Friday, December 24, 2010

Crochetin' A Storm, and Thinking of Beloved People

So I went to my aunt's for Thanksgiving, and we did what we love to do: talk about crafts, play games, tease each other, have a grand 'ole time. One of the things all we women are really into is crocheting/knitting, of which I am really the least of the family, so when we get together it is always great fun to see what everyone is working on, and with, who they're going to give it or what they're making it for, etc., etc. I love it! This year my aunt sent us home with (or shipped because it ended up being too much for airplanes) a box of fun odds n' ends yarn. It's been like Christmas early, only we think of her every time we get it out and plan projects.

I've been making hats, because it's pretty, and there's just enough of most different types to make a hat and be done! It is such fun. I planned out everyone I thought might want one and still have extra! Which is a new thing for me. So I said what do I do with 'em if I don't have anybody to give it to? What's the fun in that? Half the fun of making something is the thought of them using/wearing it once you're done.

However, I was reminded this week as I wrapped my presents how many people go without in this world and realized what I had been missing: there are infinite people to make things for. I have spent the last few days looking for charities that give homemade things to people that need them, and it is so exciting--I want to just crochet forever now! Anyway, I'm including some of the sites I found:

Hats for the Homeless
Knit for Charities
Afghans for Afghans

and the metasites:

Daily Crocheter
Crochet and More

I'll include some pictures as soon as I've finished a few more of the hats.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"Crooked Sensibilities"

So I'm going try something I've never done here before. This past Monday we hosted a ceili at our session pub (bar), and I, for the second time in my life, played one of my tunes that I've written. I feel silly (and more than a little embarrassed) doing it, but I've started sharing them with people because I think it gives them a laugh as well.

This is the second of about six that I tried very hard to put in perfect 4/4 time signature. You can tell how well it worked... By the way, I have given up trying to accomplish this. Anyhow, I wrote this one in memory of the ruined Connemara farms never repopulated from the famine era exodus. It remains one of the most moving images to me, and this tune was a first attempt to represent that in music. I don't know if it really worked, but here it is.

Unbidden Memory.mp3

below is one of the few images I took of the place itself (I couldn't photograph the farms; it seemed disrespectful):

Dhyāna Series: Photo 11

I've never been much of one in front of the lens, but behind it, I find the meeting place of philosophy and meditation. I find this more valuable than I could say.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dhyāna Series: Photo 10

I have a love/hate relationship with Autumn. Impermanence, colors, changing of the seasons--Spring and Fall always seem like the environmental symbol of transience to me:

In a falling world
Blustering multitudes,
a single leaf.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Toughest Puppy Ever... or He Might Get Us Both Killed.

Ok, so this is the story of how my beloved puppy (weighing in at a grand total of 7 pounds while standing all of 6" off the ground) managed to totally piss off the dog down the way that is nearly three times his size and at least that in weight. [aside: no one was hurt in the course of these events, because if they did, the author would not be here to relate it and the author's mother--given the current level of fear of dogs anyway--would be forced to become a hermitic house-troll, which is a shame because she's really fun to be around.]

Now, my little (barely) 8 month old puppy is, of course, very tough and overly fond of bravely "protecting" me. At least in our own yard. surrounded by fences. and with me watching. (Sometimes tough puppies also have run back really quickly and prove their toughness from "someone's" lap, but that is just so no one sneaks up on you; it's, ahem, for your protection only.) This is the puppy I'm describing. By the way, Dachshunds have this quirky need to have the last word as well.

Anyhow, this puppy decided to pick a tough talk fight with the big dogs a few doors down--nothing new, just go outside and have a mean mouth contest and go about business. Except that this day, my Little Man says something too far... and then can't stop himself--must have last word, so this is a little how it went:

Little Man: wuf.

crazy psycho dog across the way: BARKBARKBARKBARKYAPholyfreakingcow,gonnabustyourlightsoutBARKBARKBARKBARKBARK... bark bark. bark.

LM: woof.

Psycho dog: redoubled barking in volume and rate.

LM: [looks back through the fence mildly interested until the pause] wuf.

PD: now has a hernia and is at risk for heart attack... just kidding. sort of.

But he did get more and more pissed off with each repetition (not that it's not annoying as hell, by the way, when it's you Dachshunds do this to, so I completely understand, but still). He starts pawing the ground and kicking up dirt with his back feet, and hitting "that range" in the bark, and I moved from absentminded, "no, Baby, we don't bark at people in their own yards" to saying, "um, Coop... Let the wookie win."


and dog down the way started doing his best to leap, climb, scale--anything to get through the fence at us, and finally made it to the neighbor's yard before my little hero decided discretion was indeed (finally) the better part of valor, and maybe we should go inside. I was totally with him, and we did. with one last:


Little stubborn shit, I swear... and the poor dog and my Little Man still exchange words when they're out together; neither one can stand to let the other win, I guess. It's a good thing lessons in life come up like this so we can learn from them... I no longer go with him.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dhyāna Series: Photo 9

I haven't been feeling very peaceful lately, so this actually the anti-dhyāna, or "what not to look for" post. or in other words: chaos.

From the concert recently that I had the opportunity to photograph, and I guess my tripod tipped during the capture. You can just distinguish the faces through the "fire," but I actually thought this was the coolest photo I took. It so perfectly captured my frustration, not associated with the concert or anyone in it, just life.

Last night at session, I said to Sensei, referring to recent experience, "that must've been your personal version of hell." He responded, "It certainly had some purgatorial qualities."

I think mine would have to be the doctor's office with all the crooked picture frames. (I do mean all, and this is including frame, mat, and picture alike... gah.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dhyāna Series: Photo 8

Haven't done one of these in a while... sorry.

This is my companion, my sweet baby, my conscience, and my life. He tells me to stop worrying; he tells me when I need to stop working and when to go back; he lets me know that life is wonderful just to have a squeaky toy and a yard to play in;

I am remarkably grateful for him.

He is also the world-champion sleeper...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Peter Horan, 1926-2010: He Will Be Missed

Treasuring my second night, locked in an after-hours pub session, in Ireland more than ever today with the loss of a good man, fiddle, and flute player:

Thanks for the memories.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

"New Tune"

I have been playing Irish traditional music for almost 8 years now. I love it. For years, I was the annoying kid with the napkin "list" of tunes to learn and would hound anybody for a name or time to learn it. (Have I mentioned how grateful I am to the poor people that have to teach me??) I carried 'the List' around with me until my (then) dog chewed up the first half, and I admitted that I couldn't remember the names of most of them anyway... For me then, a "new tune" was a wonderful little jewel that I found/learned and looked at, turned in my hand, learned it by heart, and kept it in a bag in my memory. I still can't help feeling that way, actually, about tunes that people play, or I hear on recordings.

However, more and more often my "new tunes" are little diddles that I've come up with. It is such fun. I hate to say that what I'm doing is "writing" them, (though I say it for brevity's sake), but after the first few I figured were pretty safe to say that I at least am the first to play them. (One of these reasons being that I apparently can't create a 4 beat measure/4 bar phrase to save my life, though it's both the meter and the model I'm using.) They're like little melodic puzzles, and geekily enough, theory exercises, that I hear my instrument playing. The more I do it, the more fascinating and addictive it gets. I don't think I'd rate them with any of the other tune writers I know, but it's become my "weekend off" activity.

Hang with the dogs, swap witticisms with the roommate, and find a new tune. In honor of the season and level of humor, this week's was an exercise in tonality and modulation with melodically-implied chord structure.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Better Safe Than Sorry:" A Gastronomical Cliché

you know, I've never really understood the term "comfort food." The concept of a "foodie" was explained to me a few years ago, and I'm still working on the relation to that one. I've known for years that I come from a family of (and am a classic example of) some of the most picky eaters I think I've ever met. In my case, I have worked hard to not be so, because there are too many things out in this world to experience (and wayyyy too many feelings to be hurt, especially in the area of food) to be bogged down in "I don't like it." In some areas, I can proudly say, though not to my credit at all--and a massive shout out here to Mr. Thomas Seaquist...--that I have in fact come to love a wide(r) range of food than I ever would have imagined I could have.

That being said, I am still a terribly picky eater. The way I see it, there are two kinds of picky eaters: the hyper-sensitives and the overly imaginatives. Translation: those with a seemingly heightened awareness and perception of what they are eating, so that only the best combinations of things are "good," and those that have a really good, some might say "overactive," imagination, so that they talk themselves into imagining various foods in certain ways that cannot then be consumed--(raisins &etc., however beneficially flavorful, will always look like bugs to me.) If there was any doubt as to which category I fall in, that last should resolve it. Imagination has always been my weakness in many areas of my life, but that is a post to itself. I have also noticed that often "textural" eaters, those that have a problem eating substances based on texture alone, are predisposed to be in the imagination category as well, and I find that very interesting. Texture is also one of those things that more than nearly any other food issue is the hardest to overcome. ahem, I might know a little about that, too...

Despite the direction this post is taking, I actually eat a lot. It's not varied much, and it's not very exciting, but I do eat quite a bit. even though I am a bit prone to forgetting it once I've made it, but that's the effect of being an utter space cadet as well. What has brought my attention to it most recently are the discussions I've listened to or participated in on wastefulness and "cootie" fear. I know (and am related to) some people who will do anything rather than throw out food, and I wholeheartedly agree, intellectually. Until it comes to the point where something of questionable age comes into question, or, as I'm dealing with now: reintroducing food after being a bit sick. I become extremely hesitant at all points, and it has confused me to no end for years. I, as the worst liar known to man, am actually reducing myself to lip-service on something??? Ugh... makes me sick all over again. However, (since I've had quite a bit of time to think on it lately), I think I now understand.

First of all, I'm not alone in this; many of the picky eaters I've watched lately, I find to be in the same boat. I no longer believe it to be lip-service. I simply think for some of us, it is that we can't risk losing something that we actually like, because there's not that much to begin with, and therefore losing anything means a substantial dip in the available variety. It wasn't until I considered eating again (this morning...) and actually went so far as to get breakfast, but then proceeded to carry it around with me all morning with the thought, "I like this--what if it makes me sick all over again? Ohmygoodness, ohmygoodness..." that it occurred to me what so many of us might be doing on a regular basis. "Better safe than sorry" ensures that we can still stand to eat, rather than face the horror of liking new things.

I also think about this a lot as I am doing research on a new diet plan that cuts out one of those areas for me: gluten. As I know more and begin to implement it, I'd like to create a discussion thread that covers it. I'm sure there are a lot of people going through similar things that something like that might help. Sure would me, and I can't find it... so, rule #2:

if it's not there, create it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dhyāna Series: Photo 7

I am a TA for first time this semester, and I am beyond grateful every time I walk into the classroom or sit down to grade ninety-one assignments. I love hearing their hopes and dreams, their likes and dislikes, and lending a hand to address their concerns if I am able. (I do also on occasion feel like having oxygen handy wouldn't be a bad idea either, but ...)

I love it. and these kids. and I wouldn't do anything else for the world.

(also, loved finding out today that some old pop culture references, random though they might be, are still present in today's youth. Well, beyond old movie junkies like me, that is. "'We are all out of cornflakes - FU.' Took me 3 hours to figure out "FU" meant "Felix Unger.")

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dhyāna Series: Photo 6

Representing my two favorite times of day: rise and set. There is so much thought that can be applied to that image: beginning and end, circle of time/life, presence of mind, "nowness," impermanence, reflection and reality, awareness. It is a quiet more beautiful than silence for me and one time (either early or late, but both if possible) I reserve to appreciate in its wonder.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dhyāna Series: Photo 5

Haven't posted one of these in a while. Life tends to fast forward at the end of the summer. As school begins, I want to get back on a regular rhythm and positive thoughts and peaceful situations need to be a part of it.

I had the wonderful opportunity of experiencing New England for the first time. Lived on the water among the trees and played music all day long with great people who felt the same. As summer fades and academic-related stress begins yet again, I hold this moment in my mind. Scenery might be different, water might be missing, but the people are just as loved.


Monday, July 5, 2010

Dhyāna Series: Photo 4

Discover the power of your own house and experience the joy of having beloved people over to cook for, play music, have conversation, overcome politeness: that is a valuable kind of peace.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Dhyāna Series: Photo 3

The next door neighbors here have great joy in their yard. Their backyard is a jungle of all kinds of plants from this grape vine to palm trees to roses to "beautiful, but invasive ground-cover" gardened by those that obviously love each and every one. They care about the fate of a small plant's life, health, and prosperity. That, to me, is worthy of note.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Dhyāna Series: Introduction

There is a great deal going on in the world, and close to home that I (alone) can do very little about as a (currently) unemployed grad student but that disturbs me greatly. This is a series of photos that I am beginning in a centering effort to do something, hopefully a little more toward peace and order in a world more and more of chaos and hate.

(do feel free to correct cultural/informational/any inaccuracies as I am a grasshopper in this) In Sanskrit, Dhyāna ध्यान, is a root word for varying forms of meditation, positive/negative and modified/traditional. A lovely article by Shinzen Young sums up Patanjali's three levels of concentration as:

Dhāranā: Attention wanders from the object and is brought back over and over again.

Dhyāna: Attention on the object is effortless and continuous like an unbroken stream of oil.

Samādhi: Attention is so complete that the yogi becomes the object!

Some of this hits a little too close for comfort in a number of ways. However, in one small way I offer as much as one photog can in this series of increasingly horrible events unfolding in our world. We may not be able to undo what we've done, and how many of us feel more and more agitated at the inability to effect change? Positive thinking is one thing. Prayer another. little as it may be or do universally, please accept a moment of peace and stillness as a reminder for ourselves. These are the first two photos I have designated in this series, and hopefully, the first of many:

gassho and love to you all.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"In the Frame"

I've thought about it for a while and find myself more and more looking at the teaching lessons of life through the act of framing. Intentionality and accident; awareness and ignorance; containment and randomness; art and impassivity--all encompassed in our frames. As director Scorsese says about cinema: "It is a matter of what's in the frame and what's out," but more and more I see that applicable in my life as a whole. There is so much to be learned and taught through what is found in the frame. I would like this topic to now be reflected in this blog (might as well as I seem to go on and on about it so much anyway). Anyhow, more later.

a few of my favorite quotes below:

"Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame."
Gilbert K. Chesterton

"Each man should frame life so that at some future hour fact and his dreaming meet."
Victor Hugo

"Humor expands our limited picture frame and gets us to see more than just our problem."
Allen Klein

"Human life itself may be almost pure chaos, but the work of the artist is to take these handfuls of confusion and disparate things, things that seem to be irreconcilable, and put them together in a frame to give them some kind of shape and meaning."
Katherine Anne Porter

Friday, May 28, 2010

Collaborative Quilt; Dedication Quilt

Ordinarily, I am not much of a quilter. or, you might say, I suck at quilting, but very much enjoy sewing quilt tops. However, so many of the women in my family and lineage make very beautiful quilts; my grandmother, perhaps, most of all. For this reason, a number of years ago, I made a deal with her that if I finished the top, I could pass it on to her, and she would do the actual quilting. I thought of this as my "collaborative quilt" and thought it very exciting, even if I did underestimate the complexity of the pattern and the time it would take to complete such a goal. Well, an embarrassing number of years later, and my part of the deal remains unfinished, partly because each piece must be cut by hand and partly--more importantly--because my grandmother passed away a few years ago. Needless to say, it has been particularly difficult to work on since then, because I cannot help thinking of her when I do anything with it. The color design, sewing tips--nearly every bit of it, I learned from her and my mother, and all I have accomplished with it have been with both of them by me all the time.

Now, with time passed, as I pick it up again, I realize how grateful I am for such strong memories and associations with this project. Who wouldn't want to be reminded of such remarkable women? But I cannot deny or avoid how the concept has unalterably changed. Instead of a "collaborative quilt," I have decided to remake the deal into my "dedication quilt." (Lord help me for the actual quilting... but one thing at a time.) It is the price we pay for loving people that they leave us, and times are ended, but that's part of what makes what is left behind so much more precious. I hope that in every continued step, her presence becomes more apparent. To clarify, I do not wish to make this project embody her life or everything she meant to me; that is a hell of an attempt and would be giving what is most precious to something that passes away. The Thing remains forever just a thing, but it is my intent to infuse a bit of my love and memories in the making of this object, then take them with me, though leaving a perceptible remnant for the enjoyment of others. I am a proponent of this in nearly every art form I participate in, from photography to (musical) performance to sewing, and continue to be amazed at the effectiveness and intensity of the experience, viewer and creator alike, with this method.

Below, some pictures of my remarkable creative lineage that I hope to measure up to someday, if I'm lucky. I don't currently have a digitized copy of my grandmother at her quilting, but hope to soon:

**Grandmother and early family.

**Three generations; four crafties.

**My beloved Aunt passing on the tradition!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Storm Chasography

Well, successfully completed the first foray into storm photography. Hopefully more to come with my beloved shutterbuddy. I've loved storm chasing for quite a while, but never considered photographing until recently with such great travel companions. Last night's first adventure just happened to be the most perfect conditions and ended up with a number of addictive subjects caught on film between the two of us, and now I must admit: hook, line, sinker; I'm gone, especially after several lottery images like these:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Murphy descends to next level of hell

Taking the one hour available, after nodding off in three of the most interesting classes it has ever been my pleasure to attend, to catch up on a little sleep in the hope to function for subsequent class/study session/rehearsals. and the phone rings off the hook the entire time.

Low blow, Murphy, low blow...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Research Experiment #1, Performance in Practice: Guidelines

or, "Following Your Own Theoretical Advice In a Practical Example." This series, of sorts, of posts that I want to start is the informal substance of a paper I'm working on and will be using this blog as a crucible for that project. If it doesn't work, I'll reassess from there. What I am going to do is walk through the performance questions that arise when building a modern, newly-imagined version of medieval music as I have learned to conceive it, and my particular method for answering those questions. This is one method of many, and one person's opinion on how to go about it.

Now, to begin. This will be the 'accompanying a song' section. Of primary importance in this type of performance is the text, followed closely by the story, i.e. meaning of text. How that translates for an accompanying instrumentalist is what I will now (attempt) to describe using a practical example. What I hope, if successful, is that a reader will have a general understanding of what it takes and a few guiding steps to re-imagine medieval music in performance. The truncated version that I give for people asking me, "I have been assigned _____ piece and must come up with accompaniment [with or without panicked inflections]. Where/how do I start?" etc., etc. This is:

1. reduce the melody to long tones
to further clarify: there are certain modal gestures, or even simpler: just notes, that will follow and support the melody or text, or (hint, hint) often both. The reduction of the melody in this fashion will very quickly give you a foundation to then develop.

2. manipulate (or substitute) the particular 'melodic gestures' indicative of the specific mode.
This is a jumping off point for figuring, or improvising, variations on the melody, as well as providing plentiful material for extemporized interludes, preludes, etc., etc. To clarify as well: 'melodic gesture' is a term coined by a teacher of mine that speaks to the fact that modes are defined, somewhat by the placement and span of the octave, but much more so the specific collection of melodic figures distinctive to each mode.

3. reduce the text to adjectives.
The role of accompaniment is to heighten and support the text. To do this, even as instrumentalists, I feel very strongly that some knowledge of the meaning of the text is needed. We don't have to know the extent that (we hope) the singer is doing, but it can only help to inform our performance. What is the point, and what does it mean?

I would suggest as well a general knowledge of the context of the piece, in as far as we can gather, in it's original historical setting, but that is a slippery research slope, because it becomes difficult to know the line between "research for the sake of performance" and "burying the performance in research." Trust me: been there, done both. To solve this, here is my check-list of things to be aware of:
a) have a list of performance questions to answer, and just answer them. For example, 'what century/country/region are we in?' 'Who's paying/playing/listening?' 'What types of methods do have from (roughly) the period about creating music, or maybe more specifically about extemporizing music?' 'What guesses can we make about possible influences on the piece?' I have found for me, the shorter the answer, the less distracted I am liable to get.

b) knowing more about the piece can only help, but spend at least as much time practicing the thing as you do researching it. Playing this music, or really any music, is hard. It is immensely gratifying, serves unnumbered purposes, and connects people in ways nearly inconceivable to me though I've seen and done it for years, but it is hard. Aspiring to excellence requires a dedicated amount of time and effort. Both of which I am happy to give because I value what I do, but I believe it cannot be reached without those two elements.

c) have fun and experiment. As my teacher told me the day I met him, "If it's not fun, why are we here?" I'll add to that here in that if it's not an interesting performance to the person singing/playing it, I guarantee it will not be interesting to the audience listening to it. Think about, hold in your mind, feel what you want the audience to "take away" from this performance, and as crazy as it sounds, they will. even in various crazy dialects no one's heard of or completely instrumental music.