Calling All [Music] Composers!

Photo: Head in the Clouds

To all the teachers and grownups who ever complained that I always had my head in the clouds: [insert vigorous *RASPBERRY* here]!

I said I would do it long, long ago, so ready or not, here goes: a passel of potential poetic [and other] lyrics. When I write, rhyming or rhythmic or not, I very often hear music in my imagination. Too bad I don’t have the musical chops to set my own texts, whether for solo or ensemble singing, accompanied or a cappella…or maybe it’s not sad at all: I also love collaborative arts. So join me, if you like!

I will likely publish some of this stuff in my upcoming books. The only published book so far, Miss Kitty’s Fabulous Emporium of Magical Thinking: Drawings & Other Artworks, Tall Tales and Weird Creatures (Volume 1), is up for your perusal as well—just grab a copy through Amazon.

[May I suggest that you use Amazon Smile—smile.amazon.com—where you can get Amazon to make a small charitable donation of your choice from their profits]).

This post is not an endorsement of Amazon, paid or otherwise, though I happily use the behemoth’s services extensively myself. Including as my book publisher, since I am far too “unmarketable”—thank you, gallerists, publishers, and agents of the past who classify anything non-repetitive, unprecedented, or wildly varied as impossible to package and sell. This post is not meant to be a whining snark-fest, either, since I am genuinely grateful that said business persons were honest enough with themselves to recognize their limitations in promoting unusual or unclassifiable works, and honest enough, in turn, with me to help me recognize that my vocation isn’t in making a living out of my arts but in making a life with and through them.

Meanwhile, I still love to join forces with other creatives, no matter what our project or theme, when the muse brings us together. I have collaborated with other artists to create numerous visual, written, and performed artworks over the years and am always delighted with the learning, bonding, challenges, inspiration, and joy that come from such interplay. If you find anything in here that sparks (no pun intended) your imagination, I welcome you to my playground. If you’re just here to read and—hopefully—enjoy, you are most welcome as well. I’m happy for the company.

Photo: Afire with Inspiration

Here’s hoping to fan the flames of your imagination…

To read any of the dozens of sets of poems and texts, grouped loosely by theme or topic or mood, just click here or on the freshly minted Poems & Lyric Texts link at the top of my homepage.

Photo: CHEESE!

I’m not above grinning at you crazily if you’re even remotely a kindred spirit. Cheese!

Let Me be So Attuned

For those of you who would like to Tune In suitably, the concert that was being prepared when I wrote today’s post will be performed tonight by the University of North Texas A Cappella Choir, conducted by my esteemed spouse Richard Sparks. Click on this link, and it’ll take you to the live-streamed concert at 8 pm Central Standard Time. Or, if you can, come on over to UNT’s Murchison Performing Arts Center and enjoy the concert (with me and a host of other fans) in the lovely Winspear hall.

Digital illo from a photo: A Cappella HarmonyI am listening to a superb vocal sextet as the singers demonstrate the purity of tone and the achingly clear, clean dissonances and harmonies that their conductor has just been coaching the listening university choir to attempt. When they two sets of singers all join forces and achieve this without putting undue stress on their breathing and without letting anyone’s vibrato widen far enough to fall off its assigned note, the whole room, no matter how large or small, dry or reverberant, empty or crowded, becomes electric. The power of even the faintest pianissimo, when perfectly tuned to the chord of the moment, scintillates in such perfect proportion, one note to another, that involuntary shivers of pleasure run up and down my spine.

The conductor admonishes the singers to embrace the more tender expressive qualities of the passage they’re singing; instead of attack-and-cutoff beginnings and endings to notes and phrases, they attempt to let the notes open and close naturally with the breath. Attack becomes the almost imperceptible awakening sensation of even, steady onset, and cutoff loses its hard artifice in favor of the easeful grace of release. I think that this, too, makes a fine representation of what it should be to live in tune with my fellow beings, to breathe in consonance with them whether we are making pretty and perhaps predictably agreeable chords or exact and shivering dissonances.

This is the gorgeous, staggeringly intense experience of listening to genuinely sensitive music-making, of powerfully accurate tuning. A wonderfully skilled musician will no doubt say that the experience is even deeper for the singers themselves, as the physical sensation can only be intensified when one is physically part of the sounding instrument in this fundamental way. But I have been in those rooms, at times, where the perfectly timed phrasing of notes and passages and the confluence of vibrations are so perfectly aligned that I feel I am no longer a solid object, distinct from all other things, but have become an integrated element of the glittering cosmos. This, I think, is what it means to gain true harmony.Digital illo from a photo: Score

Don’t Make Me *Think*—Make Me *Happy*

Shallow as a one-sided gnat’s freckle, that’s me.

If asked what movie I’d prefer to watch, book to read, music to hear, I’m almost never the person in the crowd who says “challenge me!” I’m the one who wants to be effortlessly  and palatably entertained, and that rarely includes any sort of idea or activity that involves my working, learning, evolving, or—banish the thought! (literally)—thinking.

I have always known that I’m not fond of experiencing anything that makes me feel the slightest bit out of my comfort zone, and while I don’t think it admirable or something I find brag-worthy, I don’t think it’s shameful, either. Even the people that I know who crave the New and different and are energized by being amid the exotic, the confrontational, or the controversial mostly seem to find that very pleasurable rather than frightening, and so, choose it because being uneasy or even frightened is in its way pleasant to them. True adrenaline junkies are not alone in this: the great explorers among us, whether those of intellectual or physical, artistic or scientific realms, thrive on the jagged edge of the known and the safe.

So, as I was wandering around the interwebs this morning and looking through a certain high-end vintage auction house’s catalogue of art, I was struck by how many works I could admire for their originality, their technical facility, their wit, and/or their power, but how many I could also truthfully say I was attracted to, myself? Not so many. Some there were that I thought incredibly impressive and deeply respect-worthy for numerous reasons, but few among them would I ever consider hanging in my own house or office or want to look at long term.  I do like mysteries and scary stories, and there are plenty of artworks and concepts and images that amuse and delight me for the very reason that I find them ugly or appalling, even to the point of painful laughter, but unless these things meet my own criteria for what I’d like to enjoy at length, it’s all for naught.

And of course, as a visual artist myself, and one who’s never made any particular headway with building a paying audience for anything I do, I am always intrigued to snoop around at such sites’ pricing of artworks. I marvel at what is listed as unsold, seeing artworks of phenomenal skill and complexity offered for what I think pretty reasonable prices (though I certainly couldn’t afford them, not least because of my aforementioned lack of success as an art entrepreneur); at what has sold that I couldn’t imagine living happily with; at what astronomical prices are being asked for things that in my opinion don’t even come close in material costs, labor time, or skill level to what I’ve sold of my own work in the past for comparative pennies. This kind of perusal is highly educational, occasionally frustrating, sometimes encouraging, and most often, just a great source of inspiring ideas and images that make me want to head back to my own drawing board again. Worth all of it, if only for that last.

On reflection, I do remember that I have made many images and told many stories myself that I didn’t want to hang on my own walls, and even a few times have destroyed ones that I knew someone else liked because I didn’t think it represented my ideals anyhow. That’s the strangeness and the delight of the arts, isn’t it. One person’s trash is another’s pleasure. Crazy. Wonderful.Digital illo from a painting: O Happy Day

Beautiful, Bubbling Chaos

Blaze of Creativity

In a second, one iota, in the tiniest of times,

is the space to make a gesture that surpasses reason, rhymes,

that outpaces every meaning, each idea, concept, scheme,

hold more power than all order and more hope than any dream—

It’s the glint of living freely in a bright, creative flare

without borders, without worries, only hope and joy in there;

it’s the tumbling of the atoms into place where happenstance

makes them line up into beauty as pure music, pleasure, dance—

If the chaos of the openness and depth of space affrights,

how will any of us find a way to light the empty nights?

Let the effervescent madness take a sweeping arc abroad:

in such wild, uncharted wonders, one might hear the voice of God!Digital illo: Beautiful, Bubbling Chaos

Foodie Tuesday: Foodie High*

*Sung to the tune of ‘Bali Ha’i,’ (with my half-hearted, hypoglycemic apologies to Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers, and of course, you).

Sugar cravings. SugarcravingsSugarcravingsSugarcravingsSugarcravings!Photomontage: Going (Graham) Crackers

Specifically, the insatiable longing for a mesmerizing concoction known in the vernacular as S’mores. Maybe it’s an end-of-summer inevitability in the ol’ US of A. Something about the combination of sugar + sugar + more sugar, in the form of graham crackers, melting chocolate, and toasted marshmallows, has the enduring allure of drug addiction, with only slightly less dire consequences. Because: addiction. Sugar does that. But ohhhhh, what loveliness is in that particular combination. So even though it’s kind of a forbidden collation in the land of my personal innards, what with marshmallows, chocolate, and grain sugars being among the weapons of midriff destruction that defeat all of my long-term defenses most easily, I love at least fantasizing about the multitude of ways in which this deliciously wicked triumvirate can be combined.

The current nostalgia for the trio was triggered by an online vision of marshmallow beauty in the form of a toasted marshmallow milkshake. It poured over my brain in the lethally lovely way that such images do, the cascade instantly evoking what I imagine my own version of this summer moment would be, and that is a home-assembled frozen S’mores pie: one 48 oz carton Private Selection Chocolate Ganache Ice Cream (pause for dramatic effect—this stuff is miraculously, wildly creamy and fabulous), slightly softened and heaped into a graham cracker crust. For this part, I’d use gluten-free graham crackers and toasted sliced almonds, finely crushed together and mixed with melted brown butter and sugar to taste, and then pressed into a pie dish or tin and chilled before filling. When the crust has been filled and re-chilled and it’s time to indulge in dessert, take it out of the freezer, top it with a jar of marshmallow fluff or a small mountain of marshmallows, and use a kitchen torch to toast the topping. Try not to faint from the fabulousness.Photomontage: Chocolatey Goodness

Of course, there are an infinite number of other recombinant S’mores delicacies one really ought to attempt, if one has the taste for that tremendous triad. All that’s needed for the serious S’mores plotter is to think of the three characteristic tastes: toasted marshmallow, crispy graham or something equally nutty, and chocolate. Then, consider the myriad ways in which each, individually, can be enjoyed. Do the math—if the possible hybrids made by switching one or two of the variables each time don’t amount to enough to keep you fat and happy for the rest of your nine lives, you are no true aficionado, or at least a little bit neurasthenic in the region of your taste buds. The latter, of course, requires urgent care, and may be treated by dashing for your pantry and stuffing a graham cracker, a piece of chocolate, and a marshmallow directly into your mouth for resuscitation. If that doesn’t get you on an inspired sugar high leading to a thousand new S’mores recipes, then you had better start singing along with me immediately:

Sugar High

Most people live on a hungry island, Lost in the middle of a peckish sea.
Most people long for a food-filled island, One where they know they will eat for free.

Sugar High may call you, At dessert, any day,
In your heart, you’ll hear it call you: “A buffet…hip-hooray!”

Sugar High will whisper Like a dream of Divinity:
“Here am I, you sucrose lover! Come to me, come to me!”

Your own sweet-tooth hopes, Your own sweet-tooth dreams,
Dust o’er the hillside And shine in ice creams.

If you try, you’ll find that Shoo-fly pie needs sweet tea.
“Here am I, your candied island; Come to me, Come to me.”

Sugar High,
Sugar High,
Sugar High!

Someday you’ll see me as a floating island,
My head stickin’ out from a candy floss cloud,
You’ll hear me call you, Singin’ sweet as syrup,

Sweet and clear as can be: “Come to me, here am I, come to me.”

If you try, you’ll find that I’m a sweet honey bee.
I’m your hyperglycemic island Come to me, Come to me.”

Sugar High,
Sugar High,
Sugar High!Digital illo from a Photo: A Marshmallow Paradise

Should I Sing or Whistle?

Photo: Red-winged Blackbird 1

I can neither whistle nor sing as beautifully as a red-winged blackbird, but my heart is willing!

One of the most interesting exercises during my quick hospital pajama party the other day was the opportunity to watch while a cardiologist did an echocardiogram on me. I’ve had one or two in times past, but never when I could see the monitor and watch it in progress, let alone ask the person administering it what I was seeing and hearing, and I found it to be a surprisingly charming entertainment, along with the informative aspects. Primary, of course, in its pleasures was to be told that everything seemed entirely operational and quite healthy. Seeing how each chamber was measured and observing the various valves in action, watching the graphic representation of the individual parts’ particular and distinct  rhythms and patterns coalesce into a wonderful zigzag of electrical cheer while hearing the  live sound—this was all intriguing and encouraging in any number of ways.

But even more than my spirits, the actions and sounds of my heart had me feeling both surrounded by and immersed in song and dance. It was a lovely surprise to someone who has never known anything particular about the heart in the abstract, let alone had any chance to experience my own in action. The thrumming of my pulse changed with every move of the technician’s hand, each valve and artery having its own part of the whole melody, singing at its own pitch and speed. The view of each valve seemed like a tiny pantomime synchronized with the sounds, and some valves looked (from the side) for all the world like pairs of arms waving as the hands clapped in joy, or perhaps like the waving movement of an exuberant conductor coaxing a choir to sing; one overhead view was so like a mouth singing along with my own heartbeat that I thought perhaps I was seeing a surrealist movie of some marvelous conga-accompanied south seas musical number.

Today, a few days of rest and healing down the road from any sort of emergency, I am feeling so much better already that I have a slight sense of being ready to burst into song or dance myself, the larger (and far less graceful) embodiment of these inner workings. I won’t, of course, not least because I’d still tire in about two turns or trills. But when the songs, calls, and whistles of the grackles and cicadas, crickets and our newly ensconced red-tailed hawk neighbor ring through the trees, I am pretty nearly guaranteed to join right in myself. I think I’d forgotten how that felt, for a while.

Photo: Red-winged Blackbird 2

Good health is certainly a heartwarming bright spot in the day!