Monday, February 19, 2018

Discovering the Work of Karl Jenkins

This morning, I finished reading the book, Still with the Music by Karl Jenkins with Sam Jackson.
In spite of the fact that Karl Jenkins is apparently quite a popular composer, I’d not heard of him until I heard Benedictus on Classic FM. That led me to google, where I looked him up, discovered that it was from his work, The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace. The first time I listened to that, it did not take long for me to think, ‘This is not what I thought it was. I don’t think I’ll be listening to this again.’ But I decided to listen to it all the way through at least once. The next day I listened again. By then, I loved it. We are now adding much Karl Jenkins to our music collection. I have not listened to all of it yet. Some of what I have listened to speaks to me more than some of his other works.

When I saw that the library had his autobiography, I requested it. I enjoyed reading about the stories behind various works and about his life. I was intrigued by his use of the human voice as an instrument, particularly in his Adiemus series. I have become quite drawn to such music recently. In his case, he draws on his experience with jazz to create 'nonsense' lyrics, which serve to facilitate the voice as instrument. Other of his works have actual text. His wife is also a successful composer and they've collaborated quite a bit while each also working on individual projects. His son is a percussionist and is expert at how to use technology to compose music, so he is also a collaborator.

I love the ways in which his work is cross-cultural, drawing on many influences from all around the world.

 I was fascinated by his creative process and his early, deep, and ongoing attachment to music. It is a fundamental part of who he is. I would have gotten more out of the book if I had some knowledge of music, but even though all I know about music is what I like, I am glad I read the book. In addition to learning about the background of The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace and The Peacemakers, along with works that I have yet to hear, there were a couple of other things that stood out for me. One was his discussion of people who write music criticism. In spite of the fact that his work is very popular among the general public, this is not the case with critics. This made me laugh because Bill and I were, just the other day, commenting on how often it is that we find stuff (music, books, etc) that is ‘critically acclaimed’ to be extremely unappealing.

On Friday evenings, there is a segment on the RTE Radio 1 show, Arena, in which two critics discuss 3 new album releases with the host. Often they do not agree with each other about the quality of the album. This time, with the first album, they did. Bill and I agreed with each other, too. They played an excerpt from one song, which neither of us liked. Then the critics started gushing about it, pausing only so another annoying and unpleasant excerpt could be played. They each gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars, mostly because it ‘was not boring.’ No, it wasn’t boring. It was quite annoying though! No stars from the Burkes! Bill turned off the radio until the show was over.

It was also interesting to read about Classic FM, which is a private radio station based in the UK. They also are widely ridiculed by critics, apparently, but have much higher ratings than BBC3, a similar, publicly funded radio station. We discovered it a couple of years ago when we moved to Moville--since we are on the border with Northern Ireland, it comes in here. There are too many commercials, but I have discovered quite a lot of music that I had not known about before, so I'm glad we found it.

One story that was near the end of the book that I thought was cool was about how, one night in 1997, Jenkins was walking around and saw a painting lit up in an art gallery. He was drawn to it and went to look at it through the window. The next day, he brought his wife to see it. She told him, ‘It looks like your music.’ He bought the painting and developed a friendship with the gallery owner. Eventually, he met the artist. The artist had no idea who had bought the painting, and was surprised when he found out, because he had been painting to the music of Karl Jenkins! I recently watched a short documentary about an artist, Ali Banisadr, in NY, but originally from Iran, who has synesthesia and paints music. Fascinating.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Handmade: Creative Focus in the Age of Distraction by Gary Rogowski

I came across this book a couple of weeks ago while scrolling through the e-book section of the library website. It looked like my kind of thing, so I reserved it and it was available the other day. I downloaded it and started reading. I was hooked from the start. The next day, when I was settled in with my vat of tea expecting to read on, I got a message that the book could not be opened and would have to be downloaded again. I attempted to do this and was informed that the download failed for 'an unknown reason.'  Several attempts throughout the day simply resulted in the same message. The following day I thought I might be in luck because instead of that message, I just had one that said the download had been paused with an option to resume. I was disappointed when tapping the resume button resulted in nothing at all happening. I was resigning myself to simply never finishing the book, which was a shame because I really liked what I'd read up to then. Last night I decided to try one more time and I was in luck. I held my breath as it downloaded again and even opened to the spot where I'd left off. I decided not to push my luck and finished it last night.

The author is a woodworker and furniture maker who lives in Portland, OR. He has taught various classes and written for woodworking publications. He started his adult life as an English major, moving to Oregon to attend Reed College for his last two years of higher education. One of his classes was taught by a professor who felt that students should have a practical understanding of some of the ideas of William Morris and so they were required to build something. That was a turning point in his life.

As the author points out early and often throughout the book, his thoughts about creativity, the creative process, life as an artist, and the trade-offs that choosing a creative life requires, apply to anyone who chooses a creative path, no matter the medium in which they are working. So much of what he said resonated with me.

The book is a combination of memoir, philosophical musing, and a celebration of nature. He tells the reader how he started as a woodworker and how he learned and evolved. He talks about his relationship to his tools and his relationships with people who were important in his life. He is very clear about the role of nature, hiking, walking, and taking time to enjoy these things in his work. Here is how he puts it: 'This is the story of a life given to a craft. I call it memoirable because it talks a bit about how I got here. It is also a discourse on the philosophy of Quality in a life...this book is a pronounced statement about the value of Quality in today's world.' (p 13)

Here are a few passages I liked well enough to jot down. Page numbers are from the e-book as I read it on my device. Other devices or the print book would be paginated differently.

'The cacophony that is the internet keeps us distracted, impatient, anonymous, and searching, but rarely satisfied. When we can see the results of our labor--paring with a chisel, using the needle and thread, creating with paint brush, soldering gun, or pen in hand--there is a different sense of accomplishment. It is a needed blessing in a hurried world to be able to say at the end of a long day, "I did this. Here are the results." It may only be an attempt to create something that feels solid in a world of impermanence, but this kind of progress means something to me in a day. Perhaps to you as well' (p12)

'I believe in the value of Quality, for the maker, the artist, and for the recipient. There is a resonance felt by all who come into contact with it. This idea swims into a cultural current that is strongly set against it, where Quality is currently more of a shapeshifter and less a beacon to steer by. The word is now used as a branding strategy, recalling an imagined better day gone by. yet I believe Quality has value in the life of the maker, for what he or she does to create, and for the recipients and users of this work. There is Quality in the making.' (p 13)

'We are still humans, for all our digitizing of the world. Our needs, our desires, remain the same. We need to use our hands. We love to create. We can become very skilled. How we do this is both personal and universal.' (p14)

I am so glad I was able to finish reading this book! I highly recommend it to anyone who is engaged in art or craft as a way of life or who wants to include more creative activities in their life. The author has some good things to say. I found good food for thought, encouragement, and some timely reminders about why it is I do what I do, and that's always a good thing. The book reminded me that creativity is a way of life. Part of that involves creating things, whether these things are furniture, clothing, meals, books, paintings, jewelry, pots, or whatever. But we also create our lives as we go along and many of us have choices with regard to how we do that. Choose wisely.

Thursday, February 8, 2018


A couple of weeks ago, when the news was full of coverage about the abuse suffered by so many young women on the US gymnastics team, I was feeling sad and outraged, but also so impressed with the strength, dignity, and courage of those women--all of them. Then that night, John Creedon played an obnoxious song on his RTE Radio 1 show and I'd had enough. After I was finished yelling about so many men and their sick feelings of entitlement towards women's bodies, I went upstairs and crawled under the blankets. After putting on some soothing music, I picked up my cross stitch pouch and discovered a needle already threaded with some red thread left from a previous project. I rummaged around and found a scrap piece of aida cloth that was just the right size on which to stitch RESIST, so I did. I felt better.

The next day, I grabbed the last little piece of the black roving with iridescent threads that was in the 'posh scraps' Bill found for me several months ago. I got out my needle felting supplies and stabbed, stabbed, and stabbed some more until I had a nice little circle. Then I sat there with wee bits of fabric and metallic pieces cut from tops picked up at the charity shop and played around with placement and layers on the circle, sewing them on when I had an arrangement I liked. I sewed a jewelry pin on the back and crocheted a border.
As I was making the pin, I knew exactly who needed to have it, so I posted it to my sister-friend in the US. She received it the other day and she loves it. Yay!

I have learned to never underestimate the ability of crochet hooks, needle and thread, and a bit of roving and the needles with which to repeatedly stab it to calm me down, brighten my mood, and generally make me feel better during those moments when negative emotions arise and want to hang around.

Here's hoping that if negative emotions arise  for you today, they don't stick around very long.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

From Frogging to Finished

This afternoon I finished a project that I've been picking up and putting down, starting, ripping out, and starting again, and going back and forth about for a month and a half. As we moved from 2017 into 2018, I was crocheting the first idea with the oyster (off-white) yarn by itself. It wasn't working for me, so I ripped it out and thought some more. I started again with the blue and the oyster held together. I loved the way the colours worked together, but wasn't keen on how the project was going and ripped out again. I'd been working with the yarns (both fingering/sock weight and on cones) held together and did not want to cut them or attempt to separate the strands, so I ripped out and had a big pile on the floor between the cones and the couch for a few days while I made a third attempt, which was very much a 'let's begin and see where this goes' kind of project. Today I saw where it went and I am well pleased.
I started with the two strands held together and 6.5mm (US size 10 1/2) knitting needles, making a simple garter stitch triangle, using the same method as I use to make the first half of a diagonal dishcloth with eyelets--cast on 3 stitches and knit every row, doing a yarn-over after the second stitch of every row. This creates a hole when that yarn-over is knitted on the next row. I kept on until the triangle was as big as I wanted it. I used the oyster by itself and a G crochet hook to do slip stitches and chains in the eyelets. Then I started a border using just the oyster colour, making it up as I went along. Across the top of the triangle, I used half double crochet and did a lacy border on the other two sides. After a few rounds, I slip stitched up the top of the triangle, leaving a space for my head. Then I worked around the sides for a few more rounds. I finished the last round this afternoon and then went and did one more round like the last one around the neck opening.

Here's a closer look at the border:
 I like the slight ruffle it creates.

And this is the front stripe:
As you can see, the garter stitch ridges run vertically on the front. They run horizontally on the back. I suppose I could also wear this sideways, as an asymmetrical garment by wearing it with the strip on a shoulder and down an arm.

However I decide to wear it, I love the colours and the way it ended up. It was worth all that frogging--rip it, rip it, rip it! Sometimes, it just has to be done!

Friday, February 2, 2018

January Books Part 3

Here is the final installment of my January book list. On to a new batch for February! Happy reading!

Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
I had never heard of Barbara Comyns until I read a New York Review of Books email which contained a blurb about their newly reissued publication of her book The Juniper Tree. It sounded good, so I clicked right over to the library website, searched, and found a whole bunch of her books, including The Juniper Tree, which I requested. Also on the list was this one and I was taken with the title, so I requested that too. When they arrived I decided to read this one first. I found out that this is an autobiographical novel based on her first marriage to a young man she met on a train. They were both artists and lived in poverty. She became pregnant rather soon after the marriage and this did not help the relationship. Her husband blamed her and wasn’t keen on anything that would take him away from painting. The book, through the mind of the main character, Sophia, takes the reader through the ups and downs of their relationship with each other and other people, their living situations, and to a lesser extent, their work. In the edition I read, the writer Maggie O’Farrell writes an introduction in which she talks about discovering the author through this book. She was on holiday and browsing in a secondhand bookshop when she picked this book off the shelf. She’d not heard of the author, but it was published by Virago (which publishes books by women, including neglected authors) and she said she always picks up a Virago book when she sees one if it’s one she doesn’t own, so she bought it. She started flipping through it and in a few pages, she was hooked. I could relate--I enjoyed this book a lot and am looking forward to The Juniper Tree. I will also be requesting more of her work.

The Juniper Tree by Barbara Comyns
This is the book that the New York Review of Books has recently re-published and it is when they sent an email about this that I heard of the author. The book is based on the Grimm’s fairy take of the same name, which I am not familiar with, and takes place in 1980s London. Bella is a young woman who has a facial scar from a car accident and an illegitimate daughter. She goes to London in search of a job and meets people who soon become friends. She gets a job and a place to live in an antique shop and becomes very good friends with Gertrude and Bernard, a couple who live in a big house with lovely gardens and a ‘juniper tree,’ which is a particular favourite of Gertrude. She and her daughter spend a lot of time with this couple and at their house. Bella is happy and doing well. Gertrude becomes pregnant, after many years of hope. There is a sense that the two children will grow up together, like siblings. Things do not work out as any of them expect.
Comyns writes in simple, declarative sentences--this happened. That happened. Then this other thing occurred. The story moves along in a pleasant and relaxed manner until gradually some discomfort starts to set in. When one of the major events of the story happens 3/4 of the way through the book, it is dispensed with matter-of-factly and pretty quickly, before things move right along to what feels like a sudden wrapping up. It’s slightly jarring, because things were moving at a pretty languid pace before this. I read this book in a few hours one afternoon, which is just as well, because I was carried along and curious to see how things went for Bella.

Bad Dreams and Other Stories by Tessa Hadley
I’m a big fan of short stories so when I came across this in the e-book section of the library website, I downloaded it. I’d heard of the author but not read any of her work, with the possible exception of a story in an anthology. I enjoyed this book and will be reading more of her work.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton
I picked up this book (published in 2009) at a charity shop. It’s been carried around as we’ve gone from place to place and I decided I needed to either read it and pass it on or skip it and pass it on. I started reading it and ended up reading it in a day. I was surprised because it was not the dry sort of book I expected. The author becomes interested in not only how various sorts of work are done, but in what work does in the lives of the humans who do different kinds of work. I was fascinated in parts and I laughed out loud in others. The book is a combination of observation and interviews and his own philosophical musings. He went to the Maldives to be there when tuna is caught and then followed it back to the UK supermarket and then to a child’s dinner plate because he wanted to understand how such a product moves around the globe and impacts the people involved in getting it from one place to another. He investigates what goes into biscuits--not just the biscuits themselves, but the development, marketing, packaging, etc. He looks at entrepreneurship, aviation, accountancy, career counseling, rocket science, transmission engineering (in this section, I learned that there is something called ‘the pylon appreciation society’), painting, and cargo ship spotting. It sounds pretty boring as it’s listed like that, but he chooses to interact with quirky examples in each category. In the chapter about painting, he hangs out with a man who started painting one oak tree over and over after his girlfriend died. He was out there in all weather, painting the tree in different ways from different perspectives.Eventually, he had a show of this work and the author talked to a woman who bought one of these works to hang in her home and she talked about what it means to her. The final part of the chapter tells the reader that the painter’s next project will be a river. He asks the author, ‘Have you ever noticed water? Properly noticed it, I mean--as if you had never seen it before?’

Thursday, February 1, 2018

January Books Part 2

Here's part two of the January book lists. Links to lists from previous months and blog posts about individual books can be found at the books page.

Blood Lines: Short and Long Stories by Ruth Rendell
This is a collection of stories, including one novella. I like Ruth Rendell and it seems she is popular in Ireland, since we’ve collected a decent collection of her books from various charity shops.

Murder in My Backyard by Ann Cleeves
Having completed the Palmer-Jones series, I decided to check out another series by the same author. These books were published around the same time as the Palmer-Jones series and are also out of print, except for the e-books. These feature Inspector Ramsey, who, in this first book, is moving into a cottage that is located in a small Northumbrian village, having been divorced from his wife. He has faced some difficulty in that village before, but we don’t learn what it was--maybe in a later book.
In this book, a developer has tricked an older woman, Alice, into selling him some land that he wants to build posh houses on. People in the village are angry. Alice tries to get the developer to agree to sell the land back to her. He refuses. She stops at the local pub after their discussion and then heads for home. She doesn’t make it. In the course of the investigation, secrets are revealed, relationships tested, and corruption discovered.

A Lesson in Dying by Ann Cleeves
Turns out that THIS is actually the first one in the Inspector Ramsay series, not the one above. The difficulties he faced that were mentioned in that book, which I read thinking it was the first (it was actually the second) are what make up the storyline of this book. The head teacher at the local school is hated by everyone, so no one is really bothered when he ends up dead on the night of the Hallowe’en party. His wife is especially untroubled, except that she is the suspect and is quickly arrested. One person in particular is convinced of her innocence and starts investigating with the intent to prove it. Things go on from there.

The Art of Fiction by David Lodge
This is not a book about how to write fiction, but is a collection of the author’s (revised and expanded) newspaper columns about various aspects of fiction, using the work of several authors as examples. The original versions of these appeared in The Independent on Sunday and the Washington Post. His ‘sections’ as he calls them are each about some aspect of the novel. These range widely and include such things as magical realism, the uses of the telephone in fiction, endings, chapters, the uncanny, and many more. Each section begins with a quote from a novel, which he then usues to illustrate and explain the topic he is writing about. He draws on work ranging from the 1700s to the 1980s. I’d picked this book up and started it a couple of years ago and ended up putting it back on the shelf. I considered passing it on to the charity shop, but decided to keep it. When I picked it up this time, I was either going to read it or get rid of it. This must’ve been the right moment, because I quite enjoyed it this time and am glad I kept it. Now that I’ve read and liked it, it will go to either the wee free library or a charity shop.

Stitch Stories: Personal Places, Spaces, and Traces in Textile Art by Cas Holmes
I loved this book! In the first place, the covers are fabric of a slightly fuzzy kind, so it is a nice book to hold. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I requested the book, but decided that even if it was mostly description and instruction for techniques I would never be interested in trying, the pictures would be fun to look at. I was happily surprised. The pictures are indeed fun to look at and I had a wonderful time looking at the work collected in this book. There was a little bit of technique in the book that I skipped past, since none of it involved anything I wanted to do. In spite of that, I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s descriptions of how she works and her short presentations of the work of various other artists in words and pictures. I love reading about people’s creative processes and this book is full of that. My favourite chapter, of course, was the one on hand stitching. As a hand stitcher myself, and one who uses repurposed materials as much as possible, I was quite taken with the thoughts of other people who work the same way and of the descriptions of traditional methods of hand stitching repurposed fabrics to mend clothing and household items. I also made good use of the bibliography and requested a couple more books from the library.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January Books Part 1

Well, January seemed to fly right by. I was pleased to have some actual winter during the month and am enjoying it while I can. Gives me a chance to practice being in the moment and not anticipating what is ahead. I am not very good at that, but getting better!

As always, whatever I feel like, books are there to enrich my life. Here is part one of January's pile.

Watermelon by Marian Keyes
I ended last month (and year!) trying out a Marian Keyes book after overlooking them for a few years. Hearing feminist Irish writers talk about her in glowing terms and pointing out that she is an author who tackles serious issues while at the same time telling a good story encouraged me to give them a chance. She also includes humour in her books, even as they involve difficult situations.  I decided to try a book at the end of December and liked it. I began this month (and year) with this book. It is the first book that revolves around a member of the Walsh family--this time, Claire. I am not sure the books are a series, exactly, and each one seems to be primarily about a different family member, but I decided to read them in order, even though I have no idea whether it makes a difference. In this book, Claire is living in London and has just given birth to her daughter. Her husband, who is the girl’s father, comes to the hospital and announces that he has been having an affair for the past 6 months and is leaving Claire and the baby to set up house with the other woman, who is a downstairs neighbour. Claire has 5 or 6 months of maternity leave, so she brings the baby back to her own childhood home in Dublin, where her parents and sisters help her through early stages of this crisis. She begins to get back on her feet and move on with her life. It’s a very different Claire who meets the husband when he arrives in Dublin wanting to discuss things.
I liked this book, although I didn’t find it as funny as Last Chance Saloon, the book I read before this one. I still laughed out loud in places, though. I had planned to move right into the next Walsh book, but at 600+ pages apiece, it seems like a lot of time to spend all in one go, so I decided to take a wee break from them and read some other stuff first. I’ll get back to the Walsh family later.

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme
This book has been on our bookshelf for a couple of years and I decided it was time to read it and pass it on. I was not sure I would even like it, since fussy cooking of any sort is not really my thing--I prefer to keep things simple. Turns out I did like it. What I enjoyed about the book was her descriptions of how she adapted to living in a culture different from her own and how she discovered her passion in life when she was nearing 40. I am always interested in stories about how people discover their creativity and how it manifests in their life. Creative evolution is so personal and so different for each person. I had fun reading about how it played out for her with food. The book was based on letters she had sent to people from France. She’d always talked about writing such a book ‘one day’ and her nephew offered to help several times, but she always turned him down. When she ws in her 90s, though, she agreed, and this is the result.

The Mill on the Shore by Ann Cleeves
The other day, I remembered that I had two books left in this author’s series of books about the older married couple who had set up a private enquiry agency. He is a retired Home Office chap and avid bird watcher and she is a retired social worker. I’ve enjoyed the other books in the series. They are all out of print, but available as e-books, so I went to the e-book section of the library website and found the last two, borrowed the, downloaded them, and read this one. It had less bird watching in it than previous books in the series, but there was a conservation storyline. George is contacted by the widow of an old friend who recently died by suicide. But was it suicide? George and Molly go to find out.

High Island Blues by Ann Cleeves
This is the final book in the Palmer-Jones series as described above. I wondered whether there would be some sort of conclusion to the series included in the plotline, but there wasn’t. There were a few allusions to age and how George and Molly are not as young as they used to be, but nothing more than that. I’d started to wonder if they would decide to end their private enquiry business or something. This book was a bit different from the others in that most of the story takes place in Texas. Three British men were friends in their youth and had taken a bird watching trip there when they were in their late teens or eary 20s. They’d agreed to do a reuinion trip 20 years hence, so that is why they were in Texas again. One of them meets his end and another is a suspect. The latter calls George Palmer-Jones for help. George goes to Texas and Molly does some investigating closer to home. After I read this book, I came across a comment by the author about the series in which she talked about how, looking back at the books now, she sees their shortcomings, the good points, and how her writing has improved.

I hope you've had many good reads during January, too!