50-Mason-March-2015

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Image  —  Posted: February 15, 2015 in music
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There’s a stereotype that us creative-types have monstrous egos that can crumble to dust if the right pebble hits a certain spot of weakness. This may be true. I confess that a large part of my 20’s and 30’s were spent learning the lesson of humility over and over again. Every time I would manage to climb atop the slightest elevation, proclaiming myself King of the Mountain, the Universe would thwack me on the head, point to a higher peak and yell, “The mountain’s over there, dummy!” before gingerly pushing me aside, causing me to tumble the scant few feet I had scaled.   Back to the drawing board.

I often take pleasure in recounting my failures –but the latest is a bit more painful.   Several months ago I stumbled across someone with a great deal of talent who was not attached to an active situation.  My current project had a sturdy framework, but we needed something to dress it up.   This person seemed to be a perfect fit.  I reached out to her and she was interested in working with us. At the first meeting I still very much loved what she could do, but I felt uneasy with the personal interaction. Still, I’m the first to admit my lack of social skills and decided to shrug it off. My partner seemed taken with her.

We pressed on.   In just a few more sessions I  got a sense that she did not see me as an equal. She was the talent, I was the support – and this was actually the case for our intended audience, but I found myself having a hard time working within the dynamic. I saw myself as an integral part of the equation, why couldn’t she see it?   I subconsciously began looking for chinks in her armor. Certainly she had deficits – rather glaring deficits that began to give my partner pause, particularly when we brought them to her attention in a kind manner, and she claimed no knowledge of what she had or had not done.   The saving grace of the situation remained that when everything aligned it was amazing – mostly because of her.

After we achieved something of a milestone, I began to spiral off into a cycle of extreme jealousy followed by extreme guilt. Was I really so insecure? I had successfully worked with other talented people, but in all of those situations the hierarchy had been clear – it was their project and I was the support person. Additionally, they repeatedly expressed gratitude for my contribution, no matter how slight. It did not occur to me that it wasn’t her job to make me feel appreciated in my own project.  The one expressing gratitude for the hard work should have been me. I’m not sure that would have made the balance of power manageable, but it’s what should have happened. My partner had already made this move and she was treating him with a great deal of respect. The one thing she was not doing was addressing the problems she was having – problems we wanted to work with her to solve.

I moved into a full-blown obsession. I talked about it to everyone and anyone who would listen – my husband, my friends, my partner, my therapist.   I examined and re-examined my motives: my jealousy, my need for control, my need to feel acknowledged. I hated my needs. I began to actively hate her as well. After every meeting I would play back our interactions in my head and re-interpret all her words to mean only the worst. In truth, some of the things she said did have questionable intent. I told myself I was wasting too much energy on this and I would try to quiet myself. Then it was time for another meeting and it would all start up again.

My partner and I continued having difficulty getting her to work on the areas we felt were weak. We would tag team each other with our grievances. At times there seemed to be dissent from all parties. The process of working together was exhausting. The joy was draining out of us.

I hit bottom after we reached another milestone. I just wanted out. “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven,” I reminded myself with a ridiculous amount of self-pity and melodrama. I told my partner I was bowing out – not just from this project but any and all work of this nature. Enough of the Universe thwacking me on the head and yelling “The mountain’s over there, dummy!”   My revelation did not seem so obvious to my partner. He begged me to reconsider. He suggested we either cut her lose or have a serious talk with her.

I fantasized about texting the break up:

Dear You,

You are the perfect dress that only comes in the wrong size. I wish you well and far away.

~Me

At that point I had to recognize my needs and my limits. I really wanted to be a bigger person with a smaller ego. I wanted to be okay with being in a situation where I felt bad all the time. I’ve often mistaken denying my emotional needs as a sign of strength, but in truth it’s detrimental.  Constantly depriving yourself of the very thing that sustains you will only stunt your growth – creatively, emotionally. There was no way I was ever going to fit into that perfect dress, which made it – not perfect.

We had our talk. It was illuminating and honest. She thought we wanted to work with her to showcase her talent – and so she wanted every aspect of the project to showcase her talent. In her mind it only made sense. She’s good. Why would we want her to do things that didn’t feature her at her best? We explained that we were also part of the project – our talent and work needed to be honored as well. We wanted it to show the group effort involved, not just what she could do.

Why had we not had this conversation sooner?

In the end we agreed to take a break from each other, not totally closing off the possibility of working together somewhere down the line now that we knew where everyone was coming from. I felt relieved, but also sad. If only we’d had better communication perhaps together we could have made it closer to that mountain … wearing the perfect dress.

the-adventures-of-priscilla-queen-of-the-desert-climb2

A long time ago, 1996 or so, I wanted to be Kate Bush fronting Marillion; a winning combination certain to win the hearts and minds of middle America.  Unfortunately I had neither the voice of Kate Bush nor the enigmatic charm of Fish and so every project to which I brought this vision floundered for a bit, hemorrhaged drummers, and then died a slow, whiny death.  I’ve gotten over that now.  It took me almost 20 years but I have  finally come to realize I cannot sing and perhaps more importantly, prog really is the fine china of the music world- it should only be used on special occasions under certain circumstances.

Despite all this, I believe I came closest to my dream in this song.  Inspired by a binge of both watching and reading Dune,  “Little Death” is performed by a short lived band tentatively named , Make Way for Ducklings.   My poorly drawn husband is killing it on piano, and Glen Douglas  plays lead guitar;  I think Russel Pickett is on  bass, but that may also be a midi controlled keyboard bass.  The drums are programmed, because just like my vibrator, programmed drummers do exactly want I want them to do for exactly as long as I want them to do it, and don’t expect me to make a sandwich for them afterwards.

The video was filmed in Second Life in Forgotten City.

 

Welcome, Little Death

Black wings flutter in a flag of surrender

My dreams like vultures pick the corpse bare and fly off to another

Welcome, Little One

The world in your head is immense and you cross it with a step

Reluctance conquers and rules with innocence

She was never pretty, she was not the best,

She had expectations just like all the rest

She was not the brightest, she was never blessed

She held out for more, and ended up with less

Welcome, Little Fear

You sense your time has come, you jump the gun and march

on your own country

Compromise the borders and find

There’s nothing left of me

Welcome, Little Death

We always knew you’d come our sole excuse

and all forgiving friend

So kiss this demon dream goodnight

And let it end

She was never pretty, she was not the best

She had expectations just like all the rest

She was not the brightest, she was never blessed

She held out for more

And ended up with nothing

Unforgivable, the things we do sometimes

The posture we take in a room and the way we hold our eyes

The stares we never meet and the things we never say

We think we’re holding out but we’re giving it all away

 

 

womans' land army

 

In honor of the study of how unemployed men versus unemployed women spend their days, as presented by Jezebel. com (one of my favorite news filters), I present lyrics to a song I wrote for an all-mom punk band, circa 2002.   Now the gist of the current study is that unemployed men are more likely to spend their time watching television, while unemployed women spend more time caring for others or doing housework.  They did a study on this?  Did the government spend money on it?  They should ask me the next time they think they might spend tax payer dollars on such a study,  because I could have told them . . . and I would have estimated some mighty believable numbers for a whole lot less than they spent on the staff who made the calls/entered the data, etc.  Just wanted to get that out there.

I will admit my song is a bit proto-feminist, but I’m not ashamed.  The cultural references are also a bit dated, but if you’re over 25 you probably remember these things.

Housewife Army

 

I’m going to start the revolution right now, gonna raise up a housewife army

Sisters, rise up, lace your Keds on tight, we’re gonna march on the patriarchy

Pack a snack for the kids if you can’t get a sitter; making history’s at hand

Leave your dishes and your laundry undone, and take to you minivan

Housewife Army, Housewife Army, It’s a Housewife Army

Changing the world’s on my To-Do List today

The man can’t keep us down here in the ‘burbs watching Trading Spaces all day

We’ll clean your house, we’ll cook the meals, but now we’re gonna do it for pay

We’re gonna mobilize, we might just unionize, don’t talk down to me anymore

Not you auto mechanics, not you health care professionals, we mean it – this is war!

Housewife Army, Housewife Army, It’s a Housewife Army

Changing the world’s on my To-Do List today

First pull QVC off the air, quit selling crap that we don’t need

Shut down Cosmo and Woman’s Day, no one needs that kind of trash to read

Fuck Jenny Craig, fuck Dexatrim, we know a chocolate shake from SlimFast

And the designer who brought us those low-rise jeans can kiss my cellulite-covered ass

Housewife Army, Housewife Army, It’s a Housewife Army

Changing the world’s on my To-Do List today

We demand to be identified by more than what we buy and where

We want a choice, a political voice, a party beyond Tupperware

Housewife Army, Housewife Army, It’s a Housewife Army

Changing the world’s on my To-Do List today

 

 

 

 

So here it is, the second day of 2015. Last year around this time I was resolving not to tread down the well beaten path of self-improvement as New Year’s Resolution, but instead take a more noble and genteel resolve to learn a rather lengthy poem and in doing so become closer to art, beauty and poetry.   I had set my sights on memorizing the entirety of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. I figured it would be difficult but not impossible. After all I had almost memorized all of the “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” in fifth grade (almost).

Prufrock-1

I blazed through the first stanza within a week, worked my way through the second stanza, often mixing up “fog” and “smoke” (deciding the fog is a cat, therefore “rubs its back upon the window panes”, and smoke is a dog rubbing its “muzzle on the window panes”) and then I got to “And indeed there will be time . . .”

Time to learn the rest of this poem later in the great big year ahead of me. Yep.

Prufrock-2

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,

 

In my defense I did read through it from time to time and would often remember fleeting lines here or there, filtering my life in 2014 through the poem. For instance, while vacationing with my family this summer I retooled the opening to make it:

 

 

 

 

The Love Song of P. Anna Barr

Let us go then, you and me

When the evening is spread out like spilled coffee

Dribbling off a dirty fast food table

Let’s get through security, to certain departing gates

Though flight delays will make us wait

For restless nights in overpriced 3 star hotels

Family vacations that end in ridiculous arguments

Of unspecified intent

That lead you to an overwhelming question

Oh do not ask what is it

There’s a placard right there. Read something for a change!

In the room the children come and go fighting over who gets to play Nintendo

 

When I first read this poem in my teens I felt a strong bond with its voice, but as I worked through it as a 46 year old woman I became very aware of how masculine it is.

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I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I’m definitely not Prince Hamlet, but in an entirely different way than the narrator implies.   A great deal of Prufrock involves the narrator attempting to unravel the mysteries of women. Being a woman, I haven’t had much cause to unravel the mysteries of myself (that’s why I have a therapist), or men for that matter as their voices and viewpoints are everywhere. I learned early on to identify with male protagonists in movies and literature, and my love of this poem is a perfect example of this. However, as a middle aged woman I feel I have less latitude in identifying with men, or perhaps less inclination. I’m probably just making excuses for myself, but it ultimately colored my enthusiasm for the poem and at times I considered searching for a poem of equal epic proportions by a female author.   Obviously my feminist impulse was not great enough to move me to action.

 

When November finally rolled around and it occurred to me I was not going to fulfill my resolution, I panicked. I tried cramming, but the holiday season was already creeping into my schedule. Both of the bands I play in had shows scheduled, my family had a road trip on the books, and immediately after the road trip I flew to New York City to catch Hedwig and the Angry Inch with Michael C. Hall. Who needs Prufrock when you can have Dexter in drag?

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I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker

And I have heard the eternal Customer Service rep take my call and snicker

“Sorry, your warranty has expired. I can sell you a refurbished moment of greatness if you like”

“No thanks. I’ll get used to the flickering. “

~ Love Song of P. Anna Barr

 

In short, my lofty goal of learning this poem absolutely failed. Perhaps I should have resolved to gain and lose the same 5 pounds in a 3 months cycle over the course of the year. I probably could have done that (heck I think I did do that. Can these resolution things be retroactive?)

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I grow old, I grow old

I shall wear the bottoms of my cargo pants rolled

Do I dare to eat gluten? Should I be dairy-free?

May I sip a glass of wine when dining with friends

In recovery?

I have heard the mermaids singing each to each

Those amphibious bitches have never once given me the time of day

Chambers by the sea

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Shut the f@#& up, you scaly tarts!

 

For 2015 I resolve to read more, write more, drink less and see every new Tom Hiddleston movie in the theater. I’ll let you know how that works out.

To get my New Year off to a happy start, here is Tom Hiddleston reciting the first part of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. (For the record, I can recite slightly more than he does here!)

 

Christmas-Cards-05I remember my mother writing out her Christmas cards each year; she was so organized. Her address list was neatly handwritten on a legal pad, updated each year to ensure the addressees received her holiday greeting. Everyone on her list received a short personal note jotted out on Five and Dime Store bought stationery which was then smartly folded and inserted in a tasteful card that was hand addressed and posted with an official Christmas stamp. Also included in was the latest school picture of me in wallet size – my name, age, grade and the current year printed on the back.

My mother also received many such pictures in Christmas cards, some of children I recognized, but many I did not. For instance, my mother had a cousin Stanley who lived in Texas and as far as I could tell Stanley and his wife had about 15 kids. I think I met part of clan once when Stanley put the younger ones and the missus in a RV and drove to Pennsylvania, but if I recall correctly (and I’m not sure I do) by then even the younger ones were much older than me.

Because the Christmas card was such a solid, time-honored institution to my mother, never to be questioned or taken lightly, she continued to sign my name to her cards for a couple of years after I had moved out of the house. She would not have such an impertinent daughter who cared not one whit for a tradition that, in my mind, seemed to only favor the post office and card companies. When I married she began passing along addresses of people to whom I was obliged to send Christmas cards. I bristled at the rigorous act of sending so card to so many – aunts, great aunts, cousins, second cousins and lifelong friends of my mother. Also I was horribly lazy and disorganized and after a few moves, the final one being to San Francisco, I lost many of the addresses. I also patently refused to address the cards properly. It seemed too patriarchal to include only the husband’s first name, so instead I included everyone’s first name and left off the titles that denoted matrimony.

Once in San Francisco I realized that I did not have to send out traditional Christmas cards at all. The card itself could be a hint at my feelings towards this ridiculous tradition. Haight Street, my neighborhood, was full of kitschy shops that stocked cards that ranged from traditional to downright raunchy. I never had the gall to offend my relatives, who without reservation celebrated Christmas as a Christian holiday, but I did seek out and cards that were completely non-committal to the spirit in which the card was sent. Also I had acquired some Jewish and Pagan friends so it just made sense to be as inclusive as possible with my season’s greetings.

When my first son was born it became clear that a portion of my Christmas card list wanted photos. I confess to being pretty inconsistent with sending out photos through the years. Usually I would grossly misjudge the number of people who should be receiving photos and order what I thought was a reasonable amount. Plus I’m pretty cheap when it comes to buying anything other than musical equipment, and photos cost money.

My mother died on December 17, 2007, just four months after my second son was born. She never had a chance to reprimand me for not sending a photo of my new son to Mrs. So-and-So. She never had a chance to tell me Aunt So-and-So thought her second grandson was the most adorable baby ever. She spent her last holiday season in hospice in a nursing home and I don’t recall many Christmas cards my mother would have loved to see, reaching her. I don’t doubt that the idea of getting her cards out was on her mind when she had a lucid moment.

This year. This year I got it together. I thought about who would get school photos in their Christmas cards and I ordered generously. Then I sat down with my Christmas list spreadsheet, not updated since 2012 and began to edit. I have but one aunt left. One of my favorite aunt’s passed away just a month ago. I hadn’t been in touch with her in the past few years other than our yearly Christmas card exchange, although I had been meaning to call or write. . . My mother’s lifelong friend, who I had continued to correspond with out of a sense of a shared connection with my mother, has been moved to a nursing home. The great aunts all long gone, the addresses of the second cousins long lost, but I do wonder where they are and what has become of them. I have enough pictures of my kids,  but there are fewer people to receive the photos. And when it comes to addressing the cards I find myself reverting back to the traditional Mr. & Mrs. Still Married Couple, because when I get to the friends on my list who are separated or divorced or never took their husband’s name in the first place, I’m a little stymied. Did she go back to her maiden name? Did the children keep their father’s last name? Frankly I’m back to writing just the first names on the envelope. If I have the extended zip code I know it will get there.

When I moved my mother out of her house for good I came across a nightstand that appeared to have every greeting card she had ever received crammed in its drawers. Clearly those cards meant something to her. They were proof of a connection, somewhere someone cared. It was a brief, brightly colored nod and wave across distance and time that said “We share history. I know you and remember you even if we don’t see each other very often. I want you to know I still think of you and I want you to have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. (Because who knows how many years any of us have left.)”

Finally I get it, mom.