Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Jane Tyson Clement and the Bruderhof Community

When I was a senior at Vassar, I had the pleasure of creating an independent study in Religious Communities around the Hudson Valley, NY. As the air in Pittsburgh grows colder and wetter, I have the memories of wearing a giant wool cape at a Benedictine monastery around this time of the year, when the sole monk living there requested that I help him enter some prayers into the most archaic, jankety Apple computer I've seen in my life (and I once took classes on a Commodore computer, which is pretty archaic). Gosh, I wish I could have kept that cape, it was totally enveloping and everything a wool cape should be, especially when you're freezing in a monastery, holding onto a sugar cookie for dear life.
I digress.
One of the places I visited on my community search was the Bruderhof settlement in Rifton, NY. There are quite a few large families living on the land there, in a religious community that I usually explain as a sort of Quaker mentality: respect for the earth, focus on the family, education is important, hard work is too. The Bruderhofs also make excellent nail-less furniture for children's playsets.
One of the more visible members of the Bruderhof Community in America was Jane Tyson Clement. She was an active poet and musician, as many of the community members are very musically gifted, and she published many of her works. Her book 'No One Can Stem The Tide' was given to me as a thank-you for visiting the community and taking the time to see what their life was like. (While I love the concepts of raising your children to know how to rewire a house at age 7, and living in the countryside nearly self-sustainably, I can't imagine myself converting to farm life or being opposed to homosexuality. Nevertheless, mucho respect for you for going against the lure of the iPhone.)
In 2005 I began setting some of Clement's poems to music. Three of those poems will be premiered at Vassar College in November in the form of a piece for chamber ensemble and two singers. It's been great revisiting these poems, and during this fall season, it's very nostalgic thinking back to writing music as an undergrad, being in a practice room when it's raining (and trying to block out the sounds of the pianist next to me). One of the poems I had put to music has never been performed, so I re-orchestrated it; it's great to know that something that's been in the works for a long time will get heard. Clement's poems are usually filled with joy, grief, love of nature, and very simple but stunning language that I thought was perfect to set to music. Rehearsals are underway now for a performance in November. I'll also be able to visit Vassar for the performance, so I invite all my Hudson Valley/NYC to come hear it and say hello!

Vassar College, Mahagonny Ensemble
Premier of 'Dark Interval' for chamber ensemble and two singers
Friday November 13th, 8:00pm
Skinner Hall of Music

Pictured: pleasantly abstract stained glass panel from a religious retreat that was one of the stops along my independent study.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Giant Squid Dating Site

Personal Details:
Marital Status: Single
Ethnicity: Giant Squid
Eye Color: Black
Hair Color: I have whitish tentacles, does that count?
Age: 500 (but I might be lying)
Looking for: Soulmate, someone to explore the ocean depths with me for all eternity
Turnons: bright red skin, ocean currents, lacy panties
Turnoffs: Sperm whales, hunting vessels, bright lights, gangsta rap, fish depletion
Any interested mollusks, please come find me, if you can.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Terrifying, Gross, and Amazing: Sally

Sally is one of the most fascinating and hilarious people I know, and like myself, her life often revolves around categories. I once decided that all objects in the world could be categorized into "funny" and "not funny". Pillows: funny. Pencils: not funny. Sometimes it's a bit intangible as to why you think something is inherently funny when it's not outwardly wacky-looking or used in a funny way. It's not difficult to get a long list going once you start, and there is sometimes crossover potential. Noses are sometimes funny (Barbara Streisand), but sometimes not funny at all (allergies). There are also side categories of "amusing" (lawns) and "vaguely sexual" (kumquats), but still, the system works for me. I might post my funny/unfunny list one day, but Sally's list goes like this: Terrifying, Gross, and Amazing things. Note: if something's particularly amazing, it can also fall under the category of "amahhzing", in which there are few allowances, mostly things involving RuPaul.

Terrifying Things
heatdeath of the universe
the year 2080
children's hands inside of their own mouths
thinking about one's death
time travel
the sun becoming a red giant
geologic cataclysms
reversal of magnetic poles/weakening of forces
ozone depletion
solar radiation
extreme ocean depths
anything more than 2 feet off the ground
having children
anaerobic life

Gross Things
eating the sea/sushi
bubble tea/tapioca
cottage cheese
lumpy things
raw chicken
having babies (see also Terrifying)
bones, teeth

Amazing Things
sea salt
the sun
mammals and marsupials
venus flytraps/carnivorous plants
giant squid
blue whales
anaerobic life

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Idle Worshippers

All hail the God of SPF 50. Personally, I'm always ready for fall, but there's something great about the remaining heat in the back-to-school summer season that's not too be missed. One last trip to the beach, perhaps, before classes begin. Or better yet, a new box of color-changing pens to impress your classmates (that was me in 5th grade).
Don't look too closely at the coloring of this one, it's not the best paint-bucket 'Fill' work you've ever seen.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Northside Library Branch Revolutionizes My Life

I've been working on Pittsburgh's Northside for almost exactly one year now, and it has been very hard to get to a library. There has been no branch of the Carnegie Library here on the Northside for some time, as a new building was under construction. Some times I'd feel adventurous and take the bus back to Oakland to the main library, but this meant that I'd have to get off the bus, walk, and then by the time I got back on the bus, I'd get home at 9pm for a stop that could have taken ten minutes.
What I have been doing primarily for the last year is ordering books from interlibrary loan, and then picking them up at the Downtown branch. The problems with this is are multifold: the Downtown branch is only open for a half an hour after I get out of work, three days a week. I have about ten minutes to squeeze into the doors of the library to pick up my books from the desk, but only on Monday-Wednesday. The downtown library also doesn't have a bookdrop-I heard rumors of too much trash being thrown in the downtown deposit slot, and they took it out. So I can't even return books after hours if I wanted to.
Well, my life has been revolutionized. The new Allegheny Branch of the Carnegie Public Library has opened on the Northside. I can walk there from work in under ten minutes. It is open until 7 pm every weekday, and I can catch the same bus I normally do to get home! It's also a beautiful new modern building, with wooden slat walls and a bamboo courtyard, tree-lined walks, and an after-hours bookdrop.
What's even better is that when I went into the library, there were tons of young people already reading, using the computers, and chatting in the library. There's a whole room for youth books, and meeting rooms in the back, still being completed. I hope it stays a cool hangout for young people- much needed on the Northside. As an added bonus, a Crazy Mocha coffeeshop is opening on the corner of Federal Street and North Ave to quench all of its thirsty readers.
This is starting to sound like an ad for the Library, but if you get a chance to visit the new Allegheny Branch, I think you'll be impressed. Then you can wander to the museum and come visit me!