Posts Tagged ‘life’

My  shelter in place breakdown has become an existential crisis.  I’ve been creative and producing and releasing and it’s like screaming into the void.  If I make art and no one is there to receive it, is it art?  Actually, if I make art and there are people there to receive it, the question will resound even greater – is it art?

So, it is in this state of mind that I bring you my latest concept, inspired by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

The 9 Levels of Artistic Success (as conceived by someone who never made it past level 3)

(ps. The art I’m referring to refers to a number of disciplines including music, visual arts, writing, etc. so don’t feel excluded.  We can all fail together.)

9 levels of artistic success

Level 1  – Polite encouragement from friends and family: Your initial attempts aren’t groundbreaking or breathtaking, but you might get better . . .  so friends and family may encourage you with delicately fashioned compliments like: “Wow, you’re so creative!”  and  “I like this one better than your last one.”

Level 2 – Absolute silence and avoidance from everyone:  You haven’t gotten better and you haven’t stopped.  Hopefully you’ll figure it out soon but until then friends and family will give polite acknowledgement only under pressure and total strangers will put you on ignore.

Level 3 – Light derision from fellow artists of similar talent or position:  They’ve gone through levels one and two as well and who do you think you are?  Maybe you keep bumping into each other on the same bill or have mutual friends, but they want you to know they admire your tenacity but they’d be lying if they said they’re into what you do.

Level 4 – Casual encouragement from lower level achievers with slightly more success than you and nothing to lose by encouraging you:   They’re not much further up the ladder than you, but it’s a big step – like going from elementary school to middle school.  Maybe they’re genuinely like what you’re doing or maybe it’s a sympathy nod – but they make an effort of encouragement and it means something.

Level 5 – Emphatic praise from people with less success than you hoping to receive similar encouragement from the lower level achievers:  It’s called networking.

Level 6 – Acknowledgement from higher level achievers based on the emphatic praise from the people with less success: They’ve heard of you, they think . . . they’re pretty sure they’ve heard of you.  Cool.

Level 7 – Positive interest from a general audience (not artists) based on the acknowledgement from a higher level achiever:  If those really cool people have heard of you, you must be worthwhile! (Things can go terribly wrong here.  You actually have to have a little something going on at this point otherwise, return to Level 3 and regroup).

Level 8 – Acclaim based on the positive interest from the general audience:  Cool people have heard of you, regular people have heard of you – it may take a little while for people to like what you do, but it’s supposed to be good and people will look for the good in something that is supposed to be good.

Level 9  -Wide spread derision as a backlash to acclaim:  Who the hell do you think you are?  Why are people even giving you any attention?  Lots of people can do what you do and do it better.  Congratulations – you suck!

So there you have it, my take on artistic success in 9 levels.  Am I on to something? Let me know.

And check out my latest Soundcloud track : Undivided Attention   Don’t let me languish at level 2!

Clearly this is going to be a sad story, and I hope it will quickly become a period piece of “how things were” during the pandemic of 2020.  But right now it’s just a bit of catharsis.

It was the week before California’s shelter in place order and my cat was dying.

In truth,  my cat had been dying for much longer than that.  She had turned 14 in July of 2019 and in that same month she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lymphoma of the intestinal tract.  The veterinarian oncologist explained, during a very expensive consultation, that this was not a cancer from which cats recover.  Chemotherapy was an option and it could extend her life up to a year, but eventually it would lose effectiveness and I, as her owner, should take that time to get used to the idea of losing her.

My cat hated car rides, she hated vet techs, and she hated veterinarians (my cat had actually acquired a long list of things and people she hated throughout her life, so she wasn’t specifically targeting care providers).  With all this in mind, I couldn’t imagine putting her through the stress and discomfort the chemo treatments would bring so I opted for palliative care.  In that case, the vet told me, four to six weeks was the best I could hope for.

I took my cat home, cancelled an upcoming vacation with my family and waited.

I feel I should tell you more about the cat now.  She came into my life on Saturday,  September 10th  2005 at the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA.  She and her litter mates were just old enough to be adopted and she was the last kitten spoken for.  When the adoption counselor brought her to us in to the “meet and greet” room she looked around nervously and then made a beeline for my lap, quickly tucking herself inside my jean jacket.  And that was it –  I was hers.  My son, 5 years old at the time, named her Furokey or Farokey (the correct spelling was not decided upon).

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Furokey/Farokey as a kitten

And so Furokey/Farokey,  lived with us and grew up to be what a friend of the family affectionately called “a spiky ball of hate”.   We added more cats to the household and Furokey kept them in line, letting them know who was really in charge.  She demanded attention, she demanded food, she kept the refrigerator door free of magnets  below the  3 foot mark.  In short, she was a cat – a very good cat.  A cat with a strong sense of self.

And there in her illness, that same force of will that had given her the reputation of being a cat you should not make eye contact with, kept her alive much longer than 6 weeks.  Summer passed and she was still with us.  When Thanksgiving rolled around I fretted about taking our annual family trip to Arizona but ultimately left detailed instructions on how to handle the body in the event of her death.  When it was time for our Christmas trip to the east coast, I quietly made room in the freezer for her body just in case the pet sitter found her on Christmas day and could not take her to veterinarian’s for cremation right away.  And then it was the new year and there she was, still demanding food, still demanding attention, but no longer using the litter box consistently.  I papered the laundry room with puppy training pads.

In February I took her to our local vet (not the oncologist) to make sure I was doing everything I could for her.  The vet was amazed she was still hanging in there and offered a course of vitamins and steroids to perhaps ease some of her symptoms.  I asked her if she thought Furokey was in pain, and the vet said probably not, she probably felt hungry and tired most of the time and maybe a little nauseous.

The week of March 9th I had a headache and tightness in my chest.  The headache would not go away.  Pain medication made it slightly better, but it was there when I went to bed and it was there when I woke up and sometimes it woke me up during the night.  I definitely had a headache.  The tightness in my chest I was less sure of. It felt like pressure, but it wasn’t causing a cough or shortness of breath.  By this time in the timeline of world news and COVID-19,  the headlines were almost exclusively virus related and I considered the possibility my chest pain might be psychosomatic.

I work as an aide in an elementary school and most of that week was spent in the copy room making thick packets of worksheets to send home with the kids in case the school closed.  Knowing how important it was to be prepared for a closure, I continued to go to work even though I felt lousy.  On Saturday morning, March 14,  I took my temperature and it was 100.  Now I felt worried and also irresponsible.  What if I somehow did have the virus and I had just exposed the 48 kids I work with?  I could barely entertain the possibility.

The next day, Sunday,  I noticed Furokey’s condition had changed.  She held her body differently, she couldn’t get comfortable anywhere, and the tone of her meow had changed; it was higher pitched and more distressed.  It suddenly occurred to me that it was time to say good bye.

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One of my final pictures of Furokey

Because she hated the vet so much I had already decided I was going to contact a service that makes house calls.  I wanted her to pass peacefully on my lap in the living room. I called the service but didn’t have the heart to make the appointment for that day, instead I made it for Tuesday, March 17th.  I also harbored the secret fear that I might be contagious, although I did note my symptoms weren’t getting worse, they remained about the same with the headache, low grade fever,  random chest pressure and low energy.

On Monday I called my healthcare provider.  My doctor was out of town until mid-April, but after navigating through the call center, I was given an appointment at a respiratory clinic in a nearby town for that afternoon.  I was going to get tested for COVID – 19 and then I would know for certain.  That alone felt like a relief.

The respiratory clinic was set up in a parking garage and I never left my car.  After parking in a waiting area I was directed to park in an examination bay where a fully protected doctor examined me through the open car window.  She told me my symptoms did not sound like the virus, but she understood I wanted to know based on the number of students I worked with during the week.  She agreed to test me.  After shoving a swab way up my nose a (which turned the pain volume up on my headache from a 6 to a 10), she told me my family and I should stay completely quarantined until the results came back in 3 to 5 days.

That very same day, Monday, March 16th, the county I live in issued a shelter in place order for all non-essential personnel.  The state of California would reinforce this with a state wide order on Thursday, March 19th.

I went home and called the euthanasia service and cancelled Furokey’s appointment. It felt good – like I was somehow cancelling her illness and death as well.  All there was left to do was wait for the test results.

My plan had been to notify the school district in the event of my test being positive so the students’ families could be contacted and make informed choices.  During the first week of sheltering in place not everyone stayed inside.  I knew from local reports that people were still going to the beach, going to parks and playgrounds, going shopping.  I thought about how many people could be infected if just a quarter of the kids I worked with were out there in public spaces.  The potential number of cases caused by me could be considerable, but I couldn’t dwell on it just yet. I was grateful I’d had the opportunity to be tested.  I heard from several people in my social media circle that they were being denied testing despite having more severe symptoms than mine.

As the week wore on I began feeling better but Furokey was obviously getting worse.  Every day I obsessively checked my e-mail for for test results.  Until then I could neither make arrangements to end her suffering or make peace with the idea she would die a natural death.  I thought a lot about how and why we choose euthanasia for our pets, often long before they come to the critical part of an illness.  In some ways it seems like convenience, because death, like birth, makes us wait; it is a hands-off process that requires us to be present and patient and recognize we have no control.

But it wasn’t just for convenience’s sake; Furokey was struggling with her daily routine and she had no understanding why – why she could no longer jump up to the sink to drink from the faucet even though she continued to try, why she felt so tired she had to lay down on the stairs on her way to the litter box.  She really had no understanding;  she was confused and bewildered by her diminished abilities and it was heartbreaking.

That Saturday evening, now 5 days after my test, I still had no results but my symptoms were gone.  I went down stairs to the laundry room to find Furokey sprawled out on the clean, white puppy pads spread across the area like a pristine carpet.  I winced, but secretly hoped it had happened.  It had not. She was hanging in there.

I carried her upstairs and made an area for her in the hallway outside my bedroom and the bathroom – litter box and puppy pads in the bathroom, water dish, kitty bed.  I didn’t want her to have to move around too much.  Once placed in the area she stood up in her kitty bed and peed.  It occurred to me she was disoriented and may have mistaken the bed for a litter box.  Then she wandered into my son’s room and laid down in a way that suggested she would not get back up again.  Our other two cats came and sat in the hall and just watched her for a long time.  It felt like a good bye.

But it was not a good bye. Around midnight she got up again and was very thirsty and still very confused.  She made it out to the kitchen and meowed for food.  After eating she relieved herself in the corner.  I placed puppy pads everywhere. I didn’t sleep much either, worried she might try to go back downstairs, fall and injure herself.

Finally, on Sunday I got the call – my test was negative!  If I needed groceries I could go out and get them.  We could have pizza delivered.  And I did not have to contact the school district to inform families!  With the amount of time lapsed between testing and results I felt the information was not as pertinent as it could have been anyway.

Most importantly, I could help Furokey pass peacefully and quickly.

But I couldn’t call that day. I just couldn’t. I was so happy with the negative test results I just wanted a moment to pretend everything was going to go back to normal.

The next morning I called the euthanasia service and they sent their vet over in the early afternoon.  I sat with Furokey until the time came.  She mostly slept now.  The vet arrived in full protective gear; she apologized for her appearance.  We told her we were grateful she was willing to make the trip.

Furokey passed peacefully in the living room surrounded by her human family, including the boy, now 20, who had named her.  As we prepared a grave for her in the backyard it was decided her name was officially spelled F-u-r-o-k-e-y.

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worldview changing

I came across this short article on HuffPost last night: Finneas Reveals Hidden Sounds In ‘Bad Guy’ And Our Worldview Is Changed and I could not resist writing a response.

The gist of the article is that Billie Eillish’s brother, Finneas, who produced her Grammy award winning album, revealed he subtly incorporated sound recordings of every day occurrences/items into the music. Examples given in the article include the sound of dental equipment and a crosswalk warning signal.

My first thought was – what has journalism come to? This is an article summarizing a TV interview that’s been given a sensationalized headline (Worldview changing?!?! Really?!?) just to entice people to click on it. (And I did!) But then the author declared Finneas’ method of using these every day recordings as genius and I thought: “Damn! I must be a genius too!”

Now, it’s true I never swept the Grammys so I guess I’m not quite on the same level as Finneas and his sister, but I have been using recordings of everyday items in my music for a long time and I’m pretty sure I’m not the first or last musician/producer to do that. In fact a quick web search will turn up many articles like this one giving details on unlikely sounds that have been used in pop songs in recent years.

I want to make it clear I’m not dissing Billie Eillish and her brother at all. I really liked “Bury a Friend” and “Bad Guy” the first 100 or so times I heard them and I also appreciate that she has achieved this level of success by bringing a whole new style to the table and not showing off her body. No, I just think the framing of the article was ridiculous and I’m using that ridiculousness as a jumping off point to make it about me – because I’m pretty sure that’s how the internet works these days.

So without further ado, here are three times I was a “genius” and used everyday recordings in my music.

“So Bad” – a copy machine

I found volunteering at my son’s school highly creative work and here’s proof: around 0:08, there’s two claps followed  by a sound like a phased drum; that’s the copy machine at my son’s elementary school recorded while making copies for the book fair.

“Body”  – a washing machine

The song begins with a drum roll and rhythm beneath the drum roll that continues throughout the song.  That rhythm is the sound of the washing machine at my friend Gina’s house.   Lucky for me, Gina does a lot of laundry even when she has house guests – had she not I probably would not have been inspired to write this song about David Bowie’s passing.

“Fan Fic” – a breast pump

 

Ah – my old Roland SP-555 sampler!  I loved that thing and I sold it thinking I was trading up to a better piece of equipment and I wasn’t.  I miss it so much!

Anyway – this song is at least ten years old and I had just come through a  year or so of occasionally pumping breast milk for my son.  The sound the pump made was unique and I started hearing voices in it – like singing voices, not like voices telling me to do things.  In this clip at the 30 second mark (after I finish pushing the “I play a sexy serial killer” button far too  many times) I hit the drums and a loop of the breast pump sound.  To me it sounds like voices singing “usha-may   usha-may  usha-may”.  Sadly this sound loop did not make it to the final recording of the song years later.

So there you have it, my favorite moments of “genius” from my songs.  If you have your own to add or know of other songs that use interesting sounds feel free to leave a reply!

 

 

Last week I logged in to Facebook and was instantly clobbered with some information that in all honesty means nothing to me. It has zero impact on my relationship with my husband, my relationship with my children, my job, my education, or my health; it has absolutely no bearing on anything important in my life. And yet it hit me. It hit me so hard that I bled out this song in 20 minutes.

I have to be honest, it’s been a long time since I just kind of zinged out a song at that speed. Part of the expedited songwriting process involved ignoring my inner critic who kept telling me it was derivative and melodramatic. Instead, I wanted to see if I could write with the same urgency I had when I was young . I also wanted to express the feelings you get when something you were certain you had gotten over swiftly proves you wrong.

Ultimately the song is a bit melodramatic and most likely comes from the place of a bruised ego – thus the strong emotions – but I’m grateful I was able to sit with my feelings and express them rather than keep them tamped down. I think we tend to do that as we get older and it feels much better to just get it out there. Is it an earth shattering work illuminating the human condition? Nah – not really, but it’s how I felt at the moment. I’m gonna go with that.

Also, I want to add that even though the vocal performance is not stellar (I have never liked my voice and life experience has shown me I’m not alone in that) I’m very grateful to be taking voice lessons again. This time I’m approaching my voice as an instrument, learning about it, putting in some work and practice. I can already hear and feel the benefits. The greatest benefit for me at the moment is not feeling pain and tension in my throat when I sing.

Even though I’m not sure how much of a future this song has in my repertoire, I’m still happy to have taken the time to write and perform it. And if you’ve ever had that moment when an old wound opens up unexpectedly and you recognize that it still hurts, this is for you.

Still Hurts

It was something not meant to be
Didn’t work out, at least not for me
And in the thick of it I tore myself apart
Thought I could make it mine with only my will
It pushed back hard, I’ve got the bruises still
And all the while I swore I was following my heart

And I’m better now
I don’t know how
Cause it chewed me up and spit me out
I landed hard but I made it through the worst
And I’m stronger now
I don’t know how
It politely ripped my insides out
I’m passed that all
Just now and then it still really hurts

If you work hard and you truly believe
There is nothing you can’t achieve
That’s what I heard, guess I heard it wrong
And it’s still there so big and so bright
I will never know what it’s really like
So I find my own path and move along

And I’m better now
I don’t know how
Cause it chewed me up and spit me out
I landed hard but I made it through the worst
And I’m stronger now
I don’t know how
It politely ripped my insides out
I’m passed that all
Just now and then it still really hurts

copyright 2020 P. Sutor

sick

I have had a head cold for the past week, but have tried to continue operating like I’m totally fine. It’s a tried and true American value to show up and do your job even when you’re sick. This illustrates how things have gone for me. “I’m fine. I took a double dose of Dayquil an hour ago.”

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.

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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.

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

 

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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.

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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.