Friday, May 26, 2006

The Sound of Music

How is it that we can love doing something, yet fall away from doing it? Why is it that when we grow up, many of us do not make the time for those things that bring us joy?

When I was a girl, I remember spending hours in the back yard, singing selections from The Sound of Music. I sang about alpine flowers. I sang about goatherds. When I could get someone to sing with me, I harmonized about alphine flowers and goatherds. Either way, I sang loudly. I sang proudly.

As I got older, I started badgering my parents for instruments and music lessons - first the piano (though an ill fated twist involving my dad and a smooth talking organ salesman, ended up with me getting an organ instead), then it was the violin, then guitar, then, finally, voice. I sang in choirs and talent shows and harbored a secret, childish dream of being a musician, diligently practicing singing into my hairbrush every night.

Then something happened. I started to grow up, and suddenly it wasn't enough to just sing. It had to be good. Somehow, like Salieri in Amadeus, I became consumed by the idea that perhaps I was just a mediocrity. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I began to distance myself ever further from being a participant in the music that I had once so loved, leaving it to the people who really were good at it.

Oh, sure, I did my share of shower concerts and duets with Toby the dog (in case you were wondering, he prefers to howl along to songs sung loudly with his name as the lyrics, most notably The Battle Hymn of the Republic, The Macarena, and the Habanera aka the L'Amour est un oiseau rebelle song from Carmen). I am also always up for some good belting on a road trip, but the idea of seriously participating as anything but a listener to anything musical left me somewhere back in my early college years.

Then, last year, I made the acquaintance of a choir director, who gently nagged and cajoled me for a number of months before I finally showed up for one of her projects - a performance of the Missa Luba designed to raise money for hurricane victims in the Gulf states. I ended up in the soprano section. Immediately my thought was "This is too high. I can't do this." For some reason, though, I decided to stay in that section. After weeks of rehearsal (and vocal exercises at home), I actually managed to bring my range back to where I could reach those notes. I'm not saying anyone would want to hear me do a solo on them, but I could reach them respectably enough for group singing.

In the end, the performance went off well (except for one train wreck section during the Credo, but we managed to recover in the end. It wasn't perfect, but it was exhilerating. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed it. I can't wait until we do it again next year (and at a bigger venue, I might add)! Now I want to sing wherever I go. Since this could potentially cause problems, I will probably just end up joining a choir or something. Whatever I do, I do know that I want to hold on to that good feeling.

I realized in participating in the concert that the good feeling comes from somewhere other than acheiving perfection. So often when we engage in creative pursuits as adults, we want the product to be too perfect. When they're not, we berate ourselves not being good enough writers, artists, poets, photographers, musicians etc. The fear of not being perfect drives us ever further away from perfection. The truth is that creative endeavors only have a chance of transcending the mundane, if we don't lose our sense of play. You can't worry about the note you just flubbed or the really hard passage coming up on page 10. You can only live in the now (oh, clown of life, how wise you are!). Enjoy and feel the note you're on. Sure you have to practice and learn and even refine, but ultimately, it's the ability to let go and just put whatever song, words, picture, idea one has out there and develop it that makes the whole process rewarding.

Anyone who wants to produce something, needs to hone his or her craft. But the more I think about it, it's not the technical honing that makes greatness. It's the ability to build on that honing by letting go and putting one's heart into the act of creation that creates greatness. But perhaps I'm becoming too esoteric. My point really is simply that creative endeavors should be fun.

So, my advice for everyone is this: Find something that you used to love (or always wanted to try) and just do it. Don't worry about being perfect, just throw yourself into it. Take the time to learn, take the time to enjoy. It will make you feel SO good, and ultimately you'll find with time that you do get better at it. Sometimes you might even come as close to perfect as humanly possible, but mostly you'll have fun.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Welcome to the first installment of "I am lazy and don't feel like writing, so I will refer you to something else to read that will make you love me for showing you something interesting" (or IALFLWSIWRYSERTWMYLMFSYSI for short).

Today's winner is the weblog of Michael Bérubé, in particular the Wednesday, May 19th post "St George and the Dragon, a fable by Richard Cheney", written by guest blogger Lance Mannion. Bérubé's blog is also good when he's there, but being a Terry Pratchett fan, it is Mannion's artice that I want to point out today.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

So mote it be

Originally uploaded by jensect.
There are times when I am almost (but not quite) surprised at some of the places I end up. In the early months of 2006, I have helped plan a peace rally, joined a choir, ferried a group of nervous coworkers around greater Los Angeles in a rented PT Cruiser (a model that is completely sucktastic to drive, by the way), developed a fondness for South African music, and suddenly gone from mind-numbingly boring work to helping manage a test program that has me back to working with publishing, tight deadlines, reps, merchants and schools.

In this spirit of embracing the unexpected, last Sunday found me at a Beltaine celebration at a country home in Newberg. Not only did I attend, I made my pagan debut reading the part of East. Actually, I think the official term is something like "invoking the elements", but since I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, I read my part: “With the warmth of the sun, The seedling blossoms into color, Standing tall and proud beneath the radiant globe. Its glory admired and loved by all.”

How did I suddenly become High Priestess of the East? Out of curiosity, I accepted an invitation to attend the ritual from an acquaintance from my choir. Then, when I got there, the person assigned to the East decided she didn’t want to do it. So, I figured that if I was already making myself an affront to all things holy by attending a heathen ritual, I might as well read a few lines too.

As it turns out, the evening was fun and fascinating. I’ve always been curious about what pagans actually do, so it was a good opportunity to see. The event was held out in the country in Newberg at the home of a couple whom I know vaguely from church. It was so lovely and peaceful out there. It makes me want to move out of the city even more. It must be so nice to live somewhere where you can do whatever you want without having to worry about bothering the neighbors (or about them seeing you!).

At any rate, the event was attended by probably 20 or so people, a gorgeous malamute Portia and a short and excitable dachshund named Willie. It was a very mixed group - Americans, Germans (thanks to me and my pagan cohort/mother), an Asian and an African. Even the pastor of the church we’ve been going to was there, which did surprise me in some ways, even though I already knew that she is very open minded.

The evening began with the forming of The Circle. There was drumming and a procession around the fires before I got to make my pagan debut only after first waiting for a Jester, a Cleric, North AND South to finish yammering on. Only West went after me, and frankly, I think she was a bit overshadowed by my brilliant performance and inspired reading of blossoming seedlings and radiant globes, especially since all she had to talk about were withered blooms and fruit.

After the forming of the circle around the fire, there was a welcoming of the Divine, which involved two people representing the Lord and Lady passing around the circle, and also a serving of grain and wine that was very much like taking communion in church, except for that they were accompanied by “May you never hunger” and “May you never thirst” instead of “This is my body, broken for you...” Once the “meal” (a chocolate chip cookie, dipped in wine) had been taken, there was more travelling as all the participants took another stroll around the fire before taking a bundle of sage and throwing it into the fire along with a silent prayer for the world (mine being for peace in general and more specifically that some asshat doesn't start a nuclear war).

Sages wishes made, we went about the business of choosing a Scapegoat, which was done by drawing tissue-wrapped cookies from a basket. (Who knew pagans were so big on cookies? I might have joined them years ago, had I realized). All the cookies but one were coated in powdered sugar. The burnt one (actually just coated in cocoa powder) was the one meant for the scapegoat. As we each took our cookie, I prayed that I would not have the burnt one, because I don't think that Martina falling into the fire and torching her new skirt makes for a successful celebration of any sort (though I did once manage to ignite my hair on the flame of a candle at a pub and still have fun, but that is another story for another time and another place).

Luckily, my fears were assuaged when our host's pre-teen son drew the scapegoat cookie. He was the perfect choice, since he was definitely spry enough to leap over the fire pit without any mishaps. Before he took his leap, however, he had to put on a white aprony thing upon which everyone had to write or draw some wish for the world. Not being able to draw, I confined my artistic endeavors to just writing "peace" and "health", which apparently worked, because the boy made it successfully across the fire without needing an extinguisher.

Once the Scapegoatery was done, there was some poetry in place of the point in The Mists of Avalon movie (the universally acknowledged authority on all things pagan) where the orgy begins. Then the divine was released by means of another chant (the Spiral Dance Chant) and we all were given prayer bundles to throw into the fire when we were ready. I’m not sure if I should tell what mine were. Perhaps such things lose their power when they are not kept secret, but I will share that one of them was for an acquaintance who recently lost her newborn twins to a rare genetic condition and that the others were more personal.

After the ceremony was over, there was a huge dinner with lentil soup, salmon, leg of lamb, a really great salad with kale and potatoes, a quiche-like dish with dried fruit and nuts (which I know sounds odd, but tasted so good!), and fresh strawberries for dessert. Frankly, if pagans always eat like this, I think I've found my people! We sat around the fire for quite a while, eating, drinking, and chatting. It was a nice evening, not only due to the company, but also to having learned about something new. I don’t know that I believe in it all any more than I believe everything one hears in church, but it’s interesting to learn about different spiritual traditions and absorb the things that speak to me into my own eclectic sensibility.

For more information on Beltane (and some really cool pictures!), visit

P.s. Thanks to Jen for the use of her very cool and mysteriously named DCP03320.

Don't Attack Iran

The Senate and House has passed the Biden amendment to the supplemental spending bill. This amendment bans any use of the supplemental funds for the purpose of establishing permanent bases in Iraq.

Unfortunately, it appears that the Bush administration not only appears to be considering attacking Iran, but with use of nuclear weapons. Please take a moment to urge Congress to assert its constitutional power to decide whether or not the President may go to war. Tell Congress to tell Bush and Cheney NO!