Thursday, November 8, 2012

Recorder Recoil

One of the main joys in private school is learning to play the recorder; if by "play" you mean "summon demons" and by "recorder", "hideous piece of lead-contaminated plastic forged by orphans in China". The chief feature of said recorders is the ability to play a grand total of three notes, as evidenced in most practice books. Each shrieking rendition consists of some arcane combination of C, B, and A, with the occasional impossible G thrown in solely to mess with your head.

(this way, we combine both the valuable lesson that it's never fun to grow up to be a musician, and provide a handy bludgeoning weapon to each child in case of some sort of zombie apocalypse.)

Despite this, some children do manage to foster the sliver of a talent, although this is quickly stifled with the swift application of modern-day public humiliation known as The Spring Concert. Akin to being placed in the stocks, this dreaded even involves forcing innocent schoolchildren to embarrass themselves before the multitudes of peers, parents, and overly-tolerant grandparents. Song choices range from "Folk Songs You've Never Heard Of", to "Pop Songs That Were Popular During the Eisenhower Administration (In Sweden)", to "Single Choruses of Decent Songs Performed Off-Key and Out of Tempo". A frequent addition to this tintinnabulation are the dreaded "Solos for Children Whose Parents are Bossy Assholes". Mrs. Bothersome Boylan was, of course, one of the lead perpetrators of these crimes against Humanity's collective ability to hear.

All together, the music scene on campus remains collectively grim, evoking eyerolls from those of us accosted by the Public School's moaning lament, "But at least you HAVE music!" No, no we don't. We have the artistic equivalent of monkeys attempting Shakespeare, with about half the scholarly ability. Save yourselves, chaps. It's too late for me.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Those Bothersome Boylans

I don't often find myself entirely repulsed by people, but when I do, it's a good chance to poke some fun. Mrs. Boylan was my little sister's drama teacher, and the bane of my family's existence. Threatening kindergarteners has never been looked kindly upon, and after she made my little sister cry, giving away her part in the school musical for no reason, I had to be physically restrained from taking violent action. Such a brave fourth grader, I was.

This wasn't the worst sort of thing Mrs. Boylan would do. She somehow managed to produce two daughters, not a small feat when you consider that Mrs. Boylan looked, for all the world, as if someone had taken an exceedingly large Honeybaked ham and glued a long, ratty blonde wig to it. Keth, the eldest daughter, had all the vapid beauty of one of those princesses you see in coloring books released by companies that rip off Disney films. Klair, the younger daughter, was a miniature of Mrs. Boylan. If Boylan was a ham, Klair was one of those nasty riblets you get at faux-Chinese places, coated in brown goo and made entirely of gristle and fat.

Keth was the genius, beautiful star child who could do no wrong, and promptly graduated high school, went to college, and discovered sex, drugs, and alcohol. I think she might be dead.

Klair, on the other hand, was the most awkward pawn in a game of 'try to arrange a marriage like we're in the 1300s' I've ever seen. First, Mrs. Boylan attempted to have her flirt with my cousin Marty. This went over as well as could be expected. (Something something, lead balloon, something something.) Marty practiced the great and ancient art of self defenestration, and my aunt reared up in a blessed fury, tearing into the insanity with the verbal equivalent of St. Michael's sword. I was there to witness the phone call. It was terrifying.

Klair's unfortunate sojourn was far from over. Peter, a young redheaded chap in Martin's class, was the next haplessly targeted prey. Perhaps Mrs. Boylan figured that, being a ginger, and thus lacking a soul, he wouldn't be so picky. I recall Peter half-heartedly plonking out 'Think Of Me' from Phantom of the Opera on his electric keyboard, as Klair screeched delightedly into the over-hot microphone. Feedback and distortion flooded through the crowd, and most people ran for the margarita booth or their cars. Oh yes, the margarita booth. I didn't mention this wasn't at some measly grade school talent show. Oh no. Mrs. Boylan had managed to force them to perform at the school CARNIVAL, a public event attended by probably a thousand or so people. If Peter had happened to own a soul, he would have immediately sold it to the first bidder for a ticket out of there. I've met car alarms more melodious than Klair.

After that supposed courtship came to a roaring halt, the Boylans somewhat faded from the scene, although flare-ups were occasionally reported. Whatever happened to the hapless Mr. Boylan, I'm afraid we'll never know. My own private nightmare is that Mrs. Boylan ate him, head first (which head is up to you) like a chubby praying mantis.

If you should ever see a woman hulking towards you that bears an uncanny resemblance to smoked pork products served during important Christian holidays, for the love of god, run. It's probably Mrs. Boylan still trying to play sadistic matchmaker for her SPAM-can of a daughter, Klair.

*Names have been changed to protect ME!

Monday, June 25, 2012


I've managed to discover something exceedingly wonderful about the internet. It's bringing back old-fashioned mail. People across the world can meet, befriend each other, and send little packets of awesome zipping around the globe.

So far, just from Reddit, I've met amazing people. One sent me dandelion seeds from a plant exhibiting fascinating mutant characteristics, so I can try to grow them myself, and one has purchased an antique safety razor from me, and in return with the payment, sent me my own sample pack of blades. Another gentleman commissioned a dog collar adorned with green sea glass after seeing my handmade necklaces. All of these transactions only occurred because I happened to meet people with similar interests online.

Perhaps in this day and age of 'going postal', of overpaid union members and the collective grumbling for and against that it generates, mail has lost its romantic notions. I tend to disagree. There will always be unhappy people, it's true. But the fact that a handwritten missive can and will find its way to a destination miles away, bringing friendship and camaraderie to people who will never meet in person, is glorious.

For myself, typing has much replaced any handwriting skills I can claim to have possessed, but once in a while, I will square my shoulders, take out some truly lovely stationery, and throw my mind back to penmanship class, so I can send a proper, old-fashioned letter to someone I love. Grandma appreciates it, and usually responds with a teary, "My grand-daughter loves me! I'm so happy, let me buy you an orchid!" sort of phone call. My boyfriend enjoys sitting and reading all the good things that I tell him, as the vicious be-feathered velociraptor his parents claim is a parrot screeches in the background, competing with his equally cold-blooded and vicious sister in a ferocious noise generating competition.

A letter demands a sort of old-fashioned tranquility. You must sit down, relax, and potentially enjoy a cup of tea to read a letter. Letters require a response that cannot be from a text or email. A phone call forces vocal contact. A return letter requires thought, patience, and time. They bring gentility to a hectic modern pace.

Perhaps one day I'll allow you all to write me letters, to see how you've been, what the news is, and who's done what with whom. Maybe I'll send you a reply or two, perhaps a hand-inked invitation to tea. Until then, enjoy.

PS: The garden is lovely, and provides a perfect excuse to listen to the perfidy of the neighbors.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Somebody commented on my last post this morning. Hailing all the way from Sweden, my new friend pondered over whether I lived in a Studio Ghibli-like world, where everything, no matter how strange or frightening, was also beautiful. I smiled as I read this, astonished that I could touch someone so far away from my own country. It was a bit of a sad smile, perhaps wistful would be a better word. The world is magnificent. Too often we forget that. As I write this, I hope that you enjoy some of my photos, showing the pretty little things I have seen. Forgive me if the composition and lighting aren't what they should be. My tiny little digital Canon isn't the most exciting of cameras, and I am not the most apt photographer. Please, enjoy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Jaded Luck

Yesterday evening as I walked home, I came across several broken twigs from a Jade Plant. They lay rather forlornly in a heap of wind-driven detritus, beneath their parent plant. I picked them up and took them home with me. After all, I love jade, and the plant is also known as the Money or Luck Tree. I need money, and I need luck, and these tough little succulents might just give me enough inspiration to get through life.

I walked home, clutching the shriveled little things, hoping they wouldn't somehow crumble into oblivion before I got home and managed to plonk them into some peat moss. Shuffling home down the darkened, quiet streets allowed me to meditate on my fortunes, the only escapes from my reverie coming as I greeted the neighborhood creatures that are my friends. Fella is a beautiful longhaired shepherd-type dog, a beautiful mutt rescued by an equally beautiful family. The cats are nameless semi-feral beasties, willing to sacrifice an iota of dignity for such delicacies I might offer, be it a gentle pet or a tidbit out of my leftovers.

Not all the cats are nameless, one holds the uncommon distinction of having a name attached to every house on my street. To some, he is Blackie, to some, Midnight. The gamblers amongst us call him Blackjack. I've heard him called Shadow, but to me he is Nikolai, my Niko-Niko-Evil-Kitty, a sly gentleman in sable. He comes and waits at the backdoor, he sleeps on my lawn furniture cushions. He thinks I am his, I know better to think he is mine. I go to check on the chickens and occasionally gift him with a fresh, raw egg, one with a cracked shell that we can't eat. I admit to stealing cans of tuna from the cupboard for him. He sneaks into the house with practiced ease, and I'll swear to his laughing when he is chased out.

Niko is a symbol of making luck. He is a black cat, traditionally a source of niggling worry to the quaintly superstitious. He is lucky. Everybody feeds him, everybody loves him in his aloofness. I took it as a good omen when he showed especial interest in my Jade Plant refugees. As I type, Niko is probably asleep on the outdoor wicker sofa, and the Jade cuttings are beginning to show some sign of perking up.

My luck is what I make of it, it's true. I find the discarded, the forgotten, and I tend to them. I hope that somebody finds and tends me in the same way. I want to know what it is to thrive. I want to have the fortune of jade, not to be jaded. I wonder how and when my chance will come.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Tea is a brilliant beverage. Both relaxing and invigorating, it has stimulated the minds, bodies, and souls of countless throngs through the ages. Hectic workdays are soothed with simple fannings heaped into bags. Colds are nursed into complacency with richly spiced teas laden with lemon and honey. Friends gather around a table set with large portions of small sandwiches, scones, and ever-changing varieties of tea.

Across the globe, tea keeps one's upper lip stiff, one's soul at ease, one's heart steady. In Tibet, black tea and yak butter make a hearty, thick soup, essential to life on the steppes. In Ireland, tea is brewed so strong a rat "couldn't sink his foot in it". Japanese teas are sipped in ceremony designed to both uplift and humble. Britain's teas are brewed in all manner of odd crockery, and offered as a comfort to any and all who need an embrace inside and out.

All tea comes from one simple plant, camellia sinensis. Flavorings such as fruit pieces, essential oils, and artificial flavors might be added, but true tea grows on a humble bush, nestled in misty hillsides, on huge plantations or small farms, in humble villages or bustling centers of trade. Wherever man goes, so does tea. It is a beautiful thing.

Featherless Wings

I've been working on adding details and fur to a hinge-jawed werewolf mask for the past couple of weeks, and mindlessly paging through Netflix as I do. Recently, I had the incredible fortune of discovering the documentary on the man who gave voice and life to Elmo, Kevin Clash. It's hard to believe that a simple human being could create such a wonderfully innocent and yet subversive personality, and harder still to believe that Jim Henson wasn't alone in his work, but had the help and support of hundreds of dedicated people.

Jim Henson was a huge innovator in the world of Special (Practical) FX. His creatures thought, moved, breathed. They were far more than simple puppets. Through their operators and puppeteers, they were alive. Even when a child sees a Muppeteer attached to their friend, it doesn't matter. Watch. That child absolutely knows that their Muppet companion is alive and well, and is truly talking with them.

So much of my childhood was laid out in ancient taped VHS recordings of The Muppet Show, of grainy recordings of The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, complete with horrible 1980s commercials where my parents forgot to pause recording between them. Sesame Street taught me not to be scared of monsters, that being adopted deserved a song and dance number from the whole neighborhood, that conflicts could be solved with a little talking, and even the meanest grouch had a heart for something. Even worms could reach the stars, on Sesame Street.

Now Disney owns The Muppets, and despite a come-back movie, the truly funny moments are relegated to the internet. Short clips of The Muppets rocking out in intricate and ridiculous manner are hidden like gems among the countless "watch me pop this zit!" and "amateur stuntman is grievously injured!" videos. There is something phenomenally sad about this. Jim Henson is dead, but the zaniness he created deserves to live on. I know he wanted to move on from just the standard Muppets, that he wanted to create entire worlds within the realm of CG. That can happen too.

A series of comic books has been created, it's true. My utmost hope is that one day the Henson family will discover and release his lost scripts, and we can get one final glimpse into the mind of the man that was so integral to my growing up, and my choice of career. As of right now, all I can say is, "Thanks, Jim."