Friday, December 24, 2010

"Friday Night Frolic" - I Really Love Christmas


I do. Christmastime. Even in the suburbs.

Even though I'm not here:

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Or here:

Photo credit: Hal Morgan

No matter, I'll soon be here:

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And here:

Painting by Angela McIntosh

But never mind all that. (It's Friday, and Christmas Eve, and this is supposed to be about music, right?)

Christmastime. I love the  pearl-frost flakes floating in the air. I love the caroling and candy canes, the bells and holly, the smell of pine and baked gingerbread, the wassail and whiteness of winter. I love the family gatherings, the exchange of the special (and secreteven Uncle Ricky manages to keep it so) Kris Kringle present each year, and all the festivities the season brings. I love the trips to the Great White North, and then north of there.

And especially the Christmas music, jazz or folk, classical or contemporary, rock or reggae.

But the rock. And by the greatest performer in the greatest rock & roll band. Ever. (This is not disputable.) Especially here—on this soundtrack, which is far superior to the filmwith Joss Stone:

Merry Christmas to All.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Karma


If daily life mimics my silent thoughtsmy swirling, nonsensical, crazed inner dialog—and the subconscious imprints of my deeper self, then there must be some rather inauspicious energy floating about the landscape on which I  roam. Or shall I say, race? 

A glacial tempest lashes across the icy expanse, chafing my body and soul. And then, things seem to drop from the sky. Like snow. And trees. 

And Santa Claus.

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Yes, Santa: the primum mobile of my inane, rubber-soled run across the permafrostthe weight of the world alongside memy sweep down the crystalline slippery slope, the inescapable impinging icebergs. Panic swells as I dodge the descending, crimson-suited Kringle, with his threatening Santa claws, and the icy peaks jutting from below. My winter wonderland, replete with holiday hurdles, yuletide yack, mistletoe misgivings, tinseled terror, Noël nightmares. 


And why this?... when the Christmas landscape should look like this:

Sparkling evenings, merry chatter and cheer; early morning's snowfall slicing the air. 

Why? Perhaps it has something to do with this familiar tag: Procrastination.

Or the indisputable fact that it all just creeps up too quickly? Though I've had, at least, since Halloween.

If anyone should ask, all I want for Christmas is this:

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Friday, December 17, 2010

"Friday Night Frolic" - Pates Tapes

Whose collection cannot be lumped within any particular taxonomy, other than "music" and perhaps, tricks "that can only be performed by humans." And that is no small stunt, as the latter category narrows with each passing day, a tin takeover no longer unimaginable. But here, the mastermind behind Pates Tapes proves the worth of civilized beings. No machinery will suffice.

A Chardonnay luncheon with Sheila leaves me languid and lighthearted, sentimental and serene, just the right temperament for  Pates Tapes—especially his Christmas Knees Up compilationand burrowing through the mastermind's Background and Reviews, where I gather he goes by "C" (although a slip of "Charles" in the Reviews). What C has done is remarkable, a repository of refrain like no other.

What robot would put this:

and this:


Afro beat and the King, under Nwel La RiveHaitian Creole for Christmas came (or Christmas is here?).

And streaming, free, masterful music mix? Just click. Genius.

Thank you, C, for the mortal melding of these melodies and more.

Friday, December 10, 2010

"Friday Night Frolic" - Ring Your Bell

(And with the holidays in full swing, what better time to do it?)

At first glance, it seems a dissolution in the works: James Mercer, from the oh so happy, Grammy Award winning Shins, and the somber Brian Burton, a/k/a Danger Mouse (and half of the also Grammy Award winning Gnarls Barkley). Two opposites they are. But in fact, it's a playful and promising partnershipthe chiming harmony of Broken Bells.

The union's self-titled first release is permeated with textured and moody reverberation, sepia-steeped solicitude, beautifully conveyed  here:

And here, in a schizophrenic stew of Neil Young-like falsetto (whose shrill voice my mother never quite appreciated) and pop science:

I hope those Broken Bells keep ringing for a long time.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Brainstorming At Borders

I am coming to you, real time, from Borders  (like you need a link to that), which is a feat in itselfluckily, a young female customer took pity on me and gave me the "How to log on to the internet from Borders" tutorialwhere the Christmas trees are neon pink, the SleighBell Blend coffee is $12.95/lb and Jonathan Franzen's new book Freedom is $28.00. I won't be buying the coffee, or any neon Christmas trees, but I've no choice but to buy the book, because... like everything else... I have waited until the last moment to get it, and it's a book club requirement. We'll be discussing the story on January 20th, which, I know, sounds like a lot of time, but with the holidays and Christmas break, it will take me until at least that date to read this 560 page anecdote. Thus, December 9th is last minute to me.

So here I am, because of the book, as well as a need to brainstorm, and I could not do so at home because my housekeeper (hey, I'm a working mom, but it's only once a monththe housecleaning service that is, not the work) is there executing her supersonic monthly scrub. Don't think I don't have guilt about this little luxury (again, the housecleaning service, not the work), working from home and all, but the timing couldn't be better, as unidentifiable squatters have staked claim of every crevice in the structure while I was incarcerated, pretty much for the last few weeks, and it will, indeed, take a professional to expunge them.

About Borders: at a wobbly pub-style table by the barista, where more than a few patrons have attempted to covertly peer over my shoulder to see what I'm up to. Aren't we all just so curious? I'm actually quite enjoying the moment. It takes me back to my Saturday mornings at Trident Booksellers & Cafe on Newbury Street in Boston. The Trident was a real novelty then, and I suppose it still is. You'd think it would have been swallowed up by now, but it is actually Boston's last independent bookstore; and, when I was in my twenties, living alone in Boston, it's where I often spent my Saturday mornings. I loved that it was located inwhat was then known asthe "low rent" section of the street, and the sort of grunge-hippie feel it had, and reading or working there was not at all the same experience as at Borders. But there's slim pickins in my neck of the woods, so here I sit at a chain. But if you live in Boston (or are just visiting), go to the Trident. Experience it, and help the mom and pop survive.

Anyway, back to guilt and brainstorming. Guilt, as a mother, goes without saying. And the brainstorming, well, us mothers have to do a lot of that as well. Today, in particular, I'm scraping the noggin' for my first story covering the topic of teens. More particularly, parenting teens. Quite recently, I got a gig with an on-line magazine (yes, can you imagine, they mustn't be very selective) as a Parenting Teens columnist. Please laugh. I am! Gawd, I'm still trying to figure out how to raise teens. And I only have one, but the other is perilously close to this period known as a truly atrocious act of happenstance (really, check how Urban Dictionary defines "horrible"). Where to begin? I haven't a clue. I thought I did, I wrote a couple of things and then promptly tossed them out.

However... I shall persevere, I think. As I attempt to do the same, if any of you have any suggestions, anything at all, any teen related topic you would like to see covered (mind you, this is not a "how to" column, as I am completely unqualified, but boy I know how to research, and I suppose I have a wee bit of parenting experience), please let me know. Comment here, or send me an email. Please. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Now, to behold Freedom...

Thinking Monkey [source]

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Drink Tea (For The Love of God!)

Mad Hatter's Tea Cups at Disney Magic Kingdom

It seems peculiar that I'm no longer faced with a looming deadline, but the serendipitous result of that tragic loss is that my murky mind is now open to some free association, and I've been spinning my saucer silly. No kidding! I've already come up with some nifty ideas and one real solution to a running conundrum. (Seriously, haven't you ever seen a conundrum run?)

I love tea. That's not the problem, but getting my tea is. It's the actual tea making process that's been a bit of an issue. For one thing, I like teapots. Wouldn't dream of sticking a cup of water in the microwave. I like turning on my gas stovetop and letting the water slowly warm. I like hearing the teapot whistle at me, letting me know I'm wanted. Only lately, my teapot hasn't whistled. Maybe I'm getting too old. No more whistles. The fact is, though, that my teapot never whistled, even if it was turned on.

So, this has been a little problem for me, the lack of attention and all. Especially since I'm working in the dining room, which, as you know, is more than a few paces from the kitchen (but not far enough away). Very stressful. You see, I fill the pot, put it on the stove, return to my work—all perfectly reasonable steps, right?and then promptly forget that I'm making tea.... until about a half hour, or more, later when I realize that I am missing my tea. This is when my heart begins to beat wildly and I race to the kitchen to save my teapot from near deathbeing rendered bone dry, and scorched beyond recognition.

Unfortunately, I usually don't get there in time, so now my teapot sort of looks like this:

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When it should look like this:

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BUT... oh mercy! thank goodness for free time (which, despite deadline depletion, really only happens when I ignore everything on my agenda), because I finally, finally, came up with the answer to the conundrum. That's right. Today, people, I set the timer on my stove (and I thought it was just for the oven!). And it worked. Gah.

Yes, now having a cup of tea does offer transcendence away from the mad and frantic world.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ars Poetica III - Such Rubbish

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, "I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along." . . . You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Bwah, ha, ha, ha, hee, hee, hee.... (madman's laugh).

Well, I don't know whether I've done the thing or not, but I do know that I've lived through this horror, having spent a weekend in the Dark Ageslaxity's revenge. It struck a dissonant chord. Just me and a raging war, a bubonic like plague weakening my limbs, squelching my strength. Shuttered in the room of my own, no symphony, jazz, good reads or movies. No theatre, museum, library, shopping, friends or family. Not even NPR! I spent a century in the Dark Ages, hours writing just the first sentence. Or so it felt. Not a beam of sun, or moonlight. Not a drop of culture (ok, except for a middle school basketball game, if that qualifies as cultural experience), alone in that room of my own, in my tattered pj's, with nothing but crumpled paper, stained coffee cups, spent ink cartridges and trace cookie crumbs. I'm not sure if I even showered. Wait, there were no showers in the Dark Ages (except for those spurred by the Gods), so...

Oh, but what came from it! The drivel. The nonsense. And alas, the Ars Poetica.

Ta da...
**Warning, read no further if you are not interested in academic codswallop.**

(And I promise I will return to my old self, later today, once I've handed in this mess to the English Dept.)

Ars Poetica

My first written words of the semester were tossed randomly, like dice on a craps table, prefaced by an apology that I was no writer, and that I hadn’t the authority to roll out my cursory version of what makes a story. Those early words muttered that story should be told with honesty, humility; should be relevant, compelling and believable, so as to capture its reader, suspend all notion of disbelief, regardless of how fantastical, unreliable, improbable the story; they stumbled that story should deliver a message of hope, contain substantive value, and heart; and, buzzed that its message should be transformative. They sighed about responsibility.

The short list of literati and authors that influenced that anemic summary of story, as well as my wrting: Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, Virginia Woolf, Kurt Vonnegut, Samuel Beckett, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ayn Rand, Richard Feynman, Martin Heidegger, Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus. Regardless of their style, the common thread is a matter of being and essential truth, whether channeling metaphysics, perspectivism or existentialism. But these days, I find that the writings of Jorge Louis Borges, a poet and novelist guided by the "chaos that rules the world and the character of unreality in all literature” is writing at its best—long, winding prose and magical realism in non-linear time, weaving stories that illustrate truth, at best, to be elusive.

But writing is getting at the truth, no matter how illusory: the truth in reality, in fiction, in the smallest gesture and grandest idea; it is a tangible manifestation of both my gentle dreams and nightmares, my need to create, expose, illuminate and provoke. It is the process of finding these truths—as I perceive them—through storytelling, which is at once terrifying and freeing. It’s a treacherous white-knuckled drive through an ice storm, the roads are salted and pocked, slippery and questionable, a pole is missed only to tumble into a ravine; but the vehicle is restored and skates on, unsteadily, to its intended (and sometimes, unintended) ending—the ordeal nothing but a calamitous blur.

Although I attempt to write deliberately, my best work springs from a subconscious domain, one where the ideas, dreams, incubate as if in some sort of disorganized hatchery. And once the story has been laid out it invariably tells me the same truths, these universal truths that I long to share, as if no one already knows: life is full of hypocrisy, absurdity, disappointments, it drags and stalls, it begs to be spat at; and it pleads for vigor and meaning, cries for warm hugs, compassion, laughter, love; its core dreadfully complex, yet, so simple.

And while writing can be staggeringly arduous—and though I may have little skill or sway—it is important, because I write to make sense of things, get perspective, explore, question whether essential truth is “a mystery that pervades the whole of human existence.” I aim for honest, original prose; to never displease, mislead, deceive or indite gratuitously; only satisfy, captivate and ultimately illuminate with a measured optimism in reverence to the reader. I mean my writing to portray reality as, indeed, magical and timeless. This is authorship, and I suspect there is a bit of authority and responsibility buried somewhere in there.

So there, take that Professor B. (Oh dear, I have a feeling her sword is mightier than my pen.)


Friday, December 3, 2010

"Friday Night Frolic" - Chocolate Is As Chocolate Does


It melts in your mouth, a smooth and silky texture. It rolls along your tongue and awakens your senses. It makes you giddy with its seratonin-like feel-good molecules. It can be both sweet and bitter. Hershey, Godiva, Lindt, Valrhona. USA, Belgian, Swiss, French. But a chocolatier is not a chocolatier is not a chocolatier.

And pure chocolate is to mousse as stringband is to symphony. The deconstruction of a whipped, velvety articulation that defies definition. Nuanced enough to delight varied palates.

To wit: Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Ingredients: Beat box, fiddle and banjo. Simple, no?

And what they can do with a jug and kazoo:

Sweet and bitter, yet comfort food.

Keep wrapped tightly and store in cool, dry place. Allow to slowly melt on tongue. Relish the lingering finish. Warning: may cause addiction.