I was blocking a bit for this volume, so I asked my love for ideas.
He did not hesitate. He said, “Write about honoring music.”
I love it (and sometimes hate it) when he’s right.
Whether I am making my own, or enjoying someone else’s, I recognize the power of music- how it connects, inspires, stirs up, soothes, how it, like any other art form, is something to be experienced.
Music comes from inside bodies.
For human singers, songs begin at the bottom of our ribcages, the diaphragm, a group of muscles that connect all the way around our torsos. Human song encircles us, moves from the lungs, air rushing up the trachea to the voice box. The vocal chords within this box vibrate, and sound moves over our tongues, through our cheeks, past our teeth, out through our lips to blend with more air.
When we sing, we sing from under our hearts, our own beating, rhythmic hearts.
When we sing, we connect to cycles and elements.
This is voice, inside of us.
If our human sound is combined with instruments, well, more exciting things happen.
Our hands get involved. My love has beautiful fingers, and they are most gorgeous when he plays his bass. I am awed by how our human fingers can move over strings, across piano keys, how our lips and breath blend with wood or metal, how drummers keep time using their arms and legs. Think about that.
Musicians keep, they embrace, time.
All of us feel music, a force within and around us, and we answer it dancing.
I come from the days of hearing a song on the radio or in a record store and wanting to touch it. I come from flipping through stacks, choosing a favorite paper square with artwork on it, taking it home, slipping out the circle, putting it on a platter that turned, delicately placing a needle onto that precious circle and listening.
I come from vinyl.
My first album was James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James. I had single 45s like: “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” (covered by Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods) and Earth, Wind and Fire’s, “September.” My friends and I had parties where we’d gather at someone’s house, sometimes to dance, but many times just to eat Doritos and listen to music together. Alicia and I liked Olivia Newton John and John Denver. Mary and I listened to The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Joni Mitchell. Carol insisted that Springsteen’s Born to Run was the greatest album of all time.
Now, I listen to almost every genre, and I am still as opinionated and passionate as the kid who wrote, no, declared, her favorite bands all over her notebooks. Now, after almost 20 years of marriage to a musician, I wouldn’t have enough notebooks to cover all the musicians I love, but I can list a few favorites: Kate Bush, PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, Elbow, Monsieur Perine, Enno Bunger, Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle.
I favor poetic lyrics, singers with low timbres.
I like music in languages I don’t fully understand.
I love witches and rocker Goth girls.
I respect musicians, especially singers, willing to embrace imperfection. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the athleticism (yes the physical work) of singers who strive for perfection. I am in awe of people like Norah Jones who seem to be born with perfect pitch. I don’t fully understand the use of Auto-Tune to clean up a voice, but I don’t begrudge a singer who does this, because singing is not my first art. I am a writer, so I try to think of Auto-Tune as an editing tool.
What doesn’t appeal to me is a certain tinny quality, a mid-range, kind of nasal belting that seems to predominate popular (or pop) music. This is how it sounds to me. A lot of people love this sound, they must hear it as beautiful. I don’t, but again, my opinion, my notebook.
I like where we break, where voices break in songs.
I like the dirt of us. It smells clean to me.
I love how wolves howl, and they never seem to care if they sound discordant.
Music comes from under fur.
I love birdsong. I like to talk to robins, cardinals, chickadees and doves. I love how geese, sand cranes and red-winged black birds are impossible for me to mimic, but how they make me teary with joy, for the beauty of their sound.
Music comes from under feathers.
Music is an experience I do not take for granted.
Music communicates love.
When I was in undergrad, I lived with three amazing women, Linda, Laura and Rita. All of them were studying International Studies and Political Science. I was the only English Education major.
My life is much richer thanks to these beautiful women. They formed me. Linda, Laura and Rita helped me see the vastness of the world. They led by example through their kindness, intelligence, senses of humor, openness and generosity.
Our parties were the best! There were always people from diverse cultural, religious and political backgrounds. Languages like Spanish and Arabic echoed in our living room. Democrats, Green Party members, gay people, straight people, Republicans, Hindis, Buddhists, Jewish people, Christians and Muslims were all welcome at our table, and while we did not always agree, we respectfully talked with one another.
Our food was excellent. I was treated to Laura’s homemade tabouli and baklava, Linda’s empanadas and Rita’s homemade ravioli. To be fair, our coffee was more college-like. We drank a lot of Sanka, cut with a spoonful of chocolate Nestle Quik. I know. This drink was toothache sweet, but I still crave it.
And our music was eclectic! We listened to music in Arabic, English, Italian and Spanish. Between the four of us, our genre list included: classical, crooners, folk singers, 80s dance songs, jam bands, rock and opera. We spent lots of Wednesday nights at Skipper’s Smokehouse, a bar where we dug our heels into a dirt dance floor, turning our hips to reggae and calypso. Good times.
All four of us had passionate aspirations. We would continue to live our political beliefs, as teachers, Peace Corps volunteers, journalists, artists, activists. We would work to try to change the world, to make it better.
It’s been 30 years since those parties, those conversations. The pandemic has granted me the gift of reflective time, and this has made me want to reach out, to thank people from my past, so I reconnected with Linda and Laura.
The moment we saw each other’s faces on the screen, we cried. We cried and then we said, “Wow, your hair!” (We were hippie girls in the 80s, hair was important). As we talked, sharing news of our loves and losses, we realized, quite happily, that we were living those dreams from undergrad. We had grown into the women we wanted to be. We raised a glass to each other, and to Rita, who sadly passed away in 2019.
After the call, I wanted to make Linda and Laura a song list. I texted and asked them for some of their favorites. True to her thoughtful nature, Laura reminded me to include music for Rita too. She offered a lovely memory of how she and Rita used to primp before going out dancing. She said Rita would sing Dean Martin’s “Buena Sera” as she “put on her make up and her shoulder pads.”
I made the song list, and we made a vow to meet in Sarasota, where we would bring flowers to Rita’s grave, sing her a song and dance.
Dream and Do
Wish in one hand and spit in the other. See which one is real.
My Great Grandmother, Martha, used to say this. She died just before I was born, and my Mom says I am a lot like her. I am drawn to acupuncture for healing. Martha practiced cupping. I like to travel by train, so did Martha. As a half Southern, half Midwest woman, she loved both Florida swamps and Wisconsin rivers. Me too. Martha kept a fifth of booze in her bureau drawer. I plead the fifth on that one.
I would have liked to have known my Great Grandmother. I’ve never asked my Mom why she talked about wishes and spit, but I can guess it was probably to answer a child asking for something, wishing for something different or more.
I’ve wished, I’ve dreamed a lot over this past year. I can’t express all that I’ve wished. I’m not sure I should reveal. It’s like when you’re blowing out your birthday candles, you’re not supposed to tell anyone. Your wish won’t come true if you tell. It’s bad luck.
I’ve also been trying to reconcile the differences between dreaming and doing. To those of you who with a more practical outlook on life, this might sound strange. Maybe like Martha, you think the differences are clear. But here’s the thing. Here’s how I might be a little different from my wise witch of a Grandma.
I’ve dreamed my way into doing. I’ve wished into reality.
Before you wonder if I’m ok, rest assured, I am. Yes, the pandemic, this time inside my house, my head, has intensified many things for me, as it has for many of you, I’m sure, but I’ve been playing in the mystic for years. I’m a pro, a crone. It’s ok. I’m ok.
My dream-doing has taken practice. Witch-crafting is a sport. You have to train. One important thing to remember is that visions aren’t always clear, but it’s vital to embrace the fog, welcome the blurry invitations, wait for, as we used to say in art school, the happy accident.
Nature has always and continues to guide me. Beings different from me, but always connected-songbirds, maple leaves, deer, reptiles, clover, lilacs, mud, pine trees, birds of prey, felines, canines-all show up and talk. Am I fluent in their languages? I wish! But it’s enough for me to try and interpret. I am thankful that they are willing to share a little space and time with me, however they wish to communicate.
I also invite magic with my Tarot cards. I pay attention to patterns and connections in both my waking and sleeping dreams, and these can lead to anywhere. It’s fun!
As testimony, I can provide the following…
I wasn’t sure what to wear to my virtual poetry meeting. That is a funny sentence. You’re probably thinking, Who cares! It doesn’t matter. Wear pajamas! Well, it did matter, because my teachers had given us homework specifically about clothes. We were to choose a shirt and a pair of shoes that were special to us and be prepared to examine, explore our clothes on a poetic level. I was excited and indecisive! Should I dress up in a boutique blouse? Should I wear a T-shirt with a graphic design? How about my consignment shop, travel top? The one that I have had packed for a year, waiting and waiting for the day I’d wear it as we drove out of this place. Yup. That was the one.
As I put it on, I thought, Maybe this will wield magic. I wish I could get out of here.
Well, I had slightly misread my teachers’ email. I was supposed to be able to hold the shirt, turn it around, upside down, inside out, see how it was sewn, read the care instructions (Yes, my poetry teachers are thorough). Taking my shirt off during a video chat was not an option, so I reached for my sweater--the sweater that has been part of my quarantine uniform, because she is cuddly, soft and warm. She is a consign find from Colorado. She is cashmere (which I learned in poetry class is from under the belly of a little angora goat), and while I wish she had pockets, I love my sweater.
I had more thoughts, Maybe I should slow down. Be ok here. See the spit. Ok, I didn’t really say that last one, but you get the idea.
So… as we were writing, as we were listening to our clothes (You read that correctly. Poetry prompts are fun!), as I was wearing my travel top, touching and thanking my little goat for keeping me warm, my neighbor texted me about vaccine eligibility. I ignored it, because I’m a good student, but after class, Benjamin and I looked online, and my age group was listed as eligible.
I might be able to get out of here.
Are there differences between dreaming and doing?
Will I get what I’ve been wishing for?
I hope so.
My friend Irina taught me that to protect from bad luck, you need to spit over your left shoulder three times. One-two-three.
Thank you, Irina.
And Martha, thank you for sending the broom.