Stars: a Song by Fiona ER Canfield

Recorded the vocal for this about 2012, when Fiona was 6 or 7. It’s taken all these years to learn enough about music and have the equipment to put it to music.

I was astonished to discover that other than a few flat notes, she’s singing perfectly in the key of F. This is worth investigating. I wasn’t aware a small child could, a capella, sing exactly in key. (I adjusted the final note because she was precisely two semitones flat; I suspect that was voice control, not pitch awareness. Also she was 6.)

Maybe children are more musical than I’m aware. Maybe I have an overdeveloped proud father muscle. Maybe I just love my little girl and music and when they come together, why wouldn’t it be perfect?

Stars
Fiona ER Canfield

If the stars could talk
What would they say?
Would they say those words to you?
If the wind could tell secrets
Would it share them with you?
Would you protect them with all of your strength?

If the sun could make you smile
Would its smiles be for you?
Would your eyes have protection from the rays?
If the moon could give you dreams
Would they be happy?
Would the dreams be for you?

Good night for now
And when we wake up
We’ll have dreams of the things that I said
And when we meet again we’ll discover
That the dreams have come true

More Songs, Including My Daughters

I’ve written another handful:

but the real treat is that my two girls collaborated on one, and we can actually hear the Little One singing: Sister.

Choosing Wealth

In Vagabonding traveler and author Rolf Potts talks about choosing how we define wealth. Rather than assuming that “wealth” and “money” are the same thing, he suggests measuring wealth in what we value. Wild concept, I know.

I would love to have more money for things like a trip to Ireland or new tires on the car or a new instrument (still deciding between octave mandolin and mandocello, but it looks like I’ll have plenty of time to ponder it.)

It’s not what I value most. Every time discontent creeps in I remind myself that I have plenty of the stuff live is made of: time.

I rarely wake to an alarm.

Nearly every day, I play some kind of game with my daughter, the last of our 7 children still at home.

Every day, I cook three interesting meals for my wife while she runs the business.

Every day in February, I’ve written a song. Every single day. And recorded a demo thereof.

Deadlines are almost unknown around here. A day off only requires balancing personal needs or desires with what’ll have to be done tomorrow.

Want to spend August in northern Wisconsin (highs in the low 70s) instead of southern Arizona (highs in triple digits and humid as an old sock)? Arrange our work schedule to allow it, plan for gas, the primary expense, and go. (Our travel requires two other factors, a location-independent business [check] and oodles of friends to stay with to avoid expensive hotel bills [check] but those didn’t happen by accident either.)

Today I’m worried about money. Ausoma has lost two big clients (they love us, but need to get other things done before they come back and work with us again) and for the first time, rent for the 1st of the month isn’t a slam dunk. It always works out. Always. We both have faith, Best Beloved and I, and it always works out.

So today, I’m going to enjoy the time I have and not worry about what I don’t.

Rhymes with Gloom

Rumor has it Phoenix sees 360 days of sunshine a year. Anecdotal evidence suggests we could skip some of those during, say, June, but no, the few gloomy overcast days come in winter, no surprise.

Best Beloved and I both suffer from mild versions of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Grey days bog us down and make us cranky. Awareness is 51% of the battle, eh?

First time in months, we took a bike ride together this morning. Once around the block. It’s a small start, because we believe in the power of small wins. Persistent consistent effort, not grand gestures. She’s been sick, I’ve been sick, we’ve been pummeled no end the past 6 months, but it’s all working out, as it always does.

I’ve reached the point with this month’s songwriting that I’m filling gaps with experimental stuff, goofy lyrics, and songs I’ll never bother performing. Writing 28 songs in 28 days, I give myself a lot of slack. A lot.

2 Happy Songs and 2 Long Drives

Tucson

Our little one visits her sister in Tucson every month. She usually stays 3 nights. They have a studio so while the little one and her sister are up all night singing and laughing and making videos, the good husband is trying to sleep so he can go to work in the morning. We’re all (especially him) hoping they can move to a bigger place soon.

It’s 3 hours down, drop her off midday, then 3 hours back. Two full days at home, then do it all over again, pick her up late afternoon, arrive home wiped out after dark.

Music

Two more songs, making it 4 for 4. Four for four. Fore! These two were happy.

The next one will be pensive. Many lines will begin “I remember . . . ”

I never know which list songs will end up on: lost and forgotten, performed once and abandoned, or regular rotation crowd faves. Some songs I thought were great when I wrote them don’t interest me much anymore, and some I thought were throwaways get played all the time because people love them.

This is the planting time. Harvest will happen later, and as always, will surprise me.

February Album Writing Month Rides Again

Tomorrow begins a month-long exercise in artistic immersion.

I’ve been participating in February Album Writing Month (FAWM) since 2006, making this my 13th year. (I missed the first year it went public, but I’m still one of the Old Folks in the forums.) Nearly every song I’ve ever written has been born in February. For a while I wrote throughout the year, partly because I couldn’t afford to shut down all my other activities during February.

It wasn’t the same, though. Writing three songs in a week isn’t the same depth of immersion as writing 14 (or 30, like last year) in 28 days. Now that my schedule allows it (thanks to Best Beloved who loves my art) I’m back to diving in unrestrained.

Except tomorrow, when we’ll be taking the Little One to Tucson to spend a few days with her sister. But I’ll bet I can write a song on the drive. Maybe she’ll even play the ukulele while I record it.

Frustrating Dreams

My dreams follow a pattern: someone is waiting for me, I have somewhere to be or a task to get done; essentially, a clock is ticking and it’s my job to beat it. Never happens. Every dream is a cosmic conspiracy to mire me in failure. Now, lest you get the impression I’m having some groovy James Bond Mission Impossible action adventure in my head, here’s what was going on just before I woke up this morning:

We were rushing to get ready to go somewhere important, “we” being, perhaps, my family when I was a kid. People in my dreams tend to morph between past, present, and imaginary. I could not find my one and only good dress shirt. I found a pile of shirts and knew I had to take each one off the hanger before I could see the next one. The first shirt, red rayon or thin cotton, Hawaiian print, had frayed buttonholes. The buttons caught in the threads and it was torture getting each one undone. Every button was buttoned.

Trivial, eh?

At this point in the dream, I’m having trouble breathing, my chest is pounding, I’m in full blown panic, beyond reason, flailing and raging internally like an animal, but carefully stifling any expression of emotion lest others, already tense and frustrated and blaming me, become offended.

I never finished the shirt because I had to put the fish in the freezer. I’d told everyone else to go ahead and I’d come on my own because I knew I’d never be ready on time. They chose to wait for me, but still expected me to be ready on time.

Walking from the kitchen to the bedroom, something was wrong. I went back and walked it again, some giant package which was apparently frozen fish (though it wasn’t cold) in my arms.

The freezer was gone. I’d been walking back and forth through the space where it had been.

At this point the panic reached the point of madness. If it wouldn’t have disturbed the people around me I would have cackled maniacally, knowing my mind had entirely lost its grip on reality. Vague thoughts of doing grievous bodily harm to myself or others hover in the back of my mind; I can no longer bear the madness of confusion, frustration, obligation. I would surrender if I could, but the thought of all those people waiting on me drives me on in my useless, fruitless, hopeless quest.

I could picture my shirt. I kept seeing flashes of the pattern but it always turns out to be that blasted red shirt with the frayed buttonholes.

No one knew where the freezer was. We were all late.

I woke up.

Why can’t I have flying dreams?

Oh, the fish? No idea where it went. Before the dream ended it was just gone.

some more late thoughts

My 13 year old daughter has never known me as anything but a writer. She came along well after my life in accounting, construction, janitorial services, computers, and the web.

When asked the inevitable “What do you want to be when you grow up?” she’s always had one answer:

A writer.

She has sleep issues. Sometimes she uses her sleepless hours to write. This is something I found this morning.

once i went to a coffee shop and in one room of that coffee shop was a white piano and a white bench and a marker and people had written stuff all over the piano and the bench with the marker and honestly i thought that was so cool.

i really like that kind of stuff.

i think it’s really neat.

people years from now may never meet you, never know you, never know anything about you, and you can scratch something into a tree or a wall or write it on a chair and someone out there will see that and know you exist.

you know what would be cool

… more … “some more late thoughts”

Pintles and Gudgeons and the Man Overboard Drill

My dad’s bigger boat, a Lightning with a 27′ mast, wasn’t ready for sailing yet so we took the little 12-footer. It was a buoyant little beast, capable of carrying four adults: Brett and I and our dad, and our friend Paul. Paul loved sailing and as a result was rooked into a boatload of unnecessary adventures. He spent a lot of his time with us wet.

We always packed food because sailing made us hungry. It’s only a mile across San Diego Bay from the boat ramp where we launched so we sailed over to Silver Strand State Park to have lunch on the beach.

I was at the tiller because Dad wanted to be the first one to step ashore. I realized as we were approaching the shore that the bottom inclined so gradually the rudder was going to hit ground before the bow touched the sand.

I said, “We’re running aground.”

Nothing happened.

I said it again. “We’re running aground.”

Still nothing.

I said, “Hey, we’re running–”

… more … “Pintles and Gudgeons and the Man Overboard Drill”

Fortnight

  • 3-day convention in Tucson
  • 3-day drive
    1. Tucson AZ -> Tucumcari NM
    2. Tucumcari NM -> Kearny MO
    3. Kearny MO -> Cameron WI
  • 3 days with friends in Cameron, in a big old rambling farm house and a nameless puppy waiting to be given to our host’s granddaughter as a graduation gift (she named him Winston.)
  • 4 days house-sitting at a gorgeous home buried deep in the woods with 2 friendly cats and 1 that’s a bit cranky
  • 1 of those evenings out on the lake, seeing osprey, kingfishers, great blue herons, turtles, and a muskrat

Today:

… more … “Fortnight”

Crummy Cake Communication

Country folk have odd recipes, but we always eat good.

My mom had two cakes she introduced us to when I was a kid. She called them Mayonnaise Cake and Tomato Soup Cake.

Yeah, that’s how we reacted, too. Allow me to expand: the mayonnaise is used as a substitute for eggs and oil in a chocolate cake with coffee in the batter. A thick, dense, moist explosion of coffee-chocolate flavor. Frosting would be pointless. Vanilla ice cream works. We’d stir them together, unknowingly creating a cookies and cream experience 30 years before anyone was selling it.

My father was most precise in his speech. It was from him that I learned to look for the right word, the difference, for instance, between “loping” and “trotting” or “thinking” and “pondering” and such shades of meaning which give depth and clarity to our communication.

(That’s called “setup” so you’ll wonder, as I relate this, where it comes into play.)

… more … “Crummy Cake Communication”

How Not to Hit Your Child With a Sledgehammer

Railroad ties make a good retaining wall. Heavy and thick, they’re impregnated with creosote so they’re nearly rot-proof. Peg them together with 3/8″ rebar and they’ll be there 20 years later (according to this picture. Neighborhood has sure run down since I lived there.)

The process is to lay down the first layer of ties, drill holes where the pins will go through, lay down the next layer, drill, and repeat. Somehow, I kept performing the miracle of drilling the holes exactly where they needed to be. Stupid confidence sometimes turns into wild good luck.

I’d finished the fronts of the walls, tied into the sides next to the steps. I do not remember why (trauma, perhaps) but as I neared the end, I asked my teenage son Tristan to come help.

“Here, hold this,” I said, with a 3-foot chunk of rebar placed in the top of the hole in the railroad tie.

… more … “How Not to Hit Your Child With a Sledgehammer”

How to Make Your Father Run a Red Light

We sat in the dark back seat, watching the digital clock (made of actual light bulbs) atop the bank in Chula Vista. It was a long red light. We’d seen the time change from 7:03 to 7:04 and all four of us started counting the seconds until it changed again.

Quietly, in the back seat: “57, 58, 59” and then, not quietly at all, the four of us shouting “Now!”

At that moment, the left turn light changed to green.

Dad stomped on the gas.

We weren’t in the left turn lane.

… more … “How to Make Your Father Run a Red Light”

Reluctantly Crouched at the Starting Line

While Jake Calcutta is off getting a sanity check, my oldest work in progress is coming out of hiding.

I’ve written over 30,000 words of Jake Calcutta and the Temporal Lisle, including a 1,000-word summary of the latter 2/3 of the story. It’s all in the hands of my fact-and-sanity checker to confirm that the story makes sense as I’ve planned it. Once James has confirmed there are no plot holes big enough to chuck a cat through, I will finish it up and send it out upon the waters.

While I’m hands off that story, I did an experiment to see which of my possible ideas I should start work on. Led by emotional events of the past six months I chose the coming-of-age story I started January 1st, 2010 (for the mathematically challenged, that’s 7 years, 4 months, 1 week, and 2 days ago.)

The blurb, for now:

… more … “Reluctantly Crouched at the Starting Line”

Nothing But Stars

The blue-grey clouds squished over the rooftops down the road as I warmed my hands on my mug of darker-than-clouds coffee. A good night’s sleep would have been nice, thank you very much, but no, I got to bed early, tossed like a fish till all hours, then awoke, twitching and wild-eyed, at 3:13am. I’m not superstitious, so twitching awake from a nightmare to my WalMart digital clock displaying the usual number of disasters followed by the unluckiest number didn’t bother me at all. Not one bit.

bluegreyclouds

When it’s black night out here you can’t see the next house, a hundred yards up the road, unless Mort is going fishing and he’s up early. Otherwise, new moon like this, you see nothing but stars until the sun oozes up over the hills behind my cottage. Then, the stars are there one moment, gone in a blue-grey haze the next.

Except that was all in my imagination, of course, what with the thick dark cover of clouds. It would get lighter. It would not get sunny.

Matched my prospects for the day.

I swallowed the last of the lukewarm brew in my mug and went upstairs to shower, shave, and dress for my last day as an outsider.

Tragedy, or Comedy? Knowing the Ending Makes All the Difference

Happy endings ahead on all fronts. This could have all become tragedy on various levels. You may know that comedy = tragedy + time. This means that the time you backed into the 100,000-gallon aquarium and flooded your new Cadillac can become a great story you tell over and over rather than something you never speak of again. In this case, all ended well, so feel free to laugh at my antics. Someone should.

pocket-change

6:55am

Awoke to my phone ringing. I charge it in the living room, so there’s no way I was going to get the call. Sue tried to catch it but it stopped ringing.

Her phone rang seconds later. It was my mom, sounding pretty sick. She’d tried to get a doctor’s appointment the day before because she could barely breathe, but they didn’t have anything until today.

She said “I’ll try again tomorrow, if I live through the night.” My mother is famous for her positive perspective.

This morning she couldn’t breathe so she called to see if someone could take her to the emergency room.

… more … “Tragedy, or Comedy? Knowing the Ending Makes All the Difference”

You and Yew

yewI’d heard the construction equipment even before I trudged across the lawn to where my car was parked in the driveway because the garage was too full of stuff.

A backhoe was ripping the 10-year-old foot-tall yew hedge out by the roots.

When I could move again I shut my mouth and marched to the sidewalk. I raised my voice over the sound of the backhoe. In my current emotional state it was not difficult.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MY HEDGE?”

The guy on the backhoe leaned back, eyes wide. The front bucket paused with the third or fourth yew plant dangling by its roots from one of the teeth.

“Um, we’re widening the curb cuts. You got a letter.” He still didn’t move.

“DID THE LETTER SAY YOU WERE GOING TO DESTROY MY HEDGE?”

He shut the machine down, but he was still leaning back, still eyes wide. The wide eyes flicked to his right, my left, and his shoulders slumped down from “high alert” to “someone else’s problem” status.

“Can I help you?” Important looking man in suit approaches. Well, not suit, now that I look, but he’s management, not labor.

I’ve started breathing again, so there’s no more screaming.

“This hedge takes decades to grow. These little twelve-inch plants have been here since the house was built 10 years ago. What’s going on?”

“Everyone got a letter, sir. Widening the curb cuts for handicapped access. Federal law.”

“Yes. Letter. Did the letter say ‘move your plants or we’ll tear them out with a backhoe’?”

Blank stares. Stare. Management. Labor had its eyes down, inspecting the instrument panel on the silent backhoe.

Management, to Labor #2 at the next house over: “Run to Home Depot and get some 5-gallon buckets for this gentleman’s plants.” Then to me: “I’m very sorry about your plants. We’ll get them planted in some potting soil and put them wherever you like so they can be planted again when the work is done.”

He wasn’t quite fidgeting, just shifting his weight slightly from foot to foot. Hoping for peace. Ready for a fight.

I was sick of fighting.

“Okay. Sorry. Thanks.”

He may have answered, I don’t know. My ears were ringing as I trudged back across the lawn to where my car was parked in the driveway instead of the garage.

When I moved out months later, the yew plants were still in buckets in the back yard.

Last time I saw the buckets, just before she filed for divorce, the plants were all dead.

To Us All in the End — But, Perhaps, Not Today

The wind howled so loud he could just make out his cell phone, ringing his mother’s home phone. Maybe it wasn’t turned up all the way. Didn’t matter; he daren’t give up one hand in the fight against the steering wheel.

It was why he’d moved here, to watch over his aging mother. He didn’t begrudge his brother and sister their lives; he’d have moved here for the beauty of the place, not to mention the economical lifestyle it allowed.

He didn’t begrudge his mother the gentle neediness of a twice-widowed elderly woman. She’d mellowed in her age. Less mourning, more reminiscing.

lonely house

He’d begrudge the final call, though, when it came. Her apartment door would be unlocked, as it always was. He’d step in, calling her, but she’d not answer. She never did, whether she couldn’t hear him or just wasn’t answering.

That’s what he’d begrudge: the finding, then the calling, the endless mourning of others on his behalf.

It started to snow as he slowed for the series of camera-topped speed-limit signs at the edge of town.

Turning onto Main Street, he heard his phone ring through to her voice mail, finally. The wind blew less fiercely between the buildings so he pulled his left glove off in his right armpit and pressed the hang-up button on his phone, dropping it clunk rattle back into the door handle of the van.

My Biggest Fan

BestBeloved01Some days, I just need a cheerleader to tell me I can do anything.

Some days, I need to be told I’m heading the wrong direction.

Some days, I need someone to let me cry over nothing.

Some days, I need to know that my failure wasn’t so bad.

Some days, I need someone to laugh at my jokes.

Some days, I need someone to laugh at me, so I don’t take myself too seriously.

Most days, I need ’em all.

And every day, I get exactly what I need.

December 26th was our 10th anniversary. Here’s to 10 million more.

BestBeloved03BestBeloved02

Songwriting is Easy

Like Hemingway said, just sit at your typewriter and bleed.

I’ve written 5 songs in the past couple weeks, as part of two songwriting challenges.

I’m emotionally exhausted. Even the fun songs are emotional effort, but the ones that dredge up the past or make me look inside my dead father’s brain are like digging a grave with your own bones.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  • Into Town — A desperately lonely song; nothing at all like my father would have been if he were the one alive and alone instead of my mother.
  • I ♥ You — A totally silly diatribe, to balance it.
  • Good Pair of Jeans — Another fun one, because Poppies refused to come out.
  • Upside Down Smile — A jazzy number for my Best Beloved, which also helped Poppies ruminate in my unconscious.
  • Poppies — Finally, Poppies, which just might be my father talking to me again.