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December 2009

ancestral thought mine

I read this article a little while ago, and a discussion that spawned from it, with arguments about who owes what for whatever was done here in the past by the dread English, Spanish, etc., leading up to weird and unwieldy U.S. statutes all the way through the 1960s. 

So I got to thinking about my own ancestral culpability. 

Taking a look at my eight great-grandparents, one of them is connected to a line wherein someone (like, my great-grandmother's great grandfather or great granduncle) is somewhat likely have been cruel to a Native-American in some form or fashion. Three others were related to people who got here well after most of the damage had been done. Two never entered this country at all, the other two got here only about a hundred years ago, and raised my grandma and her sisters in way-upper Manhattan and Queens.

Two of my kids are biracial, and their paternal grandmother has Native-American blood as well as an obvious connection to both slaves and someone who owned them

How much do I owe for the possibly alleged deeds of great-great-great grandpappy or granduncle Pike*, and can I just give it to one of my daughters? Am I allowed to subtract something for the Scottish line that was probably oppressed by the English, and the Sicilian line that got swallowed up by the rest of Italy? Do I add some back in because some of my English ancestors might have persecuted some of my Scottish ones? But then there is an unsubstantiated trail of info which indicates some of my English ancestors may have actually come from Wales, putting them on the oppressee side instead of oppressor...

...well, and then the Dutch ones, are they on the plus damages side for possibly being related to merchant explorers who helped develop the slave trade, or on the minus damages side because they may have aided English pilgrims searching for religious freedom? But what if they were related to the Dutch who took Manhattan from the Indians? That ended up being fruitful for my Calabrezi relatives who got here in 1907. A mark in both columns.

*Actually, my great-grandmother's photos might lead one to believe that some Pike or other back in the day of the day might have dipped more than just a toe in Injun waters, and I look just a little like her, so maybe I owe myself instead

At any rate, no one I'm related to has ever owned more than a small family-farm-sized piece of land in the U.S., and none of us owns much of any now, so at least no one is likely to come by to "regain" it for "their" people.

reasoning on reason, the season of cookies and cake

People will say Axial Tilt [Saturn/Mithras/Jesus/Santa] is the Reason for the Season.



One thing is certain, and eternal; in the northern hemisphere, these are dark days with little sunlight. Celebrating the waning of the year by lighting strings of lights and candles, decorating with shiny objects, spending time with people close to you, and eating special rich foods is something to cherish, a way to foster good will and create lovely memories. It's a way to launch ourselves into the cold days of winter with the satisfying sense that our lives follow the cyclical pattern of the sun, moon, and rotation of our earth.

newgrange 2008

Adding personal components of religion and mythology can be satisfying for many people. I admit that when some of those people insist that those components are the one true way to do things, I am put off and put out. The most we may owe them is a perpetuation of some of the pagan decorating traditions that might have otherwise been forgotten if not for their co-opting by the Catholic Church. But the seasons are important to me personally. It's impossible to imagine living my life without taking joy in the astronomical phenomena that produce the seasons of varying warmth and light in their turn. I take comfort in the pattern, and would still do so if I lived somewhere that never got cold in winter, or if I lived in the southern hemisphere and watched the pattern played out in reverse. 


This is not the time to discuss biblical stories of creation, how the bible was put together by a fickle emperor and then later massaged into different forms by different religious leaders who used it for political agenda, or how those stories are parallels to stories told thousands of years earlier by fearful people who needed ways to explain astronomical, meteorological and geological conditions they did not yet understand, to explain the wonders and terrors of life and death, and to band together against groups with more powerful leaders than theirs. 



This is not the time for that because a lasting truth is that people like to believe in stuff bigger than they are, they like it to be mysteriously powerful, and they like to put a familiar human face on it. They like the notion of strength from vulnerability, and the little guy championing over the big guy. They like an eternal father figure, in some cases an eternal mother figure, and the symbolism of those figures is far more important to most people than concrete explanations for how the world actually works. Unexplainably wondrous and mysterious works by someone who's looking out for us are way more palatable to a lot of people than the still being uncovered scientific wonders of neutrons and amino acids. 



And people like to have parties. Coming up with an excuse for a party is harder for some people than others. For many of us, the opportunity to look forward to something shiny and fun is enough. Throw in the luxury of giving people gifts wrapped in pretty paper, and it's a big winner. No wonder Christmas is a continuing hit. For most people, the only slightly off-kilter aspect of it is the name, invented by people who could not appreciate a celebration unless it was attended (or better yet, replaced) by the solemnity of religious ritual. 


I enjoy thinking (heretically to many,) that we really are all celebrating the exact same thing, just with different faces on the various rituals we perform each year. 



If you believe a God with human characteristics set the Earth on its axial tilt, and later caused a young girl to give birth to his corporeal son as a reminder that no matter how much anyone's life sucks, he's still out there in ultimate control, and that all this is the true or only "reason for the season," I hope you have a really great one this year, and this song's for you.


If you just really dig having end of year fun, or like to groove on seasonal changes as I do, this song's for you.



Merry Christmas



Frank Sinatra and Me

From the very first beat of this song, I am hooked. Every single time. Doesn't matter where I am, what was happening the moment before, or what kind of mood I'm in. I pause for perfection. I'm drawn in right now just thinking about it. 

Some of it, of course, is down to the artistry and understanding of Nelson Riddle. But Frank was in control of the scene. 
When I was a child, I didn't understand anything about Frank Sinatra, and barely tolerated him. I thought he was a creepy has-been, bloated and snide, singing songs I found sleazy, such as "Strangers in the Night" and "The Best is Yet to Come." I understood he was a good singer with a respectable past career. But it had nothing to do with me.
I can't quite say when my view of the man and his song began to change, but when it did, it was like flipping a switch. I went from disdain to devotion in the snap of a finger. 
Suddenly I couldn't get enough of him. It wasn't the same kind of love affair I have with Bobby Darin. That one's a slow-burning ongoing kind of a thing; it's like a picnic on a sultry day with storm clouds rumbling off in the distance. Bobby Darin is the love of my more youthful nature. Frank, on the other hand, is the love I am capable of having only now that I'm grown up and know a whole lot more about life and what it can offer. 
It's hardly possible I'd truly like the man if we sat at a table together pouring out a bottle of Jack, mine with soda and cherries, because I'm a girl like that. It is entirely certain I wouldn't want to get up from that table, though, until last call and a call for a cab. 
Frank turned 50 the year I was born. He could have been my grandpa when he released the album September of My Years. I haven't quite hit September; it's still July here, at least in my head. Late July, sure, but no autumn leaves in sight just yet. And in my head, Frank doesn't really get older than 50. It's impossible not to be impressed with all he managed to achieve over the next decade, and with his later brief comeback. But my love for Frank is all tied up with my love for the period in which he is best known, that 25 year span from Hitler's invasion of Poland to the Beatles' invasion of America. That's the period of time which provides me the most joy in terms of music, fashion, interior design, and pop culture. Frank is emblematic of a whole lot of that good stuff I missed out on.
Everything Happens to Me (slide show)
Over the past 18-20 years, as I've changed and matured, my taste in music has as well. I'm less prudish in my tastes, more willing to dip beneath the surface and see what else there is to enjoy, more willing to explore and try out new things. Every time I discover or rediscover a Sinatra song I am blown away by what I was missing out on, at the same time realizing I probably wasn't ready for it before. It's cool; there's still a lot more ground to cover, and I'm enjoying the trip. 
I used to have this cassette of Frank's music, and there were three or four songs I always ffed through because I found them either dull or unsettling. A decade later, I got a CD of that same collection, listened to it all the way through, and was struck hard by one of the songs I'd previously always skipped over. It blew me away, so hard, I was nearly speechless. I listened to it over and over again, taking in every nuance I could grab onto. A song I once thought I hated, I suddenly could not get enough of...


I will always remember that day, and even where I was driving in the car when it happened. It was only about 5 years ago, and yeah, it hit me: what else had I been missing out on all these years? I've been on the hunt ever since, to absorb as much Sinatra as I can—from 1939 when he started with Harry James, to 1964, when he recorded the album that contains this song—for at least the rest of my summer days.
We have Quincy Jones to thank for taking that song, previously recorded by at least three other artists, and turning into a Sinatra Special. And it was actually the last song he sang in public, in January 1995.


This is my Frank:
and this one:
And here's the song he sang just for me, while I was en route to this crazy scene we call Life:
He knew just how it was gonna be for me, all these years later. What else is there to say now? Here's to Frank Sinatra, to music, to life and to the love of it all. 


oh, randomosity and such.

If you want to see some Christmas photos and songs I posted the past couple of years at Vox, they're here on three pages, but the posts attached to them are no longer there. It's this whole thing. 

I've had my bad back this week. It kind of harshes the holiday groove, plus just puts me in the crank place. 

Hopefully today I can mess around a little bit and get some kind of mental verve back. And next week I am going to buy a few Christmas gifts for my kids, so maybe I'll do some online window shopping. I made a list of a few things I'd enjoy receiving from Santa: the latest Michael Buble album, a new fondue set—mine commited suicide a few months ago, launching itself from a high and very stable shelf—a new bottle of perfume, some Dublin Dr Pepper; that's all I remember at the moment. I'd like a copy of Cugi's Cocktails on vinyl, but the only copy I've seen online is absurdly expensive. It can't be all that sought-after! 

Yes, I have a digital copy of it. But the cover is pretty sweet, and it's the kind of thing you like to put on the turntable while drinking a...hm, a 1963 cocktail of some sort...perhaps a...Grasshopper!
Grasshopper (Rhumba)
Xavier Cugat & His Orchestra

It's probably second from the right, though that's not how it would look if I went out and got some Creme de Menthe and made one. ;-)

I wanted to make a new Red Bubble calendar and see if I could actually sell a copy or two, but my head has been so tired! Maybe if I get it done later today it won't be too late to just share around a little. If you were thinking of purchasing a nice arty-looking calendar for an acquaintance you'd like to impress but not spend much on, maybe you should wait a day or two and buy mine! It will have photos in it like the ones you can see here (the Central Park set,) only better quality. I wanted to do one of just paintings, but I haven't been able to take really good photos of the ones I've done this year. 

Next I'm going to share some Frank Sinatra stuff, and also work on my 2000s project. I hope you are enjoying your day as much as I plan to enjoy mine. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and that always makes the world feel just a little bit nicer.

It's Christmas Time! It's Christmas Time!

So say I. 

First, I'm trying to figure out the smoothest way to get my Christmas collection from the other blog transferred to this one. The blog post transfer went very badly, as you may recall. 

And then I want to share more music. It's better than that shudderful stuff they play in most of the stores, but there's so much more cool stuff to collect; I'm really just getting started. :-)

I pared this year's Christmas Shuffle List to nine albums and a few singles, though I still have the others—some of them just aren't right for shuffling, plus a couple on vinyl. These are the Shuffle ones:

Picture 1BublesnowCandlessnowmistletoeDeanchristmasChristmascocktails2EllachristmasMakingmerryJingleswingStarbucks08

The first cover is A Cool Christmas Vol. 3, but I actually have Vol. 2. Then there's TSO, Brian Setzer, some Celtic stuff, classical stuff, last year's Harry Connick, Jr album, one with Bing and Frank which sounds kind of bad on here, more Frank, and maybe something else I left out. 

QotD: Reminiscing about the Internet

Do you remember the things you did when you first started using the Web and how it has changed your life?

Sponsored by Yahoo!

The things I first did on the web did change my life, mostly for the better. I only used it now and then from about 1993 to 1996, when we got our first home computer and a sponsored CompuServe account. That's when I became merbelle, a name I kept and used for all internet dealings until Yahoo literally screwed it up. But that's another story. 

I joined two forums at first, a poetry forum, and one that talked about old music. The music one, populated with radio djs and music collectors, taught me so much. First, it was encouraging that the people I spoke with online were just people; I never had any of that fear people developed about how the web was full of evil or whatever. And the people of that forum, mostly men, were kind and generous with their time and knowledge. I owe a great deal of my current music interest and rediscovery of good old music to them. I hope that they enjoyed speaking with me as well, though I did not have as much to contribute. 

The poetry forum, I owe so much to that! I still talk with a couple of those people now and then, and peer into the forum they started elsewhere when CompuServe began to change. 

The man joined it first. And at the time I thought he was more literary than me, and talented in a way that I was not, so I was afraid to join in. (There were other reasons, but not relevant to this post.) I wanted to share a poem I'd written, though, with people who might tell me whether it was interesting and worth continuing effort in the medium. 

This is that poem. Okay, it's not actually a poem, and I knew it then, but I also knew it had poetic devices, and wanted to learn more about that kind of writing. 

if you teach a man to fish, 

when will arthritis prevent him from reeling in a catch?

you never cut your hands slicing potatoes, but the slices are thick and uneven 

and some of them fry up brown and crisp while others still seem cold in the middle.

you’re so thin i could rock you as easily as i rock my own children, 

but you’d never admit you need my touch just as you’d never let me buy you some fish as long as you can still cast your rusty hook into the water.

you don’t think i know that you eat those potatoes with nothing but store-brand cola to wash them down because it’s cheaper than coffee and you have no bait for that rusty hook of yours.

you proudly display that laminated name badge pocket protector wherever you go. 

but it’s yellow with age, and your once stiff canvas shirt is soft and rumpled; worn through at the elbows.

your myopic eyes, large and faded through those thick goggle-like spectacles, 

sort out the change for the generic antacid that food stamps won’t provide for.

i imagine you carefully wiping your dish dry after your meal, 

and i think of calling my dad.

So I dove in and shared it. You had to do it in just the right way; there were sections for people with a lot of experience and knowledge about poetry, and others for chatter, and some for just sharing poetry you didn't want feedback on, and of course there were developing rules for giving and receiving praise, etc. 

It went over well, I mean, of course it isn't very good, but it does have a sense of balance to it, and it's kind of touching. A couple of the experts were kind, and told me what they thought was worthwhile about it. So that encouraged me to write more, and get to know the people, make some friends, watch so much romantic drama being played out onscreen, which sometimes fueled more writing, etc. There were three men there I'll never forget, all wonderfully talented, all British, though two of them lived in other parts of the world. They each taught me something about how to read and write poetry, and occasionally took a personal interest in my efforts. 

There was another man I met there with whom I had an ongoing online and occasional phone call friendship from that time nearly to this, though we haven't spoken now in over a year. I will always remember him with more fondness than most other people I've ever known. 

Most of the women seemed kind of like they were on the make. And there was less talent among them. I do not believe this is because women are less talented at poetry, merely that the ones in that area were probably less focused on it. So I didn't really connect with any of them. But I learned to take poetry seriously, and learned so much about myself and my talents, how to develop different styles of writing and communication, and how to engage people for conversation. 

I wrote a sonnet to share there, my first one, that I was just so proud of, and now it is lost somewhere in the ether of the web. I don't know why it's not saved in my poetry files with all the others. But wow, realizing that I could write one gave me a real sense of power that I've never forgotten, and that I do try to remember to apply to my ongoing efforts. 

I was 31 when I began using the web to learn about writing and other subjects, and to make friends. Thinking about it that way, it seems like a lifetime ago. These past 13 years have been filled with a great deal of extraordinary pain that is still not resolved. But I have an awful lot of fond memories mixed in with all that, and I can thank access to the web for many of them. 

a side project

I have a lot of photos and things to share now that NaNoWriMo is laid to rest, but wanted to tell you about my little side project, going to sort of blog the Decade in Review, here. :-) I hope you will enjoy following along. 

Yeah, I got my word count. But I don't feel successful about it. It was an irritating, trying, stressful month. I didn't get a story really laid out as I wanted, and that was my actual goal. Whatever. Moving on for now, but I will get back to it, after Christmas, probably.