Archive for the ‘Light Phases’ Category

I was discussing my endless search for the perfect self-promotion outlet for music with two friends, female musicians my age.  Both told me all you really need to get a song out to an audience is a video on YouTube.  Now, I have many music videos  on YouTube and I have to be honest – it’s just not that easy. I recognize that  part of the problem is on my end.  There may be a lack of quality – the sound, the performance, the video production, possibly even the music itself.  Also, I don’t have a camera-ready face, even less so now that I’m in my 50’s.  Finally, I don’t understand YouTube’s analytics which could help me hone my channel to find a specific audience.  Still, I see a lot of DIY music videos that seem to have grown in popularity organically, so I keep wondering what is the magic formula to get listeners and likes.

In the past few years I’ve done mostly performance videos which have been hit or miss.  Last month I wanted to share produced music, so I did a static picture paired with a track; those did slightly better than I expected, that is there have been views and a couple of likes.  Then earlier this week I found myself trying to promote a new song that jumps out of my current singer/songwriter genre and moves into instrumental synthwave.  How was I going to promote that?

My first thought was to go back to an old hobby of mine, creating machinima in Second Life. ( from Wikipedia: Machinima is the use of real-time computer graphics engines to create a cinematic production. . .  often, video games are used to generate the computer animation).  I made my first machinima with the Sims2 back in 2006.  I never really mastered the art, but it’s always been attention grabbing, especially for people who have never seen it before.

Making good machinima is a detail-oriented, labor intensive process.  Usually when I’m halfway through the project I  declare  “F -it, I want this finished not perfect!”  at which point it all falls to hell.   Machinima is definitely not the way to go, I thought.   But then the eternal optimist in me decided maybe this time will be different . . .

I reached the “F – it, I want this finished not perfect!” stage faster than ever before.  In no time I was swimming in barely usable footage and no clear vision of a finished product.  I considered my situation: here I was spending valuable time creating a video that would most likely look amateurish and not really bring in viewers when I could be working on more music.  Fifteen years ago I loved the idea of being a one-stop shop of self-promotion, but these days I would much rather spend my time on just music. I’ve seen other musicians at my level produce simple, but effective music and lyric videos. There had to be something I was missing out on.

Because the song is an instrumental I thought a cool visualization might be the answer, something that would allow the viewer to be immersed in the sound.  I did a search for “ free music visualizations.”

Enter Renderforest.com

“Renderforest offers you the best online branding tools to create high-quality videos, logos, mockups and websites with minimal time and effort.”

Renderforest sounded perfect. I checked out it’s “Create Video” pages and it offered a lot of choices for music visualizations – some allowed you to upload a photo to be used as a backdrop and others simply involved typing in the title and artist name and the visuals were created for you.  Visuals could be as simple as an animated boom box that gingerly bounced along to the beat of your song, or as involved as footage panning along a sepia colored hallway with the camera shaking in time to the music.  The best part was you could add your music and render a free, low-res, water-marked preview.

Screenshot_2020-07-02 Music Visualizer for Creating Professional Videos Renderforest

Some Renderforest Themes for music videos

And that’s when I fell down the rabbit-hole. . .

I spent hours trying out all the different visualizations, rendering free previews and going back and tweaking my choices.  When I finally decided on something I liked,  I looked at the pricing.  Here’s where they get sneaky.  Obviously Renderforest’s main clientele are businesses; they’re a branding platform that offers logo creation, website builds and promo videos beyond just music.  Kudos to them for even offering the, as they succinctly put it, amateur package.

Up front the amateur package is listed at $9.99 a month, very reasonable for creating a couple of music visualization videos. As it turns out that’s the price if you pay for a whole year in advance.  However, I also had the option to pay for just a single month use at $39.99.   A month’s use sounded about right.  Fifteen years ago $39.99 would have made this service a hard no, but right now it’s not that big of a deal so I signed up.

So here’s what the $39.99 got me: “10 GB storage, 7 hd720 videos per month,  Up to 5 –minute, videos,  30+ commercial music tracks,  No watermarks on HD videos.”    I can also access their logo, mock-up and website building services, but I’m not interested in those, so I can offer no further info there.

Knowing I could create just 7 videos  (doled out in  the form of credits – you spend one credit for each HD720 video you export; if you want a better resolution that will cost you an additional $19.99 per video), I got a little obsessed and really went to town creating free previews.  Somewhere around my third hour the website’s preview rendering time slowed way down.  It took close to 45 minutes to render my final preview, whereas the other previews rendered in 10 to 15 minutes.  I honestly couldn’t tell if this was on their end or my end.  It did feel a little bit like “Okay, amateur, you’ve used up all the renders in the renderforest.  Now go away!”

Finally, I exported a high def video for my song, “Everything’s on Fire.”  I uploaded it to YouTube (an option available directly from the Renderforest platform that did not work for me) and then posted a link on my Facebook music page.

Now, the reach and engagement on my Facebook page has gone way down in the last couple of months and I’m not sure why –but my video sat there with zero engagement for 24 hours.  It also had no views on YouTube.  This was a bad response even for me.  I usually get a few hits in the first 24 hours. It felt like the thumbnail was just not that enticing.

In the meantime, I still had 6 more credits.

A quick side story: That time I started a band with my 12 year old and his cat

About a month ago my son expressed an interest in starting a musical project with me.  He even had the name: Songs to Make You Think About Words.  Of course he told me all of this at bedtime; be it the time he was offered a vape in the school bathroom or the creepy ghost video he just watched on YouTube, he tells me the most interesting things at bedtime to delay me in saying goodnight.  It used to bug me, but he’s turning 13 in a month so these bedtimes are limited edition items and I let him talk. Anyway – he wanted to start a band and if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s starting bands.

As it turns out, he showed up in my studio a couple of days later ready to work on music.  He even brought his cat, Frisk, and she was easily persuaded to paw at the keyboard and lay down some bass lines and solos.

We got four songs out of these sessions, with varying degrees of collaboration, before my son and his cat lost interest.  Personally I think the music is fun and different and I’m proud of what we accomplished especially since Frisk was something of a diva to work with, but you didn’t hear that from me.

Anyway – I had 6 credits left at Renderforest and I went ahead and made videos for the Songs to Make You Think About Words tracks.  Then I had two credits left at Renderforest and four videos in need of a YouTube channel. Naturally I went ahead and created a whole new YouTube channel for a band that doesn’t exist.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the remaining two Renderforest credits before I close out my account.

Back to the point of this blog entry

Ultimately I felt my Renderforest visualization music video did not perform.  It received just a couple of views and that’s certainly not getting my music out there.

I went back to plan A and finished the Second Life machinima,  linked it on my Facebook page and received just a handful of few views, but views with actual engagement.  I did use the Renderforest visualization video as an opening and closing backdrop for the video and it added atmosphere.

I may use Renderforest again in the future if I were to present an entire album’s worth of music with a link to a point of sale AND if there was a an additional means of bringing the audience to the music.  It could be a worthwhile tool if you already have an audience and just need a quick and easy visual representation for YouTube or a similar outlet.  Still, I think original artists will always need to put their best efforts out to the world and I’m not sure if Renderforest will ever be that – especially since it’s a cookie-cutter solution .

This brings us to the “Look at My Videos!” portion of this blog entry:

Up first we have my machinima video created using Second Life Firestorm Viewer, OBS, Renderforest visualization and Adobe Premiere.

(I am just as surprised as you may be that my Second Life avatar visits strippers in this video, but that’s just Second Life for you. . .)

Next we have the straight Renderforest visualization.

 

Here’s a fun Renderforest visualization which I’ve inter cut with footage of our cat, Frisk.

And finally, here are the remaining three songs from Songs to Make You Think About Words set to Renderforest visualizations.

 

Please leave any feedback or recommendations for other video creation tools in the comments. Thanks!

Shrove Tuesday/Fat Tuesday seemed like the perfect time for this song although I no longer observe the tradition. Fun fact: where I’m from (Pennsylvania Dutch country) it’s called Fastnacht Day.

The song is about saying good bye to something that was fun but probably not good for you, and convincing yourself you’re fine with that.

I got extra fancy for the video by breaking out the glitter eye make up and let me tell you – that stuff is not easily removed! I will be dazzling my co-workers for the rest of the week despite all my best efforts

As always, thanks for watching!

 

 

Good Time

I don’t think about you that much anymore

I just don’t think about you that much anymore

Though we had such good times

Everybody likes good times

I know you always hoped it might be something more

But I am certain there is nothing to explore

Though we had such good times

Everybody likes good times

Every day is a parade

And every night is a celebration

But when the party’s over tell me

Where is our foundation?

There’ll be good times

There’ll be bad times

You don’t get to pick or choose

If you can’t hold me through the sad times

Baby, we’re gonna lose

So I don’t think about you that much anymore

I just don’t think about you – no

Though we had such good times

Everybody likes good times

We had such good times

Everybody likes good times

We had such good times

But they were just good times

And now they’re through

I’m over you

 

copyright Paula Sutor 2018

On August 25th I’ll be trying my hand at live performance again.  Playing solo shows has been a mixed bag for me.  My brain slows everything down to a sickeningly slow pace as my inner critic steps up to narrate in excruciating detail every wrong move I’m about to make: “Here comes the chord change . . . quick, what key are you in?  You don’t even know, do you?  Which chord are we playing – B or B minor?  B or B minor?  B or . . . oh it should have been minor!  Did you even practice?”  Sometimes my brain just breaks it down in terms of probability: “76 keys, 10 fingers, average of four to six notes played at once in varying tempos and patterns. What are the odds of you hitting all the correct notes in the correct sequence for half an hour?  Pretty low.”

So I’ve started  to visualize being in front of an audience while practicing.  What amazes me is even in the privacy of my own practice space, just thinking about people watching me makes my playing considerably worse.  So I’ve begun looking at the way I practice to make sure it’s effective and I’ve also started researching techniques to get past this performance anxiety.

A lot of the techniques I’ve read about are for public speaking and focus on keeping the body calm (which is important), but I came across one list specific to performance and I have found it really helpful.  Carmi Levy, a senior writer at voices.com,  offers these 8 tips, originally published here. Even though this list is geared towards acting, I feel it can also be applied to singing/songwriting performance;  compelling musical performance conveys emotion and often tells a story.

1. Remember who the performer is. The audience is there to see or hear you. And only you. It’s your gift, your expertise, your unique ability to make the role yours that got them out of the house on a rainy night. Of all the people in the room at that moment, you’re the one who knows more about this character, this performance, this work, than anyone else. Let your mastery of the moment be your guide.

2. Forget the stakes. You could be in front of 20 people in a repertory theater or thousands in the most prestigious of performing arts facilities. In the end, they’re all the same. Too many performers allow the supposed importance of the performance, of the night, of the people in attendance, to affect their mindset. Don’t. See above: You and you alone are the key performer. Whether they’re wearing tuxes and gowns or overalls and sundresses is irrelevant. The audience doesn’t matter. You do.

3. Performance over audience. In a related vein, what you’re delivering matters far more than who you’re delivering it to. Maintain focus on your performance, to the exclusion of all and everyone else, and you’ll be well-insulated from any audience-related fears. That said, if you find it helpful to make eye contact with a few friendly members of the audience, follow your heart and make that connection early on. Some performers find it helpful to get that little bit of extra visual feedback and support.

4. Be a temporary broadcaster. Television and radio are excellent proving grounds for actors and other stage and performance professionals, because they allow you to practice your craft without the physical distraction of a visible audience. I know it sounds overly simplistic, but getting some studio time with a camera or a microphone can help you develop the mindset that can teach you to naturally ignore whoever’s in the room so you can focus on your performance. Spend enough time staring into an unblinking red light, the theory goes, and you’ll never even know who’s sitting behind the bright lights after you transition to a real stage.

5. Practice like you mean it. The deadliest mistake performers can make involves never feeling the weight of a performance before they have to deliver it for real. If you don’t perform at full volume, at full cadence, and in the venue where you’ll be delivering it, your body and mind will never have the chance to feel what it’s like, or to adapt to the very different reality of a live, in-person performance. Reading your lines at half-volume into your bedroom mirror doesn’t count. Replicate the intended space as closely as possible, and get used to the unique cues associated with practicing as if you’re actually performing.

6. Visualize your mistakes. It may seem ridiculous to pre-plan your errors, but expecting the worst is good practice for managing yourself when the inevitable occurs. Because, let’s face it, you will make mistakes. My recommendation: Don’t even call them mistakes or errors. Accept the fact that they’ll happen, and instead focus on how you’ll instantly respond to ensure you can continue with a smooth and consistent performance. Set up specific speedbumps within your practice sessions to help you learn, innately, how to roll with the punches. By the time you get to a live performance, none of this will seem like much of a big deal at all.

7. Slow down. We tend to speed things up when we’re nervous, which can increase the likelihood of tripping over our own tongues. Or worse. To counter this, use clocks, timers, or even metronomes during rehearsals to control your speed and force your brain to keep to a workable pace.

8. Buffer the performance. Try to put as much time and psychological space as possible between the real world and any given performance. Arrive at the venue early—and preferably either alone or accompanied by supporters who understand why you need your space. Settle in slowly and disconnect from those around you. Turn your smartphone and related electronics off. Use the time to review your lines or notes, have your favourite non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverage and get into your performance mindset. Over time, build personal rituals that make sense to you and help you achieve comfort and balance before you’re scheduled to perform.

What I really appreciate about this list is the emphasis on performance as a craft and an art.  Remembering that I’m the performer, I’m there to be watched as I deliver my music, that’s my focus for my upcoming show.  In the past I’ve tried to downplay my role in my solo performance as a way to stave off my anxiety and it didn’t work.  I also hope to stay mindful of  number 3, performance over audience.  I’ve often tried to tailor my delivery to the audience based on the number of people there (ex. “oh – there’s only a few people, I will be super casual like I’m your friend playing in your living room”), and again it diminished the performance.

If you have any tips for overcoming stage fright/performance anxiety, I’d love to hear them.

In the meantime, if you happen to be in the bay area on August 25th, please don’t come to this show because it will  make me super nervous! Ha!

67755761_335763457310770_449477926778306560_n

 

I am kicking off my summer with a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.”  I’ve always loved this song’s easy listening vibe paired with the bleak imagery and the palpable longing for what is already lost.  I hope I’ve done it some justice, but if you need to check out the real deal you can find it here.

I have plans in the works to record new material, but I must say I’m enjoying working on other covers.  Some of the songs I’ve got on my to-do list include “Indestructible” by Robyn, “Back on the Chain Gang” by the Pretenders and “Crazy Train” from Ozzy.  If you have any suggestions feel free to leave it in the comments.

Having just completed a busy school year of working in all types of educational settings – elementary general ed, high school special day class and non-public school, plus my own coursework in a credentialed master’s program – I am ready to take the summer off! In addition to recording new music, I hope to play some open mic nights in the bay area.   I’m also looking forward to hitting the beach, organizing my closets and perfecting my Instagram feed algorithm to achieve the perfect balance of cute baby animals, Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons.  Because you have to have goals!

Hey you, it’s me! I mean it’s us. That’s right – I’m your future self at age 50. Can you believe it? Just for the record, we can totally pass for 48- so there’s that to look forward to. I just wanted to pop in and give you a little preview of your future life because I know this is a tough year for us and I want to help us get through it. Now I’m sure you have all sorts of questions about what we’ve accomplished and where we’ve ended up – like did we become a rock star? Are we married to Rick Springfield as planned? Well before I answer any of those questions there are a couple of things I want to show you.

eggo waffles

A convenient breakfast and $6.00 off a movie ticket! Who needs flying cars?

First there’s this. That’s right, it’s a box of Eggo Waffles. Check it out; you can get $6.00 off a movie ticket through a special offer on this box of waffles! Crazy, right? What I really want you to know is that where I’m from $6.00 does not even begin to cover the full cost of a movie ticket. And if you want to buy the D-Box seats that shake and move to enhance your viewing experience, you’re looking at $20 a pop. I know that’s a lot to think about all by itself, but trust me, the D-Box experience is absolutely necessary just to get through the latest Star Wars films . . . Oh yeah, they are still making Star Wars films, but I can’t get into that right now. That’s a whole other visit . . . My point here is, we may want to rethink that English degree we end up with after failing out of the recording engineering program. Oh, and don’t feel bad about failing out the recording engineering program. Two words on that one: home studios. Anyway – maybe look into computer science and  programming? Just a suggestion.

dbox

It’s like having someone kick the back of your seat, but only when there’s fighting and stuff.

 

webcam-toy-photo10

No matter how our life has turned out, it’s not too late to waste the rest of it staring at one of these babies!

Moving on – look at this. It’s a phone!! Seriously it’s my own personal phone. You know how right now our house has a phone number? Well in the future every single person has a phone number! And you just, like, carry it in your pocket wherever you go. Also . . . get this . . . you don’t actually use it to call anyone. And if it rings you ignore it – really that’s the best thing to do. Because no one you actually know wants to talk to you on the phone. Nope, it’s so much better than that – you just type little notes to each other. They’re called texts, but the word text is also a verb now – text, texting, texted. Don’t think too hard about it. But check it out – this phone is also a camera and a video recorder and a tape recorder! Now how much would you pay?  Heh.  That’s totally rhetorical; you can’t even imagine how much I paid for this. But, but . . . I can watch movies on it too! Seriously, real movies. Not here of course because cell service hasn’t even been invented yet.  What do you think of that, huh? You’ll have one of these in the future. Cool, right? Oh yeah, the screen is cracked. It’s fine. Really, it’s fine. I can’t afford to get it fixed at the moment. . .

So um – that whole rock star / Rick Springfield thing . . . I can tell you that you do move to California. We live near the ocean. It’s really cool and downright cold, occasionally. We’re in Northern California. It’s like 64 degrees and windy every day of the year. I think I’ve worn a bathing suit to the beach twice in the 20 years I’ve been here.

img_1630

Within driving distance and better than Wildwood, NJ!

So Rick Springfield? Yeah, we meet him a couple of times, and his mom and his wife, too. Guess I just gave that answer away.

But we never, ever give up on music despite our best judgment. And we play lots of live shows – so many. You will be so sick of lugging all that equipment everywhere, I mean I am most of the time,  but we keep going . . . In fact you’ll be on stage at midnight the night you turn 50. It will just be a small club in San Francisco, but . . . the important thing is we never, ever give up on music.

There’s a lot more – more than you can imagine, but I’ll let that stay a mystery. Can’t ruin everything, can I? But really, take some computer classes . . . and you’re totally gonna love this phone.

Summer is now almost over, at least as far as my children are concerned.  My oldest begins 10th grade on Monday, August 17th, while my youngest will be stuck hanging around the house with  me until August, 26th.   I am loath to use the word “epic”, but epic is the only way to describe my summer.    From a really fabulous show at Winter’s Tavern with Debora Iyall and Girls with Guns, to a month-long vacation in Europe, it’s really been a once in a life time kind of summer and I feel so amazingly grateful and blessed to have experience it.

While I will not bore you with my vacation photos, I will give you a quick excerpt from my journal.  Now I must warn you that while traveling through Europe I read Keith Richard’s autobiography Life, and as I tend to take on the voice of the book I am reading, this excerpt is written in the style of – well, Keith Richards.  So here is a bit of my summer vacation retold to you as filtered through the literary work of Keith Richards:

VACATION

In which my family and I take a trip through Europe,  Hunter Something requests a great deal of sweets, and Fat Daddy seeks out only the best.

There were the four of us then: Zed, Fat Daddy, myself and Hunter Something, Hunter S. for short.  Hunter S. was a complete snack-head at the time, couldn’t go more than a few hours without a hit, even though we kept trying to get him to take to regular meals.  It was the sugar.  He’d go completely bonkers for it.  We tried to keep the whole thing under wraps.  No meat, dairy, or any opened foods when crossing borders, but the tour bus rides were long and we learned to put the choco granola bars at the bottom of our bags just to get past customs.

Fat Daddy was useful for keeping him in check too; he was good at playing the heavy, so to speak.  Fat Daddy had his own taste in sweets, much more refined than any of ours at the time.  He was used to the creme de la creme of dessert and wasn’t settling for the likes of what you get off of your typical food trolley.  Of course we made it through London just fine with the sticky toffee and Amsterdam with its stroopwafel  worked out quite well.  But we got a bad batch of marzipan in Estonia and that took a couple of days to shake off . . .

IMG_4610

Estonian marzipan – purely decorative.

Enjoy the rest of your summer.  I leave you with a couple of videos of my band at Winter’s Tavern.

 

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.

Untitled-3

 

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?

Untitled-4

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?)

Untitled-5

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.