Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Music Chain

Tonight my heart lies heavy with the news from Connecticut.

Originally I had planned to make this chained post about worn out high notes and music heard in banks that still melts my heart, or the secret holiday music loves I play even in July. I had six songs in mind, and some rough ideas.

Then my friend Leigh Ann walked into the room, such a look on her face - not horror, not shock, not despair, but of weight. "Twenty-eight," she said, "twenty-eight."

Though I grew up in a fairly religiously educational home, I somehow missed the story of the Holy Innocents until I was about seven. I have a feeling that it was in a documentary, because I have flashes of seeing a Renaissance-y painting of the destruction and the pure implications just terrifying me. My well-intentioned parents' attempts to explain the whole matter only accentuated my feelings of guilt that so much death had to take place to save our souls.

"Coventry Carol" doesn't get programmed much, at least, not within the sacred music circles in which I have sung and worshiped, but somehow I've committed it to memory. I think that Annie Lennox comes closest to expressing the horror, the shock, the magnitude of the loss to the boys who had to die for a king's rage and fear. (Verse two)

Coventry Carol

I've tried to go about the business of Advent II this evening - I ran out to get milk, leafed through today's blue books, picked up a few gifts, started in on Christmas cards - but Lennox's voice rang in my ears for hours. That painting sprang back into my head again.

Tomorrow I will go to a two hour long choir practice - the director has already promised us that it will be grueling - and I think I need it. My heart is too full and my head too weary for much music of any sort tonight.

That's one of the great spiritual gifts to me about being in a choir at this time of year. It's so easy for me to get caught up in cards and final exams and Christmas shopping and - and - and

Having to spend hours each week preparing for sacred services, hours around people I love and enjoy, in a place that makes my heart leap, it's one of the greatest moments of grounding I could ask, and that will come form the reminders, be it the Latin I struggle to pronounce or the descant I know as well as I know my own name. I love secular holiday music too, but the moment when candles are lit in the darkness and voices break though - glorious.

The rest of the chain includes:

Cranky at It’s My Blog!
Dr. Geek at Dr. Geek’s Laboratory
Lemming at Lemming’s Progress
Readersguide at Reader’s Guide to…
Freshhell at Life in Scribbletown
edj3 at kitties kitties kitties
My Kids’ Mom at Pook and Bug
joyhowie at The Crooked Line
Magpie at Magpie Musing
and back to Harriet for a wrap-up at spynotes

Sunday, December 09, 2012

holiday music chain

Harriet has strated a chain of bloggers to talk abouit holiday music.

I think that one of the terms is that I need to post a link to her blog about this - so here tis!

(Apologies - my blogging skills are a tad rusty...)

Sunday, December 02, 2012

thank-you, Moose

I've done more lecturing than I would have preferred this semester. Never having taught at this university before, I didn't know what to expect, so I defaulted with, "I'm a very good and reasonably interesting public speaker" which has served me well in a pinch before.

Mostly the class likes my jokes, and every now and again I throw something in for a specific part of the audience, which keeps me, at least, amused. I know for a fact that a small group are keeping track of how often I say one word in particular, so I will include it on purpose from time to time; I know that it also slips out. No, it's not a swear word!

One of the people I could count on to smile always sits in the same seat, which isn't surprising, and has dark red hair, a useful combination to me as I tried to learn everyone's name. He wears the same t shirt a lot, but so do a lot of other students; he, at least, seems to wash it on a regular basis. I also noticed that he embraced a girlfriend right before class each day and then she went to a different classroom - nothing over the top, but he did it every day. It's not in the least bit creepy but, let's face it, in 2012 it's definitely unusual. (Then again, so is the laundry.)

Over the semester, I slowly put together some cues - he's very bright, but speaks at a very rapidfire pace so that it can be hard to understand him unless you really focus. He remembers everything I say, but rarely makes eye contact when we talk. His knowledge goes beyond polymath, but he's not always aware that one Monty Python sketch might be more appropriate to a class topic than another...

A few weeks ago, it hit me: Asperger's.

I'm very grateful for this guy's humor and enthusiasm; he's been a huge help to me. Nothing at all has changed in how I handle him or see him as a student, which I think (hope) says a great deal about us as a culture and as a society. Believing this to be the case, though, does make me think of Moose every class and grin.

Grateful as I am for this student, I'm even more grateful to Rob and his wife for sharing their son, aka Moose, with me. To be fair, I'm also grateful for their cooking and their TiVo and their laughter and their wisdom and their truly awesome dog, but their son most of all. Knowing Moose, watching him grow up, hearing him laugh - I'm such a broader person, and that helped me understand this suent with the dark red hair. Thanks.

By the way, speaking of cooking, we owe you supper.

Friday, November 30, 2012

fingers crossed

I truly intended to turn this blog into at least something of a meditation upon the books I read, and I probably will at some point again. In the last few months I've read several that I really wanted to talk about in more detail that just, "hey! this is such a great book and you should all read it!"

Then I got distracted. It's a good distracted. I picked up a class at a local university. Well, I say 'picked up' but it fell into my lap not unlike sixty pounds of furry dog, so here I am, three months later, staring down the end of the semester.

I've taught well, thoroughly, and I'd give myself a solid B+ for the semester. Now, of course, with the semester ending, I'm looking at the students to whom I gave a second chance, and seeing how right I was. I'm getting better at this.

Two months ago I predicted one woman would make-up the missing work and complete the class, but as a solid C student. Yup.

 By the way, anyone who can fall asleep in class when I am talking about what people do with dead bodies is by definition a C student. Sheesh.

The one I thought wouldn't make it, sure enough, isn't going to make it. Naming no names, I will say that I am pleased. The one who isn't going to make it can check Facebook and Twitter at McDonalds, rather than in class and distracting me. 'nuff said.

The one I feared would withdraw passing despite the extension did. (I have daydreamed about hunting her down this time next year to see if her life got any better.)

There's always one student who breaks my heart, no matter how hard I try, and sure enough, I have one this time around. She earned a second chance, but there are only twenty-four hours in a day and she needs at least thirty-six.  If she makes it, with the proverbial 'gentleman's C' it will be by the skin of her teeth. I hate taking the role of parent with other people... but I fear the student advocates.

The student advocates are an official branch of the university, and they can throw bureaucracy unending my way and as a lowly adjunct, I might not get asked back ever again. So I parent. I would note that the advocates make a living wage and have health insurance.

Then again, the faculty member sent to evaluate me still has not sent his evaluation to the chair, so this concern about getting asked back may all be moot! Anyway, it's nice to feel satisfied at the end of a term.

Meanwhile, you should all read White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Dyan Cannon & Katie Holmes

I read most of Dear Cary: My Life With Cary Grant at the pool yesterday. It's a good pool book.

The marriage didn't last all that long, and Cannon very wisely writes only about the relationship, with a very small amount of context from her pre-Cary Grant life, so it's a shorter than expected memoir. Cannon is very open about the areas in which Cary Grant did not do well as a husband, but also about the areas where she could have responded differently as a wife.

Today's issue of People Magazine has, as I knew it would, a large picture of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise and a very lengthy article about their relationship, marriage, parenting and break-up. Just a few thoughts:

1) Holmes and Cannon both fell for an older man, one they knew and admired from the movies and whose off-screen personality radiated charm, wit, energy and romance. The more they got to know their husbands, the more Holmes and Cannon found that they matched the personna and the performances. I don't think either woman fell for a dream; I think both knew their man.

2) Marriages with large age gaps can work, but with both Grant and Cruise, the husbands tried to mold and shape their wives, picking their roles, giving them material to read, etc. Inevitable? Or just something that goes along with Cruise and Grant having lived through lousy childhoods and risen to fame as adults?

3) Holmes tried Scientology, Cannon tried LSD. I'm not saying that religion is the same as a drug (Grant insisted to Cannon that LSD was a chemical, not a drug, and therefore safe; the therapist who treated her for post LSD mental problems disagreed rather forcefully) but both wives were introduced to these life-changing all-encompassing activities so as to broaden their minds.

4) Both women became mothers right away, which certainly led Cannon and I would suspect Holmes to stay in the marriage a lot longer. (It certainly cemented Diana's position in the Royal Family, but that's another blog post.)

I'd be curious to know if the two women have ever met.

P.S. Cary Grant gave away Cannon's dog when Jennifer Grant was born. So far as I know, Tom Cruise has not done anything to any of Katie Holmes' pets. Edge to Cruise.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

light reading

Books currently in process:

All Things Wise and Wonderful James Herriot
Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe Bill Bryson
The Day the World Ends (poems) Ethan Coen
Dear Cary: My Life With Cary Grant Dyan Cannon
America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise that Preserved the Union Fergus M. Bordewich
The Body in the Gazebo Katherine Hall Page
Journal of American History June 2012

Um, yeah. Maybe I should finish a few of these before I go to the library again.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

clean the fan

Lemming Headquarters is still pretty cool, thanks to temps in the lows 60s last night. I'm holding off on turning on the fans as long as I can, so as to enjoy the quiet. The dog is still sleeping (a very vigilant sleeping, of course, as he's on duty at all times)on the carpet as opposed to the tiled floor of the bathroom that will soon be his primary domicile.

I love summer, but I hate the heat. Check that: I hate the heat when I know I'll have the air conditioning off out of necessity. People cannot fathom why I am doing this, even as I'm told that I need to cut expenses and spend only on the important areas of life.

I feel guilty about bringing a dog with a heavy coat into a summer like this, but he's young and I can cool him down with a bath if need be. I wonder if I can borrow a kiddie wading pool from someplace and see what he thinks.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

coming around again

There are the annoying constants in life we expect, such as taxes or annoying people ahead of us in line at airport scanners. Then there are the constants that keep cropping up, unexpected, but so often that after a while you'd think a person would know better.

Mine seems to be air conditioning or, rather, the lack of air conditioning. Now, this was fine when I was a camp counselor and, let's face it, part of being a college student is learning to live under odd conditions with a smile. (Well, for me it was, at least; I realize that for others it was not.)

As a quasi-adult, though, I'm heading into my fifth summer without air conditioning because I cannot get mine fixed. Each time the repair has been a small and simple one, and I am sure that it is this time, too. Granted, I choose to spend money each month on luxuries, such as fresh vegetables and an Internet connection, and, at the end of the day, I'll choose them again.

However, I reserve the right to curse at my student loan check sitting in the mailbox.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Wrong Words Can Be The Right Ones

I have a long history of having the wrong reaction when someone comes out to me. I was fifteen the first time. Scene: a group of us at summer arts camp, sitting on the grass in front of my elementary school, eating lunch and having ordinary conversation. One guy, who struck me as studious and serious said something as part of the conversation on Greek Mythology and concluded with the words, "I'm also a homosexual."

Clayton. The guy's name was Clayton. My first thought was, "look, I think you're wrong about Icarus - oh, wait, should I say something about that homosexual thing?" None of my time at the library had prepared me for moments like this, and so far as I can recall, no one said anything; we went right on talking about Greek Myths.

With hindsight, I suspect that this was probably a huge moment for Clayton, that he had geared himself up to insert this in the conversation, to say this to people not form his school and community (possibly safe?) who seemed to like him. I can't speak for everyone else, but I don't remember that our attitudes toward him changed at all after that revelation. Clayton being from out of town was far more significant to us than that he was homosexual or that he was black - oh, did I mention that? Yeah. The adult me wonders what happened to him.

When my closest friend in high school came out to me, my response was a brilliant, "I knew that. So what?" Again, I was the first person he told, and I'm pretty sure he knew I wouldn't care one way or the other, but the adult me kicks teenaged lemming for not having a more meaningful reply. Supporting that friend proved an interesting dance. I didn't face any repercussions, but as he became more out with his sexuality, some of his male classmates did respond by vandalizing his possessions, making threats, etc. What fascinated me was that a few of the guys who took no stand in public gave him support in private. About five years later, one of our classmates contacted my friend to say that he too had known he was gay and stayed in the closet through fear of exactly what my friend experienced, "but I was with you and behind you and rooting for you."

My track record of brilliant responses continued - I think the most classic might have been when one friend said, "I'mgayandIdon'twantyoutohatemeandIjustthinkthatmenareattractiveok?" and I blurted out, "hey, I think they're pretty attractive too!" Yeah, real supportive, lemm.

When my oldest friend finally got around to telling me, I did better, I hope. The last time someone came out to me, I responded, "to be honest, I could never figure out why you were married in the first place" but only after I'd said, "thanks for telling me - it makes no difference."

In all honesty, I didn't think that my voice or my words in all this counted for that much. I vote, I speak out, I've attended rallies in support of gay marriage, and I have tried desperately to understand the other point of view, from a religious and a legal standpoint. I'm slowly realizing that being a heterosexual woman in favor of gay rights does carry meaning. I'm a small voice, but my saying anything at all, even the wrong words, carries weight to those I know and those I don't for whom this is so personal. Some may know me as "lemming, a person" but that simply as "that white straight woman who thinks we're OK" is a powerful small-scale act.

The news from North Carolina really hit me hard yesterday. I can cite all of the usual frustrations - the age gap, people drawing assumptions about gays because they don't think they know any, and as a teacher I wring my hands over people saying, "I'm not very religious, but I am a Christian, and the Bible says that marriage is between a man and a woman" from people who set foot in church twice a year if that. To say, though, that all of the people who oppose gay marriage are ignorant and unread is easy, but wrong. There are plenty of intelligent, articulate, well-read people who oppose it. Some have given it more thought than others, some cannot divorce their religious reasons from their legal ones (which is why they also oppose civil unions) and there are some very careful, well-thought out arguments against it that can be framed within the context of church history as well as scriptural interpretation.

Not all of the Loyalists supported the British during the Revolution through snobbery. Some held very strong religious and cultural beliefs against rebellion, and they get very short shift in today's classrooms. The same goes with the suffrage movement; many women opposed getting the right to vote and worked very hard against it. Again, we don't discuss them in the classrooms.

 I believe that gay marriage will become more widespread in my lifetime, though I fear that, like abortion, it too will face legislative challenges that open endless sets of additional problems and quite possibly lead to further reduction in opportunity. All very safe, all very legal, mind you...

When the history of this period is written by future generations, I hope that my lifelong "so what?" attitude is the one that prevails in the classrooms. I fear that the opposition will be written out to be flakes and fools, and I worry about the partisan legal battles that are to follow. Whatever comes, I still believe.

Clayton, I hope you've led a glorious life, wherever you are. I don't care whom you love, and that's good.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Davy Jones?!

While I am saddened to hear of the death of Davy Jones (sixty-five, heart attack) I'm stunned by how quickly the news reached #1 on the BBC's news feed.

In juxtaposition with Houston's death, Jones' life raises the long-standing problem of "what do you do when you reach fame by being a fresh faced kid and then grow up?" to which there are no easy answers. For every Natalie Wood there's a Matthew Waterhouse. Mickey Dolenz has successfully reinvented himself as an "adult" in entertainment, and I confess that I admire Wil Wheaton's evolution into maturity.

Jones seems to me to have floundered a bit here and there and managed to come out singing, but I'm sure the news feeds will tell us more all too soon.

Anyway, enjoy Davy's singing on Scooby-Doo.

Monday, February 13, 2012

women in their forties

I've read a couple of pieces lately which indicate that college educated women between the ages of thirty-five and forty are more likely to be married than high school educated women of the same age. Other articles have noted that thirty-five through forty-five are the ages when people are most likely to get divorced.

College educated women are more likely to remarry.

I've been thinking about what happens during these years in the last day or so because of the death of Whitney Houston. Houston, like Judy Garland, did not commit suicide, but certainly facilitated her own death through substance abuse linked with her own set of personal demons. Both women sought help, though I'd argue that Houston stood a better chance at long-term recovery because she came to substance abuse later in life and had a better support system around her, family and otherwise.

Perhaps inevitably people have drawn comparisons between Houston and Amy Winehouse; Winehouse died in time to fall into the "dead at twenty-seven" category that places her with so many other very talented musicians who died terribly young. I'd argue that it's the Garlands and Houstons we should look at more carefully.

Garland died at forty-seven, Houston at forty-eight. I think this is telling, and I've made a note to look for other women who fall in this category. For Winehouse and Hendrix we can say, "ah, how tragic, so young" but for these women the two additional decades produce more of interest. I'd also note that they both produced children whom they adored, thus "fulfilling" woman's traditional role. Did aging out of reproduction play a part in their addiction and demise?

Houston died less than a week after Madonna's Super Bowl extravaganza. I read a great deal of catty commentary about her age, most of it, I suspect, written by people who wouldn't last five minutes in her heels, let alone be able to dance through a twelve minute dance number. Madonna has always seemed to me quite canny. She's less of an artist than Garland or Houston, and I think she knows it. Certainly Madonna has filled her fair share of tabloid inches and has made some questionable choices, but allegations of excessive reliance upon drugs or alcohol are not among them. She stays in shape and, interestingly to me, adopted children when she passed child-bearing age - roughly the age of Houston and Garland.

I'm not claiming that motherhood is all that defines a woman and can keep her sane, not do I downplay the challenges to breaking an addiction at any age, but the contrast between these three women strikes me quite forcefully.

Oh, and for those of you who think Houston lacked talent, I present Whitney Houston's isolated vocal track on How Will I Know.

Monday, February 06, 2012

A Song From Your Childhood

For all that I cannot read music, I grew up with a fair amount of music around me - well, music composed prior to about 1960. I'm a killer with musicals and learned a fair amount of folk music as a youth, though my parents missed the Beatles, so I did, too.

My knowledge of Disco was limited to Sesame Street. Wait, bear with me.

The disco version of Rubber Duckie is, may I say so, a true moment of musical greatness.

Think about it. "Rubber Duckie" is one of those songs that can be reliably cross-referenced in almost any setting and people will know at least some of it. Even kids whose parents held nothing but rabid hatred of PBS and all for which it stands could not possibly have escaped life without hearing this tune, and that goes double or nothing if your parents are college educated and placed strict limits on your television viewing.

(I will never understand why I could watch wildebeests getting devoured by lions on Nova but not Mork & Mindy. I will never understand this thought process. I'm not even sure that they'd seen the show; it aired on commercial television and that was enough.)

The creators of Sesame Street for my generation recognized that parents, older siblings, babysitters, etc. would end up watching the shows, at least in passing, with the toddlers. The occasional "late night special" included plenty of nods to this audience. For one special, shot ~1970, the cast got locked into the Met for the night. (Just try making a show with that premise that post 9/11. There's not a kid in New York, let alone by isolated rural town, who would buy it.)

Titled "Don't Eat the Pictures" (a name later used by the Met for an exhibit)the story is a hoot and a half even to me as an adult. Cookie Monster sings: the title track , which I loved as a kid and still sing in museums.

Don't even get me started with Mr. Rodgers...

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cleopatra: A Life

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff Little, Brown & Co; 2010

Opinions on this book seem quite divided within our group. We all seem to have taken an informal approach to it, so I will join in that vein. ("Baaa, baa," I hear you cry. Cleo trained to be a ruthless and clever schemer; I trained to make intellectual comments about the development of their romance novel over a thirty year period.)

Some of us disliked the speculative nature of this book. I didn't mind that angle at all, particularly given that, as Schiff notes, it's difficult to preserve papyrus and Alexandria is underwater. With the passage of time and the handicap of history written by victors, a paucity of direct and flattering information on Cleopatra is inevitable at best. ("[T]he turncoats wrote the history." page 297) To my mind, Schiff did an excellent job at presenting the culture around Cleopatra; she even managed to make me interested in the many intersections between political, personal and family power over the years.

Perhaps it is my love of mystery novels that slants my bias, but I enjoyed reading what Schiff could tease out from the narratives of Cleopatra's enemies toward presenting multiple possible motivations and opinions. That which the turncoats wrote guarantees that many layers of myth could and did build up, which makes what lies beneath all the more interesting to me. I am not left persuaded that Cleopatra harbored any deep emotional affection for Mark Antony, Taylor/ Burton/ Shakespeare be damned, but I do come away persuaded that she understood Antony far better than perhaps anyone else in her life.

I'm most struck, though I'm not sure Schiff intended this, by the immense lack of privacy in Cleopatra's life. Obviously the standards for privacy two thousand years ago for a woman born a goddess differ quite a bit from my own in 2012, but to have one's every moment known widely abroad, and almost certainly used as a weapon later on, must have taken an immense toll upon Cleopatra and her contemporaries. The need for large-scale public demonstration of status to as to maintain that position eliminated a certain amount of security.

In a perfect world, I could assign Chapter IX, "The Wickedest Woman In History" to a wide audience. Schiff delineates the ways in which a life gets recast and revised (reshaped, etc.) to fulfill particular agendas that change over time. In an era when we keep being promised "unbiased" news, Schiff offers a healthy reminder.

I grew up with an image of Cleopatra as a clever and capable ruler, one who killed to preserve her own status and one who took life on her own terms; I admired this. It was disconcerting to learn later on about "evil Cleopatra" she who slept around, seduced "innocent" men like Caesar and all of that therein. Elizabeth Taylor might have sullied Cleopatra for a generation, but I have to ask how many people who might sneer at Cleopatra today have seen Taylor in the role. Most of the people I meet read Shakespeare only in high school, and they read one of the tragedies, or possiblyA Midsummer Night's Dream. In my biased opinion, Cleopatra primarily lives on in pop culture as Queen of Egypt, rather than as Shakespeare and his kith saw her. Example: she gets a passing reference, with the implication that she's a desirable woman whom the Doctor knows well in the new series of Doctor Who.

To be remembered as a ruler, beautiful and brilliant, with the men of her life a bit vague, is pretty good for a woman whose deeds live on through the words of the turncoats.