Tuesday, February 16, 2010

And So It Ends.....

Benjamin Franklin said, "Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."

When I stopped working four years ago, it was largely due to health reasons but also to give myself an opportunity to write. I got healthier; I wrote. My writing took me places I never expected to go, including into the fray of a writing group whose members have become an alternative family to me. I will miss them.

There was a compromise made when we decided to live on one half of our income. I stopped buying books and new music. We no longer traveled or helped the kids out when they couldn't pay their phone bills. My cooking skills improved as we dined out less. Chris came home for lunch every day. I've worn the same blue jeans for the last four years (happily, I have to wear a belt with them now, and need to add a new hole to keep them up.) We haven't bought new underwear, new furniture, new linens for the bed.

Yet, we've been happy. I haven't had to deal with office politics and Chris hasn't had to deal with me dealing with office politics. I didn't have to fire anyone in four years. That felt good. We made a bunch of new friends getting involved with songwriting people, going out to hear more live music, going to poetry readings. We adopted Rupert and he's taken us on a delightful puppy ride, has turned into the dog we both always wanted. Yes, we're happy.

BUT......you knew there was a 'but' coming, didn't you? I stopped doing much of anything worth writing about. I've spent so much time with my head down in my office, I've lost track of what's going on in the world. Recently I realized how much I once liked going to work every day and making a difference in someone's life. My poetry certainly hasn't done that. My novels still sit on the shelf in my office.......and so.....

I'm searching the want ads, trying to find a place where I might fit in and weave the magic I know is still within me to make an agency, a small company, a physician's office run efficiently, to focus staff on working coherently, to motivate employees and employers to listen to one another and work together for the common good. I was good at it once; I can do it again.

Maybe words for my poems will come again at night and I'll start losing sleep again.

So, I am ending this blog. For me it was my "morning notes"....my adaptation of Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way", a book I could never fully dive into, although I found some inspiration there.

Thanks to those of you who have read me whether you've left me a comment here or sent me an e-mail. I've always appreciated it! I wish you sunny days ahead.

Friday, February 12, 2010

OCC Songwriters....

What a pleasure it was to attend the Onondaga Community College Songwriters Night! Such talented musicians sharing their songs and talking a bit about what they wrote and why.

A youngster in the audience wanted to know how the songwriters wrote their songs and the discussion went something like this (I'm doing some paraphrasing here...sorry, guys).

Dan Cleveland: I'll have a snippet of words, a phrase that runs around in my head and then I'll build a song around it, find a melody.

Sean (I can't remember his last name) : I work on chord progressions, find out what key I'm playing in, build it in a scientific way and then add lyrics.

Mark Zane: I always hear the melody first, sing nonsense words to that melody for awhile until other lyrics begin to take place of the nonsense words, then I work on other lyrics.

Brian Francis: I sacrifice a bunny.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


"Books aren't written. They are re-written." Michael Crichton

The same may be said of poems and songs.

We all have different styles of writing, but I sincerely doubt that any song I've ever heard at the Songwriters Woodshed is the writers very first draft. I know that my poet friends and I wrestle with our words in isolation, struggling to polish them and when we glimpse that first sparkle, only then do we feel it might be alright to actually show a poem to someone else.

I am constantly rewriting, even poems that have been published never seem "done" to me. I have to force myself to hit the "save" button, walk away from the desk, convince myself that I will never find a better word than "agonize" and move on to something else.

Lately I've been dreaming in words. When I'm first waking up, wondering if it's 3:00 a.m. or if I've been blessed with a full night's sleep, there will be a snippet of a poem right there for me to catch. I'm getting better at actually writing it down, keeping a notebook by the bed. And I've turned these snippets into reasonable poems....but usually not without a ton of rewording. The original concept remains the same, however.

I've asked myself several times why some of the songwriters do not appear to be more open to critique of their work when presented at the woodshed. I think I understand now, at least I think I understand how some of them might feel. The concept is of a song is theirs. They've lived with it, reworked it, spent hours or even weeks trying to convey the emotion they felt, something experienced, or to tell a story that's important to them. And when they finally feel they've "got" it, they play it in front of this group and then -- wham -- that group wants to add their take....all in good faith with the desire to make it better....when the author already feels it's almost as good as it's going to be. Not a word gets rewritten.

I haven't been to the Songwriters Woodshed in a few months because I felt the critique hasn't been meaningful, was too picky, not worthwhile. But I think now it's not the critique that was the problem. It was the quality of the songs being critiqued: they were too good, too finished. They don't need much rewriting, so there's not much for the group to focus on. I hope next time I go to hear more raw material, more that needs to be rewritten.

"You have to write down what you'll abandon." Leonard Cohen.

So true.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Best Lyric I've Heard in a Long Time

I don't even know where I got this tape...it's a compilation. There's a song done by an artist called Franklin Pierce called "Deep and Meaningful" and the lyric that caught my attention as I'm writing today is:

"You were so deep, you're almost underground."

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Old LPs I'm Listening to This Week....

How Come The Sun.....................Tom Paxton
Tom Rush......................................Tom Rush (has Panama Limited on it,, love that song)
Politics............................................Tom Paxton
Child of the Future.......................The Steve Miller Band
A Live One....................................Loudon Wainwright III
Mr. Bojangles................................Jerry Jeff Walker
After the Gold Rush.....................Neil Young
Still Crazy After All These Years..Paul Simon
Collection: 15 of the Best..............Queen
A Salty Dog...................................Procol Harum
Still the Same Ole Me.................George Jones
After Bathing at Baxter's............Jefferson Airplane
Nashville Skyline..........................Bob Dylan
In the Wind....................................Peter, Paul and Mary
Honeysuckle Rose........................ Willie Nelson and Family
Pink Cadillac..................................John Prine (can't get enough of this one...)
In Search of the Lost Chord........Moody Blues
Hold Out.........................................Jackson Browne

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A New Poem

in memory of Priscilla and others who almost got it right

Release yourself
Claim defeat
It won’t cure you
What startles us, makes us needier
The softer they are, the closer they fly
And the late larks only get the snake
Life’s too long to hold a secret
Toss pepper over your elbow
Do think twice
Throw that toddler in with the bath water
Count hatched chickens and every penny tossed
Grab your umbrellas, honey, it’s raining crickets
Just like Grandma always said it would someday
And these little pictures grew big rears
Heard and often seen
Found in the last place looked
Right where they left us
Afraid we’d turn out just like them
Afraid maybe we wouldn’t
Apples to raisins
An eye for your tooth
Truth in lend me your nose
I’ll take Manhattan

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What's In A Name? Remembering Dad....

A friend of mine just lost her father. Whenever I get news such as this, I am reminded of my own loss. Usually my mind takes me directly back to those last hospital days, the funeral, the eulogy I delivered, all the dysfunctional family moments. However, as time passes, I find myself remembering some of the other moments that encompassed life with Dad. I’m hoping my friend finds comfort in similar moments she’s had in the past with her dad, not just these last days.

My father was never one to get names straight, often making up strange versions of real names or giving someone a new name. After we had seen the movie “The Graduate”, we went to our local music store and he asked for the album by “Simone and Carbuncle”, the guys who sang that song about Joe DiMaggio and Mrs. Robinson. (Yes, I saw that movie as a teenager with my dad; my mother had just left us and my dad and I were seeing a lot of movies together in those days. It was that or another run at “The Sound of Music”….)

I have one brother, Alan, and my father called us both “Rob Al”. That was so he wouldn’t get us mixed up. When my son, Darek, was born, Dad decided that “Silas” was a better choice of a name for him and called him that for so long that we finally had to ask him to stop because Darek wasn’t answering to his own name. (In Dad’s last years, the cat that kept him company on his bed was named Silas.)

Dad never got a handle on my daughter’s name: Livia. From the day we first took her to visit her Grandpa he christened her “Libia” and there was no going back.

One evening I was returning from our cellar with a load of laundry. My son was playing with Leggos or trucks or something in one corner of the living room but Livia, who was no older than four, was sitting crossed legged on the floor intently watching television. This was not usual as I had tuned into a new station in anticipation of a pending presidential press conference. I had missed the beginning of the speech, arriving back in my living room just in time to hear Ronald Reagan say these immortal words (at least in our family) as he pounded his fist against the podium in front of him: “And we intend to take strong measures against Libya.”

There was a howl from my daughter, instant tears and she turned to me, sobbing, “What did I do wrong? Why is the President so mad at me?”

Of course I was laughing, which made matters worse, and immediately called my dad, and the family has laughed about this on several occasions since. We still call her “Lib”. For years she turned the channel of the television or left the room if Ronald Reagan was on the screen; I’m betting she doesn’t vote Republican largely because of this episode, too.

But that’s the memory I’m thinking about today, the lasting impact Dad’s crazy way of renaming all of us still has on our lives. So much better than remember those hospital days.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Wonder Dog Misbehaves

I’m a bit befuddled this morning after my walk with Rupert.

We walk at least three times a day, usually taking the same route through the neighborhood. Rupert is very protective, and that’s exactly why we have a dog. He is a mixed breed: part black Lab and part pit bull. We have spent hours training him to be a well-behaved, dog; he’s earned his Good Citizenship Degree from Pet Co. He can be scary looking, but once you get to know him, he’s a sweetie pie. He's extremely loyal, loves to play, is eager to please.

This morning he was doing his usual sniffing of trees and utility poles – we call that Rupert picking up his “pee mail” – and we were making our rounds with no problem. Someone from the alcohol rehab house on our block bounded out of the house and was running down the street to catch up with some folks ahead of us. Rupert started getting upset about his behavior and I took him to the side of the house and settled him down. No problem. We continued on our walk.

There was some kind of work crew on Hawley Avenue putting up new utility poles and I short leashed him through that section of the street, just in case, and we had no problem.

Rupert sniffed his way past the church and I saw a young woman approaching who we’ve passed a dozen times before. She wears a funky cap and is always pleasant. I do not know her, but we always say hello. I short leashed Rupert, had him by my side as she passed, more because it’s winter and the sidewalks are narrower. I did not think I needed to take him off the sidewalk. Bad decision on my part.

She said “Good morning” to me and Rupert lunged at her, nipped at her arm. Had she not had a heavy winter coat on…oh, I can’t type what I think might have happened. I apologized and she went on her way. I think I was more upset than she was. I made that dog lie down and stay there on that snowy sidewalk until he started shaking from the cold and said ‘Bad dog’ just once in that tone of voice my children know oh so well and Rupert, too, knew I was at the end of my rope. When I couldn’t stand being cold any longer, I short leashed him and we headed for home. No more sniffing, no snowball tossing and catching, just walking straight home.

He is sleeping downstairs, hasn’t come up to see what I’m up to here in my office upstairs. Guess he knows he’s on my $##@ list this morning. But I’m wondering why someone speaking to me is interpreted as aggressive behavior by him. Perhaps I am spending too much time alone? He’s fine when friends drop in, and we have folks here often. I’m puzzled. Any suggestions?