The Crimson Cape is LIVE!

SEMINAR_55_cover_by_Frank_Harbuck_III

Several months ago, I auditioned for a role at Pendant Audio, and even though I’d never done anything on their radar, I was cast.

Three days ago, the episode I was in – Episode 55 of their anthology series, Seminar, went live. My section: The Crimson Cape starts around 17 minutes in, but you should totally listen to the whole thing because it’s awesome.

Link to Seminar show page:
http://pendantaudio.com/seminar.php#new

Download the episode:

Seminar 55

Download the commentary track:

Seminar 55 Commentary.

Music for a Rainy Day: Interwar Duets

Cello, Leaning I’m not sure when I found the Interwar Duets, a collection of music for cello and violin from the period between World Wars I & II, but they’ve become a sort of favorite of mine since sometime last fall.

It began, I think, with a search for something two characters could be playing in a fiction piece I was working on then (and have laid aside, but will go back to soon). I wanted something interesting, something with a story, but something the average listener would probably not be familiar with.

It’s hard for me to listen to anything with lyrics when I’m writing, because I get distracted by the desire – no, the NEED – to either sing along, or get up and dance, or both. The thing is, I’m not good with quiet either, and my writing studio doesn’t have a television any more.

Whatever the reason, these duets have become ingrained in my being, and I find them particularly haunting in dismal, gray weather like today’s, probably because they were inspired by a rather dismal, gray, state of being in Europe.

Never heard them? Here’s a RHAPSODY LINK.

Image credit: demian1975 / 123RF Stock Photo

This Is the New Year

2014

Happy 2014.

I woke this morning to the crying of a puppy who was in dire need of marking the New Year’s start by, well, marking, but once I left our bedroom I was greeted by the first rays of true dawn, and the intoxicating smell of nearly-cooked brisket (We marinated it in espresso and JD BBQ sauce, and it’s been in the oven at 225 since midnight (The coffee helps tenderize and provides a smokey undertone.).).

I spent yesterday feeling overwhelmed by having so much to do and learned several small lessons, the most important being that even when the Parking Goddess smiles upon you it is far wiser to avoid CostCo on New Year’s Eve.

Between cooking and chatting and shopping and wrangling dogs I wrote 5,000 words of a story. It’s just fanfic, but it made me happy to write it, and it was posted just after midnight, and I consider the fact that I greeted the new year at my keyboard in a happy, writing groove to be an incredibly auspicious sign.

Well, I would if I believed in signs.

Today, in just a few hours, we’re having friends come over to celebrate with us by sharing food and laughter. And possibly the champagne we never bothered to open last night, because by the time midnight rolled around we were exhausted, and couldn’t see the point in opening bubbly for three adults when one of them doesn’t even drink.

Instead, we toasted the arrival of 2014 with glasses of Mexican Coca-cola, and went to bed with smiles on our faces.

The puppy and the chihuahua have now finished outside, and the big dogs are having their morning romp. I’m going to go take a shower before I feed them.

Happy New Year.

Have a song to get you into the spirit of things, it’s a recent favorite of mine: “This Is the New Year” by Ian Axel:

Image Credit: Yulia Glam

O Holy Night

O Holy Night

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.

~ O Holy Night

2:40 on Christmas morning, but since we haven’t been to bed yet, for us it’s still Christmas Eve. This post, then, is short because between the hour and the amount of sugar and cognac in my veins, short is all I can do.

Tonight at mass, a young woman gave us the gift of her music: O Holy Night as a trumpet solo.

It was lovely and haunting, and even if a couple of her notes were wobbly, Christmas magic made her horn sound angelic.

It reminded me of another rendition of this carol, a carol I could never wrap my head around, until suddenly I could.

Enjoy:

Link (for iOS users):
O Holy Night – Studio 60

Mulled Wine, Magic, and Dylan Thomas

Ornament and Cinnamon

“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
~ Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales

Has anyone ever been more descriptive than Dylan Thomas? I just introduced a friend to Thomas’s brilliant book-length poem A Child’s Christmas in Wales and as I was reading it aloud, I found myself falling in love with the language all over again.

My first introduction to it was most likely via a reading on KPFA or some NPR station, but the first encounter I remember is when I was eighteen or nineteen. A friend had gifted me with tickets to the Christmas Show at a winery in Los Gatos, so my mother and I went.

The room was freezing, the crowd dressed elegantly beneath their coats and hats. Gloved hands clutched cardboard cups of coffee, cocoa, mulled wine.

We sat on chairs arranged on risers, and watched the show – a combination of the Thomas piece, “The Little Match Girl,” excerpts from “Anne of Green Gables” and the “Little House…” books, and some original transitional bits – that should not have worked as a single coherent story, but somehow did.

At the time, Dylan Thomas’s Christmas contribution was the only part that I wasn’t already fond of, didn’t already have a connection with.

But how could I not be?

Has another poet captured December any more vividly – especially December in a small coastal town? I think not. Sure, Robert Frost wrote eloquently about snowy woods, and Lucy (Maud Montgomery) and Laura (Ingalls Wilder) both touched upon the winter holidays in their books, but for the most part, their language was plain, simple, matter-of-fact.

Thomas captures our imagination. Thomas’s December, Thomas’s Christmas is made of imagination, memory, and mulled wine. It’s cinnamon and chocolate, cigar smoke and scary perfume.

When Thomas writes, you can feel the chill wind, and hear the crunch of snow under your feet, even if you’re reading him in a cozy, warm, well-lit kitchen in suburban Texas.

It’s been an ordinary day, with a few special moments – cuddling dogs, sharing brownies and coffee with friends, making homemade chicken soup because all of us have the traces of a cold.

But the fifteen minutes I spent reading A Child’s Christmas in Wales were made of magic.

I hope this sort of magic never leaves me.

* * * * *

Image credit: nilswey / 123RF Stock Photo

Random Musings on The Longest Night of the Year

The Night Book

The Night Book | Credit: iStockPhoto.com | Click to embiggen

They say that spring will come again
No one knows exactly when.
Still the sun’s a long lost friend
On the longest night of the year.

We didn’t actually see the sun until the late afternoon today, because we woke up to thick cloud cover and heavy, fat raindrops that plummeted to the ground with satisfying splashes.

I don’t mind. I’m one of the few that loves the dark mornings and long twilights that come at the deepest part of the year.

We stare into the firelight
While December beats outside
Where the darkest hearts reside
On the longest night of the year

Fuzzy and I spent the day mostly together. We slept late, celebrated being together again after his week-long business trip to Utah, lingered in bed listening to the rain.

We finally crawled out of the warm covers because the dogs insisted it was time to get up. How they knew, when we didn’t, remains a mystery to me. I guess they have some inner time clock that alerts them to things like dawn, dusk, and dinnertime.

So keep me safe and hold me tight
Let the candle burn all night
Tomorrow welcome back the night
It was longest night of the year

After dropping our foster dogs (Madison and Marco) and our foster-housemate (Ben) at PetCo, we came back to the house, listened to the holiday extravaganza episode of “Ask Me Another” on NPR, and made a grocery list of essential things for getting through the next ten days.

I meant to buy votives, and forgot…I’m pretty sure I have tapers and tea-lights. I love candles, but ever since Yankee Candle changed their default sample size from a normal votive to a tartlet, I haven’t been buying many.

I used to think the world was small
Bright and shining like a ball
Seems I don’t know much at all
On the longest night of the year

We came home again, unloaded the groceries, and had sandwiches. I did some writing; Fuzzy dealt with an issue in Hong Kong, and then it was back to PetCo to pick up all three of our strays.

We press our faces to the glass
And see our little lives go past
Wave to shadows that we cast
On the longest night of the year

Foster dogs always look so confused when you drop them off at adoption fair. Their eyes tell the story. “I thought I HAD a home,” they seem to say. If I could, I would keep them all.

Well, maybe not ALL of them.

But a good many.

So keep me safe and hold me tight,
Let the candle burn all night,
Tomorrow welcome back the light.
‘Twas the longest night of the year

Tomorrow – today, almost – is the last Sunday in advent. So fast, this year has gone. I accomplished some lovely little things, but none of the big things I had hoped for. Baby steps? Maybe.

Sometimes I think the things I’m keeping safe are the very things I need to send out into the world.

Make a vow when Solstice comes:
To find the Light in everyone
Keep the faith and bang the drum
On the longest night of the year

I’m sitting at my kitchen table. My kitchen smells like cinnamon and chocolate, but under it there’s the scent of sleeping dog and the twin aromas of love and hope.

I don’t have a candle lit, but there’s a wreath in front of me with three votives.

If they were lit, they would burn for the past – the people who influenced me, loved me, guided me.

They would burn for the present – even though we’re in a state of extreme, if temporary, cash-poverty, the bills are paid, the house is full of food, the dogs are well cared for, and we are all mostly happy.

They would burn for the future – for the words as yet unspoken, the stories yet to be written or told. For the dreams we keep on dreaming, and for the connection we have, Fuzzy and me, to each other, to our friends and families, and to the world as a whole.

So keep me safe and hold me tight,
Let the candle burn all night,
Tomorrow welcome back the light.
After the longest night of the year

“The Longest Night of the Year” was written (music and lyrics) by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Santa Claus Boogie

Santa on a Tractor

Tonight’s post is all about today’s Santa.

I bought this ornament a few years ago, after we spent a cold October weekend helping to pack up Fuzzy’s father’s farmhouse. At one point, all the combines and tractors were lined up, awaiting auction, and it was both so hopeful and so sad. To me, it spoke of the way rural small towns are disappearing, because family farms can’t compete with corporate factory farming, and the kids who grow up in those towns typically will do ANYTHING to get out.

If I’d had the cash, I’d have bought the farm, remodeled the house and barn, and turned it into a prairie writers’ retreat. After all, it was only half an hour from De Smet, the “Little Town on the Prairie” where the latter half of the Little House books take place.

Later that year, we took houseguests to the National Cowgirl Museum, and when I saw this ornament, I had to have it. It reminds me that behind my father-in-law’s gruff exterior there beats a truly good heart.

And while I have tractors on the brain, here’s a video to lighten the mood. It’s the “Santa Claus Boogie,” performed by – you guessed it – The Tractors:

Stars and Stories

Blue Christmas

We spent last weekend enshrouded in ice that glittered like stars in the soft illumination of the porch light. We ate soup and played board games, and remembered what it was like when winter was a full season and change, instead of an isolated weekend here and there.

Yesterday, I was involved in a friend’s Facebook conversation about the perceived and actual ethnicities of Santa Claus and Jesus, and ever since then Margaret Gooding’s poem “Why Not a Star,” which I first encountered in the UU hymnal, has been running through my head:

Why Not a Star
They told me that when Jesus was born a star appeared in the heavens above the place where the young child lay.

When I was very young I had no trouble believing wondrous things; I believed in the star.

It was a wonderful miracle, part of a long ago story, foretelling an uncommon life.

They told me a super nova appeared in the heavens in its dying burst of fire.

When I was older and believed in science and reason I believed the story of the star explained.

But I found that I was unwilling to give up the star, fitting symbol for the birth of one whose uncommon life has been long remembered.

The star explained became the star understood, for Jesus, for Buddha, for Zarathustra.

Why not a star? Some bright star shines somewhere in the heavens each time a child is born.

Who knows what it may foretell?

Who knows what uncommon life may yet again unfold, if we but give it a chance?

When I went looking for the text to that poem, I found the LiveJournal page of one John Heaton, a man whose writing I used to follow when he used to be a fellow participant in Holidailies. His post today was another poem. It’s by Naomi Shihab Nye:

How Palestinians Keep Warm

Choose one word and say it over
and over, till it builds a fire inside your mouth.
Adhafera, the one who holds out, Alphard, solitary one,
the stars were named by people like us.
Each night they line up on the long path between worlds.
They nod and blink, no right or wrong
in their yellow eyes. Dirah, little house,
unfold your walls and take us in.

My well went dry, my grandfather’s grapes
have stopped singing. I stir the coals,
my babies cry. How will I teach them
they belong to the stars?
They build forts of white stone and say, “This is mine.”
How will I teach them to love Mizar, veil, cloak,
to know that behind it an ancient man
is fanning a flame?
He stirs the dark wind of our breath.
He says the veil will rise
till they see us shining, spreading like embers
on the blessed hills.

Well, I made that up. I’m not so sure about Mizar.
But I know we need to keep warm here on earth
And when your shawl is as thin as mine is, you tell stories.

That last line, especially, really resonated with me: And when your shawl is as thin as mine is, you tell stories., but it’s just one more strand that’s been plucked, one more string that is vibrating in my life. Another came the other night when I was watching the HBO documentary Six by Sondheim. Talking about his process, he said that when he was writing, he was acting, that he played all the parts in his head as he figured out their songs.

Sometimes I feel like I’m playing all the parts in my head, too, and other times I feel like I’ve stepped sideways, outside of the flow of time, and am just an observer, meant to remember everything and then use it in a piece of writing, or an improv character.

Another note, bowed, legato is Madeleine L’Engle’s assertion that the Judeo-Christian God is made of/from/by stories.

And so I sit here, and I read these poems. I get up, I pad, barefoot, through the house, and I stand at the back door and gaze up at the moon, smile at the stars. I let the chilly night air caress my face, and tickle my toes, and then I step backwards and slide the door shut.

We think we are made of flesh and blood and bone, and maybe we are, but we’re more, too.

We are stories and songs.
We are the stuff of stars.

Dog Days of Podcasting: Steeping

Steeping

I wrote a cafe vignette called “Steeping” yesterday, and recorded it for today’s entry into the Dog Days of Podcasting project.

Here’s an excerpt:

“I can’t believe you lingered here long enough to let espresso go cold, as busy as it is in here today,” Sarah ventured once they were alone again.

“I was working on a poem,” David confessed.

“I had no idea you were a poet. Are you published? Can I read your stuff?”
“I am, when I’m not wearing bike pants and delivering documents around town,” David answered, taking each of her questions in order. “I’ve published a couple pieces here and there,” he continued. “And as to reading it…the stuff I’m working on right now needs to steep a bit.”

“Poems steep?”

“Just like tea,” David said.

You can listen to the whole piece at SoundCloud or click play in the applet below:

Dog Days of Podcasting