I have an attitude breakthrough to report.
I’ve stopped hating the way I sound when I sing. Although hating isn’t quite right: there’s not enough there to hate, which is more the point. How I sound is so dreary and depressing and characterless. So I’ve stopped being depressed about how I sound. It’s all very ridiculous really: I’m taking voice lessons for pity’s sake because I like singing. It is seriously counterproductive to wreck the fun by going all condemningly perfectionist on my own ass.
Now some large and crucial part of this breakthrough is what Nadia has managed to do with me—I make a lot more noise than I did two years ago, and of significantly better quality. It’s not like prying a hellterror’s jaws open every time I want to sing something any more, against the clamping-shut instinct of Not Good Enough. I’m still not Beverly Sills. But part of what is ridiculous is that I don’t want to be Beverly Sills*—talent comes with responsibility and I already know about the responsibility of talent: I’m a frelling fiction writer.** I don’t need any more blasted arteeeeestic responsibilities. But I still want to be an audible member of the Muddles—and not audible in a way that makes the musical director lie awake nights wondering how to tell me that he thinks I have a great future in cross stitch or painting on china.
I’m not sure when the breakthrough actually arrived. I was aware of it after I sang for Oisin on Friday, that the whole business had been slightly less traumatic than I might have expected. That I was slightly more conscious (than I might have expected) that I want to do this, that while I am not up to Oisin’s (professional) weight, I like the variety of singing-with, the kick of singing with an entirely different instrument than another human voice or group of voices. I think I said on Friday that the more complex arrangement Oisin was playing than what I’m used to made it more of a duet—even if a sort of three-legged race of a duet, where Usain Bolt is shackled to a ninety-year-old asthmatic with a limp.
But I came away from that thinking more about how much fun it was than how awful I was.*** Which is more or less when the penny dropped, although it tumbled down in slo-mo and took a very long time to hit the floor. Never mind whether I am or am not Beverly Sills: what I do have is usable so how about if we stop with the angst and use it? I’ve been singing my tiny brains out all weekend† and Sunday, having already put in about forty minutes’ real practise as well as about an hour singing to hellcritters††, I was singing at St Radegund††† and thinking, hmm, I hope I haven’t sung myself hoarse, I have a voice lesson tomorrow.‡
I hadn’t sung myself hoarse. I warmed up not too badly today at home and went off all hopeful but nervous—my breakthrough is real enough but whether it was going to show in any way that Nadia could hear was dubious. My warm-up for her was pretty standard, with her saying things like, Now let’s do that again and this time pretend you’re enjoying it. And then the moment arrived when she asked me what I’d like to work on.
Partly I think because my breakthrough was creeping up on me and partly because Nadia has suggested or given me extra stuff to look at recently I’m in the flighty dilettante’s position of trying to learn too many pieces of music at once, and have about half a dozen half learnt. But I knew the answer to this question. Um, Dido? I said. If you can stand it.
Dido’s Lament is one of the things I’d started learning, more or less for laughs, while Nadia was on maternity leave, so it’s been around for a while.‡‡ I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned mangling it here before. Sigh. Because I am like this I’d managed to convince myself that I Can’t Sing It and of course this approach is self-fulfilling.‡‡‡ Arrgh. So not only did I keep sliding off pitch—which Nadia kept insisting wasn’t about my ear but my confidence—but I made a complete dog’s dinner of the timing, like I’d forgotten how to count or something. ARRGH. Well, I can at least relearn to count, so I frelling did. And then . . . I’ve been singing it again this week, now that the COUNTING is back in place and . . .
. . . Okay, I’m not Beverly Sills. Or Janet Baker. But I think I may even have surprised Nadia a little. I really sang the sucker. There was positively some communication of emotion in my delivery, which is probably a FIRST. Dig deeper, said Nadia—which first requires I’m digging at all, you know? And she even said at one point—after an exegesis on the relationship between the soft palate and the pelvis—that it’s great to be talking technique to me at this level.
Yes. It is. Yaaaaay.
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* Aside from the fact that we’ve already had Beverly Sills and we don’t get another one.
** And yes, I write fantasy and I do say that I hope my books are good wet Saturday afternoon reads^ and I am not Charles Dickens or Leo Tolstoi^^ but I do honestly and genuinely believe that some of what I’ve managed to write really resonates for some readers. Hey, I get letters from them. And thank you very much. But the writing is nonetheless ferociously hard work. Talent doesn’t make it easy. Talent makes it possible.
^ on the sofa with critters
^^ And a good thing too, they were both utter liver flukes of human beings
*** I told Nadia all about it of course, and she said I should go ahead and learn Oisin’s version too—including the two-and-a-half-notes higher part—that there are lots of arrangements out there and my version is in fact unusually low. And about not realising I was singing high Gs she said drily, yes, it’s amazing what you’re capable of when you don’t know what you’re singing.
† I need to learn more songs. That is, finish learning, off by heart, for singing while hurtling and over the washing-up. And more verses of the songs I do know.
†† I don’t sing to the hellterror much, I have to break off so often to dive at her shrieking I lose musical momentum.
††† And two people turned around to see where that racket was coming from. I think I’ve told you this before: I am now louder than the average member of a congregation. This is responsibility of a sort, I suppose: either get the notes right or shut up.
‡ This didn’t stop me singing at St Margaret’s. I am now in Singing Mode.
‡‡ Longer than that, because I’d just started looking at it with Blondel when he left.
‡‡‡ And it doesn’t help at all remembering that Purcell wrote his opera for a bunch of frelling teenagers. It’s not like late Strauss or something.
It lives. I hope.
The low curved brick wall you can see isn’t the new wall, it’s the remains of the flowerbed Theodora had against the back wall of her garden. The beginning of The Wall is the lower brick work this side of it.
USUALLY there’s about a foot and a half of sand in the gap between the little low front wall and the back wall of the greenhouse. This is the second time poor Atlas has had to dig it all out. My predecessor put in the greenhouse, and this was a plunge bed–where you put plants in pots up to their brims (hence plunge) to give them more insulation than just their pots provide. But she didn’t line it, and the part of the wall that is the back wall of Theodora’s summerhouse started coming through black mould on her side from damp sand on my side. Charming. So Atlas dug it all out, lined the trench, and put it all back again. And the lining did stop the plunge-bed sand from being part of the merry frolic in poor Theodora’s garden when the wall exploded.
The tiny sliver of salmon pink in the upper left hand corner peering over Theodora’s summerhouse is my cottage. I BOUGHT IT THAT COLOUR. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH IT BEING PINK.*
And just out of the frame in the lower left-hand corner I have double hellebores and snowdrops flowering like mad. I’ll try and get some photos of them too.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to bed early. In theory I’m getting up at unearthly o’clock tomorrow morning to make another run at Aloysius’ once a month EARLY silent prayer service. Aren’t there any Cults of Night I could join?
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* Of course I didn’t immediately have it repainted either. Eight years later however it needs repainting. Somehow I think it’ll probably stay pink, although I might make the depth of colour a little more intense. . . . ^
^ Also: token footnote. So no one complains about the lack of footnotes.
IT IS SO COLD. It is the 24th of frelling February in southern England and when I got up this morning it was SNOWING. Snowing and lying.*
It has not been a good week for peace of mind so I determined to get to the monks extra-early for the Saturday night silent-contemplation-before service prayer so I could have a long enough sit (I hoped) to produce some insight.** In pre-contemplation mode I considered the weather. And took a BLANKET with me. The blanket, indeed, in which I wrap myself up in my own sitting room when I do my Zen Christian zazen thing. There are DRAUGHTS at floor-sitting level, even with an Aga on the other side of the wall, and while I’ve discovered I can sit*** in jeans I’m usually sitting in my dressing-gown, which was not made to keep you warm sitting on the floor with the central heating turned off and the snow falling outdoors.
I was very glad to have a blanket last night. As well as the two cotton turtlenecks, the two woolly jumpers, the leather jacket, the two pairs of socks and the longjohns under my jeans. And the fleece-lined leather gloves. My circulation has always been rubbish—arguably I’m a fidget because I’m trying to stay warm, and not all the hurtling part of the daily hurtles is for the hellcritters’ sakes—and sitting still, I swear the blood all withdraws to my liver and has a party.† And I’m going to be very glad to have my blanket next Saturday morning when I try yet again to go to Aloysius’ frelling early silent prayer service. He says the chapel they sit in is COLD. Where has spring got to? Drinking Mai Tais in Hawaii? What?
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* I thought, okay, get thy tail to New Arcadia tower this morn, they will have need of thee. Like horsefeathers and bulltiddly: they had ten ringers. I should have stayed in bed.
** Nothing like upsetting your own apple cart. I didn’t think I was observing all that challenging a Lent. Evidently the personal status quo disagrees.
*** That is, cross-legged on a cushion. I did yoga fairly seriously for a while too and while I could (for example) do the splits with what I fondly believed to be a straight pelvis, I never quite made it to full lotus, not to stay anyway. I could sit in half-lotus however and it’s a nice stable base when you’re settled, and you can forget about it and concentrate on your breath. The books I’ve been reading lately insist that you must learn to sit properly—and the accompanying photos are of course of rows and rows of utterly calm and centred-looking people sitting in PERFECT full lotuses with both knees firmly against the ground and their laps perfectly level—and therefore their curved hands are perfectly level too. Well I decided I ought to be able to get my half-lotus back. And promptly pushed it too hard MCKINLEY THIS BODY IS SIXTY YEARS OLD CAN YOU TRY AND REMEMBER THAT and have managed to outrage one hamstring so seriously I can barely sit at all. Arrrrgh. I told Aloysius this tonight and he tried hard not to laugh, but he also said that at the very serious zendo he sat at before he came to St Margaret’s everyone had a different assortment of pillows on which they sat differently with different props and supports. Speaking of good enough.
I was planning to pull some of the comments out of the It’s All Performance. Isn’t It? thread and the Good Enough. Mostly. Sometimes thread . . . but they’re all good, some of them are too complex to cut intelligently^, and it’s also a conversation so if I tried to haul any of it out here I’d have to haul most of it out here. But let me recommend that anyone interested in performance, in the arts, in human creativity and in being good enough should go read those threads.^^
So just a random thought or two to be going on with. I’d like to think EMoon’s and my generation^^^ will have been the last to get really mired in the If You’re Not Amazing Don’t Bother mindset, but that’s probably naïve. But Shalea reminded us of that excellent old adage: Perfect is the enemy of good. Yes. And blondviolinist, who is a professional musician, added that the concept of ‘perfect’ makes her nuts, because it makes it sound as if there is One True Way . . . and there isn’t. She adds: I’m blown away by the rich possibilities for creativity as individual people bring their own imagination and heart to their music. (Or visual art, or dancing, or writing, or….) And someone else somewhere—sorry, I can’t find you right now—quotes Mahalia Jackson: God don’t mind a bum note.
I do have a slight Well she can say that she’s Mahalia Jackson reaction to this last. But all of this (and other comments I haven’t mentioned) point to what I wanted to say further about my own need to believe that I’m allowed to engage with—in this case, music, from the making it side as well as the taking in someone else’s making side, live in a concert, live in your sitting room, on the radio or CD, or Met Live at your local cinema. Performance at any level, I think, changes your relationship to music—broadens it, deepens it, makes you go oh wow in a whole new thrillingly-more-informed way when you listen to your favourite Beverly Sills CDs. For this alone it’s worth trying to play or sing, however badly, even if you have to send your husband to the pub and leave your critters at the other house while you practise. Which, because I am very fortunate, I don’t.#
The other thing—the big thing—is that if you can really ENGAGE with the music—if you can inform it, inhabit it—express it—well, God won’t mind the bum notes, and, chances are, neither will your audience. When Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau died last year, there were millions of words of obituary about what an astonishing singer he was—a lot of people think he is the greatest lieder singer who ever lived—at least since recording equipment got good enough for comparisons to be made. I knew that. What I didn’t know is that quite a few people also say that he did not have, by nature, a first rate voice. He had a very good voice, obviously, a professional-quality voice, but it wasn’t absolute top value: what he did have was overwhelming commitment and insight, and an unmatched ability (yes I’m a fan) to get inside the music he’s performing, and give it to his audience. Perfect isn’t only the enemy of good, it’s also the enemy of fabulous.
. . . Okay, I want to get to bed tonight, so I Will Continue This Later. . . .
^ At least at this time of night when intelligence is getting a little thin on the ground anyway
^^ Note that if you want to comment yourself you do have to join the forum, but anyone can read the threads.
^^^ I know there are few more 60-pluses out there but I don’t want to drag anyone out of the shadows who doesn’t want to come.
# Peter continues to insist he likes hearing me sing, and the hellterror has mostly stopped erupting when I try. Chaos may still leave the hellhound bed to walk over to the piano and stare at me earnestly—especially on evenings when the high B is considering making an appearance—but he doesn’t make an issue of it.
† As I like to say, probably too often, I’m cold all the time, except occasionally when I’m too hot.
I got up this morning [sic] and . . . it was white outdoors. NOOOOOOO. NOOOOOOOO. Meanwhile all the local weather forecasts were saying ‘dry in the south, snow falling north of London’. This included the Met office and the BBC, where you type in the name of your town and your post code and click, and your very own personalised weather report appears on your screen with beautiful, detailed maps and arrows of progress, and cloud and sun and precipitation symbols headily mixed in with a selection of totally puzzling indecipherable icons. The entirety of which may or may not have any relevance to reality. It’s one thing however to be a big fancy meteorologist in a tall windowless skyscraper in Leeds or Oslo or Bucharest, feeding multi-computer-derived statistics into the master computer for people all over Europe to read from their high-tech devices of choice. I wonder if the fellow at our local nine-volt radio station feels at all silly after he brushes the snow off his coat and out of his shoes being handed today’s forecast to read over the air to his neighbours saying ‘dry in the south, snow falling north of London’.
MY VOICE LESSON IS ON MONDAY AFTERNOON. Although after the week I’ve just had, including the aftermath of not-quite-flu, it might be kinder both to my self-esteem and to my singing teacher if I had a bombproof excuse to miss.
DON’T WANT TO MISS.
The snow was teeming down. It was teeming down so extravagantly that the two big fat robins that hang out in my garden, and generally only pick up the seed that has fallen out of the feeder were taking turns at the feeder.*
Teem teem teem.
Meanwhile, partly because I am too distracted by the blasted weather to concentrate on SHADOWS, I am making various overdue coping-with-the-real-world phone calls. Arrrgh. On the phone list are two more Potential Wall Rebuilders. One of them never answers their phone** and the second one . . . ANSWERS THEIR [mobile] PHONE FIRST TRY***.
An estimate on a brick and flint wall? they say. Sure. Where are you? I tell them. Oh, we’re looking at a job in Gallowglass. We’ll be with you in twenty minutes.
They’re going to have a bid for me tomorrow. They are GOLDEN.
While we were standing around looking at the hole it STOPPED SNOWING.
I had a WAY better voice lesson than I had any business having. As I said to Nadia—being very underpractised this week due to circumstances mostly beyond my control—it’s worth coming almost no matter what because of the way she resets or retunes my voice . . . which I then lose slowly and inevitably over the week, till I come in again next Monday and she does it again. But there are still things that happen at home that don’t happen for Nadia because I’m worrying too much about doing it right for her.
Today I sang my first Bb at a lesson.† I’m going to get high C back. I am. Before I die of old age. Really.
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* British robins are ground feeders, but as I know from experience they will hang upside down from the chandelier for live mealworms, or perform any other acrobatic necessary, so they don’t insist on eating at floor level. I’m a squirrel phobic, so I’m using squirrel-proof feeders not because they are squirrel proof but because they may discourage the blighters into stripping some other, less defended bird feeder to the paint six times a day, or as often as the idiot local human can be stimulated to refill it, and I am not going to lay an expensive vermin smorgasbord on the frelling ground. Robins can learn to use a feeder like lab rats can learn to press a lever and get a peanut. These robins are clearly mutant anyway—they are GIGANTIC, and there’s two of them. You only get one robin per territory. This is surely too early for them to be pairing up for nest-building?^ Last year mum robin was pretty huge, but dad was normal robin sized. The Mutants Are Taking Over. So long as they don’t start threatening Pav when she’s having her morning frolic^^ I assume we can cohabitate.
^ I hesitate to mention this under the circumstances but the long-range forecast is for a month of winter. IT’S THE MIDDLE OF FEBRUARY IN SOUTHERN ENGLAND. THE SNOWDROPS ARE ALREADY OUT. THE CROCUSES AND THE FIRST DAFFS ARE SHOWING COLOUR. IT’S SPRING, OKAY? GET WITH THE PROGRAMME. IT’S FRELLING DRATBLASTED SPRING. IT MUST BE SPRING, THERE ARE TWO ROBINS IN MY GARDEN.
^^ A crap avoidance technique. Fortunately she continues to be so food obsessed that she will eventually crap, probably before I freeze to death, standing outdoors in my dressing gown keeping an eye on her,+ because breakfast follows closely.
+ I’ve told you she eats rose bushes? It’s a good thing she’s cute. There’s also the unwelcome fact that there’s presently a GIGANTIC hole in the wall immediately to the right of the kitchen door, and while there’s a tiny little semi-decorative picket fence in the way, this would not much hinder a hellterror on a mission.
A gigantic hole draped in a fig leaf of barbed wire. Last night hellhounds and I—hellterrorless, I was tired—were out for our last little quarter-hurtle and . . . there was a frelling street brawl. We slipped away into the shadows and slunk back to the cottage, but I could still hear it, and I could hear it more clearly than I wanted to through the hole in the wall. I WANT MY WALL BACK.#
# One of the several unwritten Third Damar Novels concerns a woman living in a walled garden. Notes about her went into the story file long before I moved over here, let alone moved into town from a large semi-walled country garden to a tiny completely walled town garden. I feel that—supposing I get around to her—my writing about her experience will take on a vibrancy it might not have had thirty years ago.
** One of the causes of my failure to engage with the real world is that I prefer the sole-trader type, being sort of one myself, and they are the least likely to have things like receptionists, or to answer their frelling phones themselves. This basic situation has improved with the ubiquity of mobile phones, but people don’t necessarily answer their mobiles either. Ask me how I know this. Ask me about punctiliously turning Pooka off before entering the monks’ chapel and then forgetting, sometimes for days, to turn her back on again. You’d be surprised how easy it is to skip over the opening screen with all the missed messages on it when you’re on your way to your current Audible read-aloud, or the converter thingy that will tell you what Centigrade or metres are in real numbers.
*** They were however impossible to locate in the first place, which is kind of the same thing, about sole-trader types. They’d done a gorgeous wall in Ditherington several years ago which I’d had my eye on for if I ever got enough ahead in funds to have a short stretch of brick-and-flint wall put up at Third House . . . but they don’t have a web site and they have a funny name. BUT I TRACKED THEM DOWN.
† Not that I knew it, of course, because that’s the way it goes. You do your exercises—or your teacher leads you through them—and at the end you check and see where you got to. I couldn’t sing high Bb in a piece to save my life.
So yesterday I thought I was dying* or at least coming down with combined typhoid and cholera** . . . which might very well have had a sinister effect on my life expectancy.***
Today . . . I am not too bad. A little wombly, but not too bad. Despite the arrival of the new refrigerator which . . . remember the good old days when you ripped your appliance out of its cardboard and Styrofoam and plugged it in? This one is apparently a doctoral thesis in practical engineering ARRRRRRRRGH. Atlas is coming tomorrow to examine the problem.
* * *
* Or at least losing the will to live. A new foreign edition of BEAUTY arrived recently.
I’m really delighted when my message of active roles for women successfully crosses the translation/culture barrier.
** As a result of the little adventure with the hellterror the other night. I can’t have Lady Macbethed hard enough. Although my hands were positively sore afterwards. I did try.
*** I spent the day frantically popping homeopathy pills^—I have an assortment of hellcritters to hurtle! I have a copyedited manuscript to painstakingly de-correct^^ someone else’s idea of standard^^^ punctuation and word usage through 273 pages of in the next I-think-it’s-ten days! I have Green & Black’s to eat! I can’t be ill!
I was appalled at the statistics quoted for conventional drugs, particularly the cost of treating the side effects of those drugs.
Yep. Iatrogenic—doctor-caused—illnesses are a major killer. Depending on who you read, the third biggest killer in America, after cancer and heart disease.
I understand the bafflement, though I don’t condone the vitriol, of the establishment. I was trained in cause and effect, and I sure wish somebody could explain to me a mechanism that makes sense. Not to mention how an umpty-umpth dilution of a deadly poisonous heavy metal can help the innards.
But I agree, if it helps Darkness, it’s not just a placebo.
There’s some fairly well-documented evidence out there about what is usually called ‘the memory of water’—that water that has been succussed, which means whacking your bottle against the palm of your hand or a big heavy book or thereabouts+ has undergone permanent structural changes by the now ex-presence of the remedy base: white arsenic (Ars Alb) or club moss (Lycopodium) or whatever. So after you’ve diluted it beyond the likelihood of any atom of the ‘remedy’ remaining . . . the water is still different than it was before it was treated.
And the foundation philosophy is ‘like cures like’. Ars Alb is likely to help people presenting symptoms similar to arsenic poisoning. ::HIDEOUS OVERSIMPLIFICATION ALERT::
Placebos are another tool. The placebo effect is real, and useful. I’m sure that sometimes it’s placebo causing positive change rather than the drug—homeopathic or allopathic—but homeopathy isn’t placebo, any more than allopathy is.
True skeptics would say that Darkness’ difficulties had merely run their course and it was nothing to do with the homeopathy. I know better, of course, since it took me four or five years to figure out what worked with least trauma on these occasions—it’s a ratbag having a patient that won’t talk to you—and I remember how protracted these affairs were before I figured it out.
But you only have to see homeopathy work like magic a couple of times to realise there’s something in it. Some bruises fade as you watch, after you’ve taken your Arnica. I stopped getting black fingernails AGAIN after I shut my hand in a door AGAIN after I discovered Arnica. I’ve told you my Cantharis story, haven’t I? Speaking of being a moron+++. I’ve been baking for fifty years but I CANNOT learn not to grab a handle . . . even if it’s been sitting in a hot oven for the last hour. A few years ago I grabbed the handle of an iron skillet that had been in the Aga’s hot oven—really grabbed it, and so couldn’t let loose fast enough, and heard my flesh sizzling. By the time I let go I already had a big angry red welt . . . and I knew what a burn like this was going to be like. Among other things I wouldn’t be ringing any bells for weeks.
I ran for the Cantharis with my hand going THROB THROB THROB THROB. And started popping pills. In an ‘emergency acute’ situation like this you take them pretty rapidly—say five minutes apart—and you keep taking them till they start working. Hellhound digestion and a bad burn both take pretty serious application.
But the Mare-Crisium-sized blister that was coming up by the time I got the bottle open paused and . . . went down again. I don’t remember how many pills I took. But finally all I had to show for the experience was a faint reddish mark. It didn’t even peel. I didn’t have to interrupt my bell ringing. And I am not kidding about hearing my flesh sizzle.
. . . Did I ever tell you how Chaos got his notched ear? That’s another Arnica story.
(And Diane . . . I bookmarked the anti-bloat stifle acupressure point the last time you posted it. I don’t mean to discourage you from posting it again++ as the subject comes up again, as it will do, because the hellhounds and I are surrounded by careless idiots who throw sandwiches into the hedgerows, but it hasn’t worked for me. I don’t know if that’s because the hellhounds’ problems don’t respond or I’m doing it wrong. I incline to the latter, since I can rarely learn even a simple three-dimensional skill without someone demonstrating in three dimensions.)
+Homeopathic pharmacies have machines to do it of course.
+++ For which so far as I know there is no homeopathic treatment
^^ Under extreme duress, the splitting of infinitives is permitted.
^^^ Well it very well may be standard. Ask me if standard is likely to be the method I adhere to.