The Lady and the Tiger

March is almost over. Another Slice of Life Story Challenge about to go into the history books. Today is also the birthday of my friend Heidi. And April starts National Poetry Month.  I thought of all that, and suddenly I knew I needed to repost a couple of very old posts.

Heidi is a musician. Her professional name is Heidi Sabertooth (hence the title of this post). Back in 2012, she embarked on a writing challenge just as I started the SOLS challenge for that year. Her challenge? Write, record, and post a song a day for 100 days. Seriously. And then she upped the ante on the challenge by undertaking to create a video for each song. Because she is clearly so very much more ambitious than I can ever pretend to be!

I interviewed her when she was almost halfway through her challenge. And she had chosen one of my poems to set to music, so the interview and the song were posted on the same day.

Beans and Rice: Power and Control is the 8-year-old post that led to the poem Heidi set to music. Catching a Tiger by the Tail is the interview with Heidi that includes the video of the song. And I’m still trying to do that, still trying to catch that tiger, still taking on the SOLS challenge every March, still pushing myself to write a month of poetry every April, still striving.

It’s been a good month of writing. A good month of priming the pump to get ready for the grueling challenge of April. I am, as I am every year, grateful to everyone who reads here, grateful to the wonderful team at Two Writing Teachers who keep this challenge going and hold this space year after year.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Contact

Today was better than yesterday. There was a little weepiness when my work hours began, but then things smoothed out, brightened.

It kind of had to be a better day because I started it so wonderfully, listening to the lovely, peaceful-spirited Okorie Johnson (aka OkCELLO) playing his soul-embracing music to sing up the sun.

The ways people are finding to find and share themselves during this period of self-isolation is beautiful and inspiring.

We crave connection, right? Even those of us who are happy alone at home, sometimes we want to know that someone’s out there, someone’s looking for us, listening for us. This need makes me think of Peter Gabriel’s “I Have the Touch” …

I’m waiting for ignition, I’m looking for a spark
Any chance collision and I light up in the dark
There you stand before me, all that fur and all that hair
Oh, do I dare, I have the touch
Wanting contact
I’m wanting contact
I’m wanting contact with you

We want contact. So we’re creating it, we’re shining our lights at each other, hoping the sparks catch long distance.

I’m doing my part, adding to that reaching out. Tonight I had a cross-country zoom writing date and I’ll be hosting a zoom storytelling event on Friday.

I’m closing out the night listening to the final set of D-Nice’s house party on Instagram live. I’m already in bed, so no dancing for me, but I’m enjoying the energy and the thousands of people listening along with me — 32,600 when I first logged on (including an actual cavalcade of bright lights: Mc Lyte, Valerie Jarret, Halle Berry, Chuck D, Ruth E. Carter, Laila Ali, Dule Hill, and the Rock)! His Prince set — a gift to Ms. Berry — almost made me miss posting on time!!

This might have to become a shelter-in-place habit!


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Redux — Balm for Sadness Edition

I struggle through election cycles. So much rabid ugliness on casual display, so many times I am reminded how much I don’t matter to people to whom my life and well-being should matter. Sigh.

I didn’t want to post about all of that, however. At least not tonight. I wanted a distraction and the cosmos offered up a sweet one.

*

I used to think I didn’t like classical music. I didn’t understand anything about it and was made to feel ignorant, as if that was a door I wasn’t allowed to pass through.

I stayed away for a long time. But I secreted bits and pieces into my life – through choral music, through listing to WQXR on the DL. I started to be able to recognize certain composers … well, mostly just one composer, Dvořak. I started buying his music, perked up whenever Gregg Whiteside mentioned his name during my morning QXR fix. 

Listening to Whiteside helped me give myself permission to like classical music, to allow myself to be entirely ignorant and still like things I listened to. He was always so into it, so engaged, clearly enjoying his job, even the Alliance Française and Parliamo Italiano ads he read every morning. He made my secret explorations feel safe.

I have friends who are professional classical musicians. One, a violinist, was surprised by the classical pieces I listened to or was familiar with. She was particularly surprised by Dvořak, said his weren’t pieces she would expect a casual listener to like or be drawn to.

I’ve never been sure what to make of that. Aren’t we just drawn to whatever we’re drawn to? We hear something we like, we are moved by some combination of melody and instrumentation. We don’t make a choice, the sound and feeling choose us. 

 

I still don’t know anything. I mean, that’s not entirely true. I’ve played instruments, I sing. I know little bits of things about music in general and even smaller bits of things about classical music. But really I know nothing (me and Jon Snow). But I know when something strikes me, when something settles into my chest and thrums. That’s really all I need.

Thinking about this threshold I felt I couldn’t cross made me realize that I’d also closed the doors between myself and other kinds of music. There were the doors to jazz, to rap, to reggae. What the hell?

But was it really true? I listen to all of those “forbidden” things. Listen a LOT. So are the doors really closed? And, even though I listened to the music that was off limits, why was I hectoring myself about it, giving myself a hard time for having the audacity to take pleasure in something? How crazy is that?

 

Over time, I’ve allowed myself to be more comfortable with classical music, allowed myself to listen and enjoy and not have to “know” things, not have to do anything more complex than be moved by what I hear. A few years ago, I went to an Orpheus Chamber Orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall with my friend, Red Emma. The following year, I bought an Orpheus subscription, and two more subscriptions. Yes, me: totally embracing my love for classical music. In public.

I’ve since calmed down a bit and now have only two subscriptions — Orpheus and the Philadelphia Orchestra. 

I’ve written about my subscriptions before, hence the reason this post title is a repeat. An excellent thing happened today, though. I was thinking about all of this, my allowing myself to be comfortable with liking this music. And I thought about listening to Gregg Whiteside every morning before work. And it occurred to me to look him up, see what he was doing since he left QXR.

And what perfect thing should I find but that he’s in Philadelphia being the producer and anchor of the Philadelphia Orchestra shows on WRTI?! 

I’m sad today about some big, messy things in the world, but this bit of serendipitous joy helps, lets me believe the universe hasn’t turned her face from me after all.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to.
Or … it’s not too late to join in!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Deaths and Entrances

Yesterday, I went to the funeral of a friend’s dad. One of the things that struck me was how “at home” at felt, as if I was surrounded by my own family. I need to mention that I don’t know my friend’s family. I’ve met his mother, I know his partner, but that’s all. And, too, I have an unconscionably small family, so what I was feeling wasn’t in any way related to how I’ve ever felt when surrounded by my actual family because I’ve never been around that many people who are related to me. Usually, when I attend services like this one and I only know one or two people in the room, I start off feeling awkward and uncomfortable, but there was none of that at this morning’s funeral.

What I felt was about being surrounded by Black folks, specifically Black folks who are close to my age. My friend’s dad was nine years older than I am, so the cousins and friends in the room were all within 10 or 15 years of my age –both older and younger. All those beautiful Black faces, all the nods of acknowledgement, all the warmly grasped hands. Family.

Faces of Black folks always feel familiar. And they can make me feel comforted.* I’ve written in the past about how seeing African American faces made me long for home when I was in France. My response to seeing Black people gathered, seeing all the different and lovely features that make up their faces, has only increased since that moment of recognition in France. There was a moment after the service, when we were all outside waiting for the family to depart for the interment, when a crowd of men – cousins and nephews, a brother, maybe a friend or two – all came together for a photo. They were the most beautiful thing. I wanted to hug every one of them, my heart was so full.

Funerals are such strange things. They can be beautiful, sad, celebratory, painful, life-affirming, cold. All these things at once, even. And even if we plan them ourselves — as my dad scripted the run of show for his funeral — we can’t truly orchestrate them, won’t have control over what they will be.

Today, September 30th, would have been my father’s 88th birthday. The fact of it being 30 years since his death is shocking and unfathomable to me. I have to do the math, see it plainly on paper, on a calculator screen, have to make myself see the number in order to believe so many years have passed.

My father planned his funeral. Once he stopped talking about surviving his cancer, when he had accepted that survival wasn’t going to be a thing for him, he moved immediately into writing out his wishes for his homegoing. At first, I thought it was strange, morbid. Then I saw how it made so much sense. True, he wouldn’t exactly be there to enjoy it, but a) he would surely be watching and would want to see things that pleased him, and b) what better way to guarantee the inclusion of people he wanted in the proceedings? (People like me. If plans had been left only with the people who were responsible for arranging his funeral, it’s pretty likely that I would not have been asked to speak. My father clearly understood that and made a point of assigning me a specific reading.)

Planning the ceremony pleased him, so how could it be wrong? The way he got into it reminded me of the intensity with which he had once planned elaborate halftime routines for my high school marching band. He was careful, thinking through options, order, all the possible configurations. And he thought about music, what songs he wanted sung, what lyrics he wanted read out.

As I walked into the funeral parlor yesterday, Earth Wind and Fire was playing. I was instantly lifted. “That’s the Way of the World” is one of my favorite songs, and to have that playing as I stepped inside from Amsterdam Avenue was so right. I’d walked up from the subway thinking about when I used to live in that neighborhood, thinking about how long ago I’d been priced out of that neighborhood, thinking about how not like home some things I’d seen on my walk felt. And then to walk in and be welcomed by those familiar voices and those excellent lyrics. It was perfect.

In 2003 when I was convinced I wouldn’t survive the fibroid surgery I was about to have, I took my father’s example and began to write out what I wanted for my service. I started with the music, with the very simple desire to have “Oh, Freedom,” played or performed. I sat with that idea for a while and then built from there.

When I’ve thought about that final playlist in the years since, other songs have risen up as obvious additions. First is “City Called Heaven,” particularly the way it is sung by Jubilant Sykes in his glorious voice (and once I get started with Sykes, I have to add “Fix Me, Jesus” and “Blessed Assurance” because … well … of course). But my set list isn’t all church-approved. Jimi’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” has to be there. And Amos Lee and Willie Nelson singing Lee’s “El Camino.” These songs will always make the list. And so will Earth Wind and Fire. The first musical selection during the funeral service yesterday was “Fantasy,” and that made me so happy. It’s my all-time favorite EWF song, and it’s on my funeral program, too. Hearing it in the funeral parlor was beautiful. Seeing people sing along was that much more beautiful. Adding my voice with theirs made me smile and cry at the same time.

As much as my heart breaks for my friend, I was so glad he had the chance to honor his dad the way he did. I saw and felt so much love in that room, so much beautiful Blackness. May we all be so embraced, today and as we are ushered home.

__________
* I’ve also written about times when seeing the faces of other Black folks have made me feel sad, feel vulnerable and threatened – not by the people I’m seeing but by the truth of living in a world where the simple fact of our Blackness can put us in danger.


(My title is borrowed from Dylan Thomas. I’ve always loved that title … and the “incendiary eves” that occur and reoccur in this poem.)


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

A Head Full of Dreams

Tonight I had the pleasure of finding myself at Carnegie Hall for the last of this season’s Orpheus Chamber Orchestra subscription. The evening was all Schubert and Prokofiev, and it was fabulous.

It also reminded me of something wacky and fabulous. Years and years ago — maybe in the mid-80s? — I had a series of dreams that had nothing to do with one another … except that each contained the same moment. The dream would be running along whatever it’s course was, and then everything would pause. All the people in the dream would turn and look in the same direction down the street, and at the end of the street a train would be passing on an elevated track. It would be moving in slow motion and was always ornately decorated. As it passed, Prokofiev would be playing.
This happened in dream after dream for maybe 10 days or two weeks. I have no idea what could have been going on in my subconscious at the time and why it required cinematic Prokofiev accompaniment, but there it was.
The complete craziness of dreams always astounds me. How our brains cook them up, how they do and don’t make sense, the things you can and can’t read into them … it all fascinates me.
I’d forgotten about the Prokofiev train until midway through tonight’s concert. I’m glad Orpheus brought it back to me. That’s definitely a dream worth remembering!

It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!