In Praise of Taylor Swift

I have become a fan of the Taylor Swift phenomenon.

This is not fandom in the classic sense. I am in no way a Swiftie. I’ve never seen her perform; in fact, I’d be hard-pressed to recognize one of her songs.

But I love it that she has this huge fan base among women and girls, so huge that she was just named Time’s Person of the Year. And while I’m sure she has fans of other genders as well, even male ones, it is the joy I observe among women that makes this so satisfying.

The point at which I realized Swift was a big deal was when I heard her discussed on podcasts with women lawyers and law professors. These lawyers were going to her shows, some with their daughters, some on their own.

I’m talking about the kind of lawyers who teach constitutional law, which is about as high-powered as you get academically in the legal profession. Women who are up and coming academic powerhouses are not only Swifties, but not afraid to trumpet their fandom.

When I think about how careful the women lawyers of my generation were, especially the ones who aspired to judgeships and high academic posts, I am agog. These women are demanding that you pay attention to their legal thinking and at the same time they’re the embodiment of Cyndi Lauper’s great song “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

It thrills me to see it, much in the same way that the Barbie movie thrilled me. Like Swift, Barbie is not really my thing, but the combination of feminism and sheer joy in that movie – a movie about a major commercial toy! – was so damn refreshing.

And since we are still living in capitalistic times, it is worth pointing out that both Swift and the movie make money – big money – out of performances that are squarely aimed at women and girls. Continue reading “In Praise of Taylor Swift”

Sultana’s Dream and other matters

I nearly let my purple sparkly sorting hat decide what I would talk about this week. If I’d had just a little more energy, I’d have written a list of all the subjects (I’m thinking about so many things right now, ranging from whether I should write a vampire cookbook to how to deal with silencing in the current political environment) and chosen one at random. This is the first day in two weeks where the morning began with merely moderate pain, however, and fatigue is ever-present, so I played Solitaire. This was entirely the right thing to do.

The postie just rang my doorbell and she had a little package for me. In the package was something I’ve been after for a long, long time. Let me tell you about it.

The book is by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain. It’s two novellas, Sultana’s Dream and Padmarag. Hossain wrote Sultana’s Dream in 1905. Padmarag was translated in 1924, but Hossain wrote it in Bengali. Hossain was a feminist bilingual writer of speculative fiction, how could I not want to read her work? And it’s the hundredth year of the publication of Padmarag very, very soon. I shall celebrate, with food, music and with a reading. Whether that reading is for myself alone or online to share depends. If you’re reading this and would like to be a part of it, let me know!

One last note. It’s Mizrachi Heritage Month right now. Reading the writing of Mizrachi Jews or cooking delicious Mizrachi food doesn’t mean you support what Netanyahu’s doing. It does, however, help us understand a bit about the cultures are of the those Jews who never left the Middle East. Last year I read (here’s a list in case this appeals to you), and this year it’s all about the food. Next year it will probably be both. Right now, though, I’m playing the music of Ofra Haza: my favourite song (“Kirya”) changes the rhythm of my typing.

My background is mostly from Ashkenaz, with a bit of Sephardi. That’s different music and different food. Now, if you will please excuse me, I’m very excited about finally getting a copy of Hossain’s works and I need to read them at once!

What Deborah’s Playing on the Piano

Saturday afternoon, I attended a lovely Hallowe’en student concert at Cabrillo College. Audience was masked, performers masked or PCR tested. So great to hear live music again! One of the pieces was a synthesizer adaptation of Satie’s first Gnossienne, which I’m working on. (It was very weird. Very weird on steroids.) That reminded me it’s been a while since I posted what I’m working on now. For those new to this journey, I’m an adult piano student who began piano lessons 15 years ago, my first ever formal instruction. I’m a grown-up, or so the theory goes, so I get to play what I want.

 

  • Satie. Gnossienne #1. It’s a hoot. One measure that goes on for pages, with directions like “Postulez en vous-même” (wonder about yourself). Lots of repetition of the motifs with subtle differences of expression.
  • Gillock. “Silent Snow” from Lyric Preludes in Romantic Style. Gillock was primarily a teacher. These short pieces are beautiful and fun to play as they challenge technique. The one I just started requires exquisite control of dynamics and pedaling. Gillock’s pieces are a great prep for composers like Debussy and Satie.
  • A couple of Schubert waltzes. They’re like “bon-bons” or Chopin Lite.
  • “Warg Scouts” from Howard Shore’s music for The Hobbit. The dwarves are running for their lives, Radagast is trying to lure the orcs on their wargs away, and Gandalf is scheming to get his part to Rivendell. Pounding rhythm. Am I nuts? When I looked at the piece, I went, “Ack!! I can’t possibly!!!” So I’m tackling it slowly with the metronome under my teacher’s guidance. Might take a couple of years to get it up to tempo (quarter note = 180, agitated) but it will do wonders for my technique. And be soooo much fun!
  • Bach Invention 14. If I skip a day, it falls apart. Otherwise, I’m focusing on the way the motif bounces back from one hand to the other, detached notes in one hand but legato in the other.
  • Debussy. “Claire de Lune.” Be still, my heart. I’m about a page away from playing it straight through and then we get to work on dynamics, speed, and expression.
When I have time, I work on my past repertoire. Current favorites are “May It Be” (Enya), Debussy’s “La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin,” Satie’s 1st and 3rd Gymnopédies, a transcription of Ashokan Farewell, and a bunch of music from LotR.

Lizzo and the Flute

There’s this little voice that pipes up when I see certain things, one that tells me some asshole is going to do their best to destroy this lovely thing I’m seeing.

Many years ago I went to an afternoon movie by myself. I even remember the movie: The Ruling Class, a dark comedy starring Peter O’Toole.

But although that movie made a deep impression on me itself, it was the short that preceded it that is important to this story. In it, a woman danced the tango.

The moment the woman appeared on the screen, I knew the men (well, probably boys, given this was next to the University of Texas campus and an afternoon show) were going to laugh.

And laugh they did.

The woman who danced was not skinny. She wasn’t fat, either, but she was buxom and curvy and in no way met the ideal of womanhood in the early 1970s or, in fact, in any part of my lifetime.

I suspect she met the ideal of womanhood in the place where the short was filmed, but since I do not remember anything about the film except a fleeting image of the woman herself, I can’t look that up.

She was a very talented and skilled dancer, but that didn’t matter. She wasn’t beautiful enough for the pleasure of the young men in our society.

I’d been around long enough by then to know what they would and wouldn’t find acceptable. It’s one of those things you learn early on if you’re raised female: how to predict what men will find attractive and what they’ll laugh at.

I felt the same thing when I saw the online clips of Lizzo playing the crystal flute from the Library of Congress collection. Continue reading “Lizzo and the Flute”

Very Clean

I was ten when A Hard Day’s Night came out. It played for about a year at the Village Cinema, four blocks from my house in Greenwich Village. The Village Cinema was a little art house, and while my mother was not against dropping the kids at the movies (I was 10, my brother was 8) especially during the summer when it was hot and there was air conditioning, she preferred to do it at the Waverly or the Loews Sheraton (both larger, with a larger, more supervisory staff to make sure we wouldn’t be spirited away). I think she found the Village Cinema–what was called an “art house” in those days, a little skeevy. In any case, neither my mother nor my father was enthused by the idea of taking us themselves and spending two hours watching what they anticipated would be a standard teen-pop-star movie.

Enter my Aunt Julie. Julie is my mother’s younger sister. She not only didn’t balk at taking us to the movie, she was delighted. By the time she came to visit we were in Massachusetts for the summer, so the three of us went to the Mahaiwe, the local theatre in Great Barrington, to see it. The rest, as far as we were concerned, was history. The three of us came home afterwards singing and quoting lines (“I now declare this bridge open…”) and within a week or two my mother, at least, gave in to the siren call of upbeat music and my aunt’s enthusiastic recommendation, and she began quoting from it as well. My grandmother called to ask me what the refrain of “he’s very clean,” referring to Paul’s grandfather, was all about. I saw Hard Day’s Night a good dozen times over the next year, and whole chunks of the dialogue moved into our household vernacular. Continue reading “Very Clean”

“The Changer and the Changed”

A couple of days ago I got to thinking about a summer day back in the 1980s when a group of women put on an all-day women’s music festival on a hillside next to a junior high school in Takoma Park, Maryland. I was there with my friend Victoria Eves, a professional videographer, and ran sound for the video she made of the event.

I couldn’t remember the exact year, or the name of the event, but, as is our wont these days, I googled, and not only found that the first Sisterfire event happened in 1982, but the video Victoria made that year. I even have a credit as the sound recordist. This website has a vimeo of it set up.

It’s an hour-long video that captures some of the high points of an amazing day. I got tears in my eyes watching it. All those wonderful musicians, the enthusiastic audience scattered over the hillside, the feminist activism that underlay everything that went on.

We were all so young then. We were all so ready to go out and claim our places in the world. And to change it.

We were, in fact, very much like the young activists I meet today. And yeah, for those of you who pay attention to generational things, both the performers and the audience were mostly Boomers, though since some of them had kids there were some members of Gen X running around as well.

Sisterfire represented a lot of the best of second wave feminism. Continue reading ““The Changer and the Changed””

Remembrance

On Memorial Day of 2020, as the pandemic was really getting going and many were sheltering in isolation, a new tradition was initiated: Taps Across America. Assisted by publicity from Steve Hartman of CBS’s On the Road, the movement inspired thousands of Americans to pause at 3:00 p.m. local time and play “Taps.”

The idea came from the National Moment of Remembrance in honor of Memorial Day, an annual event initiated by Congress in 2000. Americans, wherever they are at 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, are asked to pause for one minute to remember those who have died in military service to the United States. Because the pandemic had us staying at home instead of getting together for barbecues in 2020, this was a way of doing something together to honor the moment.

It’s almost enough to make me want to learn to play the bugle. Though I am not a buglar, I do play the clarinet, and I intend to play “Taps” at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day this year.

Why?

Because it’s this kind of shared moment that can save our country. This kind of thing brings us together, at a time when so many forces are seeking to divide us. This kind of moment is what America needs to heal its collective soul.

While my own immediate family doesn’t include military veterans, my spouse’s family does, and I will be honoring them as well with my playing. I invite you to join me in this moment, if not by playing “Taps,” then by observing the National Moment of Remembrance.

And then you can get on with your barbecue.

 

‘We Are Stardust.”

I mentioned last week that I had signed up for an 18-day virtual meditation retreat that started on Election Day.

It was the smartest thing I’ve done all year.

I was a little stressed as I watched returns on Election Day itself; I remember 2016 all too well. But on Wednesday, when it started to become obvious that the Biden-Harris team was going to win, I got calm.

And I’ve stayed that way.

It’s not that I’m sanguine about all the challenges ahead. I already sent money to Fair Fight Action for the Georgia Senate runoffs.

I’m worried about a lot of things. The Republicans seem to have become a cult. The moderate Democrats seem to be under the illusion that we can just go back to “normal” even though it’s obvious that ship has sailed.

And while our local races here in Oakland went well — we’re going to have a more progressive city council this time around — that just means that we’ve got a better chance of getting our voices heard. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to work to get something meaningful done.

I’m concerned about a lot of things, but I’m not freaking out. And that is truly wonderful. Continue reading “‘We Are Stardust.””

Living in small spaces during big times

Every few months there are five Mondays in a month. Also, I posted last week because … magpies. This means you hear from me three Mondays running, and this is only Monday #2. Brace yourself…

I broke iso on Saturday. There was a medicine I urgently needed and I didn’t want to ask a friend when I also had to post a letter and get some money form the bank. I walked under falling blossom and realised that I’d chosen to go outdoors the first day of the new season. The actual change of season isn’t until 1 September, but Spring arrived on Saturday. The only shop I actually went into was the chemist. There, I could see why I am not supposed to go near people. For every nine people using common sense, there was one who wanted to make the queue move faster by creeping up behind me.

I break iso once every six weeks, on average.

Just sitting in the sunshine reminded me that the outside world is not defined by the internet and Netflix. This got me wondering why I don’t feel the need to break out more often. All kinds of other people cannot stay in their homes even if they have gardens. They have to buy milk or bread every day. I only reach that level of stir crazy every six weeks, despite living in an apartment.

I suspect it’s partly because I’ve worked mostly from home for years. I don’t have to go out at all now, though, and so I have more time to catch up on silly films I missed.

I shall not list the films, for they are all ones I would not have gone to the cinema to see, except Hamilton. Hamilton is not a silly film, even though I ran an inner argument with it the whole time.

That inner argument is the other thing. I’m watching movies with Italian subtitles or Spanish subtitles where I can, for my insufficient knowledge of both languages makes me restless. A few minutes ago I started telling my TV screen that I had not fully considered the effects that the choice of ‘guard’ and ‘watch’ and equivalent words had over the way we think about possessions and people. Then I moved onto ‘save’. Look them up in Spanish and Italian if you don’t already know them. Take your time. Tangents for thought are perfectly allowable when one looks up words.

I was watching the live action Aladdin and had to pause it to do work, for otherwise a whole new plot would have accompanied the film.

Not that I object to whole new plots accompanying films. Earlier today I was thinking that three of the Star Wars films would be massively improved with a dubbed version that turned them into comedy.

I like music, though, and needed to listen to it rather than let my mind play with historical linguistics. I often dance to musicals, mildly, for it hurts. Every time I do this, the next day is less difficult so it is worthy pain. My dancing feet remind me that they are musicals and that I really shouldn’t drift too much.

My time sense has warped beyond all logic since the bushfires and COVID-19, but my mind takes me into some wonderful explorations. I was bored for an hour earlier this year and I tweeted it. It astonished me, that, in over twelve months of things being so seriously challenging, I should only have been bored that one hour.

I rather suspect I made a decision in my childhood that no matter how alone I was, I was not going to be lonely. I know I worked hard in my teens to develop this skill. I’m still working on some elements of it. I wasn’t expecting this work to give me the pandemic experience some of my friends crave. I hope there are classes on this for people who had lives that didn’t push them to develop this skill. I can’t imagine how awful COVID-19 in an apartment would be without my arguments with the TV screen or my dreams while I wash dishes. (I hate washing dishes.)

I am not alone in this drift of time and the richness it embraces. Quite a few writers I know are experiencing something similar. What I wonder is the possible relationship between problematic childhoods, a determination to not be defeated by them and us becoming writers.

My sentences are growing complicated and I’ve been sitting down for too long. Time for more Aladdin.

Clarinetist Anthony McGill Takes Two Knees

Following the Boston Pops musicians-at-home tribute to COVID-19 first responders, I was blown away today by this solo performance at home by the New York Philharmonic’s principal clarinetist Anthony McGill, of “America the Beautiful”—beautifully and subtly re-tuned to convey Mr. McGill’s sorrow and anger at racial injustice. Watch and listen to it on a device with good sound; it’s worth it. McGill ends the piece with… well, I’ll let you watch and see.

McGill’s statement inspired this haunting and inspiring rendition of Sebelius’s Hymn from Finlandia, by music students and faculty from four different music schools, all taking two knees in protest of injustice.

The story appears on NPR’s Here and Now, with an interview by WBUR radio’s Robin Young. The interview is well worth a listen: