This weekend we made and saw history at the Gettysburg 150th Anniversary Battle Re-enactment, accompanied by friends from Texas with whom we have our own history. The event was more than shooting, as these few photos can attest.
I’ve been relocating my garden. Most of the fuzzy, silvery (read unappealing to deer) lambs’ ears from the back yard notgarden are being transplanted, shovelful by shovelful, into an instant garden in the front of the house. This is a time-consuming process as I must step back frequently to evaluate, ruminate, and procrastinate over the direction and flow of the plants, the angle and quantity of rocks and geegaws subsumed into the making of the new garden, and to clumsily punch the minuscule button on my MP3 player with my muddy garden glove to bypass, or circle back to, a particular song. As always, I was accompanied by that electronic companion, comforter, personal trainer, and virtual Lucifer himself ever ready to distract me, magically squeezed into a purple 1.5″ x 2″ case; my MP3 player. On this typical Sunday morning consisting of neighborhood silence and solitude so thick and clinging as to seem post-apocalyptic, my garden slogging was backed by Ingrid Michaelson singing cheerily against my brain about broken hearts and broken parts and Sheryl Crow reminding me that “all I wanna do is have some fun” and Pitbull rasping that I’m” groovy, baby” and he wants us to” make a movie, baby” and Haley Bonar voicing my exact wish that “I could be my former self, she’d be a fun girlfriend — she got a bad reputation.” Suitable music for gardening, or the end of the world, in case this day actually was and I didn’t recognize it.
The morning’s mucking about was slow going and it was evident the game would soon be called by yet more rain. My $1.25/bag soil was going to be nickel-a-pound mud if I didn’t lay the traveling lambs’ ears lickety-split into the dirt to be held in place temporarily by the oval marble cutouts scavenged from somebody’s bathroom sink installation. I continued digging and pulling and wheeling back yard to front.
And humming. And singing.
Raindrops began falling around me. I saw their impressions on the pollen-glazed driveway more than felt them. There would be no stopping the transplant slog just yet, though. I’d been carting this garden around for weeks between rainstorms and traveling. At this pace, autumn would be here before I got this project done. After autumn, the world does end, nearly, for me.
Digging and wheeling, digging and wheeling. Singing. Punching the replay button on the MP3 player with ever dirtier gloves. More singing.
The rain continued upping the ante.
The Blazers queued up on my electronic Lucifer, playing their jaunty “Cumbia Del Sol.” I’d steadfastly cast tempters Ingrid and Sheryl and Pitbull and Haley behind me, but the Blazers held out the ultimate apple. “Cumbia” — a dance form; “del Sol” — the sun.
I looked at the substantial expanse of waiting dirt. Just another wheelbarrow or two would allay my procrastination guilt. At least two more days of rain were forecast. The trees stood near me aloof and dripping and mute amongst their brown leaf carpeting, the sole witnesses to my labors aside from an occasional road biker blazing past.
So, what really mattered here?
I bit the Blazer’s apple.
I poked the volume button. I dropped the shovel. Stepping over the wine bottle garden edging, I proceeded to trample the nearby clover with my own cumbia, dancing alone and upright and madly in the front yard, dissing the dreary sky, seeing a cartoon-bright sun in my mind. I danced opposite the grubby me reflected in the house windows. I danced among the imaginary crowd on the backs of my eyelids. I danced with my back to every self-imposed Puritanical “should,” hoofing gleefully with the Lucifer of right here and right now. I danced because I could, and because I couldn’t not dance.
And there it is. Don’t wait. Drop your shovel or your phone or your loneliness or your disease and dance, with your eyes closed and your back to your Puritans if necessary. Whatever’s in your garden, weeds or prize roses or just dirt, nothing’s going anywhere. Right now is all that really matters. Don’t let the chance to be happy, to have fun for just this moment, slip away. Never let that chance get away from you. There’s no replay button for it.
I had a birthday last weekend. Mike wanted to take me to an elegant restaurant, as we’ve done for each other every year we’ve been together. But the All New and Improved(?) Me longed for something more. . .more. . … Continue reading →
Guilty – I admit it at the outset. I have a visceral need to be part of Something – Something New and Big. How that fits in with my other need to be invisible remains to be reconciled, but there … Continue reading →
Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 3.0, “Water Night,” streamed live last night online from Lincoln Center. My aging, temperamental laptop and equally frustrating internet connection miraculously made peace with each other, allowing me to watch all 3700+ of us, with a celebratory glass of wine in my hand. The video is now here.
My post, “Virtually Awesome,” talked a bit about how I found Virtual Choir 2.0, ”Sleep.” That video was a tiny virtual shrub poking from the side of the sheer mountain face of despair I was then falling down, and I held onto that shrub fiercely while I found a toehold. I regretted publishing “Virtually Awesome” so quickly after recording my tenor part for “Water Night,” though, because my writing focus wasn’t right. The focus shouldn’t have been me, it should have been Eric Whitacre and those people from all over the world who gave themselves into that gentle, calming, reassuring gift of “Sleep.”
After last night’s “Water Night” premiere, Lincoln Center hosted a three-person discussion among composer John Corigliano, “Water Night” composer and conductor, Eric Whitacre, and Chris Anderson, conference curator from TED. These three talented and insightful individuals clearly realized that the Virtual Choirs were ground-breaking and universe-denting, and they seemed just as awed and humbled by them as the participants themselves have been. Notes I scribbled while watching them include, “The singers cared about one thing, and they cared together; there was a profound oneness; the singers are a part of a larger family; no singer was left behind; music changes how we respond to things — it opens us up; the singers are part of something bigger than themselves, which is a key to happiness.”
Corigliano, Whitacre & Anderson
I’ll probably never find my little square among all those other videos comprising the whole “Water Night,” (though, based on a static group photo, I am 4th row from the bottom and 27 places from the left edge), but that’s okay. I know I’m there and care about that one bigger thing, and I’m surrounded by literally thousands of virtual singing family members who also care about that one bigger thing that took on a life of its own, and who support and improve my performance a thousandfold. I took part in this because of them, not because I wanted visual recognition, or to stand out from everyone else. I wanted to inhale the breath of our community, and release it into the same magical sound with my family from Brazil, El Salvador, Namibia, Hungary. Our breath, our determination, our triumph, are now a part of this universe, as the rising moon in “Water Night” watches over all of us.
I have a persistent furball in my throat. My mornings are spent hacking and “aheming” until I can settle it into an acceptable place. This mucous meatball significantly crimps any singing I might want to do.
During a Very Low & Lonely Time last year, I discovered Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir performing ”Sleep.” http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/eric_whitacre_a_virtual_choir_2_000_voices_strong.html. Here was this cool composer guy talking about souls on virtual desert islands, going to any length to find and connect with each other. The individual singers, connected in the video by nebulous bands, showed me that distance and isolation could be overcome. The music itself was painfully gentle, and healing. Through my ocean of tears, Scarlett O’Hara-like I vowed to take part if another virtual choir assembled. I wanted desperately to be part of something that mattered.
“Water Night” came out over the 2011 holidays, and I did participate. And I am unashamedly freaking proud.
Even in my long-ago, pre-furball days, I never sang solo. I was an alto who could sing well within my section. The alto line of “Water Night” is too difficult for my current voice, so I chose the tenor line. Then I procrastinated ordering print music. We went out of town over the holidays. I waited weeks for practice videos that turned out to not meet my hand-holding neediness. My voice could support only a limited amount of practice before disintegrating. I had to relocate my aging laptop with its very noisy fan closer to the router so the conductor video wouldn’t hang. My laptop had no webcam. Mike’s newer laptop did but wouldn’t play the official recording video without downloading a new browser. The submission deadline was galloping toward me.
Virtual Choir 3.0 (VC), as the “Water Night” project is named, had an active Facebook page with people posting their accomplishments, encouragement, and tips. I saw a suggestion there to use a camera and upload to YouTube rather than record at the VC website. I had never used a web cam, filmed a video on a camera, or uploaded to YouTube. I didn’t know if the camera microphone would capture my voice or the noisy computer fan, or record the entire song. But I figured if all those people all over the world were doing it, I could too.
The music studio.
On the day before the deadline, I set up shop in our recording studio (Mike’s office), beside the wireless for best reception. Lights meant to illuminate my face gave me a Blair Witch Project appearance. I ditched them and turned on the recessed ceiling lights with their broken dimmer switch, leaving me with an orb on my head in the video. I stacked jewelry boxes beside the laptop to raise the camera so the video would not be solely of the inside of my nose. After falling off a couple times, the camera found its own niche and stayed in place. I then discovered it had developed a lingering lens motor noise after being turned on. But I was now a train not to be stopped. I clasped a wedding-gift necklace from Mike around my throat, donned headphones, and started singing.
I recorded four videos. They were all equally bad, or rather, I’m equally bad in all of them. One filmed me walking into the room in my underwear. I’m rolling my eyes at being out of tune on another. All of them have a beer bottle and antique insecticide containers in the background, as well as drywall patches and bursting book cases. Every one has off-tune notes, and I’ve discovered that, like Homer Simpson, my upper lip is far too long for my face. After the third attempt, my voice began rasping significantly. There was no way I was going to improve my performance, despite alternately sipping water and swallowing honey. In the final video, I am literally gasping at times and lip-syncing at others. But I’m smiling at the end.
The YouTube upload took a relatively unattended hour while I watched “Being Human.” The audio portion came out surprisingly clear at the website — and the visual was flipped on its side. No amount of button pushing could get me upright. I posed my dilemma to the Facebook support page, and had the instant answer that the VC techies could get me to sit up straight at their end.
I surrendered control. I let go, and my video went into the Virtual Choir cue.
My pinpoint on the VC map.
And the hammer on my happiness meter came down so hard it nearly blew out the top.
I don’t care if they don’t use my video. If they sent it back with a form letter that says it doesn’t meet the lowest available standard, I would understand and accept that. I climbed over my self-consciousness hurdle and ignored the embarrassment trap. I had done the best I was capable of; I hadn’t given up because of or been intimidated by the thousands of much better singers. And I was now a part of something that had lifted my spirit in the past, something that mattered. My breath, my determination, my triumph are now a tiny bit of the universe.
I will not wait till the last minute to go to the bathroom, especially if a slippery zipper is being anchored in the “up” position by a safety pin.
I will not complain about what’s free — Facebook, cloud servers, Pandora radio, friends, family, or gifts.
I will not go viral or ballistic, nor will I jump on any bandwagons. The first seems germ-laden, the second downright dangerous, the third just an opportunity to be run over.
I will not pass up a chance to wear a conical hat. Look what it did for Harry Potter. December’s Saturnalia observation is already marked on my new calendar. Being a dunce and wearing the hat has its advantages, not the least of which is a seat near the front of the crowd.
I will not daily blog publicly. If I have nothing to say I will not burden my 25 subscribers with it. Every bit of writing advice promotes “honing the craft” by daily writing. That doesn’t mean I have to bore my long-suffering readers with every if, and, or but I can spell.
I will not hesitate to take the Magic Bus on adventures everywhere I can possibly go, with anyone who wants to come with.
I will not ignore the voices in my head. Shh, just a second. A retrospective of my life shows significant slapdowns could have been avoided if I hadn’t muzzled my own instincts. What were you saying?
I will not pass up an opportunity to toss a coin, accompanied by a wish, into a fountain. No shooting star will complete its arc without my thoughts clinging to its tail. Every dandelion will scatter before my breath and every wishbone will be accommodated.
I will never think twice about joining a celebratory parade or doing the happy dance. Not now, not ever.
I love beer. Why has it taken half my life to discover that? I’ve been locked for years in this precise march step with wine, when my true nature dictates I should be doing a sweaty contra-dance with every craft beer that asks me onto the floor. Dragon’s Milk, Full Nelson, He’Brew Jewbilation, Dead Guy, Holy Sheet and my much beloved though currently unavailable St. Arnold’s — if I could drink them all daily, all day, I would.
So what could be more natural than volunteering at a beer festival? Why, nothing. And so we did, Mike & I, of a recent Saturday, at the Charlottesville Top of the Hops Beer Festival. For one sunny, Brigadoon-like afternoon, every last one of my smile muscles worked itself into pleasant exhaustion. We
Team Pierce, in "ridiculously happy" pose
volunteered in whatever capacity might be wanted, got free admission, met a thousand or so new friends (though I’m struggling to remember everyone’s name), a free meal, and all the beer we could drink. Whatever the definition of the word “awesome,” multiply it by a factor of 10.
The VIPs (i.e., costs more) broke the festival seal and primed us for the crowd to follow. Mike and I learned quickly how to squirt a 2-ounce sample into cute miniature mugs without making more foam than liquid gold. I know 2 ounces doesn’t sound like much, but while you can still do the math, multiply 2 ounces by 150+ different beers and unlimited servings. After the first hour of VIP tasting, the regular crowd shuffled in.
And what a great crowd! Many were called to wear their finest tees depicting favorite brews and drinking destinations. Custom beer cap earring and necklace creations (including those worn by yours truly) inspired oohs and aahs, as did a kilt or two and genuine lederhosen. This was the first time I’ve seen pretzel necklaces, which the wearers tell me are for the aroma. Personally, if I had those hanging around my neck and a beer in my hand, I’d be chowing down on them. My favorite festival-goer was the charming young man celebrating his birthday in a crown and carrying a scepter. As Queen, I admit to coveting his scepter, and I’d give a gold coin or two to get my royal hands on the photos of me administering birthday whacks to this Subject with the wooden paddle he so willingly provided me.
It's my birthday; spank me. Please.
During our breaks we dove into the crowd. Table to table we presented our wee mugs for samples. I spotted a Texas Longhorn shirt and ran it down, snagging a Texas A&M chemistry masters grad. He took my question “Can you cook meth?” with aplomb, but that’s no surprise; he’s Texan. And of course, like you, gentle reader, he watches Breaking Bad.
I found my voice, and myself, for a time again that afternoon, summoning the happy masses to the bar to share God’s gift of beer. Team Pierce pulled taps for Devils Backbone Brewing (“Get Boned!”), admired the remarkably polite and intermittently colorful populace, and drank just enough beer to know that we were in a very happy moment.
How can you not be happy with a beer?
And thanks to my friend, Marilyn, for volun-beer-ing. It’s a word that will forever remain in my vocabulary, parked beside a great festival memory.