Monday, June 27, 2022

A Trick of the Tail [An unfinished post]

Last semester, my son took a History of Rock class.* I admit that I grilled him on what they were covering when, artists, albums, songs, and I was waiting for certain movements? sub-genres? in particular--like so-called "Prog Rock," which I had never heard until someone on Facebook called Jethro Tull by that label (thanks, Peter). I learned that, well, I have a strong affinity for Prog Rock or Art Rock or whatever you want to call British artists of a certain generation with a penchant for orchestration, storytelling, and long, long songs that could never be released as singles. Between that line of inquiry, a discussion of what a "concept album" is as compared to an album that coheres well, and our ongoing Sirius XM subscription, I found myself drawn to an old favorite: Genesis. In the 80s, when my aunt (whom I called "Ahdee," presumably because someone said she was my "aunty") was in a huge Phil Collins and Genesis phase, she was the first in the family to buy a really nice stereo with a CD player, and she bought all of the Phil Collins/Genesis CDs she could find, and made me tapes.

At the same time, I've been obsessed with physical media. Again, hearkening back to the "album" as a unit for the delivery of music, arranged as carefully, in ideal cases, as a book of poetry, I wanted to get away from listening a track at a time. So I bought a CD player. Because my youngest had wanted a cassette player (Walkman) a few Christmases ago, I bought one with a tape deck so that she could listen to her cassettes and I could listen to mine, which she brought home from a visit to my mom. Alas! My Genesis CDs were not in the collection. I'm not sure what might have happened to them, but no matter... I've started collecting some of my favorites.

We already had the self-titled Genesis album and Invisible Touch, from the 80s. But I liked some of the weird earlier stuff, even back to Peter Gabriel (though I might only get The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway--eventually; it gets stuck in my head in awkward and uncomfortable ways). As it turns out, over the weekend, while researching the track listings of various albums, I found this video, featuring one of the great songs from one of my favorite albums, A Trick of the Tail, which was the first produced after Peter Gabriel's departure:

This was a fun watch, because I rediscovered a song that I still knew quite well. Okay, I knew it backwards and forwards. Each transition. Every lyric. Drums. The whole nine yards. And it was really cool to see someone else appreciating it, though I didn't necessarily buy into his "allegory of the departure of Peter" reading. It's too trite an explanation given the band's history of storytelling and evocative lyrics, as well as the context of the album as a whole. Seeing it also cinched my purchase--though I was pretty sure A Trick of the Tail would be one of the first I bought. It arrived today, and I popped it in, and I wasn't disappointed. I was, in fact, surprised by some new perspectives on the CD that I still know so very well. I can't begin to reconstruct how many times I listened to the cassette over... and over... and over...

It's really an English major's CD. There's not a single track that doesn't tell a story. The final song, "Los Endos," the instrumental, tells the story of the album. "Ripples" is the weak link, but even it has a Helen of Troy reference, so I'll give it a pass. The chorus is nice, too. Sometimes I listen to old music with literary allusions and I think, yes--in the past, everyone with a basic education would have known this. Forgive me if I'm nostalgic. It's nice to have an extended idea of what "literature" is, but it's also good to read literary works that other works (by diverse authors) have built on or worked against. Otherwise, there's an incomplete picture and incomplete understanding. *shrug* But I have no influence there. 

"Dance on a Volcano"

The album starts with a bang with "Dance on a Volcano." It's fast-paced because it has to be... and the lyrics start with a bang, too: "Holy Mother of God you've got to go faster than that to get to the top!" The lyrics are sung jauntily as the speaker urges "you" to dodge the lava. There's probably something interesting happening with time signature, but I'm only being descriptive in layperson's terms--such things as "time signature" are beyond me. Every now and then I can get one of my more musically-educated family members (literally all of the others in my household know more about music than I do) to confirm that yes, there is something interesting going on there. The song rather works itself into a frenzy as the speaker urges the figure into this dance, which I'm just going to take as a literal volcano because it's much more interesting to have rock music with fantasy settings than it is to project some kind of allegorical or metaphorical reading. Dancing on a volcano is about frenzied, dangerous risks, and it evokes primal sacrifice (primarily because of fiction and likely because of colonialist writing) and it's a little bit sexy:

Through a crack in Mother Earth
Blazing hot, the molten rock
Spills out over the land
And the lava's the lover who licks your boots away, hey hey hey
If you don't want to boil as well
B-B-Better start the dance
D-D-Do you want to dance with me?
You better start doing it right

It finishes with the music of the dance, continuing well past the lyrics like a good Genesis song.


After the rousing beginning, we are cooled by an eerie but calm, lilting melody. "Madrigal music is playing" says one of the lines--this captures it rather nicely. The intro could be a music box, but softer. "Entangled" is notable for both its subject matter and the music--because both evoke Pink Floyd pretty strongly. The subject of a patient being sedated, studied, experimented on is thematically adjacent (or closer) to "Comfortably Numb," which, incidentally, was produced three years after this album. Musically, however, it reminds me more of earlier Pink Floyd, at least at some moments in the song. Having said this, the harmonies in the first chorus are oddly reminiscent of the song "Dance with Me" by Orleans. "Dance with Me" was released in July 1975, while A Trick of the Tail was recorded in October to November of the same year. I doubt an influence of one band on the other; I do wonder what their mutual influences might have been. Nothing else in the styles of the two songs is similar--perhaps they just hit similar notes in similar vocal ranges. Listening to the song tonight, the comparison just stood out to me in those very few notes. (It could well be that both are "A"--so, I believe is the lyric "Goodbye Blue Sky.) Another comparison I would make (to avoid having anyone get the wrong idea about this song from my comparison) is between the lilting melody of "Entangled" and the repetitive motif that begins the song "Stories I Tell" (1991) by Toad the Wet Sprocket--one of my favorite by that band. Both introductions follow a similar shape, but inverse. Both set a tone of mystery. This one is perhaps more well-deserved. The use of synthesizer of the end is firmly Pink Floyd.


The third track, "Squonk," purports to be about an ugly little creature that weeps at its own ugliness, leaving itself vulnerable to tracking by hunters, though it dissolves into tears if cornered or caught. Rather than being a slow tune, "Squonk" is entirely rock and roll--except that its unpredictability (and my husband tells me, percussion) makes me think of jazz. It is not jazz, just reminiscent of jazz. The intro has some pretty hard rock guitar, reminiscent of Jethro Tull. If you sense that this is an album full of different styles that aims to create vague impressions--musically and in terms of feeling and sensing meaning--in the listener, that would be correct. While musically this is not my favorite song, I love some of its moments and some of its lyrics--usually when it steps away from the wailing rock lyrics (totally incongruent with the meaning) to punctuate the tale: "All the while and in perfect time/ his tears are falling on the ground,/but if you don't stand up, you don't stand a chance." 

Interesting that here you have a kind of connection to "Dance on a Volcano": if you don't act, you will fail. In "Entangled," the patient is effectively prevented from acting as she (presumably) takes refuge from dreams. In "Mad Man Moon," the speaker tries to fly away but becomes trapped in a desert. There seems to be a real fear of stasis in this album, though "Ripples," as the longest song, is inaction itself with its 8 minutes of nothing-much-happening, and "A Trick of the Tail" is about taking the risk, finding out that you were wrong, and heading back to the homeland that you underappreciated.

Some other gems from "Squonk": 

Mirror mirror on the wall 
His heart was broken long before he ever came to you 
Stop your tears from falling 
The trail they leave is very clear for all to see at night 
All to see at night


Walking home that night
The sack across my back the sound of sobbing on my shoulder
When suddenly it stopped
I opened up the sack, all that I had
A pool of bubbles and tears, just a pool of tears
Just a pool of tears


All in all you are a very dying race
Placing trust upon a cruel world
You never had the things you thought you should've had
And you'll not get them now
And all the while in perfect time
Your tears are falling on the ground

Most of my favorite lines are the pauses in the story's dialogue of pursuit and capture. Musically, they are more melodic and predictable, and in general they comment on the story from the narrator's perspective. (This album's lyrics have a lot of voices.) The middle section of the three I quoted is the outlier--the rhythm and the melody (in context) are the same, but the speaker seems to be different--the hunter who has captured the creature, not the sympathetic narrator.

Fun fact--it appears that this creature (and song) may be based on the book Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods by William Cox, available online. I will need to investigate this (or get a physical copy). It is another that people wish to read as an allegory of Peter Gabriel's leaving, but early Genesis is much more about storytelling and imagination than I think most people look for in a band. Fantasy can comment on reality, but let's not reach too far. The painfully specific is perhaps not what's most interesting here.

"Mad Man Moon"

"Robbery, Assault and Battery"


The longest track on the album, "Ripples" is a little hard to pay attention to. I can definitely remember fast-forwarding through the song to get to my favorite, "A Trick of the Tail." Even though the chorus probably has the most "pop song" feel of any song on the album--and I mean 1980s or beyond pop song, though this album was released in 1976--the verses in between are just not very smooth. It seems to be a song about aging--letting go, realizing that experiences will never come back, being aware of who/what you are now. The best moment is a variation in the (incessantly repeated) chorus:

Dive to the bottom and go to the top
to see where they have gone....

It is a slow, lingering song--definitely the weak link on an otherwise quirky and jaunty album, even though it does have a reference to Helen of Troy.

"A Trick of the Tail"

Sgt. Pepper - "A Little Help from My Friends"

C. S. Lewis

"Los Endos"

I looked up the title of this one to confirm: it certainly does not mean "the end." I did not, in fact, think that it did; it looked to me like a bastardization of Spanish rather than any real language, and it would mean "the ends" (plural) rather than "the end" (singular), adding to the impression that it is intentional mock-Spanish.

[Sorry for the cliff-hanger. In a strange twist of fate, I returned a defective boom box with the CD in the CD player. That pretty much took the wind out of my sails.]

*I'm sure there are a lot of opinions out there about the place of popular culture in higher education--and a class like this in particular--but his degree is in performance, his interest is music, it was an online class that kept him off of campus one more day a week and rounded out his schedule. Besides the fact that it was well-taught and informative (for the most part) and that I'm a firm believer in the value of popular culture (because there's good stuff out there--not all of it is crap just because it's popular) and, well, this was probably one of the least stupid classes that he is taking, because his so-called "performance" degree has devolved into "performance as activism." (The program was started by an ethnomusicologist, but apparently shifted when he left and the new hires came in.)

Monday, January 31, 2022

On (Not) Writing

 I've found myself wondering a lot of things lately... 

Why don't I seem to be creative any more?

Why don't I write?

Why can't I get back into writing the book that I was supposed to finish in 2020?

Why can't I just commit to writing or drawing something simple every day?

Why is it so hard to sit down and write friendly emails that I want to write?

I've been feeling pretty mentally and occasionally emotionally exhausted, but I've been putting many of the above things down to just having lost whatever creative or intellectual spark I used to possess. It's not a fantastic mental place to be.

So there was that book... I have tried multiple times without success to write one of the chapters, and I just feel stuck. It's not a chapter I wanted to write, it's just the chapter that everyone would expect in the book. No pressure there. I know that I suffer from lack of feedback. I don't work well in a vacuum. I loved classes for generating ideas (although I did have plenty of ideas outside of coursework) and for keeping me excited and motivated about ideas. This is what conferences are supposed to do, but I find conferences off-putting for a number of reasons. Most recently, I did find a conference that gave me a sense of community--the sense that some people were genuinely interested in my ideas. But it's been a few years since going to that conference was possible, and the field has gotten contentious since then, so that I'm not sure how well a book about heteronormative Tolkien would be received.

But the book is a huge project, and if there's one thing I'm hearing, it's that a lot of people have been unable to be productive over the last couple of years. (I work for a publisher, so I know there are books still coming in, but what do I know? The internet wants me to feel good even though I'm a non-productive slob--except when it wants me to feel terrible for who I am...) And being outside of academia makes writing an academic book hard. You think imposter syndrome is hard for someone on the inside? Try being on the outside some time!

Before the winter break, I had a low low--and an aha! moment. One day I just realized that I had been in a funk for several days, and I realized that there must be something I wasn't seeing. I'm not an "affirmations" kind of gal, but I have a friend on Facebook who posts "Today's Good Things" every day, so I tried it. It was kind of amazing the difference that it made going through the day keeping track of the positives so that I would have at least three to post. It wasn't perfect. I had days when I felt that the positives were a ridiculous misrepresentation of what my day actually looked like, and that writing them was a betrayal of who I really am. But I kept on, and I realized that they didn't have to be complicated: a "good thing" could be something that got a little bit better, or that wasn't as bad as it could have been. I could admit that things had not been great and still find the good. And I had a lovely crocheted blanket in progress that I could show off if I was pressed for a good thing. Even my Inkvent posts were "good things." But... then it dried up. It became not quite every day. Or recent good things. Or for goodness' sake I'm too tired to do this today. I haven't done it for a while, and I haven't missed it too much. Maybe my brain is more in tune to the good things as they come right now. I don't know. But at least this is something in my toolbox.

Meanwhile, my Facebook posting has simply dried up. I just don't have much to say that can be said in a sentence or two, and I don't always feel like I can post the negative after posting the positive.

But that's social media. There are other ways to write daily--and better ones.

I desperately wanted a very fine notebook/journal for Christmas--the Midori One Page One Day

It just seemed so full of possibilities, and it didn't really have to be themed or ambitious. (I have a problem with journals historically; I become embarrassed about my own thoughts--or really about whatever "pose" I have adopted in writing them--and I rip them up. That's not the point of a journal, but I am not entirely sure what the point of a journal is, for me. I also have a problem with nice notebooks. I would studiously avoid using them, 'lest I "ruin" them with inferior content. The internet tells me that this is not a unique problem. Lately, I want to limit my notebooks by topic or purpose, without necessarily defining this clearly to avoid duplicating my efforts or varying from my stated purpose, e.g. "research" can mean focused research on a specific topic, but might it not also mean research on multiple topics contained in the same book? *sigh*) So now I have this beautiful blank notebook/journal with so many possibilities. I have written on several pages, drawn some little pictures, some in the spirit of "good things," some in attempts to just record what I observe... But I haven't been consistent, and I'm trying to fight the feeling that I've ruined the book. I mean, if it has more or less one page for each day of the year, and I don't use it that way, I will end up with extra pages, or *gasp* more than one partial year in the same book!! I love the symmetry of well-planned things. I just don't seem to be able to conform myself neatly to them. I know that that's silly.

So what's preventing me from sitting down and writing a bit in my little book, you ask?

Well, I was wondering the same. I thought it was, in part, the "what to write" dilemma, which is not new. But I'm trying to give myself a break and not judge what I write so harshly. After all, I have written and created quite a number of things that I'm proud of. But one thing I have realized is a barrier: TIME.

It was easy over the winter break. Or easier. As long as I didn't mind having someone else looking over my shoulder at any given time. But returning to work, I had to resume something closer to a 40-hour on-site schedule instead of the 20-hour on-site and 20 hour work-from-home schedule that I had been enjoying for half of 2021, with exclusive work-from-home for over a year before that. It changes things, some for the better, and really? I wasn't writing a whole lot when I was at home all the time anyway.

My schedule right now only allows me 8 "off-site" hours to play with, and since I have (older) children doing school online, I feel like I need to be present for them for some significant chunks of the day. So I go to work in the morning, come home around lunch for a chunk of time that includes lunch and some "wellness release time" for exercise (to minimize the pain in my back and hip from sitting all day) or a brief trip to the park to give everyone some fresh air and exercise. Then I return to work for an hour and a half or so, come home and almost immediately start trying to figure out what kind of meal to put together (I am not a meal "planner." If I plan to eat something too far in advance, I can almost certainly guarantee that I will not want to eat it. I like raw materials and options.) We eat, and I settle down on the sofa to watch The Repair Shop or something else suitably British and intelligent, occasionally reading or crocheting if I find I can still hold the hook. There are some variations in there, but that's the big picture.

Now, it might seem that that sofa time would be good for writing or creative or intellectual activity of some sort. This has occurred to me. But how wrong we both are! Note the "if I can still hold the crochet hook." I have tried to muster up the energy to write or create something in the evening, but I am mentally if not physically exhausted. Add to this my odd practice of not sitting down in front of the computer or paper. This is because sitting down is very bad. Not  really very bad. But it does seem to be a major determining factor in my hip pain, which does not bother me when I am sitting, but significantly hampers me when I stand up again and try to be mobile. So until meal time, sofa time, or the time when I have to be working, I try to stand as much as possible. Managing pain is, itself, exhausting sometimes.

So I have to steal middle-of-the day time, which is work time. Which is "fraud, waste, and abuse" according to the ethics training. This does make me feel guilty, but sometimes I don't care. I get my work done. It's not a job that is demanding for me, or demanding consistently. I could work part-time and still get everything done that I need to get done. (I will say that my split schedule is itself exhausting with the back and forth, but it is productive for me. Having shorter blocks of time to fill and changing scenery and switching gears is much more how I prefer to work.)

But something else occurred to me, too. So far, I have given only a picture of how my time is used, not a picture of how my brain and energy are used. I probably should have remembered sooner the post from Darwincatholic about parenting older children--particularly since I can't find it now. (Here it is! Mrs. Darwin sent it to me!) It rang true then, I remember, but it did not strike me at the time how much this different time of life--mine and theirs--could determine my own creative and intellectual output. Yes, I do demand too much of myself. And somehow, with more self-sufficient children, it seemed like I should be even better able to create and produce. But that's not the whole story.

I find myself much more in demand, in fact, than ever--though I don't really think they are demanding. I have three intelligent and stable offspring, one who can't really be counted as a child, and hasn't been one legally for 7 years now. They trust me, and they value my opinion. They know that I listen, and they respect the feedback that I give. And they have issues with the stupidity in the world and that displayed by other people; they have friends with spiritual crises that cause them to want to get to the root of what exactly the theology of certain sensitive topics might be; they are dealing with the hoops that every student has to jump through to get to the point of being able to choose what course of study to pursue; they are dealing with the realities of the chosen (or de facto) course of study not being what was promised and expected; they are dealing with bad teaching and require someone to commiserate or fill in the gaps; they are dealing with the low motivation that comes from recognizing the pointlessness of the hoops; they are dealing with their own meticulousness and high standards... And I have to hear about every trouble, trial, success, accomplishment, shortcoming, frustration... You get the idea. And this is on top of my own struggles related to work, self-confidence, self-perception, hypochondria (or at least hyper-awareness of my body), spiritual crises related to where I am in my life, oh, and a pandemic thrown into the mix.

Is it any wonder I'm mentally exhausted? I'm starting think... maybe not.

While on the one hand, I spend far too much time in my own head, I don't actually have a lot of time alone with my thoughts. I don't even have a long commute. I literally live 7 minutes away from my workplace. At every other point in my life, I have had time to think. Observe. Create. I do not have that time or space right now. I begin to understand why so many of our authors at the publisher where I work are in their eighties. I am still impatient with their demands that we make sure they have their goal of being published before they die. No one needs that pressure--certainly not me. But it does make sense that they had to wait until the calming of the many, many voices and pressures in life in order to have the space for intellectual activity. My issue is that I used to have that space. I used to be able to make that space. When they were babies and toddlers, the demands were simply different. They were not intellectual. I engaged on a different level. People talk about being at home with their children as not being around adults. I don't actually feel that way. I have three people in my home besides my husband and I who, while they lack experience, certainly engage on a sophisticated level with the experiences they are living. And they do so out loud. To me.

I should say that I am very proud of this. Even as sometimes I want to scream and run away, I feel like I have done something right that they do come to me with things. But... I am exhausted.

Having recognized this, however, I can maybe give myself some space--not to write. Not to be creative or intellectual. And not to feel like I've lost part of myself because I can't produce. Maybe I still have the potential and the capacity. Maybe it's just not the right time.

To every thing (turn, turn, turn)...

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Diamine Inkvent Calendar Day 25

 Merry Christmas!

Today, Diamine is wishing us "All the Best" for journeying through 25 inks. This one was a mystery; the bottle did not indicate whether it was shimmer or sheen, but of course the expectation was that it would be both.

And it was! "All the Best" is a reddish ink that to me trends toward the "berry" end of the red spectrum, almost a deep bluish pink (maroon? wine?).

The gold-green sheen begins to emerge first, appearing in the areas where more ink is applied.

The shimmer is a bit more subtle, and requires even more pooling. Here I applied some extra ink with the paintbrush to see if I could deliberately achieve the shimmer and sheen--and it worked!

When I turn it a little in the light, you can see it shine a bit more, almost a lavender sparkle:

The Pilot Parallel produced the best results!

And here's a recap:

The Invent calendar is a fantastic idea, and has been a lot of fun. If I had to choose my favorites right now, I would probably choose too many. I'm hoping to post some comparisons between a few of the Inkvent colors themselves (like 17 and 13) and also comparisons between these and other Diamine Inks (like Garland and Holly), so stay tuned!

Friday, December 24, 2021

Diamine Inkvent Calendar Day 24


Day 24 - Christmas Eve! The ink for the day is "Yuletide," a standard, non-shimmer medium-ice blue ink that sheens very slightly red. 

This is another that somewhat resembles an earlier day's ink--"Subzero," which was Day 18.

I admit to being stumped as to why this one is "Yuletide," so I drew an ice-blue Yule log alongside the White Witch's sledge, pulled by the rare wolf-deer (because I was indecisive and don't really do animals...)

Here's the open calendar...

Looking forward to tomorrow! Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Diamine Inkvent Calendar Days 22 and 23

 Another catch-up post before Christmas Eve!

Day 22 was, predictably perhaps, one of the more stunning inks. The even-numbered days seem to be giving more sheen and shimmer, and this one was no exception! "Black Ivy," a sheening ink, has a sheen that dominated my swatch--a deep red, almost a maroon.

The ink color itself is a green-black:

The color name seems appropriate, and inspired the ivy below:


Day 23, a standard ink, is a bright, cheerful orange...

...but the name, "Wonderland," is an enigma. My usual paintbrush retained some "Black Ivy," so I had to use one a bit less suited to small sketchy paint-with-ink drawings.

And all that I could come up with for "Wonderland" was a kind of fair or carnival. The ink names have me stumped.

Here is the array! Looking forward to tomorrow!