Monday, August 30, 2010

Tiny Happy Obsessions

Two more new blog obsessions:
Tiny Happy


Design Sponge

I'm trying to get interior decorating ideas, as well as ideas for craft projects, and these two blogs are amazing. This is how I've been spending my time! And I've been trying to spend less time on the computer after reading articles by Matt Richtel such as this one from the NY Times.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Crop Rotation

Over the last 24 hours I've been obsessing over this blog:
Crafty kin

She's a mom from New Zealand and I love her photos and her crafts. Within the blog there are also links to other cute sites from down under.

The more I look at this blog, though, the more I get the itch to make something crafty and make my house all cute and cozy, filled with fabrics, pottery, and other vintage finds. I'm also dying to bake (haven't done it all summer due to the hot/humid/icky weather). Tonight I threw together some granola (came out a little too crisp--I'm out of practice!) and if tomorrow night is cool I want to bake some bread.

Her blog and homelife are so (seemingly) sweet and cute though that I feel like a totally inadaquate housewife/mommy. I haven't been making enough homemade toys or clothes for E., or planning and making enough meals, or sewing enough aprons, or embroidering enough tea towels. Instead my head has been in the clouds, involved in heady artistic pursuits like writing and composing and practicing piano. Why can't I be a normal domestic momma?

The trouble is, I have a limited amount of spare time and I feel I can only devote myself to one or two things, and (unfortunately?) the abstract, heady stuff wins (most of the time). I remember reading something Madeleine L'Engle wrote (from A Circle of Quiet? I can't remember) where she said her children cheered if she did dishes that day (because most of her time was spent, y'know, writing). Not that I'm comparing myself to her ( I looove her....!) but still....

....there is a tiny voice in my head that reminds me to attend to the details in my life. It's totally pathetic that I can't send a birthday card on time, or update photos on Shutterfly more regularly, or weed the garden more than once a month. I'm finally learning that stuff doesn't take long to do. I've actually been keeping a mental log of How Long Things Take (because I have Time-Awareness Disorder or something where I always misjudge how long it takes to accomplish a task). The average time it takes me to write a letter: 20 min. The average time it takes to put dishes away/do dishes: 30 minutes. Weed the garden: 15-30 min. Etc.  In my mind, these tasks take at least an hour to do, and therefore I put them off.

I want to be an artistic genius (ha!) and a crafty momma. Can I do both?

I've decided to take Joni Mitchell's lead and do some crop rotation (she would spend a few weeks writing songs, then a few weeks painting). Sometime soon, maybe even next week (because I can't stand looking at that cute blog any longer without doing something about my own house) I'm going to spend a whole week focusing on crafty/domestic projects. I'm going to set up the sewing machine in the spare room and get to those curtains and pillows I've been dying to make. Also, I want to get a heads up on Christmas gifts. And if it kills me, I will plan a week's worth of meals and actually do some cooking (K's the cook in this house most of the time) and baking. Last of all I'm going to write some letters because I can no longer stand a mailbox full of junk mail everyday :(

After that week I will focus on more heady/abstract projects. I'm hoping that someday I'll have time to do both regularly.

Now here's a totally pointless photo of a cup of tea I had today (actually it was taken weeks ago, but I did have some tea in this cute cup):

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The sea is a long, long way....from me (Low lyrics)

I'm in my ocean mood again.

We got spoiled living out west. Once or twice a year for five or six years in a row we'd drive to Portland Oregon, stay overnight at a hostel or cute hotel, and then drive to the coast the next day. We'd spend a few days there in our favorite B & B, which was a very luxurious place with rooms and porches overlooking the ocean. I loved waking up and falling asleep to the sound of the ocean, and walking along the beach, taking pictures of the patterns in the sand and of interesting wind or water-blown compositions of seaweed and bits of shells. There wasn't much to do in this town other than look out at the ocean from our room or walk around the musty bookstore next door, filled floor-to-ceiling with out-of-print dusty books and cardboard boxes for the 3 or so cats padding around the store. Sometimes we'd drive down to Newport to visit the aquarium or walk along Nye beach or listen to the sea lions bark on the docks in the bay.

On our very first trip to the Pacific coast in 2002 I didn't like the ocean much. Compared with Lake Superior, which I loved, it was loud, wild, rocky, and smelled fishy. It was always draped in fog and very windy. I was also scared of it. There were warning signs all around about possible tsunamis and getting swept away by the tide. There were tide pools full of strange and gelatinous creatures with slimy green arms and spiny backs. You couldn't really hang out on the beach for too long--not only was it too windy to have a sustained conversation but it was chilly and damp.

But after spending a few days and then returning year after year, the ocean got into my blood and now, being so landlocked, I miss it more than ever. We got our fill of an ocean-like lake a couple weeks ago when we escaped the heat and drove to Duluth. It was about 15 degrees cooler there and overcast, and yes--there was fog. We brought a picnic lunch and some of E's toys to the beach and hung out there for the afternoon. The day before, while I was trying to find a vintage bread box at my favorite antique store, I found a neat 1955 edition copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea. I had heard about this book but never read it before, so I brought it with me to the beach.

It was the perfect beach read for that gray day. It's a short book so I almost read the whole thing. Mostly it's about solitude, and how solitude is necessary at times: "If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others...Only when one is connected to one's own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude." And this: "I walked far down the beach, soothed by the rhythm of the waves, the sun on my bare back and legs, the wind and mist from the spray on my hair. Into the waves and out like a sandpiper. And then home, drenched, drugged, reeling, full to the brim with my day alone; full like the moon before the night has taken a single nibble of it; full as a cup poured up to the lip..." (A.M.L.)

After that day I wanted to read more books like this. If I couldn't go to the ocean this year, I would read about it instead. There's always my copy of "The Edge of the Sea," by Rachel Carson, found at Powell's bookstore a couple years ago (I love her...). I also recently came across a series of short memoirs by Joan Anderson. I'm currently reading "A Year by the Sea" in which she decides to spend a year at her beach cottage on Cape Cod rather than move with her husband to a new city. The other book, which is a sort of follow-up to this memoir is, "A Walk on the Beach," which is all about her chance meeting on the beach with Joan Erikson, who was the wife and collaboraor of the social scientist/psychologist Erik Erikson. I had never heard of her before, but she was a really interesting person. In the 20s she went to Europe to study modern dance with Isadora Duncan. Then later I think she got a master's degree in sociology and wrote books, including "The Universal Bead," and "The Wisdom of the Senses" (both supposedly at the downtown library, but the Wisdom one was missing!). Anyway, the book is full of conversations between Anderson and Erikson (who was 91 years old at the time and still active).

In the prologue, Anderson distilled the essence of Erikson's philosophy:
"Welcome each day like a good meal."

"The essence of a life well-digested comes from knowing your strengths, overdosing on the senses, and remaining active and playful."

"Keep your hands on the plow--push--don't ever stop pushing."

"Always be willing to give a little more energy--the tension should always be there--then your life will never go limp."

And here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
Joan Erikson:
"Learn any skill that opens up the world and sets you free."

"The important thing is to do something, even if it's as simple as making a pile of pebbles. For it is always the doing that leads to the becoming, and before you know it you're on to the next stage of life."

"Either people pay no attention to their clothing and risk being misunderstood or they pay too much and risk being disingenuous. I'm not suggesting that you need a facade. It's just that a total stranger needs to get it the minute you walk over his or her threshold. Your work, your intentions, your goals all become evident when the total package is just right.... You want your individuality to shine....I adopted my look at Harvard right after attending my first faculty wives meeting. There I was in a roomful of women dressed in tweed suits with bouffant hairdos, and I was in shock. Where was the individuality? Would I be expected to conform as well? I walked away from that experience saying no way, not me, and headed straight for a store which sold exotic and colorful clothes from India, buying several pairs of leotards to wear under unusual jackets and smocks."

I'm so glad I came across these books. My appetite for the sea, however, remains to be satisfied. I'm thinking of painting my dining room wall a sea-glass green to go along with my collection of starfish and shells (found not at the beach but bought in a plastic bag at a thrift store in Spokane).

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Of (music theory) freaks and geeks

I wonder how much time I spend changing the colors and templates....
If I could do the same thing with paint colors in my house, I would.

I love this background. It's so Napoleon Dynamite or Freaks and Geeks (which K and I have been watching through Netflix lately). There's something about school drama-type shows that I love. Maybe it's because there are so many great opportunities for interesting characters and awkward teenager-type situations. Maybe that's why I read so many YA novels too. And write about YA stuff. Maybe I haven't really grown up yet....

On a different note: music. I spent some time today working through a passage of Debussy's Reflets dans l'eau (reflections dance on the water). There are so many reasons why I love this piece and why I love Debussy in general--especially his Preludes and Images for piano. He does these really interesting gestures and patterns involving minor 3rd relations and quartal harmonies. Each measure seems to have a deeper meaning: some secret of the universe embedded in melodic and chordal patterns. I really do think he was literally painting with music (he said that he was more of a painter than a musician, or would rather have been a painter but became a composer instead). Sometimes it helps me to think beyond (impressionist) music theory and look only at the pattern of black and white keys, or at the curve of a melodic line or gesture. It's hard to explain. It makes my head spin (with pleasure) just thinking about it (yeah, I'm a total nerd).

What's difficult about this piece are all the fast runs and arpeggios all over the keyboard. They aren't hard to play at a slow tempo once you know the pattern, but I imagine getting them up to speed will be pretty tough, especially with my intermediate-level technique. But if I ever do get them (which I consider to be more flowing, water-like gestures than precise, tempo-perfect runs) I think my technique will improve greatly. Definitely more fun than working on Czerny exercises.

Here's what I was working on:

Today I looked at the middle system--the notes that are way up in the stratosphere of the treble clef. Not so easy to read, although through playing flute I can tell right away what the notes are.

But in order to practice it, I re-wrote the passage down a few octaves so I could read the pattern easier: 

 Sorry--the picture quality isn't great. I added fingerings and also colored boxes around important notes in the pattern--notes that would help me remember variations in the pattern.

Suddenly, the pattern made more sense and I could actually play it at a slow tempo.

What's so cool about this pattern is that the middle notes stay pretty much the same in a set (in this re-written example, system-to-system) while the first note and the colored-box notes change, going down chromatically from F (F, F-flat, E-flat, D).

I think I could spend the rest of my life studying Debussy and still learn new things about his compositional technique.

Here's some more of my composition sketch from the other day. I added more to it, and was thinking that when/if I finish the piece I could show the process from beginning to end (notated and recorded).

Again, yucky picture quality.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Everyday "Art" (does your grandma put everything in quotes too?)

I love the idea of everyday art. Nothing too fancy or finished, and nothing that takes too long. I'm getting all these great ideas from looking at artist blogs where they post their sketchbook pages or craft projects in the works (like my friend Klay).

But it got me thinking. There are tons of artist blogs out there by women (visual art or crafts) but little to no music or composition blogs by women. If there are some out there, could you send me a link? I know there are women composers out there, but where are their sketchbooks? Where are their improvisation or sound art samples? Then I thought that maybe I could get the ball rolling. I'll post some of my sketches, and hopefully later add actual sound files (maybe on a myspace page?). Bear in mind these are only everyday sketchbook music ideas--not finished compositions. I'm following the lead on these artist blogs by showing what I've been working on, which will hopefully get me creating something everyday (even if it has little or no artistic value). It's everyday, run-of-the-mill, laundry and scuffed-up jeans kind of art. Actually, I don't know if it's even art, but it's something that didn't exist yesterday. And the point is to get me working every day. Also, it's kind of like show and tell for music geeks.

I'm also trying to think of ways to adapt some of Keri Smith's ideas for music and sound (I love her book How to be an Explorer of the World: the Portable Life/Art Museum).

So, tonight I made a music sketch. It only took me 20 minutes or so (a self-imposed rule for everyday art, and because I've got a toddler: each session can only take between 15 and 60 minutes--for naptime and bedtime). I'm not showing the whole sketch because....well, I haven't decided if I want to show whole sketches or not....

It took up about a half page of staff paper, and was numbered 1-3 for different motifs. It's based on a magic scale (a scale based on a typical major or minor scale, where the root and fifth stay unchanged, but any other note in the scale can be altered). The pitches I used were: F, G-flat, A-flat, B-flat, C, D-flat, E/E-flat. So, similar to a D-flat major/B-flat minor scale but starting on F (I guess that makes it F phrygian. I love flat 2's).

The magic scale idea comes from W.A. Mathieu's The Listening Book, which is a book everyone should read, musician or not.

Anti-climactic, isn't it? Hopefully, after I sketch a few more, I'll record and post them. For fun. Also, to inspire other women musicians to do the same?