When I Die, Please Send Flowers

The world does not need more practicality, more measured decisions, and sterile good sense like “in lieu of flowers.” The world needs beauty in all it’s extravagance.

I just finished reading Amy Stewart’s Flower Confidential. For a lot of the book, I felt conflicted. Cut flowers engineered to the point where they couldn’t reproduce, or give off scent, or survive without a host of chemical fungicides and pesticides. Stewart quotes one grower as saying, “I wouldn’t ever advise taking a bath in rose petals.” Not to mention the hazards these chemicals pose for the mostly underpaid and under-insured workers who employ them.

Yet, when I walk past mounds and bouquets of petals and green– lilies, orchids, tulips, gladiolas– and yes roses, of course, roses– something lifts in my soul. Maybe I wouldn’t be writing this paean to plant sex organs if it was summer and all the flowers I could want were just a mountain meadow away.

IMG_5414But it’s winter, and cold sucks the color from the ground and bleaches the sky. In the Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan wrote about the Dutch tulip craze, and throughout the book, he talks about how plants have turned us into their bees– except we don’t just pollinate, we propagate, nurture, and protect.

When it comes to cut flowers, we are generally not interested in anything practical– not nourishment, or investment return, or anything other than the way looking at it makes us feel. There is something deeply humanizing about being slaves to beauty for beauty’s own sake.

And the drawbacks– chemicals and bad working conditions. Those aren’t the flowers’ fault. Those are our misplaced and far too “practical” value systems at work– demanding the most from the plant, and the people, and the environment, without wanting to give much of anything in return. But we’re learning, we can vote with our wallets and choose ethical growers.

A flower’s beauty is more than petal deep. It represents that final blaze and thrill of vitality  before the sleep of seedpod and the death that brings about new life. When I die, that’s the image I want coming back to my children, my friends, and family– that existence is a brilliant joy, and its seeming transience is only because our essence is so deeply rooted that we can forget to see it.

So, hell yeah, when I die, send all the flowers you want– and while you’re at it, maybe pick up some for yourself tomorrow :).

Love you all.

I guess this is my Solstice post :).


Posted in Books, Ompholos | 2 Comments

Lonigan’s Weekend

Back to back Angus Mohr shows. Their new album. Estes Park. Three reasons to love fall.

This is my shortest blog post ever.


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Don’t Let the Bad Guys Win– What you can do:

Dear Parents of Adams 12 Students and Friends of Adams 12 Teachers,

Our district has chosen not to abide by the contract that the teachers agreed to in good faith. Imagine if your mortgage company suddenly decided it needed some extra cash, so instead of accepting your contracted payments, it demanded payment of your entire balance.

In these difficult economic times, we teachers have tried to protect you and your children. We’ve taken salary cuts. We’ve begun doing for free what we used to do for pay. We’ve purchased more and more of our day-to-day supplies out of our own pockets.

We don’t want to let your children down. We know that quality education opens up the world for them, and we don’t want to see that world closed in by the short-sighted and politically motivated.

However, we cannot be successful in this fight for your children’s lives without your help.

Please remember the great teachers you had as a child and be generous in your memory to the ones you didn’t like much. Don’t buy into the some teachers care and some don’t mythology.

Teaching is hard. We care. We care enough to struggle through top-down demands, reduced services, and enormous class sizes. Even after tonight’s broken illusions and tattered trust, tomorrow we will be there, teaching, and trying to shield your child from all this for as long as we possibly can.

Please support us in standing up for your child. Lift your voice with ours. Don’t let us be demonized.

If we have to take organized action, please take the long view and know that  we have been sacrificing for years to try to keep this from happening.

Posted in Teaching & Learning | 2 Comments

Angus Mohr’s Monster in the Box

This project reflects more than the hundreds of invisible hours that  go into creating a living representation of music that feels fresh and visceral. It is a snapshot of  of the sadness, beauty, and triumph that comes from wrestling with outer monsters and inner demons.

From crew member Damien Stelter’s, “What the…” on “Discovery,” the opening track, it’s clear that this album is a musical family affair. In addition to Paul’s bass and vocals, Byrd’s guitars, Steve’s drums, and Matthew’s–well everything but the kitchen sink–we have Gusty on didgeridoo,  as well as guest appearances by Kailin Yong, Tamra Hayden, and Gregg Hansen, three talented musicians featured on Mohr Fire’s Traditions Tartan and Tears CD.

The resulting Monster is alive with rich juxtapositions and vibrant sound.

“Andy Renwick’s Favourite Ferrret,” usually an early set invitation to fun at their live shows, brings all those long nights and summer dancing into your living room. Part of the studio’s magic is the element of  otherwise impossibility–like hearing pipes and whistles  at the same time on another live show favorite–the well wishing, “Forever Young.”

“Barbary Coast,” an Angus Mohr original, and one of their few love  songs, is occasionally played live (their combined performance of it with the Tradition, Tartan, and Tears folks last May was an unforgettable experience). However, on Monster, the exquisite layering of instruments establishes a coastal soundscape for the lyrical narrative:  “She came out of the fog in the night on the Barbary Coast…a vision a fantasy…she came into my life then took it away with her…I remember my life before the nights on the Barbary Coast…Maybe some day I’ll go back again.”

Fiddle and whistle solos unleash raw emotion against the tapestry of musically established tide. As it recedes, we’re left with with the poignant recognition that we couldn’t hold the magic or transcend the heartbreak, but at least our hearts beat to be broken and we touched bliss.

The theme is continued with the more down-to-earth, guitar driven, “Shady Grove” and given a lighthearted turn with “The Clumsy Lover,” an Angus thickened pipe tune that speeds faster and faster but for the four tempo changes that threaten to turn you into a clumsy dancer, if nothing else ;).

The song on this album that I most hoped for and feared to hear was “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” I am delightfully familiar with the talent at Mohr Fire Studio, but how could “Johnny” be “Johnny” without the poised posture and anticipatory shouts of the other Angus Mohr regulars? The guys at Mohr Fire made it easy. Following a military march, interspersed with the opening whistle and Paul’s vocal, you hear the shouts and laughter of various members of the Angus Mohr family.  It is, in many ways, like being there, making eye contact, and singing along in those few seconds before the song erupts, driving our frenzy before it.

The energy feeds into two folk-songs-turned-Angus-heavy of  sacrificed youth and blood, “Step it Out Mary” and “Foggy Dew.” With the next two tracks, that social destruction turns personal.  “Darkness Darkness” begins simply with Paul’s voice, acoustic guitar, and a few notes of piano. After the third verse, it breaks out.  A fevered fiddle and bereft wail complement the Angus sound and pipe solo. Then the emotion takes a gritty turn with “Hurt.”

You may think that between the NIN and Johnny Cash versions, there’s no where for this song to go. Yet, from the slow intro of Matt’s voice set against stripped-down piano, drums, and guitar, it’s clear that there’s plenty more for this song to say. Sprinkled in lightly enough to make you ache are some of the prettiest fills I’ve ever heard Byrd play, and Steve’s drums drive the mood as the tempo shifts back and forth. This song belongs to Angus Mohr before the bag pipes even start–and when they do…well, we can all use a good cry like the one I had the first time it poured through my earbuds.

Though “All Along the Watchtower” doesn’t always make the festival set list, it’s played at every other show. Yet, the placement of the Dylan-by-way-of-Hendrix Angus Mohr  staple positions it as the culmination or perhaps distillation of all the Monster’s themes.  We have indeed “…been through that/and this is not out fate.” And even as the “wind begins to howl,” and we die into Byrd’s guitar solo and  Matthew’s pipes, we’re reborn into the triumphant celebration that is “Scotland the Green.”

This Monster was well worth the wait.

It will soon be available in CD and download at various places, including the Angus Mohr store and CD Baby, but if I were you, I’d pick it up August 18th, at the Little Bear show. Get it signed, have a glass, and meet me on the dance floor for what promises to be yet another epic night.

Posted in Music & Sound | 1 Comment

Writer People #1: The Prosaic/Poetic Info Dump Technique

Today, I’m working on the Boston Story that I drafted as part of NaNoWriMo. It’s an urban-fantasy-time-travel epic that demands far more world building than anything I’ve ever done. It’s a pain in the ass.

It starts off as an almost claustrophobic locked room tale. Today, I hit the point where everything opens up, and it’s delicious. I’m plagued by wondering if that needs to happen sooner than 28,000 words in. Yet, if it opens up too soon, it won’t have enough impact.

Because of the need for world building, I think readers of speculative fiction tolerate a longer set up than readers of other genres, as long as characters are developing and you have compelling action all the way through.

The catch-22 with speculitive fiction is that info dumps have to happen, but they cannot feel like an info dump.  I don’t always nail this one. I once wrote a 45 minute PowerPoint presentation  that felt exactly like one (I only wish I was joking. My critique group wishes it too.).

This morning, I did. I’ve used this technique before but not with direct intention. Now that I’ve named it, maybe I can save myself some future pain (and Power Pointing).

I’m fascinated by the minutiae of people at work. In Bee Candy, the whole novel grew up around the details of how to carve headstones. In the Sticking Place, a character fleshed out fully once I realized he was a glass blower. I love taking the details of work, and how people do it,  and structuring them into metaphors for character and action.

Today, I was at the section where two characters needed to explain a legend to the audience without it sounding stilted, authorial, or As-You-Know-Bobish.  I’ve found that the key to a good dump of info is to make the action of the page about something else.

Siobhan, my protag, stumbles in on O’Sheen, the proprietor and band leader in a bar where 60 years pass each night, while he’s prepping and seasoning his bagpipes (Thanks to Matt for the how-to that I freely embellished for my own use). Neither the how-to nor the info dump would work if the scene was about either one of them.  Instead, the scene is about  the deepening flirtation between the two characters.

Working on the pipes gives Siobhan and O’Sheen a reason to interact. Talking about the legend gives them a chance to recognize a shared, secret, understanding. The combination allows for a sexy subtext that both develops character and moves the story along. That is the job of any scene, no matter what else it does or how else it enables authorial self-gratification.

It can’t be all about the reader all the time. Some things can be just for us (as long as we make them serve the story). That’s how we develop that oh-so-elusive sense of voice and style.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

For the Writer People: Overview–Blame Wade

Recently, a friend said something along the lines of: You should blog about writing like That-Funny-Blogger-We-Both-Like-To-Read-Because-We-Enjoy-Crude-Description-And-Foul-Language-Even-Though-His-Blog-Is-Better-Than-His-Fiction.

I said, “But I’m not that funny.”

He said, “If you could translate into blog format your ability to narrow in on exactly what’s wrong with a section and how to fix it  (i.e.- those big green/purple/red X’s through a section, arrows, and all sorts of crazy paragraph movement), combine that with thoughts on mythic structure  and urban fantasy, and your general writing compassion/lack of compassion, that would make for a compelling Shelly-blog…

Because the music stuff is interesting… to music people, but we… we are writer people. Capiche?

I don’t need another project, and opening up this blog to give random critique seems like the swift path to madness; however, I can see how it would be useful to me to reflect on what I learn while writing, and perhaps that could be useful to other writers.

That other blogger is great at refashioning writing and how-to-be-a-writer truisims into something fresh and inspiring. My goal would be more about sharing challenges and specific techniques for overcoming them.

Hey, fellow writers, you could share yours too, and we could just be one big happy family of people who have learned to profit from their dreams and delusions (even if the only actual thing gained is maintained sanity).




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This little blog is growing up…

I’m completely unqualified to write a book about music. I’m not letting that stop me. I’m just being honest. I don’t play an instrument. I have only the most rudimentary understanding of how the essence of music theory translates to the sounds I hear. I largely depend on Gusty and Matt to answer my questions and keep my talent for making a fool of myself in check (nevertheless my abilities often out strip theirs).

Yet, I do feel qualified to write about music’s effect on the listener because I don’t need any technical understanding to do it. Music, particularly live music, is a dynamic experience between everyone present in the time-bound moment when it’s happening.

There is artistry in learning to play an instrument and in composing and arranging the parts. However, live music is not art. It’s not a symbol or representation– though it can be turned into one.

Live music is a doorway to a kind of collective consciousness, awakening us to ourselves and each other. Sharing musical space bests the arbitrary confines of language and social structure, giving us the impression of a common nature and common cause.

It helps us feel for each other no matter what we think. There is no more necessary magic than that.

A lot of the material comes from the Angus Mohr and Mohr Fire posts on this blog, as well as interviews with industry professionals, crew, and of course the family of fans who follow Angus Mohr. It’s also led me to some incredible books including Milner’s Perfecting Sound Forever, This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin, and Alex Ross’ Listen to This.

Mostly it’s given me the excuse to make the time and space to think deeply and indulge in more experiences of that which moves me in such a fundamental way.

More to follow…

Posted in Music & Sound, Music (books), Music (live) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment