Monthly Archives: April 2013

FOLK SONGS OF ENGLAND, IRELAND, SCOTLAND AND WALES*

Folk Songs of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales selected and edited by William Cole

Folk Songs of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales selected and edited by William Cole

This post almost didn’t happen this week because I got sucked into the void called VHI’s 80s videos during my workout. What ever happened to Sade? I can’t get enough of that saxophone . . .

This book is not part of my collection. I checked it out from the library. I consider it falling under the ‘necessary research’ category for a never-ending project I am working on. I only read the section about Ireland. Sorry England, Scotland and Wales.

Every time I turn to song or poetry, I always seem to find that people are crooning about either love or war. It’s as if there’s nothing else happening in the world. I guess this makes sense to me, as I can imagine songs about blenders or shoes don’t have staying power.

There were music notes in this book, tons of symbols that meant absolutely nothing to me.

DSCN1079

I hummed the tunes as best I could, but I couldn’t fool myself into thinking I was getting any of the songs right. A quick YouTube search led to some bewitching melodies and a short fantasy of me running around barefoot over green hills in a gauzy white dress (Is this TMI?), but I never did find the songs from the book. I felt left out.

This led me to thinking about global literacy rates. Strange how my brain works.

I did another quick Internet search. As of 2001/2000, there were only two countries in the world operating on a hundred percent literacy rate: Greenland and Luxembourg. Afghanistan’s literacy rate was as low as twenty-eight percent**.  I don’t know how the statistics and data has changed over the last ten years, but numbers like that are somewhat shocking and enough to send me into a downward spiral of thinking.

Luckily, I also found Biblioburro, the story of a Columbian grade school teacher who wakes early each Saturday morning, loads two donkeys with books, and delivers them to children in rural areas. It was inspiring and made me feel like a sloth all at the same time.

In honor of Bibiloburro and Irish folk songs, I wrote a chorus of an imaginary song:

A man with a donkey and a book

Scarcely deserved a second look

Fiddle-de Fiddle-da Fiddle-de Fiddle-la

Yet he changed his world as best he could

The way any of us really should

Fiddle-de Fiddle-da Fiddle-de Fiddle-la

 

It still needs work . . . and maybe a little saxophone.

Drawings by Edward Ardizzone

Drawings by Edward Ardizzone

*This book did not have an ISBN.

**From Wikipedia.

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ISBN-13: 978-1-59308-336-6

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austin

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austin

The world reminded me of my thesis, a project I had set aside. There were a lot of things wrong with the draft, mostly the story was locked inside my head and I hadn’t yet figured out how to get it on paper. I’m used to stories falling out of me, but this one was different, bigger, and more complex than my usual work. This was to have an element of love.

I’m no good at capturing the ewe-y gooey, but I gave it a shot. The result was disastrous.

What’s a girl to do when she gets stuck? Look to the masters.

I read somewhere that Edward and Bella’s love story was based on Victorian novels that SM had read. Say what you will, but I believed in Edward and Bella’s love. I also read Pride and Prejudice in high school and still swoon over the thought of Mr. Darcy. I hoped that by reading Sense and Sensibility I would better understand how to capture romance.

Most of what I found made me laugh out loud.

She [Marianne] spent whole hours at the piano-forte, alternately singing and crying; her voice often totally suspended by her tears. In books, too, as well as in music, she courted the misery which a contrast between the past and present was certain of giving. She read nothing but what they had been used to read together. 

Or

“Oh,” cried Marianne, “with what transporting sensations have I formally seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from sight.”

“It is not everyone,” said Elinor, “who has your passion for dead leaves.”

“No; my feelings are not often shared; not often understood. But sometimes they are.”  

I’m not sure if I turned bitter or older, but this sort of romance seemed trite*. I couldn’t concentrate on the book. I only made it to page 109. I liked it, JA was on point with her humor, but my thoughts kept wandering. They orbited around a dog I once had named Buddy.

I was fourteen and it was summer. I sat at the kitchen table eating a Freeze It popsicle**. I was thinking of how I would roll up the wrapper and blow it out like a party horn when I happened to glance out the window. A yellow lump of fur lay in the next yard over. This was B, a puppy my stepsister, D, received on the heels of having a new baby.

He didn’t seem like the B I knew. Instead of wobbling around with ears too big for his head and a constantly wagging tail, he just laid there, unmoving. I knew it was hot, but something wasn’t right. Surely he should have been panting, or scratching, or sniffing, or doing any manner of puppy things like eating grass and puking it up. He didn’t even seem to be breathing.

I called my stepmother. She looked out the window.

SM: That dog has been out there all day with no water. I’ve been watching.

Me: Shouldn’t we do something?

SM: He’s D’s responsibility. He won’t take water now.

Me: What should we do?

SM: He needs an IV. I’m not paying for it.

She walked out of the room. I went outside, jumped the fence, and filled B’s water bowl with the hose. I spent a few minutes trying to make him drink, but he couldn’t lift his head. SM was right. B needed medical assistance.

I worked at a veterinarian’s office part time after school. Mostly, I cleaned kennels and fed the animals that were boarded there. The doctor gave me duties slowly: grooming, prepping and cleaning the examination room, answering the phone, taking payments. He upped the responsibility. He asked me to bring the bagged and euthanized animals to the freezer. Next to bag the animals. Then one day he asked if I wanted to watch. A family dropped off a cat and they couldn’t bear to stay.

V: Would you like to try? You can’t mess it up.

This was a rare attempt at a joke, but something inside me knew he would let me practice. I declined.

Paying for B’s bill wouldn’t be an issue. The doctor would take payments out of my check. Maybe it’s not worth mentioning, but SM worked there, too.

B was heavy, an easy thirty pounds, but he felt heavier because the weight was lopsided and I wasn’t that strong. I carried him a mile in the summer heat. It was the longest, hottest mile I ever walked.

The doctor saw us right away. I laid B down on the examination table. He pulled back the scruff of B’s neck. The skin did not flop back into place.  He looked me directly in the eye.

V: This is dehydration.

His voice was flat. At the time I thought it was angry, but now I hear only his knowledge and the cool distance he needed to maintain.

V: There is not a good chance he will make it.

An IV was started. He carried B to a cage in the back. I was told to go home.

Now I wonder if my stepsister lacked common sense, or if it was it love for her new baby, that made her leave B outside without water for so long? She simply forgot about him.

What made me carry B the mile in the heat? Where did I find the strength?

Why did the doctor give B an IV if he didn’t think he’d make it?

Why didn’t SM at least give me a ride to the vet’s office?

Why is it that questions like these keep me from becoming engrossed in a novel I would ordinarily love?

I received a call the next day and found out that B was fine. He had a full recovery.

When I heard the news, I didn’t play the piano-forte, but I did cry.

Her sensibility was potent enough! Well played, JA, well played.

*This new notion alarms me. I’m becoming jaded.

**the generic brand of Fla-Vor-Ice.

 

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ISBN: 0-517-171988

Aesop's Fables Illustrated by Arthur Rackham

Aesop’s Fables Illustrated by Arthur Rackham

I was out on a walk when I saw a dead wasp on the sidewalk. It was beautiful to me for many reasons. The easiest to explain are the physical: its wings, the muted yellow and black markings along its back, its teeth, thin legs. In the span of five seconds, I imagined a full life for the creature, and then something about that made me remember long high school days in which nothing happened.

I went home and played Wasp Nest by The National ten thousand times. I looked up wasps on the Internet. What I found wasn’t surprising. What surprised me was how much I cared. I heard a voice in the back of my head saying, “It’s a dead wasp, get over it.” But still, I couldn’t get that image out of my mind. My searching led me to Aesop’s Fables those infamous tales collected by a Phrygian slave.

Obviously, The Wasp and the Snake was the one fable out of the collection that got my attention:

A Wasp settled on the head of a Snake, and not only stung him several times, but clung obstinately to the head of his victim. Maddened with pain the Snake tried every means he could think of to get rid of the creature, but without success. At last he became desperate, and crying, “Kill you I will, even at the cost of my own life,” he laid his head with the Wasp on it under the wheel of a passing wagon, and they both perished together.

That fable got to me, so much so that I wanted to rewrite it. Since I’m not the killing type,  I decided to recreate it in a manner where no one gets physically hurt. I still wanted it to be memorable, but I wanted to capture was the desperation of the Snake, not so much his act.

Arthur Rackham illustrated this edition, which is an important fact because, again, I found myself looking at pictures that I could not get out of my mind. Rackham’s lines portrayed the world as I imagined it ought to look—crabs wearing dresses, trees with faces, and the sea as a woman.

The reason I enjoyed these fables so much was that A used simple language to capture an emotion in the span of a paragraph. Not an easy thing to do. Half of my head knew that the animals were devices used to convey a moral or lesson, but the other half, the half that loved the stories, realized the truth in the idea—if this wasp could talk, what would it say? How did it fit into the world alongside of a snake? Were their places equal? Did animals believe in hierarchy the way humans do? What does justice mean to a loyal dog?

From time to time there was a line at the end of each story, a sentence that drove home the meaning. One swallow does not make summer. Union is strength. Give assistance, not advice, in a crisis.  The tales were meant for all ages and all intellects. This meant snobs would call them accessible. But that is not the right word. The correct term, for me, is song because when I read them I cannot help but hear the voice of the people who lived these tales.

If I had not been looking down on my walk, I would have never seen the wasp. I would have never written that story. And that was something I wanted to capture just as much as the desperation of the snake or those endless high school days.

I don’t think I got this first draft of the story quite right, but that’s okay. That just means it’s time to keep my head down at the desk. Inspiration may seed a story, but work is what makes it grow.

If animal related stories strike your fancy, you should check out my friend and fellow blogger Evan Kingston’s short story, “High School Creative Writing,” on Revolver. It’s about a turtle. Sorta.

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