I’m just back from church. Hurrah. I haven’t been in yonks and yonks. I’ve thought for the last three Sundays—I think it’s three—that I would make it this week and then I have one of my unscheduled collapses and don’t.* I felt deeply guilty** a fortnight ago when my name was on the [singing] rota again and Aloysius could have really used some support—St Margaret’s, like most of the rest of the northern hemisphere where people live, gets thin on the ground in August while they’re all on holiday in someone else’s home town.*** So if that shocking failure was a fortnight ago, my name would coming up on the rota again . . . yes. Hmm. Buck was leading. And there was no one else on the list.
. . . Pav, go lie down.†
I looked the music rota up on Thursday and blanched. Also I’d had no song list so I could look the stuff up on YouTube and complain. But possibly I had had no song list because I had been a no show for so long they’d drummed me off the rolls. Which in August when there is an insufficiency of people on stage to hide behind is maybe quite a good thing.
Friday. Still no song list. I began the day feeling pretty good in brain and energy terms, so I emailed Buck. WHERE IS MY SONG LIST [I might come, you never know]?
. . . And then Saturday I had another frelling lying-down day†† ARRRRRRGH . . .
Pav, go lie down.†††
So I got cautiously out of bed today wondering what was going to happen. One of the things that happened was that I FINALLY had a return email from Buck saying he’d only just got back from holiday to 1,000,000,000 emails and sure, come along tonight and we’ll party.
So I went early like a good girl and found him practising ALL BY HIMSELF. Where would you like to be? he said, brandishing a music stand. In the middle? On the other side of the stage? BEHIND YOU, I said clearly. And you have to sing what I’m supposed to sing. No messing around with the tune.‡ He gave me his Steady Look, which is never a good sign. But we gambolled through the music, some of which I knew and some of which I did not know. One of the ones I did not know has a long embarrassing spell of Woah woah woah where you just sort of emote with your mouth open, torturing innocent variations of the so-called tune in whatever manner seems good to you. Ad lib. You know. Eh. Gah. Buck can do that one.
I didn’t know how much voice I was going to have, because I’ve been too feeble lately to do much singing beyond folk songs while hurtling, but since for some reason they refused to turn my microphone off tonight you could certainly hear me.
As it happened it wasn’t as dire as all that. One of the blokes who plays a keyboard was unwise enough to turn up for the evening service and Buck nailed him. So in fact we started a few minutes late while Jethro frantically dragged his keyboard out of the cupboard and started plugging things in with his hands going so fast he looked like an octopus with fingers. Which may explain why, when we got to the woah woah woah and Buck shot off into parts unknown I not only shot after him but soared past—he’s a nice strong tenor with some top end but I’m a soprano. I win.‡‡
And having been winding up cables that hate me since I first started this singing shtick, tonight I had a lesson from the ex-roadie and ex-member-of-the-band Buck in how to wind up a cable so it doesn’t hate you. Who knew this was a skill?
Pav, GO LIE DOWN.
Yeah. I think I’ll do that too. Preferably in a bed however. With lots of pillows and books. Pav will probably prefer a chew toy.
* * *
* I haven’t been to the monks in forever either. Siiiiiiigh. If you have ME, don’t join a church frelling MILES from where you live or fall in love with a bunch of monks who are even farther away. I thought I was finally going to make it to the abbey last Saturday . . . and got an email from Alfrick saying, don’t come if you were planning to, there’s a doodah^ on and night prayer is cancelled. And then Sunday, possibly from disappointment, I had another lying-down-in-a-daze day, and didn’t make it to church again.
^ This is of course the deep theological usage of the term ‘doodah’.
** Which does not improve the lying-down-in-a-daze experience
*** And the evening service is the little one. Apparently the earlier services still teem pretty well, even in August.
† Poor Pav’s training has gone totally pear-shaped the last two months or so what with Everything Else Going On and I swore that as soon as things even BEGAN to settle down I’d start doing something more with her again.^ And fabulously amusing as rolling over on command is, the thing that would make a significant difference to both her quality of life and mine is if she would learn to GO LIE DOWN on command, so I have a better alternative when she’s winding herself up to start bouncing off the ceiling than to lock her up in her crate again. Even bribing her with foooooood gets a little oppressive after a while and I need her to like her crate because she inevitably spends a good deal of time in it. And I don’t want to make a huge deal of it when she’s just being a bull terrier and put her in her harness and make her Long Down at my feet. ‘Go lie down’ is just another off button like Southdowner-trained Olivia’s holding is.^^
^ Her walking more or less at heel and sitting and looking up at me when I stop is getting not at all bad except, of course, when I start to think so. But people who know bullies tend to fall down laughing when they see us doing our somewhat erratic trick+. I’m usually smiling even without onlookers++. The little evil eyes do enhance the experience of being stared up at—and the way a bullie’s back legs are built how bullies sit down often provokes hilarity even in the clueless onlooker.
+ Ie successfully.
++ No NOT in surprise. You rude person.
++ Holding still works fine, by the way. If she gets too turbo-charged about another dog—and with her personality I am not going to risk her being ruined by too many encounters with stupid people’s off lead ugly citizens the way my poor sweet hellhounds have been ruined—I don’t just pick her up I hold her.
†† Possibly due to the extreme frustrations of Friday, which included, after learning of the third mortgage I was going to have to take out to pay for the new boiler, belting into Mauncester at the last possible minute to pick up our NEW CLEAR GLASS SPLASHBACK^ for the gas hob/stovetop at Third House which Ignatius had already promised to screw in on Saturday . . . AND THEY FRELLING MUFFED THE JOB. And are going to have to do it all over again. On their penny, but even so. Arrrrrrgh.
And then I rang handbells with Niall for the first time in months and it TOTALLY wiped me out. No measurable trace of brain function after. I used to be able to ring handbells without having to be rolled home in a wheelbarrow. . . .
^ Ordering same having taken somewhat longer than it might have when I arrived last Friday at 3:55 to find that despite the stated hour of closure as 4:30 the only person still there was locking up as fast as he could turn the key.
Finding someone who could provide a clear glass splashback has been a whole other saga as fashion presently dictates that the only splashbacks any cool up to the minute person would want are brutally glossy things in really harsh grisly in your face colours or the even more in your face polished steel uggggggh. I get enough of the dentist’s office/torturer’s look at my dentist’s office/torturer’s tea parties, okay? AND I WANT TO SEE MY TILES. They’re nice tiles and they cost a lot of money.
††† If you stirred Pav and me together you’d get . . . one very extraordinary looking creature who lay down precisely the right amount in precisely the right circumstances.
‡ Aloysius perfectly well can sing harmony, and often does. Buck, however, is dangerous. He gets carried away.
‡‡ I had two people tell me after how lovely my singing harmony was.^ They’re so nice at St Margaret’s. And they so really need singers they are eager to be encouraging.
^ Wrong. Trust me on this.
It was going to be a really bad day.** The ME is using me as a punching-bag again*** and I got out of bed in stages, saying, it is Monday, and I am going to my voice lesson. I am going to my voice lesson. All I have to do is crawl to the car, unlock the door, and put the key in the little hole. Wolfgang knows the way.
It has been a really bad week for—not for singing, see previous about singing for sanity, but for attentive practise, so that I don’t feel a total fool going to sing for Nadia.† After my voice slammed shut on me last Monday—which was actually rather alarming—I gave it two days off anything but folk songs and Leonard Cohen†† . . . and then I had stomach flu and all those deep breaths and gut-disturbing diaphragm action for singing seemed like a pretty bad idea, although I could (maybe) stop worrying about the slamming shut, which was probably germ related. †††
I did sing over the weekend—a little—and I noticed at church last night that I was making a noise.‡ But this morning, warming up, I felt like I’d Never Seen Any of This Music Before in My Life‡‡ and did not set out for my lesson in a very positive frame of mind.‡‡‡
But fate and body parts are often perverse little creatures. I don’t even know how to explain what happened; if I try it’ll sound like gibberish to non-singers and will probably make those of you who would understand what I was talking about if I could explain it properly fall down laughing. The point is I made what Nadia herself called a Technical Leap Forward having to do with waking up the ‘mask’ sinuses and persuading all the various bits and pieces—tongue and soft palate in particular—to clear out of the way and let the sound resonate. Gleep. And she took me up to the high B-flat I need for both Batti, Batti§ and I Want to Be a Prima Donna—I didn’t know it, of course, although I knew we were getting up there—and which I do erratically have at home when I’m focussed on not paying attention and shutting myself down because I Can’t Possibly Do That, so I know the frelling thing exists. And as she pointed out, grinning, I sang it with no strain and no muscle tension. It’s the lack of tension that was so astonishing—she said, yes, your support has come a little adrift, but we can fix that.§§ You’ve made real progress today.
And . . . golly . . . you know . . . I may yet make a singer.
* * *
* Although everything is relative. See next footnote.
** It’s been a bad hellhound day for weeks. With the very, very occasional exception, Darkness more often than Chaos, neither of them is eating. The only reason they haven’t starved themselves to death by now is because I keep force feeding them. They haven’t eaten a scrap of anything today, voluntarily, for example. This is utterly demoralising for me even when the ME isn’t bad. It’s not the taste of the drug; they get three meals and only two of them are dosed. If they are having a unique nauseous reaction to this stuff—nausea which lasts through the third meal—that would explain it, but I doubt it’s that simple, and neither the vet nor I can ask them how they feel or why they’ve decided food is the enemy.^ Meanwhile although their output is improved it’s still far from . . . um . . . a neat pick-up so we persevere. Wearily.
^ Although if it were that simple, anorexia in humans would be less scary and less difficult to treat. I remind myself of this sometimes, on my knees beside the dog bed, stuffing cold sticky food down recoiling hellhounds.
*** I did survive^ my first official Samaritan duty shift, thank you for asking. It was a relatively quiet night which given that I was not at my best is probably just as well,^^ although I need some demanding shifts to get through the list of things your mentor has to support you through before you’re turned loose to function mentor-less. I did write a few texts^^^—and I hope you eventually get over that initial shock of, oh, you poor thing, let me give you a cup of tea and a biscuit.#
The next fortnight is going to be a little unnecessarily exciting however since I’m still at the tremulous beginning of learning Sam weekly duty-shift stamina and I’ve got Street Pastor shifts two weeks in a row too. This is from the swap with Eleanor—she took my Friday night before a Saturday-morning Sam training in June and I’m taking her Saturday in July while she’s touring great swathes of America with her husband. Meanwhile the ME needs to clear off.
^ . . . I’m here. I’m writing a blog entry. This is not the new Zombie McKinley. Breath on the mirror and everything.
^^ And I’m going to assume that hang-ups are not in response to my American accent.
^^^ My mentor, whom we will call Pythia, has a very good line: if you had written what this person has written, is this the response you’d want to read? —Since ‘I have a magic wand and I’m about to make it all go away’ is ineligible, like the cup of tea, if for different reasons.
# Tricky, of course, since they could be texting you from anywhere. New Guinea. Mars.+
+ A CUP OF TEA AND A BISCUIT?? I’M SO BRITISH.~
~ I have no idea what the cup-of-tea-and-a-biscuit equivalent is in either New Guinea or Mars.
† Although I continue to be tempted to take . . . probably Matty Groves in to Nadia. Some folk song with drama. I told you, didn’t I, that I asked her how you sing a maddened nobleman who is about to off both his wife and her lover when you’re a soprano? And she said it’s all in how you release the consonants. And. Glory. Yes.^
I may not have told you since I don’t remember admitting that I’m not a big Sandy Denny fan^^. I know. Heresy. I am, indeed, so lost to all finer feelings that I wonder if the Sandy Denny cult might be somewhat based on the fact that she died young. Nice enough voice but . . . eh. Give me Maddy Prior or June Tabor or Norma Waterson. The Matty Groves take that makes my blood beat hard and my hair stand on end is Fairport Convention after Sandy Denny, with the blokes singing. And they can roar, which is not an option available to a soprano.
But I think I’m still not quite up to eating the scenery for Nadia. Maybe a few more weeks. Months. Years. . . .
^ ‘ . . . And I shall Strike the very next blow, and I will Kill you if I Can.’
^^ But when the ME is this bad I don’t have any memory either.
†† Famous on twenty-three continents^ for having a vocal range of two and a half notes, and tends to write songs accordingly.
^ This includes Mars
††† Your Body Is Your Instrument. Why didn’t I stick with the piano?
‡ I mean . . . singing. Melodic. More or less. Probably. I wasn’t in the band this week so it didn’t matter.
‡‡ Mozart? And he was—?
‡‡‡ Although the presence of non-eating hellhounds in the back seat, looking forward to their Monday afternoon post-lesson walk somewhere interesting, probably was not helping. They like me wrecked by ME: I’m much more willing to noodle along while they investigate every clump of grass for the recent presence of other dogs and/or fascinating pieces of litter.
§ Oh—that Mozart
§§ She also said that if I can’t do this free resonating thing at home this week—don’t panic. But that I should only sing new music—stuff I’m working on for the first time now—if I break out Che Faro, for example, which is absolutely my longing and desire, I’ll just revert to old habits. Wait a little now, she said. We’ll go back to Che Faro later, I promise.
There is a person, let’s say Person A, we will call him Abelard, who is doing a Project. He is canvassing reactions and seeking input from a variety of Other Persons. I am on this list. Recently I received an email from Abelard that was to everyone on the list. I answered. Most of our answers go to him individually—occasionally one escapes and comes to the entire list—and he then posts round ups about what everyone is saying about this or that. I noticed that my input had not been acknowledged. Hmm. Then there’s an email saying that he hasn’t heard from everyone and he’s hoping the rest of us will get in touch. !!!!! So I emailed him again.
Then I emailed asking for acknowledgement that he’s receiving my emails.
So I emailed his boss, Person B, whom we will call Bozo, saying that Abelard was not receiving my recent emails about his Project. Bozo did not deign to reply to me, but he copied me forwarding mine to Abelard. Next round-up email Abelard adds a paragraph saying Robin, I’m not getting your emails.
I forward this back to Bozo and say now what?
There is a pause, and then Bozo emails grandly, well, since you’re not really necessary to this Project why don’t you just let it go?
I stare at this in disbelief for a moment (Bozo and I have had our little differences before—just by the way). Then I write him again. Then I take out all the adjectives and I send what I have written, including a copy of my original email to Abelard, to demonstrate that I might conceivably have something to contribute.
There is another pause AND THEN I RECEIVE ANOTHER EMAIL FROM BOZO SAYING THAT ABELARD IS RUNNING THIS PROJECT AND I SHOULD BE CONTACTING HIM DIRECTLY.
DO I GET TO SAY AT THIS POINT THAT BOZO IS AN INCOMPETENT TWIT?
Then I took my two shifts of hellcritters out and sang like crazy.*
I told you last week that I was going to experiment in turning over a new leaf about my singing—well maybe blow on a new leaf or wave it around a little—or maybe turn over just a new petiole—although I suspect if you turn the petiole over the leaf goes with it. Whatever. But I was going to stop pretending I didn’t have any voice just because I don’t sound like Nadia or Joyce DiDonato, and I was also going to stop pretending that the only time I had any voice was during my voice lessons after Nadia had done her teacher magic and that it all went away again as soon as I was at home and it was just me and the piano and an assortment of beady-eyed hellcritters.** And, since I do have a voice, such as it is, I was going to work on developing singing stamina.
And what better exercise aid than very long folk songs?*** I had another little epiphany about singing folk songs too, and this makes me look like even more of a nincompoop† than the ‘oh woe is me I have no voice’ thing. I’ve taken folk songs in to Nadia off and on right along pretty much from the beginning and she’s even said (repeatedly) ‘find what works for you’ but noooooo I’m not going to let myself get away with it being easy. So I keep trying to find THE EXACTLY PRECISELY RIGHT VERSION of whatever, which I will then learn slavishly . . . but folk songs being the slippery little devils that they are I rarely do find the exactly precisely right version which means that . . . I can’t learn them. No! Not allowed! It must be the ultimate perfect rubber-stamped passed-in-triplicate official THE VERSION!!!!! How pathetic is that. Very, very, very slightly in my defense, the problem often is that I have the version I like and I want to sing in my head and/or my imagination’s ear, from Maddy Prior or Jean Ritchie or someone, and the available sheet music is never it. McKinley. It’s folk music. Make it up. Good grief.
To be continued again. . . .
* * *
* Or, you know, like sanity. Till I felt better. Hey, it works. A good murder ballad. . . .
** At Third House the critter beds will not be slap next to the piano. WILL. NOT.
*** I sang for service again this past Sunday. This clearly counts as vocal press-ups, since over the course of a long evening you’re singing hard for probably an hour and a half. Riordan, who was music leader for the evening service, sent us the playlist Monday evening. Usually I’m whining for it Thursday or so and on at least one occasion we got it Saturday afternoon.^
It’s a mixed blessing however, having it that early. You have so much less excuse for not spending serious time learning the latest rash of driv—I mean, these earnest, committed songs of modern worship. ARRRRRGH. What I have found, however, is that power ballads for God have the same effect on me that power ballads about everything else do—which is to say they depress the crap out of me.^^^ It’s all so moany.
So I maybe didn’t get quite as much practise in as I might have done for having had the playlist all week. But the funny thing was that in the heat of the moment Sunday evening with everyone else singing and twanging and thundering~ . . . it all became quite jolly. Aside from the whole ‘worshipping God’ aspect. At the end of service as I was crawling around on my hands and knees coiling up ENDLESS, Midgard-Serpent-length frelling cables, Buck sauntered past nonchalantly and said, if you get too good at that, you know, we’ll put you on the rota permanently.
In six months I’m going to have a voice like iron.
^ People have lives. Christians too.
^^ I would much rather sing Are you working in the vineyard of the Lord?, which isn’t on YouTube, which is very sad+ or When the roll is called up yonder, of which there are a gazillion versions on YouTube, many of them not fit for much beyond making you a Hindu++, although I rather like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIB0xL-ejQk&index=11&list=PLD747A0359ACA320E But then I have a weakness for the banjo after a misspent childhood listening to the Kingston Trio.+++
+ ‘From the desert wilds of sin/ Are you bringing lost ones in?’ Gospel lyrics don’t mess around.
++ Although if student performances of Voi Che Sapete can’t put me off Mozart—and they can’t—the Singing Goldfish# of Goodgodville shouldn’t shake my faith.
# Glub glub glub glub
+++ YES. I AM THAT OLD.
^^^ I had a friend a million years ago in another life+ who used to call the soft rock radio station his wife favoured ‘suicide music’. This is perhaps a little strong but I know what he meant.++
+ YES. I AM THAT OLD.
++ Although I like this video:
~ Serious drum kit. Golly.
† Not to say an incompetent twit.
There is a God*: hellhounds ate their dinner. For like the first time in a fortnight. Maybe three weeks. I don’t know how much these thrilling new horizons of food prejudice are the new treatment they’re on, how much is the weather—although summer only began about this week**—how much is natural hellhound perversity and how much is the Borg.*** But it is hard on the person poking food down their throats two or three times a day†. I suppose it is too much to hope for that this is a new trend. . . .
Meanwhile. I’ve been singing.†† I’ve had a series of tiny epiphanies this week in a sort of PING-OW-PING-OW ††† cattle-prod pattern. Nadia’s new beginner soprano was ahead of me this week instead of the scary could-have-been-professional-WHY-AM-I-BOTHERING bloke. And she was torturing poor old Caro Mio Ben in a way that made me feel almost nostalgic. But . . . I could hear what Nadia is doing with her. In a way that you can’t hear yourself. I know I’ve been that route‡ but it’s waaaaay different from the inside. I could hear her ‘real’ voice breaking through occasionally‡‡ and I could hear what Nadia keeps telling me about me, that pitch is not the problem, making the sound is the problem, and if/when I make the sound correctly the pitch will be fine.‡‡‡
Last week was not a great week in what I acknowledge has been a too-little-interrupted series of crap weeks, and I was expecting Nadia to have to spend most of my lesson winkling my voice out of hiding. It’s a bit prone to slamming the door shut and hiding under the bed. I’m so used to going to my lesson to be re-set that I don’t always notice what I’m doing at home because it can’t possibly be any good, now can it? Nooooooo.§§ I go through the frelling blasted motions and then take the pieces in to Nadia to do something with. So, for example, I have been failing to notice that recently, even when I’m having a crap week, there’s still enough voice for me to sing with.
I was singing within the first few minutes of warm-up last Monday. SINGING. Nadia didn’t need forceps or anything. And we had a really good bash at Vedrai Carino§§§. And . . . okay, so I’ll never be Joyce DiDonato, but at my age it would be kind of a waste, not to mention that I already have a perfectly good creative career. But . . . I do have a voice. I may never get much beyond singing Jesus Is My Boyfriend for Sunday service at St Margaret’s but . . . I have a voice. I have to stop saying I don’t.
Also . . . my voice got tired before the end of the lesson because it had come roaring out of its silk-lined palanquin with such uncharacteristic dispatch. I came home thinking if I sang more and maybe developed some stamina, and engaged more with what I chose to sing and why I chose it. . . .
PING. To be continued. . . .
* * *
** And my annual anguish about when/if to turn the Aga off.
*** Who mess with our dogs and our rose-bushes as well as our computers to keep us demoralised and malleable. Souvenir de la Malmaison is out there laughing her thorny little socks off because of course Death by Sunlight began after all the rain had wrecked most of her flowers this year as usual. Since she’s now about forty feet tall she’s oppressing all my neighbours too.
† Two bottom lines: they get really ill if they miss more than one meal in a row, as I re-proved recently^, and the new drug has to be given with food.
^ None of us enjoyed the experience
†† Well duh.
††† And another one bell ringing at Crabbiton last night.
I was only the third person to arrive expecting to pull a rope and Felicity was wondering if she should have cancelled practise—it’s June, it’s hot, everyone is at home enjoying the long daylight and either drinking their iced tea or pouring it over their heads to cool off—and Wild Robert wasn’t going to make it. Three more people turned up. Yaay. Crabbiton only has six bells: we’re good to go.
Um. Except for the fact that Felicity and I were the good ringers and . . . um.
The funny thing is . . . we had a good practise. Everyone managed to do something that made them feel they were learning something. In poor Felicity’s case this was mostly the thankless task of holding practise together. In my case . . . she frelling made me frelling call SEVERAL touches of frelling Grandsire doubles.
I used to know a simple-minded touch of Grandsire where if you can count to three twice you’ll do. And then various things happened, including that I started ringing at Forza where there are eighty-seven bells and almost enough good ringers to ring them, and you’d better not even admit that you can (probably) call the notorious beginner’s touch of Grandsire doubles. And then when I recently began ringing at Crabbiton . . . Wild Robert decided it was time I learnt the touch after the beginner’s touch.
I have spectacularly failed to learn this new touch, and in the process—especially since it’s been a while since I tried to call it—I have forgotten the beginner’s touch.
Last night I re-invented it from first principles, with some help from the band.^ It took three tries but . . . we did it. And the teeny-weeny epiphany was: Wild Robert wants me to learn this second touch because it’ll force me to pay attention to where the other bells are, rather than blindly following a simple pattern for my bell. I don’t have enough brain. Counting to three twice is enough, when you’re also ringing a frelling bell.
Except . . . I had to pay some attention to where the other bells were last night, to re-figure out the simple pattern for mine. I didn’t do it well or thoroughly . . . but I did it enough to have a tiny insight into what Wild Robert is on about. And what I’d have to do to call his nasty next touch. PING. OW.
Now I have to decide if I’m going to tell him.
^ YOU CAN’T CALL A BOB THERE.
‡ Including torturing Caro Mio Ben.
‡‡ Note that she has more voice than I did when I began, but, as I was telling someone again recently, everyone has more voice than I did when I began. Nadia, Sorceress. Put her up against Circe and Circe would creep away weeping and get a job as an insurance adjuster.
‡‡‡ This is not to say there aren’t pitch problems out there. I used sometimes to follow a woman with quite a nice voice . . . who couldn’t carry a tune in a basket. I think she has stopped coming.
§ Also just hearing Nadia beginning to open her up is cheering somehow. It makes it more of a process and less . . . sorcery.
§§ I’m also having a meltdown crisis of confidence about the Samaritans as we approach the end of training and the beginning of duty. SIIIIIIIIIGH. I am so predictable.
§§§ Mozart is my man. Although if anyone could find a half-decent edition of Beethoven’s folk song arrangements for solo voice I would be all over it.
Samaritans training was Tuesday this week* so I made it to Aloysius’ Wednesday afternoon silent prayer for the first time since . . . the last time Sams training was on a Tuesday. And Aloysius wasn’t there. Feh. I knew this, and I’d said I’d come hold the floor down in his absence. There were actually a few other people there—slight gleep from yours truly—but I lit the tea-light, read out a bit of psalm and hit my temple-bell timer.**
I’ve found, myself, that it’s not that I’m not praying when I lead/ sing for services, it’s just that I’m praying differently. I’ve always felt that prayer has to be a verb — for me, it’s prayer when I set up the sanctuary . . . it’s prayer when I’m whispering directions to those joining me in front of the congregation. . . . It’s even prayer when I’m singing the Mi Chamocha by rote and trying to figure out who would be moved by the next reading . . . don’t give this one to that person, because it always makes her cry, which is best done if you’re not trying to read aloud . . . it’s just not the Mi Chamocha that I’m, you know, praying. Occasionally, when it’s a solo, and there’s nothing left to coordinate, and everything goes right, I get to lose myself in the actual prayer that I’m actually praying, which is holy in a different way. But it’s all prayer to me…
Thank you for this, and for your previous on the same subject. It’s a mindfulness thing, isn’t it? I think part of what has helped me about the headspace for performing worship is that I got put on the prayer chain at St Margaret’s really quickly*** and floundered rather trying to figure out how to cope with all this praying for people when I was new to praying at all. I’ve told the blog that I ‘sat’ at a [Buddhist] zendo back in Maine during a year I was finding very rough, and the silent mindful daily sitting made a huge difference in my ability to cope. I fell out of the habit of daily mindful sitting when I moved over here but I didn’t forget that that space existed and was accessible. And then hey-presto I became a Christian and . . . gleep. The silent-sitting space is both utterly transformed by the presence of God and also strangely—reassuringly—familiar.
The sitting-space became the prayer-space and having God to orient myself toward makes me feel as if I have an idea where I’m going, even if I don’t always fully arrive. You have to leave your stuff at the door and sometimes I . . . can’t. But I take my prayer-list there—or as close to there as I can get—and I go to Aloysius’ Wednesday afternoon silent prayer when Samaritans’ training doesn’t get in the way, and the high point of my practising-Christian week is half an hour sitting silently in the dark with some monks, Saturday evening, during the ‘Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament’, before night prayer starts. The more often you go to the prayer-space the plainer the track becomes.†
I can gather a few little wisps of prayer-space when I stumble†† up on stage to sing for service. I’m not much of a singer or a musician—I have to work at making what I hope is a half-decent noise—I have to focus. It is, at this point in my dubious development, relatively straightforward to focus on the prayer side rather than the music side. The less kind way of putting it is to say it rates as prayer because intentionality counts. It does not rate as music because intentionality only gets you a pat on the head and a bellow of NEXT from the bloke running the auditions.†††
But . . . where we came in. If you can hold your feeble, wavering, mortal focus on prayer . . . what you’re doing is praying. It’s a bit like deciding to run a marathon when you’re over sixty and have bad knees, but hey.
* * *
* Last night was writing emails and texts. I was expecting this to be shocking and dislocating, like a watercolourist being handed a block of granite and a chisel, but in fact it was a whole lot like . . . writing. In this case, emails and texts. The texting was funny. I’ve told you that I’m older by a good fifteen years than the next-oldest of the trainees, and probably thirty-five years older than the youngest.^ And I’m like, texting, fine, okay, I can do texting, and all these kiddies were saying TEXTING? We have to TEXT as Samaritans? And we’re supposed to understand all those nasty text abbreviations?^^ And I’m going, oh, cool. Txtspk! <3 !^^^ The Samaritans’ text software limits texts to 160 characters, so my fellow trainees were saying, we’re supposed to compose something EMPATHETIC and SUBSTANTIVE in 160 characters?? And I’m saying, oh, it’s like a slightly stretched tweet—you know, Twitter. Sure, I can do that. And they all recoiled as if from a slavering Rottweiler and said, TWITTER? We have nothing to do with Twitter. —Snicker. Us do-gooders are so straight.#
^ How did I get this OLD? I was supposed to just kind of stay forty.
^^ Which we’re allowed to use, cautiously, trying to take our cue from the texter. We get a lot of texts and emails from overseas and from people whose first language is not English and we do have to communicate.
^^^ Which, not very long ago, when, I think it was Jodi, used it, I had to ask her for a translation.
# I’m talking to Merrilee tomorrow night and I will have to remember to tell her, since she’s the one dragged me kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, including both this blog and Twitter.+
+ I don’t count Facebook, which I don’t use. I post the blog links there and if FB is in a good mood and lets me, I read any comments. But about the seven millionth throw-it-all-up-in-the-air-and-stick-the-bits-to-the-wall-as-they-fall-down-again revision, I mean upgrade, I lost the will to live about all of it.
** And went home with Eleanor after and spent an hour and a half wringing our hands and rending our garments over an incomprehensible political situation that has recently arisen in St Margaret’s. THIS IS WHY I HATE GROUPS. THEY’RE FULL OF CRAZY PEOPLE BY DEFINITION.
*** ref comments about saying ‘yes’ to things you think you can do so you don’t get ploughed under with things you can’t, it being the function of a community, including a religious one, to extract as much practical value out of its members as it can.^ St Margaret’s is thriving in a general society where a lot of churches are struggling, and I’m sure one of the reasons why is the bloodhound look in the eyes of the admin as soon as a fresh victim crosses the threshold. When you sign up to be an official mailing-list member you are doomed.
^ See previous footnote. Sigh.
† More or less. Some frelling day I will be able to sit properly at home. The old Zen-Buddhist, and Zen-Christian, thing is just that every time you’re distracted you bring your mind gently back to your breath, or whatever you’re using as a focus. If I’m sitting with monks I need to bring my mind back, oh, no more often than thirty-seven times a minute. At home alone, relying solely on my own resources . . . it’s like trying to whack a manic fly with a flyswatter. LAND SOMEWHERE YOU DEVILSPAWN SO I CAN NAIL YOU. Sigh.
†† FRELLING CABLES EVERYWHERE. MICROPHONES, KEYBOARDS, GUITARS, BASS GUITARS, DRUMS^. I DON’T THINK THE FLUTE IS ELECTRIC YET BUT I’M SURE IT WILL BE.
^ Or drum accessories. I don’t think the drums themselves are electrified (? Like I have any idea), but there are certainly cables running (perilously) to the drum kit.
††† This is aside from questions of the quality of the actual music we’re attempting to perform.