Saturday, September 17, 2011

To pick or not to pick

My fingertips are tender; my left shoulder is aching.

After playing a two-hour jam session yesterday, and four hours today, I guess my fingertips and shoulder have a right to complain a bit -- especially as it has been almost two, maybe closer to three years since I have played that extensively. Nevertheless, I am exhilerated!

Something happened this evening as I played with a bluegrass group called Willow, a group kind enough to invite me to sit in and play and sing with them every now and then at their Gospel Opry. For ten years, they have played mountain gospel tunes on select Saturday nights at a church in Seminole. Most of the songs I had never heard before, but these musicians grew up hearing them sung at church and at home -- and I have learned some poignant tunes.

So what happened this evening, you ask? Or maybe you're not asking, but I'm going to tell you anyway! :-)

For the first time, and after playing guitar for almost 40 years, I played my guitar with a pick.

That's it?!? You drew me this far into this rather lame post to tell me you played your guitar with a pick?!?

OK -- before you click off in disgust, please hear me out.

To pick or not to pick is just the surface question. It's not just a matter of preference, although I do have a tendency to prefer bicycling to motorcycling and kayaking to outboard motorboating. Maybe I started strumming with my right hand fingers because I didn't have a pick. The tiny town we lived in when I first started playing didn't have a music store -- it was so long ago I don't even remember.

But I do remember trying a pick a time or two. Aside from the fact that I'm not terribly coordinated -- so the pick usually ended up flying through the air or inside the guitar itself -- there was another matter.

Playing with a pick made the guitar sound VERY LOUD!!! Much louder than I was used to playing.

So loud, in fact, that I was afraid somebody might actually hear me play. 'Cause, see, I'm not a perfect player. Sometimes we play by ear or with lead sheets that are in a different key than we're playing in so I'm having to transpose and play and sing. And I mess up -- a lot. So it has been safer to play, but not to play loudly enough that anybody but me -- and God -- could hear.

That doesn't mean nobody has ever heard me play. I used to play for kids' church and for an occasional women's group. I used to play when I was a library story lady and I used to pull the guitar out and play and sing at home quite a bit. But somehow those times were different -- and my rather quiet guitar strumming matched my not very strong voice. So.

When I have played with Willow, it has been more a time for me to reconnect with my guitar than to actually add some sound to the group. They're all amped; I'm not. My guitar isn't even miked, 'cause I like to move a bit when I play. Nobody could really hear me play. I couldn't even hear me play.

Tonight all that changed. I bought a couple of different kinds of picks, and ended up using the one shown above. See those little diagonal lines? They're actually raised ridges that act as grippers so the pick can't fly away as easily.

This particular pick is the lightest one made, so it's very flexible. Even so, I could feel my right arm tiring sooner than during yesterday's practice.

But -- I could actually hear myself play! And I didn't sound half bad.

There's more to this little tale. My writing has been the same way. My voice has been heard in the publishing field -- I've had a number of children's magazine stories published, have written for a couple of newspapers, have a travel book and some church plays published. But, so far, it has been a rather softly strummed voice. I have a feeling -- just a feeling, mind you -- it's about to pick up in volume...pun intended.

Maybe I'll even get an amp before too long.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Today's OED Word: Indian Summer

I'm curious as to why the Oxford English Dictionary chose Indian Summer as today's Word of the Day.

Here's the definition given:

 orig. N. Amer.

 1. A period of unusually calm dry warm weather, often accompanied by a hazy atmosphere, occurring in late autumn in the northern United States and Canada; a similar period of unseasonably warm autumnal weather elsewhere.

However, the weather of late has been neither calm nor dry, and warm and hazy are understatements. Nor is it late autumn -- summer is still in full swing for almost another full month.

Perhaps, the OED had in mind the second definition?

2. fig. A late period in the life of a person or in the existence of a nation, culture, etc., characterized by calm, happiness, or achievement.

Don't think I'll go there.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"The hurrier I go . . .

Numa Pompilius, 2nd King of Rome, 715-673 B.C.

. . . the behinder I get!" said the White Rabbit in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

I think I may finally have figured out why I always feel as though I'm two-steps behind in the tarantella of life.

It's all King Numa Pompilius's fault!

This second king of Rome -- after Romulus (of "and Remus" fame, suckled by a she-wolf and all) -- added two months, January and February to the calendar of the day, pushing August from the 6th month to the 8th month.

I, being born in August, should have been born in June. But, no -- I started out two months behind! No wonder I feel like I'm forever playing catch-up.

August, itself, seems to have been awarded the left-overs in terms of festivals and events. It is the National Month of Immunization Awareness, Psoriasis Awareness, Water Quality, Cataract Awareness, and Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness.

It is also, however,  National Goat Cheese Month and Happiness Happens Month, the latter brought to us by The Secret Society of Happy People.


King Numa seems like a fairly savvy ruler. If the Wikipedia entry is accurate, the Roman historian Plutarch recorded King Numa as being spiritually sophisticated: "He [Plutarch] says Numa "forbade the Romans to represent the deity in the form either of man or of beast. Nor was there among them formerly any image or statue of the Divine Being; during the first one hundred and seventy years they built temples, indeed, and other sacred domes, but placed in them no figure of any kind; persuaded that it is impious to represent things Divine by what is perishable, and that we can have no conception of God but by the understanding."

King Numa also established an understanding of boundaries and legal ownership that prevented many disputes. His reign was a peaceful one, and he apparently died of old age.

The image above is imagined, of course. It is fitting that this particular image was imagined by Gnaeus Calpernius Piso, during the reign of Caesar Augustus. 

King Numa had a good reason for shoving August from 6th place to 8th -- he was trying to align the solar and lunar calendars to make life easier for all.

He couldn't have known that 2600+ years later his mucking around with times and seasons would set me back from the get go. 

Ah, well. Don't worry. Be happy.

Maybe I need to take a lesson from the White Rabbit. 

Do you suppose the pokier I'd go, the further I'd get?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Parable for Our Times

And the Lord spake unto Anne saying, "Fill up thy tank."

But the hour was not early and the traffic was building. And the trip odometer indicated that only 386 miles had passed since the last infusion of fuel.

"But, Lord," Anne replied. "The last time I ran out of gas the trip odometer read 429 miles. It is only 30 miles to my destination. I will fill up on my way home."

And so Anne undertook her journey. Before long, she arrived at a crossroads of a sorts. To her right, and down the road a ways, lay a fuel supply depot. To her left, and over a causeway between great waters and over several miles of interstate highway, lay her destination, a repository of knowledge and learning where she was studying methods of teaching people to read and to understand what they read.

And, lo, the voice of the Lord came unto Anne a second time saying, "Even now, turn aside and fill up thy tank."

"Yes, Lord," Anne replied. "I have agreed with You. I will fill up on my way home."

And Anne turned left. She journeyed over the causeway between the great waters and she traveled the several miles of interstate highway.

And, lo, it came to pass that as she exited the interstate highway and merged onto the avenue on which her destination, still some miles away, lay, that her faithful vehicle sputtered. Her trip odometer read 400 miles, and so she was befuddled.

"Help, Lord!" Anne cried. 

But the voice of the Lord was silent. The hand of His mercy, however, covered over her, and she coasted into the parking lot of a convenience store. 

Now a fuel supply depot lay nearby, and Anne set her face unto this haven. She journeyed on foot, yea, crossing avenues of much traffic, to where her salvation lay -- in this case in the form of a gas can. And the merchant within showed her how to remove the plastic insert within -- with barely a roll of the eyes -- and so she filled the can and returned unto her van.

But then her wits failed her and she knew not how to transfer the fuel into the tank of her van. And she tried various means of funneling the fuel into the tank, but succeeded only in spilling some of the precious liquid. Nor did those nearby know how to transfer the fuel into the tank.

And, lo, the Lord suggested that, perhaps, the plastic insert, which lay on the ground, was, in fact a spout -- although one end seemed to be stoppered. And Anne tried various means of attaching the spout to the container, but without success. 

And so Anne dialed a lifeline, yea, even Lee, who exhorted her to examine the cap more carefully to see whether it contained a removable disk. 

And, lo, as she did so, she noticed that raised lettering, reading "Remove this disk" adorned the cap. Nor were these the only instructions. Plastered prominently on the side of the can were directions for afixing the spout and for transferring the fuel into the tank.

Before the hour was out, Anne had replenished her fuel tank and was on her way to her destination, that veritable repository of knowledge and learning where she was studying methods of teaching people to read and to understand what they read.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dancing with one who danced with Pavlova

Ballets Russes dancer Alexandra Baldina. Photo courtesy of Susan Tyne, Grades Examiner in the Royal Academy of Dance, U.K.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved to dance.

For as long as I can remember, I have not been very good at it.

On the inside, I'm Odette/Odile, Thoroughly Modern Millie, or part of a Chorus Line.

On the outside?

Ain't no way.

I've taken dance lessons of various types off and on over the years. Ballet. Tap. Folk Dance. Rythmic Gymnastics. Modern dance. More ballet. Square Dance. More tap. Clogging. Jazzercise.

I know an arabesque from a shuffle-ball-change and a pas-de-deux from a do-si-do.

Getting my body to cooperate fully has always been another matter.

Doesn't matter. Put music on and I start moving. On the inside, at least. I also know how not to embarrass my family and friends in public places.

In high school, my babysitting money paid for ballet lessons at a studio that was on my route home from school. In those days, the late 1960s, we walked to school. Two miles one way. No snow, because it was Southern California. Only one short uphill stretch. But I lugged a lot of books and my gym bag.

On Tuesdays, my gym bag also contained my leotard (black), tights (pink), and pointe shoes (pink satin Capezios). After school, I stopped at the studio, changed into my ballet attire, and spent an hour relevéing, pliéing, and pirouetting.

The owner was Miss Irene, a student of the Imperial Russian Ballet as danced by Tsarist era dancers. Miss Irene, in fact, had been a student of one of those dancers, and we learned to turn our legs out from the hip, to keep our hips aligned even when executing a rond de jamb en l'air, to hold our arms just so, and to turn our noses up at the mention of any of those upstart companies like the American Ballet Theater.

Miss Irene's teacher, she told us, had danced with Pavlova, with Nijinsky.

I practiced at home sporadically. Our single-wide mobile home didn't allow for much in the way of floor work, but I did my barre exercises at the kitchen sink or while brushing my teeth in the morning.

I knew I wasn't destined for a career in ballet, but I could dream, yes?

One day, Miss Irene had a guest.

"Hurry, girls," we were told as we arrived. "Miss Irene's teacher will conduct your lesson today."

Quickly we changed, then stepped onto the sprung wooden floor and took our places, facing the barre, in first position. The music began, and we slowly rose into a relevé-two-three-four-five-six-and-down-two-three-four-five-six. Behind us a stick beat time to the music.

Demi-plié. Grande plié. Second position. Turn and fifth position.

We dared not turn our heads, but we tried to look out of the corners of our eyes for a glimpse of Miss Irene's teacher, this remnant of another, more romantic, more terrible, Dr. Zhivago time.

She came behind us, adjusting our port de bras with her hands, correcting our turnout with her stick. Through each of the barre exercises, she wandered up and down among us, pounding her stick and counting.

We moved into the center of the floor. Now we could see her fully -- her face to us, her back reflected in the full-wall mirror behind her.

I don't know what I expected, but this woman was old. In her eighties, at that point. Short. Tiny almost. No longer petite, however. As do most women, she had spread a bit. She wore a skirt and blouse and shoes. But her posture was ramrod straight, her turnouts were perfect, and her bearing was . . . imperial.

At the end of the lesson, we each stepped forward and curtsied.

"Thank you, Madame," we murmured.

She nodded.

And that was it.

Still, I wondered. Really? Did this woman really dance with Pavlova? I didn't recognize the name. We only had Miss Irene's word, but why would I doubt?

Weeks later, I flipped through a stack of record albums at our local library. One was titled Les Sylphides, a ballet with music by Chopin. Idly, I turned it over and began to read about the work choreographed by Mikhael Fokine for the Ballets Russes in the early 1900s. Four principal dancers performed the premier in 1909, I read. Tamara Karsavina. Anna Pavlova. Vaslav Nijinsky.

And there she was.

Miss Irene's teacher.

The fourth principal.

Alexandra Baldina.

Postscript: Not long after my lesson with Alexandra Baldina, my school activities crowded out my ballet time. I put away my toe shoes, and joined the debate team. Occasionally, I searched encyclopedias and other reference materials, but I never found anything about her. Then along came Google. My first search, a couple of years ago, yielded a link to Larry Long, director of the Ruth Page Foundation of Dance in Chicago, who had been one of Baldina's student. A few weeks ago, another search turned up a link to Susan Tyne, a Grades Examiner in the Royal Academy of Dance in the U.K. Susan's grandmother, Dorothy Tyne, also had been a student of Baldina's -- and the photograph on this page was given to Dorothy by Baldina. Baldina married Theodore Kosloff.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

 One of Jay's one-of-a-kind expressionist coffee mugs.

A roll 
of mint Mentos 
from a pocket 
and passed 
down church pew 
or theater row.
stinky cow cheese, 
stinky llama cheese, 
stinky, stinky, stinky.
intimidatingly dark -- 
organically grown,
fair trade -- 
brewed coffee. 
 Clotted cream 
spooned straight 
from the jar. 
sprinkled straight 
from the can 
just about 

 God be with you 'til we meet again.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hush. Listen. Ask. Focus. Obey.

A Facebook friend suggested we choose five words to live by in 2011.

This was before New Year's Day, of course, and I had plenty of time to think about it. Just not a lot of time to write about it. Maybe Promptly should, in a spirit of contrition and correction, be one of my words for this year, but it's not one of the words given me. The words that came to me over a period of several days were:

Hush. Turn the radio off. Turn the TV off. Cut the chatter -- especially the interior monologue that I carry on with . . . whom? Hush.

Listen. Turn my inner ear toward the heavens and wait expectantly to hear . . . what? Listen.

Ask. Don't assume. Don't jump to conclusions. Don't even hop to conclusions because this has to be done . . . when? Ask.

Focus. One thing at a time. Not twenty. Not twelve. Not two. One that must be done . . . how? Focus.

Obey. Otherwise, what is the point of the other four? Obey.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Up from the Abyss

Three months is a long time between posts, even for me. Normally, my editor would have reminded me by now that blogs are meant to be frequent musings and ongoing conversations, not whenever-you-feel-like-it postings. Normally, my writing instincts would have overridden whatever obstacles were in the way of my waxing poetic (or emetic) on some topic or another. But these past few months have not been normal, and my editor has refrained from criticism.

Or he has given up.

My writing instincts have been occupied elsewhere, namely in writing about writing as part of my latest course of study. This past fall I began studying for a doctorate in children's literature at the University of South Florida, in Tampa.

I also taught two sessions of Literature in Childhood Education to 70 undergraduate education majors.

All I will say about the experience is that overwhelmed doesn't begin to describe it. But I survived, and in a few days I begin the second semester.

Tonight, I ascend from the abyss to gulp some air and post an entry here. Tomorrow I descend again. Perhaps a stray bubble will make its way to the surface and land in this blog. Perhaps it will be another three months before I breathe again.

Either way, my editor will have to be patient with me.