Sunday, April 27, 2008

music is life

Vicki Forman's Special Needs Mama column is always inspiring, but this month's piece resonates with me in a special way. She writes about music--how it brought her and her husband together with a shock (literally), and how important it has become in her son Evan's life.

One of the students in my online creative writing class, noticing the references to music in my poems, asks about the influence music has on my writing. Music is, simply put, one of the driving forces of my life. I studied piano and violin for years, and eventually also picked up the oboe and trumpet. In high school I played in the band, orchestra, and marching band (yes, I was a band geek) and was voted "most musical" in my senior class. I started college at Ohio Wesleyan as a music major for one term before switching to English and following my other love, writing. I still stayed active, though, by DJing on the college radio station.

And, of course, I have had a talented musician and composer in my life for 15 years. Even though our relationship has changed, I admire his commitment to his art and appreciate how he has been able to pass it along to our kids. Bobby and Stella express their musical heritage in various ways--playing the keyboard, guitar, and drums enthusiastically. This photo shows Stella sitting in with Dad and some other New York jazz musicians at the Pompanuck Farm Institute. I hope she and her brother will always find music an outlet for expression and joy, as I have.

Friday, April 25, 2008


The land that I come from they call the Midwest. And I guess it's true that you can take the girl out of the heartland, but can't take the heartland out of the girl.

Theodore Roethke was also a Midwesterner--from Michigan, not far from my homeland of Ohio. His large and expansive heart eventually gave out, but he left us some beautiful poems.

Open House

My secrets cry aloud.
I have no need for tongue.
My heart keeps open house,
My doors are widely swung.
An epic of the eyes
My love, with no disguise.

My truths are all foreknown,
This anguish self-revealed.
I'm naked to the bone,
With nakedness my shield.
Myself is what I wear:
I keep the spirit spare.

The anger will endure,
The deed will speak the truth
In language strict and pure.
I stop the lying mouth:
Rage warps my clearest cry
To witless agony.

Oh my. The first two stanzas really resonate with me, but that last one is a bit too much, don't you think? Breathe, Ted!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

strange delightful sweet unspiteful

Stella and I have been having regular "dance time" these days--when something good comes on the radio (and when we're listening to WFUV it happens pretty frequently) I start dancing and she joins in.

Today before work Mike Doughty's "27 Jennifers" came on--it's my current fave pop song and I find I cannot help but start moving when I hear it--and Stella quickly joined me. Next they played Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic." Sweet.

What a great way to start the day before heading off to my Creative Imagination class!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

poems in pockets

Thursday was Poem in Your Pocket Day, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that my brilliant son had found out about it in school. On Wednesday, he came back from the playground with an index card on which he had written a poem of his own composition:

My Magic Bookcase

by Bobby Bowen

I have a magic bookcase
it flew me into space
then I joined the space-race...
and got to this strange place

For my part, I forgot about the whole thing (having been meaning to prepare well in advance) until fairly late in the day. The poem I chose is from John Berryman's Sonnets to Chris, that weird, heart-racing, compelling sequence written in 1947 and first published in 1966:

Keep your eyes open when you kiss: do: when
You kiss. All silly time else, close them to;
Unsleeping, I implore you (dear) pursue
In darkness me, as I do you again
Instantly we part . . only me both then
And when your fingers fall, let there be two
Only, ‘in that dream-kingdom’: I would have you
Me alone recognize your citizen.

Before who wanted eyes, making love, so?
I do now. However we are driven and hide,
What state we keep all other states condemn,
We see ourselves, we watch the solemn glow
Of empty courts we kiss in . . Open wide!
You do, you do, and I look into them.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

beliefs, a manifesto?

Well, I think I believe in astrology, too, because out of the blue today my dear friend Tatyana emailed me my weekly horoscope, and here's what it said:

This would be a perfect time for you to write your ultimate personal manifesto. I'm talking about composing a sweeping statement of the core ideas that fuel your lust for life. To get you in the mood, take a look at the following lyrics from Danny Schmidt's song "Company of Friends." "I believe in restless hunger . . . I believe in private thunder . . . I believe in inspiration . . . I believe in slow creation . . . I believe in lips on ears . . . I believe in being wrong . . . I believe in contradiction . . . I believe in living smitten . . . I believe our book is written by our company of friends."

Here's the kicker: Tatyana had not read the previous blog posting. She just thought the horoscope was cool. She's one of several close pals who have been "coaching" and otherwise inspiring me in various ways. In fact, I'm fortunate to have a little group of amazing women, including Moira , Marilyn, and Kathrine, who have been supporting and sustaining each other, artistically and personally--by email. We meet in our virtual ladies' room nearly every day from our various homes across the U.S.--and Europe, in Moira's case. It's a remarkable partnership.

I believe in friendship. And cruciferous vegetables. Tonight's selection: broccoli rabe!

Monday, April 14, 2008

this i believe

A friend with whom I share a particular sort of religious upbringing recently suggested that, while he had thoroughly rejected his own background, I still held onto parts of mine. Now because this friend is pretty perceptive, I paused for a moment to consider his comment. Then I replied, "I suppose you're right." I do feel a strong emotional connection to my family's faith. "But," I concluded. "I have beliefs that don't necessarily have anything to do with my religious upbringing."

I've been mulling this over for a few days and thought I'd try to articulate some of these thoughts. In truth, some of my "beliefs" have probably been more superstitious than I would care to admit. I recall being in church as a kid one time when I had a bad cold and thinking that, if I sang along with the hymns, God would heal my sore throat. It was sort of like avoiding cracks in the sidewalk, or counting the letters of your crush's name on your fingers and thinking that if the count ends on your ring finger, you'll get married.

A brief inventory:

I believe in signs and oracles.
I believe in change and miracles.
I believe in prayer and supplication.
I believe in spells and incantations.
I believe in rites and rituals.
I believe in faith and works.
I believe in meditation and in action.
I believe in good and evil. Sometimes they are hard to tell apart.
I believe in karma.
I believe in chance and opportunity.
I believe in hope despite the fears.
I believe in Jesus. And Mohammad. And the Buddha. And more.
I believe in divinity and holiness.
I believe in the human spirit.
I believe in imagination.
I believe in the power of language and music and art.
I believe in love...I believe in children...I believe in Mom and Dad... (thank you, Don Williams)
I believe in the chakras. I believe in my third eye and when I close my eyes and see dark blue I know an insight is coming.

I am not a pagan, a wiccan, an atheist, any sort of "-ist" in particular--although if you are it's OK with me. I'm not about to try and change your mind. I'm too busy singing. Perhaps, come to think of it, music is my religion. Or maybe I'm really a Quaker.

I believe that tarot is one of many ways to find out what's going on inside yourself. My tarot card for today is The Sun. I'm a Leo, and it's spring, so I'm definitely feeling it right this minute! Time to go outside and worship on this gorgeous day.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

remembering Uncle Jim

This week my family lost one of our last members of the Greatest Generation: James Grimm, my father's uncle. Jim served in the Signal Corps of the Army Air Corps during World War II and his stories of the Asian theater were always fascinating. Jim's unflappable demeanor and dry humor will be greatly missed. I was very close to Jim and would visit him and my Aunt Betty whenever I got back to Springfield. I loved the way he would call me "Kid" (as in "How you doing, kid?" even when I had kids of my own. Unfortunately, I was unable to get there for the memorial service today. I'm trying to be there in spirit as much as possible.
The photo was taken on his wedding day, July 9, 1942. He and Aunt Betty got married in New Jersey while he was on a brief leave.
To read the obituary, click here.

elvis nick and robyn on youtube

click here
You can probably hear me screaming from the back row.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Robyn, Nick and....ELVIS?

Last night I was fortunate to be in attendance at a fantastic concert by Nick Lowe and Robyn Hitchcock. Both of these exquisitely quirky artists gave compelling performances, solo and on acoustic guitar, showcasing their brilliance as songwriters, guitarists, singers.

I laughed a lot, cried a little, sang along a great deal. As Nick's set seemed to be drawing to a close, though, I commented to my companion that, amazing as it was, the pace was a bit more sedate than I had expected. Little did I know that some more excitement was in store.

At the encore, they were joined onstage by none other than Elvis Costello! Imagine an auditorium full of people in, um, "late youth" jumping up and down and screaming their heads off. Elvis and Nick did a tune that E had written for N, "Indoor Fireworks." Then Robyn joined them to sing lead on two numbers: "If I Fell" by the Beatles, and the classic "Mystery Train" (Elvis even did a bit of an impersonation of the other Elvis on that one).

Photo blatantly stolen from--er--courtesy of this fine blogger.

A stellar evening. I wish you all could have been there!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

happy birthday, DAD!

Seventy years ago a very wise man was born on April Fool's Day. I'm proud to call him Dad. His six children were anxious to make this birthday very special, and fortunately my brilliant sisters Jane and Katy got the idea to put together a photo-memory book. Each of us wrote about our favorite memories of our father, and Jane collected photos of us and our families. Thanks to technology, Jane was able to email an image of the book to all of us, and Katy ordered a copy to be sent to her so she could present it to Dad tonight. Here you can see that it went over pretty big with the birthday boy. (If you click on the second pic above you'll get a good look at the cover photo, taken by my uncle Richard Lemmon, and catch a glimpse of a certain skinny college sophomore.) Below is my contribution to the collection:
Dad: It’s a Musical Life

What I remember most about Dad is his love of music. He loves to sing, and has even been known to play piano on occasion, but most of all he loves to listen to recordings—classical, jazz, pop, even classic rock. When I was a little kid and we lived on Woodside Avenue, he had a collection of records, some of which were from his college days, and would play his favorites over and over on the black record player with the automatic changer. The album covers would be arranged on the floor near the stereo, and their images remain with me—the abstract painting on Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, which looked like eyes or the design on peacock feathers (I remember trying, and failing, to make sense of it); Scheherezade, with a suggestive female figure behind a gauzy scrim; The 1812 Overture with a maroon-tinged photograph of a cannon.

Dad played music at night while reading on the couch, and the strains reached me in my bed, upstairs on Woodside, or in the northeast corner of 1800 Fairfield Pike. I don’t think Dad turned down the music when we went to bed, so it swelled and faded as the dynamics of the piece required. One time when Mother was out for the evening with girlfriends and Dad was watching my little brother Davy and me, I woke up shortly after being put to bed and wandered downstairs, disoriented and crying. I must have been four or five. Dad comforted me by putting on my new Cinderella record, and looking with me at the storybook attached to the album cover.

Like his father before him, Dad always kept up with the latest audiophile technology. In the Seventies, he tried eight-track tapes and his favorites, as I recall, were the Carpenters, The Best of Bread, and several volumes by Percy Faith and Sergio Mendes. When compact discs became available, he switched to the new format as soon as possible. Now that technology enables music lovers to find and acquire a staggering range of recordings from mainstream to obscure, Dad has been able to create his own “best of” collections from the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and beyond. Music is something Dad loves to share with us, as he always has, and I believe that his love of it has been passed down to each of us children in our own way. It is indeed a great and powerful gift that will last our lifetimes.