So I go to the Hare Krishna free vegetarian
food truck in my animal fur hat
and sit across from a mechanical engineering
student from India and tell him my story
of being the daughter of a professor emeritus
in a house by the lake. He smiles at how
children take paths so different from parents;
who are your inspirations? Patti Smith, I say,
because she combines rock and roll with poetry.
Are any of your songs about Seattle? he asks,
and again I stumble over my words, perhaps
they all are, and he tells me that his name
describes what happens when sailors get stuck
at sea, and hope to see the shore again;
that is what it means, Sahil.
At the beach, the New Zealander asks me, What are your musical influences? I am someone who has just been dropped in a tall well, and coming up for air, finds herself speechless. Influences? I guess I don’t have any. Then I muster a tepid, Bjork? receiving a nod of encouragement. I rack my brain. Kristin Hersch, from Throwing Muses? Her name doesn’t ring a bell for him, nor does the slow trickle of names that take leave of my brain. All those 4AD bands – Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, all that dreamy and gothic stuff I go nuts for. In an attempt at solidarity he suggests, The Cure? Sure, but I’m on to more obscure bands – The Raincoats, for instance. When I mention their Englishness, he starts listing English bands – Radiohead, David Bowie. Yeah, I guess I’m into female voices. Like PJ Harvey, her ability to continually transform herself. Like Bowie, but more significant to me because of her femaleness. Amy Winehouse. I like female artists that stand on their own, that don’t fit into a category because they are a category onto themselves.
I head to my bicycle, then while I twist the combination lock, it hits me. My favorite album of all time, written by a 16 year old New Zealander, Heroine by Lorde. I rush back to the beach to share this parcel, this newly gleaned insight! He’s never heard the record, I gush over it, her lyricism, the coming-of-age perceptive, which lives in me, how Lorde taps into that specific ageless female experience. He struggles to come up with another famous New Zealander. Crowded House? No, it’s Lorde and Lorde alone. He says he’ll listen to the album when he gets home. I pedal away filled with the pantheon of my influences jostling for stage time in my sun-drenched, grateful brain.
Here are a few parameters that help in creative tasks and that occured to me as a result of my current project of filming one song a day, for 26 days, with each song corresponding to a letter of the alphabet, and filmed in a particular outfit.
- Have some elements of your project pre-ordained so you don’t have a chance to second guess yourself. (In my case, the song, the letter, the costume.)
- Make the ritual of setting up the shot and grooming the self be part of your process.
- Have a time limit for the product so you don’t have to deliver a perfect take. (Instagram has 1 minute limit for video.)
- Play with visual elements. (The visual realm is highly gratifying to me.)
- Be able to put the work out into the world at the moment of its completion. (Instantaneousness is gratifying.)
- Design your project to span an arc of time. This way you can gain mastery over a period of days or weeks, which builds confidence.
- Set up your daily creative assignment so that it is a healthy stretch. In other words, set yourself up for success.
The dresses on the left represent the past. The dresses on the right, the future. It’s a way to mark the passage of time, 26 days, 26 dresses. I’m making a song video for each dress, marked with a pin and a tag, A-Z. 26 songs total.
It’s not that I had trouble marking the passage of Time. I wanted to plot an orderly arc through a unruly and vibrant landscape.
The putting together of this project/ feels so analogue and piecemeal/ not at all peaceful/ her friend says to record it when the feeling hits
It’s strange to listen back.
It’s 1995, I’m living at the Parkside, 19th & Aloha. I’ve taken to writing poems on tiny white pads of paper. In my mind, they’re just frenzied mental notes, slated for the scrap-pile. One day I press record on my Sony Walkman and speak the bits into the room. Later, I listen back. The thing that hit my ears is astounding – polished and confident! I’m ashamed that I had thought so lowly of my scribbles. They’ve morphed into something real, something worthy of existing! Now I have something I have an obligation towards, something to preserve and protect. I stash the cassette in a box and later find the tape has tangled with another tape and must be cut. I keep the damaged tape for some time, but eventually throw it out, tired of seeing it un-mended.
Flash forward to March 27, 2018. I soak in the tub and listen back to a recording on my phone. It’s rough. I’m playing a few coarse chords on the piano and singing words from my journal about the impossibility of capturing the essence of the moment. Body submerged, the sounds coalesce. The content strikes me as raw, yet perfect. Once it’s in my ears, I know it has become a thing that will hold up for me, that I’ll expect. That I’ll defend. If I hadn’t recorded it, I wouldn’t give it the time of day. The recording makes a claim on my memory, fixes it in my brain as something worth saving. What is behind my fascination with first takes? Is it blind obedience, or something higher, something approaching grace?
I wrote this song several years ago using a prompt that said, take a poem and set it to music.
Actually, that’s not correct. (After searching in vain for a Dickinson poem that starts thus.)
Now I remember! The prompt was to write a poem in the style of a poet. I wrote this ala Dickinson, then put it to music (which you can link to here).
The Child that hears the Buzz
The Child that hears the Buzz
of bees whose Spirits merge
with sweet Honey/ attunes our ears to Spring
He boldly finds the lowly
worm the Robin in
Her rush may spurn/ upset by Winter’s fling
The daylight spent like
Licorice on tongues
aglow with innocence/ the Night a curtain falls
Unfurling Grace whose hidden
Rooms and servants guard
Against dour Gloom/ until kind Dawn shall call
How time plays with our perception of origins. I had forgotten my part in the poem’s inception! I suppose it is a valid gift, so, Happy Birthday Emily!
It was just what she found herself going for, a nebulous sort of thing, more of a feeling than anything. Yet she slipped into it, a kind of mood, a melancholia, even, yes; only it felt like finding herself, or falling into a familiar room. Like a tune she plucked out on the piano, a simple melody, 3 or 4 chords tops, just playing them over and over again. It certainly wasn’t brilliant by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn’t brilliance she was after, no, more of an itch she felt like scratching by means of those 4 chords. An itch was a sadness. It wasn’t the stack of paperwork she brought home for the evening, no, that was just ghastly, she’d rather die then resign herself to cracking that pile of crap when she had a burning itch there reminding her of her longing. That’s where her loyalties lay, why she didn’t show the troubled parts of herself the door; she found comfort in her state of uncertainty.
Having played for her son Bird on a Wire and The Sailing Song by Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave respectively.
Margo: How low are they singing?
Kepler: It’s not that they are singing low, it’s just that they aren’t good singers so they use mixed voice which gives them a nice tone. It’s hard to say if they are a tenor or a baritone b/c they’re just singing where their voices sound good. I’m sure if they wanted to get trained they could and we could find out what their range is but they don’t want to b/c they are singing in a place that is easy to find a good tone in.
Margo: Leonard Cohen is quite old, you know.
Kepler: Yeah, your voice will never tire in mixed voice. Since they aren’t really singing in any range they are able to get that super easy tone and not strain themselves. They can sing that way on their deathbed, since that range where they’re comfortable is never going to change.
Margo: I’m sure they’d be relieved to know that.
Kepler: They don’t have to worry b/c they sound as good as any singer in that voice tone, and they probably sing their songs better than anyone else anyways. As far as pitch goes, in their kind of songs, pitch doesn’t really matter.
Margo: I never thought of that before.
I wander off from the spectacle to browse the pile of clothing in the clothes swap. The song wafting out from the meadow where the aerial rigging sways buoys my interest. The blonde girl-child deftly hoisting herself up the rope in time to the music. . . “Blue lips, blue veins, blue, the color of our planet from far, far away.” I stop in my tracks like a bird watcher off the beaten path, rewarded with a stolen glimpse of magnificence. Later, I spy the teen hanging back near the fence and summon up the courage to ask her her song. “Blue lips, by Regina Spektor”, she says, beguiling.
Fast forward. Rigging is coming down though the sun is still up. The girl-child’s mother appears and tells me that I know her child, though she has grown up out of my sight and transformed into the radiant being present today. I was brave in leaping across the divide to converse with what I thought was a stranger. It’s a testament of the power of music to dissolve boundaries, and compel us to approach a deity who ends up being a member of our tribe. “Blue, the most human, color….”