you, girl.

Yes, just as the night air passes through the screen,
but not the mosquito,
and as water swirls down the drain,
but not the eggshell,
so the flowering trellis and the moon
pass through my special glasses, but not you.

Let us keep it this way, I say to myself,
as I lay my special glasses on the night table,
pull the chain on the lamp,
and say a prayer—unlike the song—
that I will not see you in my dreams.

Billy Collins is the author of eight collections of poetry, including Nine Horses; Sailing Alone Around the Room; Picnic. Lightning; The Art of Drowning; and Questions About Angels. He is also the editor of Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry and 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day. A Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College of the City University of New York, he was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States for 2001-2003 and is currently serving as the Poet Laureate of New York State.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Stepping backward.

I found this poem by Adrienne Rich while looking for that one Katie sent me by Billy Collins whose title I've forgotten. It's pitch-perfect right now. Long, but worth it.

Stepping Backward

Good-by to you whom I shall see tomorrow,
Next year and when I'm fifty; still good-by.
This is the leave we never really take.
If you were dead or gone to live in China
The event might draw your stature in my mind.
I should be forced to look upon you whole
The way we look upon the things we lose.
We see each other daily and in segments;
Parting might make us meet anew, entire.

You asked me once, and I could give no answer,
How far dare we throw off the daily ruse,
Official treacheries of face and name,
Have out our true identity? I could hazard
An answer now, if you are asking still.
We are a small and lonely human race
Showing no sign of mastering solitude
Out on this stony planet that we farm.
The most that we can do for one another
Is let our blunders and our blind mischances
Argue a certain brusque abrupt compassion.
We might as well be truthful. I should say
They're luckiest who know they're not unique;
But only art or common interchange
Can teach that kindest truth. And even art
Can only hint at what disturbed a Melville
Or calmed a Mahler's frenzy; you and I
Still look from separate windows every morning
Upon the same white daylight in the square.

And when we come into each other's rooms
Once in awhile, encumbered and self-conscious,
We hover awkwardly about the threshold
And usually regret the visit later.
Perhaps the harshest fact is, only lovers--
And once in a while two with the grace of lovers--
Unlearn that clumsiness of rare intrusion
And let each other freely come and go.
Most of us shut too quickly into cupboards
The margin-scribbled books, the dried geranium,
The penny horoscope, letters never mailed.
The door may open, but the room is altered;
Not the same room we look from night and day.

It takes a late and slowly blooming wisdom
To learn that those we marked infallible
Are tragi-comic stumblers like ourselves.
The knowledge breeds reserve. We walk on tiptoe,
Demanding more than we know how to render.
Two-edged discovery hunts us finally down;
The human act will make us real again,
And then perhaps we come to know each other.

Let us return to imperfection's school.
No longer wandering after Plato's ghost,
Seeking the garden where all fruit is flawless,
We must at last renounce that ultimate blue
And take a walk in other kinds of weather.
The sourest apple makes its wry announcement
That imperfection has a certain tang.
Maybe we shouldn't turn our pockets out
To the last crumb or lingering bit of fluff,
But all we can confess of what we are
Has in it the defeat of isolation--
If not our own, then someone's, anyway.

So I come back to saying this good-by,
A sort of ceremony of my own,
This stepping backward for another glance.
Perhaps you'll say we need no ceremony,
Because we know each other, crack and flaw,
Like two irregular stones that fit together.
Yet still good-by, because we live by inches
And only sometimes see the full dimension.
Your stature's one I want to memorize--
Your whole level of being, to impose
On any other comers, man or woman.
I'd ask them that they carry what they are
With your particular bearing, as you wear
The flaws that make you both yourself and human.

Adrienne Rich

I have decided that of all the vices there are to have, loving poetry ain't so bad.

The Red Sox are number one. I had an amazing weekend on the beach with the babies and my family. High tide came inconveniently at noon but so be it. Saturday night was spent playing an EPIC game of Kings around the kitchen table drinking deliciously fresh and frozen pina colatas. Many thanks to Corinne for whipping them up. We took on a dangerously frantic midnight golf cart ride around the neighborhood to liberate D the baby momma.

This weekend coming up I have a camping trip planned that I am really looking forward to. It's on a cozy little farm with the most adorable site map I have ever seen. The trees look like chickens crossing the road and from the sweet old woman's voice over the phone --things aren't quite drawn to scale, honey.

Eraff's friend is bringing his boat, we are working out all the details of food and beverage and based on the amount of fun we had this weekend floating on boogie boards in the ocean I think we might pick up some floaty devices as well.

I hope that whatever you are doing this summer is fulfilling and fun.
And go back and read that poem. Really, it's worth it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

15 Books on the List

A friend of mine started this and of course I can't resist a chance to (a.) Make a List and (b.) wax on about books I love. The rules as she put them:

The Book Challenge: Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall. Tag 15 friends [or however many you want], including me because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends came up with...

SO here are mine in no particular order:

1. White Teeth: Zadie Smith
2. Still Life With Woodpecker: Tom Robbins
3. The Prophet: Khalil Gibran
4. The Druids: Morgan Llewellyn
5. The Hours: Michael Cunningham
6. Writing Down the Bones: Natalie Goldberg
7. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (And excerpts of Little Altars Everywhere-- I am cheating and adding in a 2-for1 beacuse both feature the same characters are extensions of roughly the same story and are by the same author, namely:) Rebecca Wells
8. East of Eden: John Steinbeck
9. Seven Types of Ambiguity: Elliot Perlman
10. Demian: Hermann Hesse
11. Middlesex: Jeffrey Eugenides
12. Tuck Everlasting: Natalie Babbitt
13. Despereaux: Kate Dicamillo
14. The World According to Garp: John Irving
15. American Gods: Neil Gaiman

And here are an assortment of quotes I happen to love from some of the above mentioned:

"There are those hearts, reader, that once they are broken, never mend again, Or if they do mend, they heal themselves in a crooked and lopsided way, as if sewn together by a careless craftsman." -Despereaux. p68.

"You can't consider prohibited anything that the soul desires." Demian. p117

"I will learn to give thanks for presents strangely, beautifully, painfully wrapped." Divine Secrets.

"Nature offers a better model. Animals greet each other with the rituals appropriate to their species, but they part without ceremony. No painful moments. They just go. That's what I wanted to do then: just go." -The Druids. p.94

"Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won't adhere to any rules. the most any of us can do is to sign on as love's accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. the words "make" and "stay" become inappropriate. My love for you comes with no strings attached. I love you for free." Woodpecker. p.128

"It is impossible not to imagine that other future, that rejected future, [...] as being full of infidelities and great battles; as a vast and enduring romance laid over a friendship so searing and profound it would accompany them to the grave and possibly beyond." The Hours p.97

"Kitty hesitates, then lets herself be held. She surrenders. She does not cry. Laura can feel the relinquishment; she can feel Kitty give herself over. She thinks, This is how a man feels, holding a woman." The Hours. p109

"Take me with you. I want a doomed love. I want streets at night, wind and rain, no one wondering where I am." The Hours p.135

"Pulchritude. From the Latin, pulcher, beautiful. that was the word that first struck Joyce when Millat Iqbal stepped forward onto the steps of her conservatory, sneering at Marcus's bad jokes, shading his violet eyes from a fading winter sun. Pulchritude: not just the concept but the whole physical word appeared before her as if someone had typed it onto her retina- PULCHRITUDE - beauty where you would least suspect it, hidden in a word that looked like it should signify a belch or a skin infection." -White Teeth p.263

"Then my wife takes the magazine out of my hands and lays it on the nightstand. She takes that magazine from me and lays it down, and she does the whole thing like she loves me. She makes that one little gesture with a with tenderness I've never seen before. Maybe she's been doing things like that all along, and I just haven't seen." -Little Altars Everywhere. p.37

"The Object was still too young for the effects to tell on her. She didn't have eyebags yet or stained fingernails. But the appetite for sophisticated ruin was already there" Middlesex p.336

"There was somehow all the time a certain heaviness attaching to Simon, not just in his thoughts and interests, but in his pleasure, his humor. Even the sex - which I only much later realized was the best I've ever had - was never light. [...] It wasn't something he could help. He carried this heaviness with him like a birthmark." -7 Types. p.468

And a quote I'm throwing in, unrelated, just beacuse I love it

"Images of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked." -Jane Austen.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Huffest '09

Bailey had a blast at Huffest

Saturday morning we packed up the cars at 6am-ish with all the camping gear we had, tents and sleeping bags and lanterns, coolers, sleeping mats, foldy chairs and both the dogs and Matthew, Brian, Erika and I headed up to Northern Vermont for Huffest '09.

The Huffman's own roughly 110 acres separated over 3 lots in rural Vermont. And I'm talking rural. Like, Practically Canada. I kid you not the signs were half in French that's how close to Canada we were. And the Huffman's three boys invite all their friends up for the weekend to camp and eat and play the sorts of outdoor yard games I haven't played since elementary school Field Day.

Saturday afternoon after a temperamental sky spit rain, then peeked some sunshine at us, then spit some more rain, the skies cleared up, blazed blue and we all ran around like idiots. The eldest Huffman, bullhorn in hand, had us form a giant stretching circle in the field. "Okay, now arms over your head, that's right." It was the blind leading the blind but very entertaining as far as stretching goes.

After that was tug-of-war. We counted off and took our sides and all the burly boys (Matt included!) were on my team. We won the first two rounds pretty easily then, half-way through the third and final round, Erika and Brian's team let go of their rope and toppled half our team. It was pretty hilarious.
See the giant bonfire stack?

Then came a game called Slosh-Ball. It's kickball with a keg on second base. The boys had picked up a large blue tug, filled it with ice and a keg of Bud Lite (GA-ross!) and ringed the rim of the keg with cups of half-full beer. The rule is you can't pass second until you finish your beer. There is never a force out at third (which we discovered with surprise halfway through the game) and our team won by a very slim margin. Matt didn't play but Eraff, Brian and I were all on the same side.

Dinner was a pot-luck style buffet. Everyone was asked to bring a dish to share. I made guacamole which was delicious and gone long before dinner, Erika made pasta salad, Matt brought corn on the cob, and we grilled spicy boca burgers and picked at a little bit of all the other dishes. Everything was set up under a big blue and white circus tent, trimmed with lights fed from a gasoline generator so we had electricty, lights at night and a huge stereo system that pumped O.A.R and tons of U2 music (which Matt was psyched about).

Between the U2 and the fire, Matt was feeling elemental

The Huffman's had created a 14 foot tall bonfire built of fallen branches, wrist-thick trees and dry brush. Just after dinner the men-folk began trying to light it. Without the use of gas or lighter fluid they got the blaze going. The night just started to cool off and we pulled up our chairs and watched the 40 foot chimney of embers rise into it the air. It was beautiful.

In the morning we packed up and headed out randomly stopping for brunch in Waterbury Vermont. Sitting in the waiting room Brian found a map of Waterbury which (as it turns out) is the home of Ben & Jerry's ice cream! We decided to hang around for the morning, visit a cider house, a Cabot cheese outlet and a winery all before taking the factory tour of Ben & Jerry's which was so cool!

I got home and felt like I had torn every muscle in my legs. Running whilst wasted is surely not the wisest thing! But it was, in a way, a good feeling. I got to throw my feet up and relax on the couch.
Exhausted (and also pretty drunk)

Doesn't get much better than that.
Yeah, Huffest '09!