Friday, September 29, 2006

Cat Friday

Her purr rumbles inside my knees;
we dream of clear October blue.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Idée d'jour

A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity.
— Eleanor Roosevelt, diplomat and writer (1884-1962)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Feminist Idée d’jour

I'm dating a guy who's twenty-one. That's seven in boy years.
— Lisa Goich, author of The Breakup Diary
By this logic, I'm a little over 16.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

New Meditation Available

The second devotional essay I wrote for the RevGalPal collection is now up at the Ordinary Time blog. I felt, at the time, that it was somewhat more orthodox than what I might normally write.

The devotional was a response to a selection from the Epistle of James, which does not rank as one of my favorites. James may be read (even in this pericope) as favoring works over faith. So perhaps my orthodoxy was a response to his.

On the other hand, if I really were all that "orthodox" (or conservative), I probably would not have referred to "our Buddhist friends".

Give it a read. If you have a comment, leave it on with the devotional.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Winfield: Ambience & Final Thoughts

I arrived in Winfield before lunch last Tuesday, Sept. 12. It might have been as early as 11:30. As I was unpacking, I told Mary that I had brought chili to share. She already had dinner plans, and suggested we warm it up for lunch.

My chili recipe is founded on Wick Fowler's mix, with additional seasonings. It was a hit.

It did not take long for me to set up my borrowed tent, though I did require help from Mary's friend Dianne. I didn't even need to ask.  And my male ego wasn't the least bit threatened.

This year was the 35th anniversary of the Walnut Valley Festival. Tents were already packed tight around our reserved camping spot. It was even more crowded by Saturday. I have always been amazed by how many people and tents can fit into such a relatively small area.

The camps are divided into two main parts – Pecan Grove and Walnut Grove. The former is comprised primarily of tents, and the latter is primarily RVs and trailers. I spent more time "picking & grinning" on the Walnut side, where Bill and friends have their trailers. They play the same time of music that I do, and I seem to fit in better with them.

They suggested I camp with them next year. They claimed things tended to be quieter on their side of the campgrounds.

My goal this year was to limit my expectations — neither positive or negative. Last year was kinda negative because it got off to a bad start. The year before was kinda lonely. Seemed to me the best course was to go without expectations, and let the experience be unique for this year (without comparison to past years).

Based on this criteria, the experience was positive. I didn't go to many concerts - around ten. But I did relax, and visit old friends. I played music and enjoyed music.

I went back to Bill's camp one last time on Saturday night. Brenda and Jane were the last two to ask if I sing professionally. Suppose the Holy Spirit is speaking through all these folks?

Idée d’jour

The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinions.
— James Russell Lowell, poet, editor, and diplomat (1819-1891)

Winfield: The Music

There is always a "pre-festival" concert on Wednesday evening.   Normally, this concert is sponsored by Taylor Guitar, and features guitarists who play that high-end instrument. This year, the Wednesday evening concert featured harp guitars.

One of the premiere advocates for harp guitar is Stephen Bennett , who served as host and MC for the concert.   He had inherited one of these instruments from his grandfather, and taught himself how to play it.   Early in his career, he performed with this guitar.   Eventually, he hired a luthier to build an exact replica.

The harp guitar was very popular in the 1920s.   The most common construction is to have 8-10 strings strung from a harp-like arch just above a standard guitar neck.   The skilled performer will play these strings as an additional bass line.   But even if one doesn't even touch these strings, they will resonate sympathetically as the player strikes the regular guitar strings.

The group I camp with ("Grenola") had a new member this year.   Dianne works for the same company as Mary, and they have been friends for some time.   This was Dianne's first year to attend the festival, making her a "Winfield Virgin" in the common parlance.

Mary encouraged Dianne to go with me to the harp guitar concert, and she did.   She had never seen or heard a harp guitar before.   It was nice to share the concert with a new friend.

For the finale, all four guitarists came on stage and played "The Water is Wide", one of my top five favorite songs.   Naturally, when we got back to camp, I just had to pull out my normal guitar and play my own version of this song.

Now one guy with one dreadnaught-style guitar is not very loud, especially in a space like the campgrounds.   Plus, I was trying to sing relatively softly.   But Dianne heard me, and came over to listen.   It didn't take much encouragement for me to perform most of my catalogue.

Dianne seemed to be quite pleased and flattered to receive what she referred to as a "private concert".   With her permission (nay, encouragement), I performed an original song, "I Get the Blues": "I get the blues / goin' home to empty rooms. / I get the blues, it's nothing new. / When I have to face that empty space / Oh, I get the blues."

As a recently divorced person living in a 1700 sq ft house, she definitely identified.

Dianne was the second person to ask if I perform professionally.

As I mentioned prior to leaving, I had set myself the goal of seeing musical groups I had not seen before.   As it turned out, I saw a mix of old and new.   New acts included Bluestem, a cowboy group similar to Sons of the Pioneers; Still on the Hill, a folky-type due (I was unimpressed); Nick Charles; and Chris Jones and the Night Drivers.   This last act I saw because Chris was the instructor for the Bluegrass Vocal workshop.

A highlight was Nick Charles.   The festival puts out a daily newsletter, WV News, on a two-sided legal-sized sheet.   In addition to a copy of that day's schedule and the previous day's contest winners, this newsletter has feature articles about sights and sounds in the campgrounds. The Wednesday edition of the WV News mentioned a campground which had created its own Internet radio station, Front Porch Radio.

A man and his wife set up this radio station. They both went through the campgrounds and invited camp pickers to come perform. They also invited professionals to perform. These performances - camp pickers and pros - were streamed live on the internet and will soon be archived and available at any time.

The only day Nick Charles was playing the festival was on Thursday. I had not planned to see him, due to guilt by association. Nick has been touring with fellow Aussie Tommy Emmanual, and I am not a Tommy fan.

I maintain that everyone should hear Tommy at least once, because he is an energetic and charismatic performer, plus he does things with the guitar most people wouldn't dream of. He's technically proficient (I picture him working on the scale every available minute), but he is not musical.

So - guilt by association - I assumed Nick Charles was the same type of player.

It just so happened that, when I found the location of the radio station, Nick Charles was the next scheduled performer. He proceeded to do a 30 minute set which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I almost made a point to catch old favorites, like Small Potatoes and John McCutcheon. A new favorite (from last year) is The Greencards, who play their own unique high-energy version of "New Grass".

A couple of final high points: Misty River performed before one of the acts I wanted to see, and since I came early, I got to hear their act as well. Misty River is comprised of four women who sing a mix of traditional, bluegrass, and folk tunes. The last time I saw them, I was not impressed; but this time they seemed much better.

For the final song of their set, they sang "God Bless America" a cappella. They mentioned they had sung it in 2001, a couple of days after 9/11, and someone had requested they sing it again.

The crowd stood up, as if this were the National Anthem. I normally avoid this sort of seeming jingoism, but I stood up as well.

The artist I had come for was John McCutcheon, who immediately followed Misty River. The last song of his set was "Not in My Name", which is an anti-war response to 9/11 and the events following. About 2/3 of the crowd stood up this time. And most sang the chorus (same as the title).

Next: ambience and final thoughts

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Winfield: The Singing Workshop

I have returned from my annual visit to the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, KS. Before I left, I made myself a promise to seek new things, in hopes this would make the experience more positive than it had been last year (see entry below).

I went to the Bluegrass Singing Vocal workshop as planned. The workshop was held in a Baptist Church near Winfield's downtown, about three blocks from the festival grounds.

Now, I don't own a single bluegrass album or CD (unless O Brother counts). The teacher, Chris Jones, used a number of "traditional" bluegrass songs as examples, but I had not heard a single one prior to the workshop.

The focus of the day was harmony singing. Bluegrass has its own unique approach to harmonies. It works more on a vocalists forming chords than on pure music theory. This worked out to be primarily ear training. Since I learn most music by ear, this was right up my alley.

Trivia alert — the names of the vocal parts in bluegrass singing are similar to the parts in choral singing - tenor, baritone, bass – but they don't mean the same thing. In the early days of bluegrass singing, only men sang, so only the names of male vocal parts are used. In modern bluegrass singing, a woman may sing the tenor part even if her voice is in the alto range.

The vocal parts are determined by the lead - that is, the melody. The tenor is a third from that, and the baritone is a fifth. But these two parts may either be above or below the lead - depending on the sound being sought.

The final exercise was to form groups and create our own harmonies. The teacher designated the groups in a somewhat hap-hazard manner, based on who was already sitting close together. I was grouped with high-school aged sisters, who are already performing semi-professionally.

Now, shortly before this exercise, someone asked how to achieve harmonies similar to the Lubin or Everly Brothers. The teacher allowed as how siblings had a certain advantage in harmonizing, both from nature and nurture (genetics would make their vocal chords very similar).

When the sisters and I grouped together, none of us could remember the melody of any of the songs the teacher had taught us during the day. I suggested we work with "Will the Circle Be Unbroken", thinking that would be a song we all knew.

Sure enough, it was. I immediately heard how well their voices combined, confirming what the teacher said about the sibling advantage. So, I suggested an arrangement where I would sing bass for the verse (so their harmony would be emphasized), then I would sing baritone for the chorus.

The teacher went around and checked on the groups. He gave us suggestions on our parts, and seemed to approve of my choice to sing bass on the verse.

After about 30 minutes of practice, the groups were given the opportunity to sing before the whole class. The sisters and I were the last ones to perform; we sang a cappella. The class applauded, so I guess we did alright.

I rode a shuttle back to the festival grounds. A woman who had sat next to me during the workshop happened to be on the same shuttle. She commented on the breadth of my singing range (on a good day, I can span 5-6 scales), and asked if I were a professional singer.

It would not be the last time the question would be posed during the week.

Next: the concerts

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Out Of Town

I'm on my way to Winfield. I know this will be a surprise to those who have read my blog the past couple of years - considering my experience last year was less than positive. The main thing last year was a snafu with my ticket (I paid for one, but never received it). I have my ticket in hand this time.

The other thing has been a stultifying sameness. Mostly the same group of musicians playing primarily the same set. So, this year, I will focus on hearing sets from musicians I haven't heard before.

Another thing I'm doing is taking a workshop. For an extra fee, of course. I did this two years ago, and it did enrich the experience. The workshop I'm enrolled in this year is "Bluegrass Singing." Unquestionably different.

You may be sure I'll report on it all sometime next week.
If you miss fresh verbiage from me, check out the Ordinary Time book blog this Saturday (9/16). The first of eleven essays I wrote for the book will appear on that day. The blog is free to read, plus you may comment on the meditation.
I'll see you in about a week!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Five For Joy

A simple "Friday Five", courtesy of Songbird: five things I enjoyed this past week:
  1. Three day weekend

  2. Rain last Friday night

  3. Rain Saturday morning, which gave me the excuse not to mow, and to take it easy

  4. Playing music with a friend

  5. Visit with new friend at church Sunday morning

Friday, September 08, 2006

Idée d’jour

War is so unjust and ugly that all who wage it must try to stifle the voice of conscience within themselves.
— Leo Tolstoy, novelist and philosopher (1828-1910)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The War in Iraq

The current debate on the war in Iraq has been predominantly framed as a simple either/or proposition: "cut and run" or "stay the course". Few, if any, have proposed a third alternative.

The administration argues in favor of "staying the course". Their argument is not so much that the current strategy has been successful, but that the alternative is too risky. According to this argument, immediate withdrawal will be tantamount to an admission of defeat, and will embolden our enemies. Similarly, a timetable for withdrawal will simply encourage the foe to wait until after the deadline. The only measure of when U.S. forces might withdraw from Iraq has been "we will stand up when they [the Iraqi military] are ready to stand up." Recent polls suggest that Americans have become increasingly impatient with this measure.

The administration has characterized those who have argued in favor of some form of withdrawal (either immediate or according to some timetable) as people who would "cut and run." The obvious implication is that these people are cowards – and few Americans care to be associated with cowards.

There seems to be little question that, if there were such a thing as a hind sight do-over, most Americans would not support the invasion of Iraq. The original justifications for the war – weapons programs and an al Queda relationship – have proven to be mistaken, if not false. It's difficult to say that the average American citizen is any safer (or less safe) as a direct result of the invasion of Iraq. One can certainly say that military personnel are less safe, as are Iraqi civilians.

It's clear, therefore, the current strategy is not working. One definition of insanity is performing the same action and expecting different results. The administration's current military strategy in Iraq is an excellent example of that definition.

If we must remain in Iraq, a new military strategy must be developed. A troop increase would seem to be the minimum needed, which would almost certainly require a draft. Any type of military draft is about as popular as a tax increase these days. But the fact is, if the goal is to repair the damage done in Iraq, both of these unpopular things are likely to be necessary.

Additionally, a broader international security force should be sought, with an emphasis on forces from Muslim countries. Granted, the administration burned some significant diplomatic bridges when it invaded Iraq. Granted, the international community – especially Muslim countries – have little motivation to trust the current administration. Granted, such a move would be more likely to happen once the U.S. has new leadership (preferably Democratic).

My fear is that none of the players – least of all the Iraqi people – have 2½ years to wait for a new administration. With Iran on the east, Syria on the west, and Turkey to the north, Iraq is in a very volatile region. Civil war in Iraq could well trigger involvement by these other players. There is already reason to believe weapons are entering Iraq from Iran.

If only there were someone in the administration able and willing to make an argument on the basis of mutual enlightened self-interest!

The only alternative I can think of is for U.S. forces to withdraw within a reasonable benchmark – say, for example, another 6 months to a year. The current administration will only be effectively in power for another year past that point. It's possible (though unlikely) the current Iraq government will maintain a semblance of order for a time. If civil war does become a reality, the international community could well be motivated to become involved – especially if the U.S. has new leadership by that point.

On the whole, all the options seem rather bleak. Whether the U.S. stays in Iraq or withdraws, we will seem less of a superpower, and more of a stumblebum.


Two a.m. sees the lightening
2:01 hears the thunder
Clouds were born
from the wonder

Bright April did the planting
and August reaps the harvest
the Lady gives
from her largesse.

The window echoes sun light
The rocker tastes the evening
Each word is honey
Giv'n before leaving.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Broken Cross

This cross was broken the morning of Thursday, April 19, 1995.

It once stood at the top of the Cathedral’s high-peaked roof. It watched Oklahoma City grow in the 50s, then atrophy in the 60s and 70s.

The Cathedral is about two blocks northeast of the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial. Where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building once stood.

On the morning of April 19, Timothy McVeigh parked a panel truck in front of the federal building, then detonated a home-made bomb. 168 people were killed.

The Cathedral was one of three downtown churches affected by the blast. Stained glass windows were broken. The tall walls of the sanctuary visibly moved back and forth.

And this old Celtic cross was broken.

It may seem like a scar. We try to hide scars. I try to hide my scars. I won’t stop to enumerate them all, but they each have a story.

I try to hide my scars. They expose my weakness. They whisper of old pain. I want to seem strong. I want to give the appearance that I can wander this world on my own, without anyone else’s help.

When the Cathedral rebuilt, all involved agreed the Broken Cross had to be integrated into the design. Some new property was bought, and a high wall and wrought-iron gate were built. This Broken Cross is in the brickwork above that gate.

The Broken Cross can represent many things. How people around the world responded to the tragedy of April 19 with profound generosity. How this generosity, and the vision of the Cathedral’s leaders, allowed the Cathedral to become more than it had been. Accepting such charity is not comfortable.

One must admit one needs help to accept such charity.

Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Lk 5:31).

On the surface, it seems so simple. One must admit he has a problem before he can be healed. The first step in every recovery program is a variation on this: “We admitted we were powerless, and our lives were out of control.” Ironically, the only way we can be restored to any measure of health is by acknowledging our scars.

In other words, the moment we acknowledge our wounds, healing begins. If our life seems like a shattered stained glass window, it is possible to put the pieces back together.

This seems to me the message of the Broken Cross. The brokenness is not the final word. The brokenness is the chink in the armor of our ego, the chink that allows the light to come in. The brokenness is not to be forgotten, or hidden after a measure of healing. Part of the ongoing healing is integrating the brokenness.

Freedom comes when we recognize we are not alone, and don’t have to try to heal ourselves. Freedom comes when we expose our wounds to the light, so they may be healed. Freedom comes when we integrate our strength and weakness.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Idée d’jour

Just because you're miserable doesn't mean you can't enjoy your life.
— Annette Goodheart, PhD (quoted in Wild Words from Wild Women)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Idée d'jour

How often should you practice a song? Until you've lost count. And then a few more times after that.
— Jacques Bijou

Life in the Fast Lane

A "Friday Five," courtesy Reverend Mother, and with prayers to Will Smama.
  1. Driving: an enjoyable way to clear the mind? a means to an end? a chance to be quiet with one's thoughts? a necessary evil? the downfall of our planet and its fossil fuels? Discuss.
    Mostly, a means to an end, a necessary evil, and the downfall of syphilization (Edward Abbey's term). I very rarely drive just to clear my mind. The last time I did was over a year ago; I took old Route 66 as far east as I could, to an old State Park.

  2. Do you drive the speed limit? A little faster? Slower? Have you ever gotten a ticket?
    I generally drive no more than five miles over the speed limit on the highway. I drive exactly the speed limit in town.
       I did get a speeding ticket once, when I was still working part-time as a DJ in Norman. I think I may have been going about 5 mph over, in town. My insurance company forgave me for this infraction just last year.
       I did experience something highly unusual yesterday evening — a Firebird driving under the speed limit. The car was going 55 in a 60 mph zone.

  3. Do you take public transportation? When? What's your opinion of the experience?
    Oklahoma City is just now getting a decent public transportation system. To the best of my knowledge, however, the schedules are still less than ideal.
       I did use public transporation in Seattle, WA, and Denver, CO. Both experiences were very positive.

  4. Complete this sentence: _____________ has the worst drivers I've ever experienced.
    I haven't driven many places other than OKC. Most folk from northern American cities agree that we Okies are awful drivers in the winter (limited experience with snow & ice).

  5. How does your personal commute rate?
    Fifteen to twenty minutes each way.
Bonus for the brutally honest: It has been said, and the MythBusters have confirmed, that cell phones can impede driving ability almost as much as drinking. Do you talk on a cell phone while driving?
I just recently got a TrakPhone, after being sans cell phone for 3-4 years. The last time I used it, I pulled over & stopped.
   When I previously had a cell phone, I may have talked on it while driving once or twice. It didn't get a lot of use in general, which is why I let the contract expire.