I have a new typewriter. I say “new”, but it’s really over 40 years old. I won it on eBay for 30 bucks plus shipping. It’s a Royal Mercury portable typewriter from the 1960s or 70s; not the same as the typewriter I had as a teenager, but it’s bringing back all those same feels. It’s only had one owner before me who had it since his childhood and in his listing he said it was time for him to let it go. I told him I would take very good care of it for him.
I cleaned it last night, and today it took me over four attempts to install a new black ribbon. It seems like this machine had been sitting around in its case for dozens of years, so naturally the old ribbon was dried out. I wonder now if it would have been easier for me if I had chosen to install the black and red ribbon. I think the orientation on those spools would have been more obvious (deep sigh) of course, hindsight is 20/20. I wore gloves, but still got ink everywhere — I have no idea how this happened. I will need to clean the keys again.
I will admit I watched at least three YouTube videos on how to clean sticky keys, the proper way to replace a ribbon, and what cleaning agents to use and/or avoid (NO WD-40! Who knew?). Because I could not find a video with my exact model, the videos really did not help me very much. In fact, UGH! I wound up typing a little hole through my new ribbon because it wasn’t advancing properly on the spool; my error I thought. Then I decided not to follow the instructions on the replacement ribbon which said to insert the spools “star side down”; I flipped them star side up and again threaded the ribbon through all the tiny metal bars and, Voila! Success!
I don’t plan to use this Mercury for letter writing, or for correspondence in general, I bought it to create text for mixed media pieces I’m working on. Nothing fancy, I just needed to be able to type out some phrases whenever I wanted them.
However, buying this typewriter triggered a bunch of writing-related memories for me. I was going to analyze those thoughts in this post until I had to deal with all the technical issues setting the thing up. So, I have written about the set up process instead, lol.
I will say that the courier font reminded me of mail I used to receive as a small child—Poems and stories typed on half sheets of paper: ALL CAPS. These stories arrived in envelopes addressed directly to me, written by my grandfather (Papa). I was always the star character in these stories but sometimes he would include my beloved cat* (which occurs to me now as my cat, Sweetie, who does not seem to feel that well today, has just jumped up and stretched out on the bed next to me.)
Other memories include having to write thank you notes for all of my birthday and holiday gifts. Usually these were cards that contained a five dollar bill. I received them periodically from my Uncle Archie and Aunt Rose; and my Uncle Bob and Aunt Sally. This was my childhood training—if someone sent you a gift or a letter, it was your responsibility to thank them for their thoughtfulness.
Tangentially, I used to listen to Danny Kaye’s album “Mommy Gimme a Drinka Water” orchestrated by the wonderful Gordon Jenkins with music and lyrics by Milton Kaufman. On that album there is a great song called “The Thank You Letter” and it reinforced the idea that you need to thank your Aunt Sally. It also taught me about “Freudian slips” but I digress, if you want to hear it YouTube provides a clear version here:
I have some other thoughts I would like to share about different types of correspondence I enjoy. In the near future I will post and link that content in a “Part 2”.
*I would tell you the name of my childhood cat but for the fear of data-mining. Oh my! This crazy world!
I have been doing a bunch of random things lately and every day seems to slip away very quickly. I never feel like I have accomplished anything or completed everything I wanted to complete.
So, since I was not able to decide on one activity or experience to write about, I decided to share a list of things–in no particular order–to briefly describe some of what’s going on in my life. The funny thing is, after I wrote the list, I can see I actually have gotten some things done and I am generally moving forward. This is very satisfying (insert smile emoji here, lol)
CURRENTLY. . .
WORKING – a full time job with a multinational company.
EATING – a new omelette combo, eggs with diced red onion and chopped dill. I learned about it from Kathryn Grody, wife of Mandy Patinkin, in one of the entertaining YouTube videos her son Gideon posts about his parents.
DRINKING – lots of water and Prince of Peace brand organic white tea.
WEARING – my comfy pjs and if I MUST get dressed to go outside (big smile) my comfy jeans and a soft tie-dye t-shirt.
STUDYING – the Italian language; using DuoLingo, LingoPie, and various YouTube lessons. I am enjoying this more and more as years go by and even though I am still at an intermediate level, I am pleased I haven’t forgotten anything I have learned so far. I am doing a very slow journey towards fluency.
ENJOYING – opportunities to spend time with my older daughter, Meghann, my son-in-law, Adam, and my grandson, Leo. We all took a road trip out to Long Island this month to celebrate my Mother’s 88th birthday. We had a chance to visit with family and eat some delicious Italian food.
CREATING – collages; I recently attended a terrific collage workshop with my younger daughter, Claire, and her friend Erica. We were able to be part of the inaugural event held at Casa Collage Dream in Brooklyn hosted by Luis Martin, “the Art Engineer”. I also created a collage to trade via Luis’ collage community. I took a photo of it (below) to make it easier to say goodbye. My daughter Meghann and I are also creating art journals and other multi-media pieces. We are enjoying this a lot and are sharing our art supply collections with each other. (Yes, collecting art supplies is a ‘thing’.)
FEELING – nostalgic as I spent last Saturday texting with friends in Madrid as they held a memorial concert for Barry Harris. It was organized by Irene Albar. Irene and her trio invited other former students of Barry to perform. It seemed like a lovely reunion as musicians from several different countries attended. I was touched to hear her perform “Burgundy” the song I wrote lyrics for; very heartwarming to hear that tune float over the pond (aka the Atlantic Ocean).
NEEDING – to walk around outside more. I took the “featured photo” of the vegetable stand to send to my friend Steve in California. I needed to show him I actually went for a walk in the sunshine last week.
THINKING – about all the people in the world who are displaced right now and who will never have their life back in a way that made them feel safe. I am very sad about this.
LOVING – “Decluttering at the Speed of Life” by Dana K. White. This is a simple system to remove unwanted things from your home, but it applies to other decluttering projects as well. I recommend looking her up on YouTube as she is really funny as she declutters her own spaces to demonstrate the process. I have made a lot of progress using her methods.
ANTICIPATING – a fully functioning art/studio space in the other room of our apartment (We have two rooms in total). It was once a bedroom, then a temporary storage space after our girls moved out, and now it’s being repurposed as a place for creating: art, music, and other fun kinds of messes.
WISHING – every success to my husband, Derrick Judge Early, as he prepares to distribute his independent U.N.C.L.E. film, “The Safe House Affair”.
WATCHING – the first season of “Julia” with Sarah Lancashire playing Julia Child. The characters are compelling, the dialog great, and the production quality is excellent. I really believe they got the settings and costumes correct for the time period (except for a touchtone phone in the hotel room, in episode 7; that caused me to disbelieve for a moment.) Derrick predicts Sarah will win an Emmy for her performance; she is THAT good.
READING – Richard Lui’s “ENOUGH ABOUT ME: The Unexpected Power of Selflessness” on my new Kindle. What a nightmare for me to have to say goodbye to my old one which was configured for 3G and no longer worked. I used the keyboard on the old one to play word games. (Deep sigh, oh well.)
PLAYING – Wordle; yes, I finally broke down and started playing it this month. I already missed playing word games with Barry and then I had to say goodbye to my Kindle games, so, yeah, I am a Wordle-person now.
LISTENING – to a lovely backing track created by Ken Takata for the song “Velvet Moon”. The original lyric was performed by Mel Torme and Frank Sinatra but about 9 years ago I wrote another set of lyrics that appealed more to me. I posted about this on Facebook and Ken was inspired to record the track for me in my key. The melody is looping in my brain even when I am not listening to Ken’s recording. As soon as I am confident in my ability to sing the song properly, I will record it for him to hear.
It may seem strange to post about collages when so many horrible things are going on in Ukraine. Besides making a small donation to an organization assisting there*, and offering up thoughts and prayers for peace, I have not really felt empowered to make any real difference in the resolution of the conflict.
So, in order to keep my focus on the idea of “creation”, I committed my time and energy to a group art project entitled “Februllage”. In my free-time I worked continuously through the month of February to fulfill a promise (to myself) to create 28 collages based on daily prompts.
This creative distraction reminded of other times in my life when outside forces were out of my control and I would sit and meditatively do needlework or other crafts in order to push through it all, to keep my spirit up, to emotionally survive. I don’t remember if I have posted this here before but I like to say: “I’m lucky that many of my defense mechanisms are considered talents.”
They did not set any other daily parameters but, because I suppose it was not hard enough to spend days trying to find key images and to think of how to best present them, I added additional rules for myself, as a challenge. I decided that all my 28 collages had to be:
4” wide by 6” high;
constructed of paper, adhesives, and tape only;
portrait orientation (short edge on top); and
ideally, if it is a noun, will contain an image that is, or represents that prompt word.
Here are my 2022 Februllage pieces (click on them to enlarge)
If you have not tired of reading about my collages yet, I will tell you a story of the Clouds piece, a near-fail. (This might also give a little insight to my internal process as I work on these pieces.)
During my image searching phase I found many images of clouds and even a large sofa shaped like a cloud, and I would have used those as my background but then I saw some graph paper with clouds I had hand stamped over 20 years ago. I had designed and carved a rubber stamp to print the negative space between clouds and this was a scrap of paper I had used for testing. I liked the colors and the industrial feel of the rigid blue squares under the pastel clouds.
I found an old Ray Ban sunglasses advertisement that was printed on vellum, a sheer opaque paper and I thought it would work with the clouds and some lavender handmade recycled paper.
Unfortunately, after I had decided on my layout and I began to assemble the collage, I did not remember that I had used water-soluble ink for those clouds and it reacted with the glue, started to smear. I had also decided to punch a few holes in the vellum, thinking they would allow some of the cloud colors to peek through—but this was not as clever an idea as I had imagined when the edges of these little holes caught clumps of glue. These clumps created a mess as I tried to apply the vellum to the base collage. And, then everything became difficult to align when I tried to apply glue directly to the vellum instead—it rolled up tightly and would not uncurl all the way.
I have a previous post about Keeping Notebooks. This year I am using a slightly larger art journal format. For February, each of my daily entries featured a small Sprocket print of that day’s collage on top of a printed/painted black bar, a visual anchor.
UPDATE-March 2022: Because of crisis in Ukraine the Februllage project has added an additional collage prompt “Peace”. Here is my piece, created March 5, 2023:
A historical look at Barry Harris’ song to bring beauty to the world
Winter 2013 – Barry had been thinking about what he could do to help this “messed-up world.” He told us he woke up with a song in his mind that he thought could bring it beauty. He said he had composed the beginning of the tune and hoped we would contribute lyrics to the melody he had written so far. The glow in his face as he talked about the song was a clear sign that this was going to be an important composition, and then, as he began to sing it, we were transformed.
Winter 2021 – I pored through all my notes and sound files to try and pin down the exact moment “Sometimes Today Seems Like Yesterday” entered my heart and mind. I am still hoping to get a more accurate date, but I am pretty sure it was a little before December 17, 2013. In my notes taken at the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center that evening, “Heart and Soul” was the song we studied and at the bottom of my notebook page, in pencil, I started writing down the lyrics (a sure sign that they were draft and subject to change.)
Looking back now I cannot think of a more perfect song/theme than “Heart and Soul” for this class for there was truly a family vibe that night. It began with a wonderful announcement–Barry made a point of informing us that it was John Orr’s birthday. “John Orr was the bass player with Monk….I would like you to sing Happy Birthday to John Orr….We are getting him on the phone now.” (The phone rings but nobody is picking up.) “He’s supposed to be there” Barry says. Then, the class erupts in laughter as an automated voice is heard, “Hello, please leave a message.” (Remember landlines and answering machines?So 2013.) “We’ll catch him later,” Barry laughs, when someone suggests we leave a message. And so class begins. Never a dull moment.
After the class learns “Heart and Soul” with the rubato verse, and we run it through the keys of F, Eb, Db, C, Bb, Ab, and G, Barry gets serious telling us “and if that wasn’t enough keys to pick your key I think something’s wrong and you ought to have an operation on your voice,” he advises.
Then, without warning (because Barry is very IN THE MOMENT) Barry asks for a couple of chords and tells us he has changed the lyrics to his new song, and begins singing. “Sometimes today seems like yesterday; when we would romp and play; each day a holiday. We’d sing and dance and prance and have such fun.” He pauses saying “and then I had something about and then life begun.” [sic] He mentions “begin/begins” but stresses that it has to be “begun“. “You dig that?” he asks us firmly. We reply that we understand. He then directs us all to sing the lyrics so far. And we do. Of course, as soon as we are done, I loudly interject (as I am wont to do, sitting right in front of him,) “our life had just begun.” And, sigh of relief, he says “I like that, let’s see what it sounds like;” and, a miracle, it is added. He tells us to sing it again. “Remember this, [sing it] softly, as a morning sunrise, and sort of nostalgic.”
We need one more rhyming phrase and a student behind me suggests “beneath the smiling sun” bumping my phrase to last which is where Barry emphasizes that he wants it. As we line up to sing it along with “Heart and Soul”, he tells us we can ad lib the last couple of lines.
A friend recently posted a video from this class and I can see myself sitting in the front row saying these things to Barry. I have no idea where I got the courage to make these suggestions but it was so heartwarming to see it. Somewhere along the way I remember changing “our life” to “our lives” and I even wrote a second A section on my own time that Barry didn’t care for. I was used to him rejecting phrases so it did not bother me. I enjoyed trying to create things he might use, even if it didn’t always work out.
Anyway, over the next seven years, at subsequent classes and overseas workshops, Barry would tell the story of his song. He would sing it until each new group of students had learned the melody, and then he would call on different people to come up to the mic and give it a try. As more and more students became familiar with the song, he made it a point to call on people who had never sung it before, and wonderful things happened as theses newbies added twists and turns to the tune we had all grown to love so much.
He especially seemed to enjoy seeing singers moved by the tender lyrics and nostalgic feelings it evoked. After these emotional renditions he usually ended the sessions with all of us singing the song in unison–a very healing, cathartic, experience. I believe this was healing for him and was always happy to see how much it seemed to help him.
Winter 2014 – The B section has finally been added which ends with another phrase I blurted during a class “until one’s path is finally found.'” and although Barry had initially rejected the word “finally”, a couple of weeks later he put it back in as official because he acknowledged that he was humming a triplet in there and it needed a word to capture that part of the melodic phrase. He was so kind, told me he had been thinking about it and I was right, it needed the “finally” – that was so sweet of him. I was so blown away by this gesture.
January 2015 – Only the first A and B sections of the song have lyrics. I tell a friend on FaceBook: “Here are the words so far, he will probably add more:
A: Sometimes today seems like yesterday; when we would romp and play; each day a holiday. We’d sing and dance and prance and have such fun; beneath the/a smiling sun; our lives had just begun.
B: Life’s journey starts with many ups and downs; the world goes round and round; until one’s path is finally found.“
March 2016 – We are still singing ABA repeating the first A to finish up. “World” has been simplified to “road” and “the smiling sun” has become the default phrase. [Prior to this, singers could sometimes choose the adjective that they wanted to use when describing the sun. Many wonderful words were chosen–golden, shining, brilliant, radiant, noontime, summer, southern–oh, so many adjectives that apply. ‘Midnight sun’ however was vetoed as Barry thought that would make it an x-rated song, lol.]
Winter 2016 – Jo Marchese, a fantastic NYC singer who shares Barry’s birthday, December 15th, suggests the lyrics that became the final phrases of the second A: “That’s where I’d like to stay, if only for a day, if only for a day.“
In January of 2017, Jo’s line of “That’s where I’d like to stay,” is changed to “That’s where I’d love to stay” and around the world that is how the song is performed now.
On YouTube you can find some amazing performances. Here are a few that jumped out at me:
The pandemic knocked me for a loop—that’s a given. Since June of 2020, I have not be able to summon up enough energy to write a single blog post. In addition to being house-bound, I was coming to grips with multiple losses—friends dying (not just from the virus), family health crises, and particularly the loss of my mentor and friend, Barry Harris.
It was a gradual loss at first; I was last in his presence at his NYC class on March 10, 2020, just as Covid was about to lock us all inside. Terribly afraid of accidentally being a carrier (because at that time nobody knew if you could be asymptomatic and still spread the virus) I did not attempt to visit him at his home. Instead I sent cards and letters, and we had phone calls back and forth, but it was a very sad time as I missed hanging out with him, playing word games, making him my chicken soup and other things we enjoyed.
I struggled with anticipatory grief of more losses to come as I faced the new reality of my life without vocals class, without seeing my friends, without travel to visit people I love, and without the comforting community of musicians I was used to seeing every week. I knew there would be no more Barry Harris choral rehearsals, singing workshops, or Big Band experiences and these had become my main reason for leaving the house. I was grateful that Barry was able to begin teaching piano and improvisation classes via Zoom on Saturdays during lockdown—attending those sessions helped to ease my separation anxiety, but still I grieved the loss of singing, singing to him, and of learning new songs with his input and guidance.
And (deep sigh) now he is gone, I cannot embrace him, or kiss his cheek, or tell him face to face how much he means to me. I have been trying to push through all of it the best I can, the loss of his guidance and friendship on top of the pressures of family and work obligations that dominate my life right now. I am going slowly and not taking on any additional commitments until I am sure I can fulfill them.
I am happy for Barry; I am sure he is in his element now and free of all the physical discomfort. Part of my mind was always worried, wondering how he was doing and now I don’t have these concerns because I know he is okay. Since his passing, I have been trying to sleep through my grief to process it. If it wasn’t for my loudly crying cat (she needs me to feed her, go figure) I would have slept straight through the past month or so.
Yes, I am sleeping in shadows now, a strange riddle as they are shadows made without light, without a sun. I listen for the echo of the communal learning experience that nurtured me. It encompassed so much more than the musical lesson of that moment. What will the future bring? Right now I am taking a break from singing and composing. I am hopeful that at some point my spark will return, but for now I am not engaging in any major musical projects. Instead I am exploring internal issues that arise through journaling, collage and other mixed media arts. I am spending more time with my family. We are all trying to be creative and productive during a strange time in the world.
So, going forward I am not sure what types of posts I will be inspired to share here. Perhaps more of my personal art projects and things I observe, but for the time being there may not be many jazz related pieces, will see.
This month I had hoped to return to blogging by presenting a story about a Barry Harris song that brings beauty to the world, but I have not completed it yet. If I can post it next month I will do that.
Thank you to everyone who has called or written to me. Your condolences and our mutual grief have been very comforting. And to those of you that are grieving the loss of Barry that I have not spoken to I send you my deepest condolences on your loss. I hope you will be able to incorporate his love and guidance into your work going forward. That is my goal. ~Laurie
Summer is here but we are all still inside, waiting for the opportunity to enjoy the sunshine with those we love. While I am waiting, I am so grateful for friends that are contacting me and asking me about musical things. I might not know all the answers, but it is lovely to be asked. Yesterday I got two thought-provoking requests; one was about writing lyrics, and the other was a question about an unusual love song. I will touch on these topics a bit this month, but if you have any thoughts to continue the discussions, please add them in the comments. And, at the bottom of this page you will also see a couple of interesting reference links related to standards in general.
*Yeah, I added the number one to this blog post title because I expect to have a follow-up post in the same format for July. Stay tuned.
LYRIC WRITING TIP (June 2020):
Even though there are plenty of songwriting resources, online and offline, to get your writing started in a structured, organized process, I thought I would share one of the ways I create lyrics when I do not have a melody yet, or when I am not feeling very inspired. Just a little random writing tip from me to you.
Choose an existing song that has a clear form. I like to choose a song where I do not know the melody at all so I will not be influenced by it. For this exercise, I am going to use a child’s song as an example, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, but you will probably want to apply this technique to a standard (AABA form).
Print or write out all the lyrics and circle or highlight all the words that rhyme:
Twinkle twinkle little star
how I wonder what you are
up above the world so high
like a diamond in the sky
twinkle twinkle little star
how I wonder what you are
Now write your new lyrics making sure to:
1. follow the rhythms of the original lyrics (the same number of syllables and the same stresses), and
2. create the rhyme-pairs in the same locations as the original lyrics
Here are my new ones:
In a world of shadowed mist
comes a day the sun has kissed (mist and kist = a near-rhyme)
Dreams are filling up the air
Troubles fade without a care
People can’t believe it’s true
But I know it’s ’cause of you
After you have drafted your lyrics, if you want to try and create a song with them you have a few options. But, remember, there are no hard and fast rules for you to follow except to have fun with the process, that is one of my personal rules:
If you are not used to composing melodies, start out by singing them rhythmically, on one or two notes. Then try adding some additional notes that are close to the ones you have chosen.
Alternatively, try singing your words with little motifs you know from other songs or classical melodies. This might spark you to compose a variation that suits your lyrics. (In my mind I just heard the first two lines sung quickly to the opening theme from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – it was quite funny, wish you could have heard it too.)
Go on YouTube and try singing your lyrics against random backing tracks, ideally tracks that follow your song’s form. Choose tracks of songs YOU DO NOT ALREADY KNOW – you don’t want to sing that song, you want to create a new one and the chords will give you some structure.
Of course, another option is to share your lyrics with a friend that composes to see if they are inspired to create a melody line. I would recommend that you do not refer them to the song that inspired your words; that was just your song’s template.
I hope you will be inspired to write a melody that makes you happy. Don’t expect instant results. Let your mind rest between melody attempts. And, you will always have a personal poem you created in a unique way, even without the music.
LYRICS TO PONDER:
Every once in a while I am asked ‘lyric interpretation’ questions. I have many singing friends who do not speak English as their first language. Sometimes they do not know a word or two, but often the overall message of a phrase, or even the whole song is misunderstood. I answer these questions as best I can, from my limited perspective, and sometimes I saved the conversations in the hopes that one day I would have an interactive platform in which to discuss them further with other musicians. So I suppose this is the day and this is the platform!
The question for this post is regarding a love song titled: “I‘m Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life“. I first heard it on a Thursday a very long time ago. (Yes, it was a Thursday, long story.) I did not sing it that afternoon, but yesterday, as I was discussing it again with my friend, the lyrics took me right back to that jazz moment.
I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life Songwriters: Cy Coleman / Joseph McCarthy Jr.
What does it mean: I’m gonna laugh you right out of my life ?
Ah, very interesting question. Even the singer of this song knows it is not possible to make a joke out of a love that was so very real to her. She is telling the man that she is over him, and can laugh about it all now. She is saying she made a mistake to care for him when he did not feel the same way for her. And, by the end of the song she seems to have convinced herself that she can laugh about it, but inside her heart she knows if she does begin to laugh, it will quickly turn to tears of sadness because, she did love him but it seems like it is over. They have said goodbye to each other. By saying she is going to laugh she is telling him “you did not mean that much to me either, and look, I am not in pain. I am laughing.” but she is lying to him and to herself.
I’m gonna laugh you right out of my life, Laugh, and forget this affair Guess I was foolish To care. So, I’m gonna dance you right out of my dreams, Try to be carefree and gay I guess I’ll learn to play The part. ’cause when our friends begin that Heartless rumor, I know I’ll really need my Sense of humor. I’m gonna laugh you right out of my life, Make it a beautiful joke. No one will know you broke My heart. But if I find you and I Really meant that last goodbye, Then I’m gonna laugh so hard, I’ll cry.
Please take a moment and check out one of my favorite sites for backstories and links to important standards – JazzStandards.com. Look for the “Search” function, it is located at the top of the page, in the middle of the navigation ribbon.
And, a couple of extra links for you: While I was googling around looking for a songwriting template to share (this is a pretty complete overview – found at the song foundry, I came upon a site called Song Lyrics Generator which has a sort of Mad Libs algorithm to create a song – did not work too well when I tested it, but it was fun.
[When I post my related “Writing Lyrics and Lyrics to Ponder” entry next month, it will be linked here.]
“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” –Aldous Huxley
There is so much going on now that I am at a loss for words for this month’s post here. I am turning to music to help me keep my center. I hope all of you also have music in your life.
My dearest wish is that my friends and family are all safe and surrounding themselves with things that make them feel comforted as imbalances around them are corrected. Please know that even if I have not spoken to you, I DO care for you, I DO think of you, and I am sending you the energy from deep within my heart. Stay well, stay strong. -Laurie
I know I worked a little past 7 PM Wednesday night because as I was filling out my timesheet, adding up the time I had spent on different projects, I heard the sound of my community cheering in gratitude outside my window. “Ah, it is seven!” I thought to myself, and I began to sing a little of the tune “Thank You Very Much” from the movie Scrooge. Here in New York City, as in other cities around the world, we are all very grateful to the healthcare and other frontline workers who are keeping us healthy and safe, or being there with loved ones when family and friends cannot be there for them. There is a lot of gratitude mixed in with all the other emotions that come and go each day during this time of social distancing and self-isolation. At 7 PM each night, during this time our New York Gov. Cuomo has called PAUSE, the sound of community is clearly heard.
Last week I heard a bunch of people singing “New York New York” after the 3-minutes of cheering had concluded. Frank Sinatra led the sing-a-long and it was so joyful. Our city’s theme song, led by a man from Hoboken New Jersey; very fitting! On the tv news yesterday I watched a story about an amateur trumpet player who played “Taps” each evening after the cheers as a farewell to the souls who had left the Earth that day. So thoughtful.
Music is such a versatile medium, it can be used as a balm for healing, as a vehicle to express appreciation, as a way to soothe or inflame emotions, and a way to entertain yourself and others. Musicians have the added bounty of being able to tap into their personal creative flow, to compose, to interpret, to let their mind focus on beauty, maybe for just a fleeting moment, before the reality of something difficult comes back to mind.
I tried to remember if there was any other time I could hear my neighborhood unified in such a loud way, and other than some random cheers during sports events (when you could tell everyone was watching the same game on television,) I could not think of another New York City moment that even comes close to this nightly 3-minutes of pots and pans clanging, children shouting “thank you!” and bull-horn blasts. However, I did recall some sounds from my suburban childhood that reminded me that I was surrounded by neighbors that cared.
My little 1-square mile, victorian “gaslight and gingerbread” village had two sounds of community that will always be recorded in my memory. First of all, we had a volunteer fire department. There is almost nothing scarier to hear as a child than the fire siren randomly blaring out its call for the firemen to report to the firehouse. My mind would race, “someone’s home is on fire! Probably someone I know.” It could happen day or night, and after the siren began, I could hear cars starting their engines, up and down my street, as the men, fathers and brothers of my friends, emerged from their homes to answer the call.
And, a second, more pleasant memory–on the hour, a local church used to play Westminster Chimes and so everyone always had a pretty good idea of what time it was. If you had a fixed dinnertime, you could hear the bells telling you to start for home.
* * * * *
Wishing you all safety and happiness in your homes as we wait out this virus. I know we are all trying to be good world neighbors, to prevent inadvertently spreading this unexpected virus, and to give our healthcare system a break. -Laurie
For this month’s topic, I will highlight a form of visual poetry I have been creating during this time of self-imposed ‘social distancing’. So, this is my attempt to focus on the upside of isolation; an opportunity to explore creative projects I enjoy, but at a deeper level. However, I will begin with a personal insight from earlier this week.You see, as I come to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic that is totally changing our daily lives right now, it occurred to me that my life has *already* been shaped by another pandemic.
I grew up with a keen awareness of the sudden, devastating and traumatic power of influenza. I was aware of this because a beloved Aunt’s mother was struck down by the Spanish Flu when she was just a small child (1918-1920). Her widowed father re-married and he had two more daughters, the younger of which became my adoptive mother. My Aunt V loved her step-mother (she called her “Mamma”) but the loss of her first mother was always acknowledged as a sad event she had learned to live with. Aunt V is gone now and I like to imagine that she is happily reunited with both of her mothers in the next world.
Pondering this chain of events, I realized that if V had not lost her mother to the Flu, my mother would not have been born from the parents she had, and she would not have met my adoptive father, and I would not have been added to their respective families. I would still exist, but my name would be different, and I would have grown up in a different town, attended different schools with different friends.
My mother also introduced me to the Early Family, so I might not even be married now, or have two daughters. I would almost be a totally different person! I say “almost” because I believe I would have the same core personality, but many behaviors would be different as I have adapted to conditions (good and bad) that I have experienced.
So, this time of quiet isolation and introspection has brought me to a feeling of increased connectedness to the global energies that shape our individual lives.Everything about my current life has a mysterious quality to me right now. Is it destiny or fate that I am here, with this persona? If I have value to the planet and the global community in my ‘current configuration’ then perhaps my current condition is an *upside* of a 100-year-old tragedy.
BE WELL and stay safe everyone – I am buoyed by the phrase being used in Italy right now:
“Andrà tutto bene”
SO-ON by Laurie Early
Okay, so POETRY… which is what I had planned to write about before the world spun out of control.
On New Year’s Day I found a book at Strand that is designed to be used for ‘Black Out Poetry’. Seeing it there, hidden in the stacks of new and used books, reminded me of how much I used to like to play with this poetry form.
Basically, you take any block of existing text and you eliminate all the words that do not belong in your poem, essentially you ‘black them out’ using an unlimited variety of methods. I am reminded of this quote that refers to 3-dimensional work but expresses the same idea:
“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.”—Michelangelo
Transition by Laurie Early
I bought two copies of the book so I could give one to my younger daughter for her birthday and keep one for myself. I thought it would be interesting to compare the poems we create using the same source material. (We have yet to do this – rumor is she has completed 4 so far, and I think I have 8) The book begins with a few instructive and inspirational pages but the bulk of the pages are for creating poems. The paper is heavy-duty weight, ideal for this creative writing style.
Spring Haiku by Laurie Early
I include a few of my recent poems here. They are each slightly different in terms of the materials I used to eliminate the superfluous text or to add visual elements. However, process I use for discovering each hidden poem does not really vary for me, I usually do the following steps:
Read the page through a couple of times.
Overlay a sheet of very sheer tracing paper (this allows me to write on the page, but erase, and re-do and make lots of changes without damaging the page itself.)
IMPORTANT! (Especially when using permanent markers) Place a sheet of plastic, waxed paper, or cardboard directly behind the page to prevent bleed-through to the next page.
Using a pencil, I start by lightly circling words or phrases that jump out, or especially appeal to me.
Then I search for the story these words hint at, or the memory they invoke, and look for other words I can link to that will add to my idea.
I like to write the poem in my personal journal and read it out loud to myself, before I commit to it on the actual page.
Sometimes I let it rest a day or so and I go back and make changes before I am ready to commit to the poem. And,
sometimes I feel like the poem is ready to be isolated from the other text right away, so I decide how best to do this based on the layout of the words and phrases on the page.
I make visual/artistic decisions – how do I want to isolate the phrases in the poem in the poems? Will I outline the words or phrases with a pen or other tool?
How will I ‘black-out” the unwanted text? Dark markers, white-out, paint, tissue paper, or images? These decisions are often based on how much time I have, or how much disruption would need to occur. Pens and markers are very quick and easy to use. If I want to paint, or use images and adhesives, I need to clear an area to work, in my room or on my little table (I have a small apartment.)
After I have thought through design ideas, I consider adding an additional image or decoration to enhance the theme of the poem.
The poems on this page all use different methods: SO-ON: Black and silver ‘Sharpie’ permanent markers, yellow highlighter, blue gel-pen. Transition: Magazine image, silver Sharpie marker, and acrylic paints. Spring Haiku:Acrylic paints, clear acetate, and colored Sharpie markers. Tears’ Lesson:White-out (White liquid paper), watercolor paint, and fine point Sharpie.
Most people do not know that I enjoy soft-block carving and printing. Years ago I carved stamps of different sizes of this 7-petaled, “CREATIVITY”, Adinkra symbol. I used my stamps this month to finish up a sketchbook I titled Ebb and Flow. It needed to be mailed by February 15th to the project organizers and I was very happy to have the pressure of this hard deadline to motivate me to do something creative as I have not been feeling well for several weeks. I will spare you all the details, but I caught a horrible cold on top of a recurring nerve pain in my lower back. These and other issues have kept me home bound (aka “hibernation mode”) for most of this winter, however I am proud to say I have been using my alone-time constructively.
In addition to working on the Sketchbook Project (which I will briefly outline further down this page) I have spent an inordinate amount of time decluttering and sorting through all of my art supplies. For example, every sheet of paper, art tool, and bottle of paint I owned was inspected. Every pen was tested and deemed worthy or unworthy of continuing to stay in my collection.
Every ink pad was pressed to determine if its foam had disintegrated or its saturation of ink needed to be reapplied. If I could repurpose something I did, if I could recycle it, it was placed in the appropriate bin in my basement. I even wrapped up all of the old, dried out pens to mail to “Pen Guy Art“; an artist who uses dead pens to create his work. (I am glad they will be reused and I will not be making my global footprint larger.)
Over an hour was spent cleaning oil pastels I have had for decades, some of the craypas are older than me; they belonged to my grandfather. I learned online I could remove migrated colors by rubbing them with corn meal. It worked fairly well to remove the surface grime and I finished them off by rubbing them lightly with a paper towel infused with a little oil. It was an oddly satisfying exercise. I did it in silence and practiced being totally in the moment. A nice relaxed activity – mindfulness.
The decluttering process and re-evaluation of my tools and art supplies put me in the perfect mindset to finish my sketchbook and to create some new works of art! I am ready now to revisit other creative projects that have lain dormant for a long time.
EBB & FLOW: The main event for me this month has been the completion of my sketchbook titled “Ebb and Flow” which I created for the Vol. 15 exhibit of “The Sketchbook Project” sponsored by the Brooklyn Art Library. There are no real rules other than avoiding the use of art materials that might cause pages to stick together unintentionally. I looked at the blank pages for many months waiting for an idea on what to draw.
Ultimately I decided not to “draw” much on the pages at all. Instead I filled them using watercolor, collage, and my hand carved block prints. Inspired by Hilma af Klint’s “The Ten Largest” I decided to create an abstract journey from creation to the return to source. The only text I included is the title.
MY PROCESS: Here is a little glimpse into my planning notes – another notebook I used to flesh out my watercolor layouts and collage ideas. The first image is a filtered example of “clustering” that I did on the idea of “FLOW”. You can see that word is in the center. [I learned this technique many, many, many, years ago from a book called “Writing the Natural Way” by Gabriele Rico; it is an excellent tool for writing, creating, and introspection. Click on the word “clustering” to read about the steps involved.]
Based on the aspects of flow that came to me during this writing/brainstorming exercise, I mapped out the different stages of the book. You can see the final map in the second image. I made a lot of changes during the book’s creation so my map got very messy (messy in a good way–smile).
Another decision I based on my clustering was the color palette. I pulled out all the watercolor pans and used them as reference when selecting images for the collages. After images were selected I decided how to arrange them on each page and mapped out where I needed to background paint first. The downside of this sketchbook was that the quality of the paper was most suitable for drawing, NOT for watercolor paints. I caused a lot of buckling with this choice. I used watercolors because I did not want finished pages to stick together, that happens sometimes with acrylic paints.
In addition to the collage images (that I cut with tiny little scissors while I wore some magnifying eyeglasses) I added hand carved stamps. If you look closely at the center of the largest, teal-colored, “creativity” image in this photo, you will see that I cut a circular portal to suggest the travel from one stage of life to the next. Some of the pages are connected using this idea of dimensional travel.
FINAL PAGES: Life is a series of forward movement and times of rest and retreat – Flow and Ebb – Ebb and Flow. I created each set of pages based on separate concepts (natural-earth/elements and spiritual). As the energy of life passes through the stages its form changes shape from stars to spirals to wedges, but the essence of life remains the same, always in the moment with past recalled and future imagined. Instead of describing in detail what each page and stage means to me, I would rather let them speak to you directly. Perhaps they will say something different to you – here they are. I have created a GALLERY view, so you need only click on the cover image and then you easily can scroll through the sketchbook by clicking the arrows.
UPDATE February 28, 2022– “The moving trailer that was transporting the entire Sketchbook Project collection from Brooklyn to St. Pete, Florida, caught fire while driving through Baltimore….we estimate we may have lost around 7,000 books of the collection and most of our supplies that helped us operate as an organization.”
(Click on the update link for the full report and request for donations.)
My heart was not prepared for this. Other artists seem to have a stronger character about losing their book(s) to a fire. I wish I could be more like them. So now I am waiting along with everyone else for some sort of notification about the status of my sketchbook. In light of what is going on in the world, intellectually I know this is a small sacrifice. Nevertheless, art is my escape, my solace, and in this case my attempt to leave something behind that my descendants might see and feel connected to me. (Holding back a tear.)