Archive for November, 2011

An attempt at Fado

I had not heard of Fado until a few years ago I bought a Putumayo CD with cafe songs from different wine-producing countries.  One of these songs was the Fado Velho Fado by Jorge Fernando (hear it:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVcYU5t17-c).

I fell in love with this song’s sound, with the sighing emotion of the singer and the sweetly trilling echos of the guitar.  This particular song was the kind that you never get tired of hearing, both because of the singer’s pleasant hypnotic timbre and the melancholy upbeatness of the tune.  Ah…I had fallen in love with Fado.

But only now, I’m finally learning what it’s all about…a musical form native to Lisbon, Portugal.  A form with roots all the way back to the middle ages, but its modern form being born somewhere around 1825.  On November 21, I heard a report highlighting the wonderful young Fado singer Carminho on WGBH’s The World (http://www.theworld.org/2011/11/carminho/).  Fado is a candidate for World Heritage Status by UNESCO, which candidacy is supported by pop singer Nelly Furtado.  Hearing this report reminded me that I have wanted to try my hand and voice at composing a Fado (what will pass for a Fado for this American composer/singer in any case).

My understanding of Fado is that the lyrics are emotional commentaries on the vagaries, movements, sadness, inevitability of a life, a city, a sea, a love affair, an aging mind and body, and more.  Fado (the word stemming from the Latin fatum (fate)) is the soul reflecting on its own existence and the reality around that existence.  It is also the soul feeling saudade, an untranslatable word that perhaps connotes longing, sadness, “why not?”, “why?”  all in one.  At least, that’s how I interpret it.  The music grew out of the poverty of parts of Lisbon, but to my mind, it transcends place and time.  Who of us on this planet has never had a moment in which we wonder, what if, or, if only, or, such beauty, but it cannot withstand time.

Here is an attempt at Fado.  I will soon compose a melody for this, but this kind of song has to start with the vision, the images, the poetry, the saudade.  One other thing:  the point of the poetry, of the performance, is to make the listener feel a tear come to the eye.  So, if I have succeeded, you should feel overcome with emotion.

I play my instrument

I play my instrument
giving voice to my soul
with every quick pluck
with every fiery chord.

But who here truly
hears my soul’s longing?
I  play for an audience,
but who listens for meaning?

No matter–my soul delights
in telling itself the story,
for each desire sounded
relieves an anguish inside.

Each tone, a lovely gasp,
each chord, a rapturous wounding,
each phrase, a beautiful ache,
each melody, a magnificent malady.

Thus, my soul gives voice
with every string I strum
to this instrument of fate,
singing my heart inside out.

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A Sacred Space is Any Place

This song was written in honor of a sermon about pub churches (see the references at the end).  I’ve yet to compose the music, but it was read as a poem for the readings of that church service wherein the sermon was spoken.

A Sacred Space is Any Place*

A woman kneels down on the floor of her shop.
She prays to Allah, for at times, she must stop
To be devotee to her God.
A group of folks gather with laughter and beer
To talk and to pray, to sing and to cheer,
To voice holy hopes in a pub.
The hapless, the homeless, the privileged few
come together outside to worship anew
in common; with spirit, they share their grub.

Any place can be sacred space:
Not arches or gargoyles nor stained glass or statues
Need make it a place of prayer.
A holy hall is not the objects inside it,
Nor its brick, nor its mortar,
But the honest intent of those gathered there.

The walls of a prison and cells solitary
Once were thought to enforce a penitent passion,
like a monk’s confinement, but involuntary.
In Eastern State Penitentiary
A Catholic sinner painted mural and altar,
Created a chapel, a place for “Hail, Mary”.
In its temple Jews prayed “Adonai” aloud.
Neither rabbi nor priest were too proud
To make sacred those walls so contrary.

Any place can be sacred space:
The penitents’ purity is not necessary
To make it a place of prayer.
A church’s charisma is not in its beauty,
Nor in its richness or oldness of duty–
It’s the honest intent of those gathered there.

A coven of witches form a circle in a bower.
To them, earth and wind and fauna and flora,
Contain the spirits of earth’s blessing power.
A flock of youths follow a leader, to mountaintop climb.
Sun’s shadow on meadow and hill, sweet birdsong, and
smell of fresh air carve a cathedral of wonder sublime.
A chapel, a temple, a parlor, or bar,
A forest, a garden, or bare mountain side–
A church may be simply the place that you are.

Any place can be sacred space:
Neither flowers, nor candles, nor chalice,
Nor pews, nor pipes, nor granite stair,
Nor pages, nor preachers, nor orders of service,
Nor ushers, nor music, nor walls like a palace,
Just the honest intent of those gathered there.

– for Terry (10/13/2011)

*Inspired by these blogs

“Religions of Harlem”

“The Pub Church”

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How does a good friend fall
to being no friend at all?
How does knowing a friend,
turn into betrayal in the end?

How can you not know
Who I am,
What I am,
What I believe,
What I do?

How could I not know
Who you were,
What you were,
Who you deceived,
What you did?

Who I am
is written
on my face–
in the grace
of giving:
What I do.

I have both fallen
from false graces,
and was felled
by the falseness
of your friendship.

My mental spit
is spewed at you
from my virtual mouth.
But the worst of it
is felt like a sore
spot in my breast.

No longer
are you
my friend.

–for * and ** and ***


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The Chocolate Spectrum of Childrearing

Babies are milk chocolate because…

They are warm and cuddly and comforting and you can hold them close and feel unconditionally loved and loving, and you feel like you are in heaven and that time stands still when you hold them in your arms and nurse them.

Toddlers are semi-sweet chocolate because…

They are mostly warm and cuddly, but with a little bit of devil to keep you up at night and sometimes a bit of bite too.

Preschoolers are bittersweet chocolate because…

They choose when they want to be warm and cuddly, and definitely have creative and stubborn minds of their own.  But they also perceive what is magical in the world.

Schoolers are like a mocha latté because…

Without them, you wouldn’t get up in the morning and then keep on going all day (chauffering, teaching, school volunteering, answering, coaching, helping with science projects, listening to their concerns, etc.).

Schoolers grow into high schoolers, and then into college kids or young adults, and then (perhaps) into the parents of our grandchildren.   Does parenting ever really end?  Maybe not until you’re the one in diapers.

Each of these stages has different needs from your parenting.  But…each of these stages benefits from having grown to know your child through breastfeeding.

Like the saying goes, infantile needs met in infancy won’t have to be met in adulthood.  If you have learned your child through breastfeeding (i.e., developed your mothering skills through breastfeeding), you usually know best what your child needs from the baby stage on up.  When you mother your older nursling with breastfeeding, you are meeting his or her needs, and sometimes meet your own too.  You get to put your feet up knowing exactly where your child is…right there in your lap on the couch or next to you in the family bed…and he or she is not getting into trouble.  And while you sometimes feel that this long-term breastfeeding is a burden or you feel touched out and tired, you are comforted knowing you nourish the heart, body, and soul of your aging nursling.

Then one day, you both wake up and the nursing is over and done with…your child is past that intense need.  A simple hug and kiss or a supportive word at the right moment will do.  This doesn’t mean you won’t be faced with challenges and quandaries about “what to do!” and that question every mother hates to ask herself:  “Am I doing the right thing?”  Trust me, one evening when you go in to simply kiss your child goodnight, your 11-year-old will tearfully say to you “Mommy, how come Julia has a best friend and I don’t?!” or whine begrudgingly “Mommy, how come Sam always gets the soccer ball and no one will pass to me?!”  Then, wracking your brain to come up with the right answers for these unanswerable concerns, you will spend 30 minutes going over the details with your child while in your head you are asking yourself:  “What can I do to help my child through this RIGHT NOW, because it’s 9:30 (or 10:30, or even 11:30 pm), and I really just want to go to bed and get some sleep!”  And you will wish, wistfully, that you could solve these dilemmas with something as simple as a mouthful of breast as you lay back on the pillow enjoying some peace and quiet.

* * * * *

But many years later, you will taste the creamiest milk chocolate when your 16-year-old son, about to embark on a school trip to Europe, stays last in line through airport security so that he can call you over and get one last hug good-bye (mind you, when everyone else is completely and thoroughly through the gate so that no one else can see him get that hug).  Or, because your advice is the one that counts, you will savor the bittersweet chocolate of young adulthood when your 19-year-old daughter invites you along to get her first tattoo (and even solicits your advice on its design, size, and location).

These rare, precious moments will be the delicious truffles of your middle life–letting you know that you have done the right thing after all.  At every stage and every level of dependence –> independence, our children need to be nurtured and to be reassured they are loved and respected and cared for.  The challenge for ourselves is to find the chocolate in the experience.

originally drafted 4/10/10, edited 11/21/11

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yellow rose in a blue vase

pain waves
back aches
sweat drips
eyes see
yellow rose in a blue vase

translucent blue glass
light as sky on a June day
profuse lemony petals
warm like butter
scent like peaches

yellow rose in a blue vase
color louder than sharp tensing spasms

eyes close
ears hear
throat noises
mouth roars
sound louder than red burning pangs

taste nothing but cold water
smell nothing but hot sweat
feel nothing but urges
feel nothing but
something holding me
something squeezing through me
something letting go of me

feel nothing but eternity timelessness unbeing allbeing

eyes open
feel nothing but warm wet skin
feel nothing but wet cool cloth

arms outstretch
feel something fragile
take something tiny
hold something wholly holy
see something alive
beginning being

See a boy.
Touch his hands.
Kiss his face.
Hear his wordless voice.
Smell his freshness.

sweat cools
back rests
joy waves
eyes look up
yellow rose in a blue vase
eyes see
eyes smile

I see.
I smile.

–for C

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Several weeks ago, I was listening to NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t tell me!” and heard a tidbit about the journal Evolutionary Biology publishing that research on pop songs reveals that to be a hit, a pop song has to be filled with reproductive messages (i.e., words about sex).  You can see the transcript here:


Peter Sagal, the host of the radio show, quipped “I’m waiting for the first, like, successful pop group to actually use the words ‘reproductive message’ in a song. It will rocket.”

OK, so at that point, I figured that Mr. Sagal had just challenged me to write a song with “reproductive messages” in it.  So, I wrote one, in the car, driving to a concert, singing the lyrics into the voice recorder of my cell phone.  I was on a roll.  And here’s the latest draft.  Sorry, no audio to go with this–yet.

Come hither darlings,
Let me tease you a tale
‘bout how I met my sweetheart,
My own, oh, so masculine male--

v. 1  	I met my baby in the corner store,
He had these eyes that I just really adore,
He had this look that I just couldn’t forget
And even though we’d really just met,
Ch. 	I had to give him reproductive messages,
I had to give him reproductive messages.

v. 2	I went up to him and I said with a smile,
“Hey, sweets! I really like your style,
And if we meet up I could give you a ball,
Tell me your number and I’ll give you a call, cause..
Ch.   	I have to leave you reproductive messages,
I have to leave you reproductive messages.

v.3 	 He looked right at me, and his fingers touched mine,
“I saw you laughing and I think you’re so fine,
Your smile is pretty, and your eyes are so blue,
Here is my address, could you email me too? Cause…
Ch.  	I want to read your reproductive messages,
I want to read your reproductive messages."

Bridge (swelling chorus lines interspersed with melody constantly rising)
So then we take a walk to my place,
    [chorus sings: She thinks she loves the way he plays her!]
Where I plant kisses all over his face,
    [chorus sings: She feels his hand can really slay her!]
"Oh, baby, your touch gives me a shock!
    [chorus sings: She says his touch is over the top!]
Oh man, I’d like to blow your ... "Oh, don't stop!”
    [chorus sings: She wants to..."Oh, don't stop!"

v.4 	Now he’s my baby, and we have lots of fun,
	He’s got a rhythm that gets the job done,
	He talks romantic and he kisses good too,
	We’re like bonobos making out at the zoo--

Ch. 	We’re always sending reproductive messages,
	We can’t stop sending reproductive messages!

v.5 	So darlings, that’s the story for you,
Any more would be just red hot and blue.
Some tales are better when twixt the lines you hear
"Oh sweet baby,  just touch my--yes, right there!"

So, I’ll have to tease you with my reproductive messages..
Now, I’ll just leave you with these reproductive messages,
Go out and send your own reproductive messages…

Post updated on 11/17/11 with changes & additions to the bridge text.

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Our summer garden this year blessed us with tomatoes of all kinds (no blight!).  We also had some green beans and some sugar snap peas, but the tomatoes were the star.  Thank goodness for our wonderful Saturday farmer’s market, which gave us zucchini, peppers, several types of garlic, and onions.  Just this week, I used the last of the tomatoes in a beef stew, but the recipe below was a hit from early September.  These last several months, I realized that it’s OK for me to do things “a little differently” from a recipe–as long as I trust my instincts about flavors that will go together and cook each component as it prefers to be prepared.  I suppose this is a bit like when I improvise musically…I never play an accompaniment the same way twice and you use the elements that come to you either from the basic musical idea or from the person you’re accompanying.  And you let your soul use what comes to you in that moment.

9/3/11–This evening’s variation on ratatouille is my “mostly one pan” method with the added kick of sun-dried tomatoes. I had checked in my Julia Child book and her recipe called for separate pans for the zucchini, the eggplant, and then baking it in the oven in a casserole dish.  Way too many dishes…and way too much time!

Since I cook almost everything in my 11″ iron frying pan, that’s where I made my ratatouille.  First, I sautéed a whole onion and several halved fresh garlic cloves, then added baby eggplants sliced (babies don’t need salting to get rid of extra fluid), about five of them.  At the same time, I sautéed the zucchini and blanched sun-dried tomatoes in my smaller 10″ iron pan.  Once the baby eggplant seemed soft enough, I added slices of purple pepper and heirloom tomato (one really large one).  I also poured the blanching juice into the larger pan for flavor and to get the garlic nice and soft.  Once the zucchini was to my liking, I put that in the larger pan and added some vegetable broth (I could have used chicken broth if I had some), then simmered covered for about 10 minutes on low heat.  In the last two minutes, I added some fresh cilantro parsley leaves.

It was served over brown and wild rice, with grated cheese, garlic scape bits for toppings and some home-made bread, fresh mozzarella and Dubliner cheese on the side.


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Welcome to The Muses of Happiness!

These musings are about a journey back to happiness.  Three years ago, I began a two-year trek through the wilds of a toxic workplace.  By the end of that time, I was in depression and suffering from acute anxiety attacks.  While I did things I liked and loved, the enjoyment of them was dulled by the unhappiness of my day-to-day life.   You know you’re really depressed when even during all-mind-consuming activities (such as making music), you are brooding over what makes you anxious.

In the last year, I have begun journeying back to creativity, a voyage back to happiness.  I once again can enjoy music, cooking, artistry, and companionship, and have my mind and soul in the moment.

I love cooking and eating food, making and hearing good music, creating art through photography, writing songs, poems, stories, essays; working with youth, and counseling new mothers about breastfeeding.  While doing these things, I am often inspired to record my observations (whether in frustration or in exaltation) about these experiences.  I hope you enjoy my perspectives on these passions.

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