On the wall

I told my mother, that I wouldn’t feel any sense of accomplishment until the paper was framed and on the wall. Now, it’s something bittersweet. The culmination of years of work, hard work, comes down to the attainment of a piece of paper – the diploma. I picked up my diploma from the admissions office on Monday. I had a smile on my face and apparently my happiness showed because an older lady who works in the office said, “Congratulations” as she walked by. I do have something to be proud of. I actually reached not only one, but two of my goals – graduating with honors and graduating with my bachelors degree. I could not be happier.

Framed and on the wall
Framed and on the wall

Yes, the road has been long and hard; however, I have not backed down. I kept going and kept pushing myself. I know what I can do and I’m eager to keep going, to keep learning and broadening my horizons.

I’m looking at taking the GRE some time in March, after taking a three day workshop next month. I’m looking into school all over the country (and in Canada.) I have only one problem, many of them offer just straight MA programs in English, and I don’t want to go the traditional English route. More searching and scouring, that’s okay though.

I’m still looking for jobs, still looking for something meaningful to do. My searching reminds me of that song from the musical Avenue Q, “What do you do with a BA in English” it’s life imitating art. I didn’t think I would be asking the same question, and yet here I am doing just that. That’s okay, I have the support of friends, family and a wonderful boyfriend who has supported me and helped me to this milestone.

Upcoming things

I’ve been away for a while, I apologize.

I’ve had a lot of things come up here of late, so I’ve been neglecting my blog.

Here’s what I’ve got going on in my life:

  • October 7: Orientation (Amazon) 7:00 to 3:00p.m.
  • October 11: BARBRA STREISAND: Back to Brooklyn 7:00p.m.
  • October 20: First day of work

I’m also doing research on two term papers that are due the 23rd and 1st of November.

First, I’m doing research for my formal essay in Grammar class. I’d like to talk about comma splices, and the difficulties some people have with proofreading their own work.

But as I’m doing my research, I’ve come a bitter understanding: I suck at English. I suck at writing grammatical sentences. I’ve even started to question why I majored in English in the first place.

It annoys me, angers me, and pisses me off when I see friends of mine excelling at academic writing. I have never been able to write an error free paper; although, I have tried over the past 5 years to educate myself on my own grammar pitfalls. Nothing ever seems to stick.

I had a grammar exam tuesday and I don’t know the results until next week.

I feel so lost right now.

Editing

I understand that if I ever want to take my writing seriously, I must learn how to proofread and edit. Recently, I came across a website called “grammarly” where supposedly it helps you edit documents etc.

I’m curious about it, very curious indeed.
I need help with my writing. I don’t feel like I’m very good at it, and that truly bothers me.

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Reading

So I’ve been reading Cleo Laine’s memoir simply titled Cleo rather voraciously over the past few days. I love Cleo Laine’s albums and her voice is complete wonder. I love the interesting comparisons and contrasts between her story and the memoir of another Briton, Julie Andrews and her own story Home: A Memoir of my Early Years which was published in 2008.

I love reading about the lives of others, especially artists I’ve grown to know a love. Cleo’s autobiography is no exception. I must thank her for introducing me to knew words like: salubrious and pied a terre.

The only thing is is that she totally glosses over “Shakespeare and All That Jazz” the best-selling album that she did with her late husband Sir John Dankworth in 1964, and how the album came to fruition.

I’m also intrigued by her appearance in Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht’s ballet-opera The Seven Deadly Sins at the Edinburgh Festival in 1961. Why was that not recorded for posterity?

I’m bussing with questions about what I’ve been reading about Cleo Laine. Regardless her marriage to John Dankworth was a match in Modern Jazz heaven.

More Later

The Reluctant Blogger

I don’t blog as much as I should or would like to. One reason is because not enough goes on in my life to warrant blogging everyday. Yes I’m a college senior, and yes I’m looking for a job – but does that warrant blogging about all of life’s ups and downs? I don’t think so. Another reason why I don’t blog much is because I’m afraid to. I hesitate in blogging because in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “Oh god, someone is critiquing my grammar, and I’m supposed to be an English major.” (Aren’t people studying English supposed to write well?) I could always throw caution to the wind and make all sorts of grammatical errors and mistakes. Trouble is, I want to improve my  English and make less mistakes. I’ve never turned in a paper that didn’t have comma splices or sentence fragments. I know it takes time to improve technique, but I’m impatient. I want to be a writer when I “grow up” and I’m even considering going after a Masters Degree in English, but am I truly ready for it?!

I’m due to graduate in December and I’m highly considering taking the GRE. Yet I’m stopped by my own fears and concerns that I’m not academically up to snuff. Although I am excited for my last semester, (I’m taking a lot of cool classes that I truly am looking forward to,) again I am not too thrilled with ending my undergrad career with all of these questions about my future.

On a brighter note, I had my prescreen interview with Amazon.com Friday afternoon. I was nervous about it,  having never previously experienced a telephone interview. It went really well and I’m pretty sure I answered all the questions appropriately, if I had not I’m sure the lady I talked to wouldn’t have bothered asking for my “proof of education.”  Still I applied for a warehouse job, meaning I would be on my feet for more than eight hours a day walking upwards of five to ten miles daily, not to mention lifting 30 pounds or more. I’ve done my research and the pay is comparable to what I made during my summer job two years ago. 11.50 an hour with the possibility of being hired as a full-time Amazon employee (after a probationary period). Honestly, I’m really excited about the prospect of getting this job. I really want to work. I remember when I was in high school, my grandparents wanted me to get a job, and I dodged the idea left and right. All these years later with the economy still in the toilet and nearing graduation, I regret my actions all those years ago. I should already have a job that I’m successful at. No use crying over spilt milk, but the sting of my decision still smarts.

This week marks the end of my Spanish 2020 summer course. If I complete the final successfully (not if but when) this thursday, I will put my foreign language requirement to bed. After more than two years, I’m anxious in being rid of this Spanish monkey on my back. Today will be spent doing flashcards and ensuring I know the vocabulary and the grammar. It’s been a wild ride, but one I will be happy to see end.

July will see me back on campus taking a poetry writing course, so I will not have a chance to take a breath before the fall semester starts in August. That’s okay though, I had a break in May between the spring and fall semesters.

I still hope to make a dent in the backlog of books I have in my room. I have so many books I’ve either purchased or received as gifts that I’ve not been able to either start or finish.

To be honest, there’s a lot on my “to do” list but will I have time to do all the things I want to?! Who knows.

First things first though, must get a start on those Spanish flashcards.

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To London, With Love – Part One

Photo Credit: CK '10
Rude Britannia Exhibit – Tate Modern (London, July 2010)

Anyone who knows me, and I do mean anyone who knows me, understands that I am a confirmed Anglophile. An ‘anglophile’ meaning: one who loves everything to do with British culture and life. My blood runs red, white and blue for two countries – the United States and of course for Great Britain. Over the course of many years (and many semesters in college,) I have read and studied everything from British fashion, British music, British history to British literature and British Pop Culture. In my mind, I’m a bit of a quasi duel citizen. I’ve often wondered the wherefore of people becoming philes. What is the spark, the flint, that lights the fire of that “intitial element” (according to dictionary.com) which roars to life into almost obsessive love and enthusiasm? For some it may be an experience – like perhaps watching a movie, or visiting a country.

For me though the love started with two toys. My grandparents are globe trotters, there isn’t a place they haven’t been or a continent they’ve not visited. For their 40th Wedding anniversary in August, 1997, they announced that they would take a trip to London, England. As a child, I was always fascinated with their stories and pictures of far off places, and my fascination was goaded by the occasional gift of a t-shirt, trinket, or toy. My grandparents always announced their trips to the family, it was a big deal when I was a kid! Today it’s something of a tradition, so that the children, grandkids and pets can live vicariously, albeit jealously, with them on the trip, via postcards and of course – gifts. I cannot tell you the postcards I have kept over the years, I even have a coconut that my grandparents shipped from Hawaii when I was five years old, talk about a special delivery, not to mention a conversation piece.

When the family would visit with my grandparents for any occasion or holiday, my grandfather would delight us all with his customary homemade videos of their vacation. Shots of great buildings, spectacular vistas, and of course about two minutes of his feet (when he forgot to stop camera.) Seeing these videos and hearing his knowledge of various cities and their history filled with me awe and wonder. So when they announced  that they were celebrating their anniversary in England, I was excited for them – and I wasn’t even going on the trip.

Well as luck would have it, they did go to London. My grandfather made his vacation video and I got three gifts that year. A sweatshirt from Paris and two toys I still hold very dear to my heart: a double-decker red bus that has a sticker emblazoned with the union jack flag and “London”  in white letters on the both sides, and a Bobbie whistle. I was hooked. I blew my whistle and with some education from the adults, learned that the whistle was used by British policemen. What a joyously annoying sound that whistle makes all these years later.

Britain was  on the minds of millions around the world in August 1997 when Princess Diana was killed in Paris. (My grandparents returned home from London just days prior to her death.) I remember watching the funeral service on the television, not really knowing anything about Princess Diana or her impact on the world stage. Photographs of the late Princess were everywhere. Her visage was on the television, her name was on the radio, in books, in magazines, in the paper. Britain was front and center, and sadly not in a good way. I remember hearing the music from the funeral service and being swept away. “I vow to thee my country” was wonderful as was “The Prayer of St. Francis.” It goes without saying that Sir Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” was perhaps the most moving moment in the whole service.  From that moment forward, I wanted to see Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben – I wanted to be in London.

Piccadilly Circus at Night
Piccadilly Circus (July, 2010)

As I got older, I realized that a lot of the cultural stuff I loved was from Britain, even some of the people I loved (i.e. Julie Andrews) were British. A prime example of an introduction of British culture was through Broadway show tunes. I grew up listening to show tunes (well before I knew I was a homosexual,) my grandfather is major musical theater buff – almost guru like, and his adoration of Broadway and theatre in general has been passed down from generation to generation. Over the course of time I learned the musicals: CATS and The Phantom of the Opera were British and written by a Briton. It would be another 13 years before I would say hello to Great Britain, but my imagination and fascination with all things Britain didn’t just stop with Princess Diana’s death. No. I became fascinated with The Royal Family and British television. Thanks to PBS, I was introduced to the zany 1970s and 80’s British sitcom Are You Being Served? when I was thirteen. Perfect timing too, as my teenage years were not a cup of tea at all.  Funny, over the years bits and pieces of Britain (culture and otherwise) have been infiltrating my life without me  being really aware of it.

2005 was a landmark year in many ways for me. For starters I was a junior in high school, finally coming to terms with my own self-identity and the summer of my junior year also afforded me a chance to go abroad. I had been abroad before with my parents, but this time I would be going with the People-to-People Student Ambassador Program. I’m still not exactly sure what I was supposed to be an Ambassador of at the time. George II (H.W.) was President, and the U.S. was few years into the war in Afghanistan.  For two and a half weeks, I toured Western europe. Taking in the sites, the sounds and the glories of the old world. Europe was so beautiful, everything was a postcard. I didn’t want to leave, but sadly I had to. An interesting aspect of the journey was my visit to Paris. There were all sorts of posters and banners across the city of love proclaiming Paris as a “Candidate City” for the 2012 Olympic bid. The parisians pulled out all the stops to impress tourists – the city of love had a chance at hosting the games! I might have been in Paris, but a little touch of British cultural history wasn’t too far off. After a memorable visit to the Eiffel Tower, it came time for the group to retire (by bus) to our hotel, and to get there we had to go through the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel (the same one Princess Diana went through upon her death,) our tour guide announced we were approaching the tunnel and a hush filled the tour bus. For the briefest of moments, there was silence as the bus gilded past white columns, surrounded by rush hour traffic. No one said a word until after we exited the tunnel. “There are no marks, no plaques designating where she died,” a student said. “No,” our guide replied, “People have put up their tributes outside the tunnel.”

I returned home on June 30th exhausted, but filled with all sorts of great stories and pictures from my trip. A few days later Britain was in the news again. This time, the headlines were upbeat. London had won the olympic bid. The city that had welcomed Romans, Jutes, Saxons, Angles, William of Normandy and the same city that defeated Hitler would host the 2012 summer games. I remember watching news reports, seeing thousands of people cheering in Trafalger Square, thinking “Something bad is going to happen. Someone will want to ruin all that happiness.” Indeed someone or rather, people did – the bombings of July 7, 2005 rocked the world. Yet the Blitz Spirit that saved Britain during World War II came to the fore and a nation banded together to stare down terrorism. If Hitler couldn’t defeat England, terrorists didn’t have a chance.

Barbra: Reflections

Music is speaks to every part of the body. It speaks to ones soul, it has healing qualities and can transform lives. Barbra Streisand is an artist that is so cathartic to me. Her musical genius is nothing short of inspirational. I remember the first time I saw Barbra, it was watching a really old VHS tape of Funny Girl. Everything about that film amazed me. The music, the story, the colors, the sets, the costumes – it all fascinated me. What thrilled me most was Barbra’s voice. I remember I was about 4 or 5 when I first saw the film and I was hooked.

As a child, I remember staying at home a lot with my mother. I would take naps in my bedroom, and mother would clean the house and turn on the stereo in the living room. To make the cleaning go faster, she would crank up the music and sing along to it. I wasn’t sure what I enjoyed more – my mother singing or the music playing in the background. One of the first Barbra Streisand albums I can remember hearing is “The Broadway Album.” Everything about the album at the time fascinated me. I often asked my mother to repeat the album, over and over and over again. Every song was wonderful, Barbra’s voice took me to far off places, and introduced to so many different characters. I learned about musical theatre thanks in part to that album.

“The Broadway Album” became an irrevocable part of my life. Every song seemed tailor made for some aspect of my life. I would ask my mother, “How did they do that?” (talking about an aspect of the production of a certain song) or “Why does Barbra sing this note?” I remember asking my piano teacher when I was 7 years old, if she would teach me songs from the album. By this time I was picking out tunes by ear, trying in some way to get everything I heard onto my tiny keyboard. I wanted to recreate the space-age atmosphere in “Somewhere,” and play the business driven anthem “Putting it Together” and I was just seven years old!

I’ve written about this album before, and I have no issue with returning to it because it’s made such an impact on my life. As I wrote in a old blog post, “Music, for me, has always been cathartic. When ever I’m down or depressed, I turn to it. When I was twelve, my life was in true turmoil. There were issues at home, my sister had just joined the Navy and my school life was complete torment. Music saved me. The ability to play music and express myself at the piano transformed my pain and anguish. I was liberated. I relished in the ability to get lost in music, to listen to it, to play it, for it was always there.” I still believe that, even today.

These days, I’m more fascinated with how music is created: how albums are arranged, orchestrated. How arrangers go about figuring out the instrumentation for a certain piece of music. A good example of this fascination is with a certain song performed by Barbra Streisand. “Putting it Together” by Stephen Sondheim was written by the composer/lyricist for his 1984 musical “Sunday in the Park with George.”

The song details the difficult struggle between art and business and has the unique stylistic features that are so indicative of a Sondheim composition. My fascination is not with the vocals of Streisand, but the arrangement specifically recorded by the artist in 1985. Peter Matz (who arranged the first three albums by Streisand in the early 1960′s) is arranger/conductor on “The Broadway Album” and his vision for the first cut of the album has always amazed me. The beauty of it, the style, the use of synthesizer, orchestra, percussion all come together in a cohesive piece. (I love synthesizers, don’t ask me why) What I find even more interesting is how different the track is from the HBO Special Putting it Together: Making The Broadway (1986) when Barbra actually does a take of the song complete with orchestra and the commentary by David Geffin, Ken Sylk and the late Sydney Pollack, versus the one on the final release of the album.

All the aspects of a music: ideas, formulation, instrumentation and arrangement I have always been keenly aware of. With certain singers or pieces of music, that awareness is heightened and my “Why” and “How does that happen” kick in. I always want to know how and why. Especially in music. How does something make a certain sound? How can you color a certain song with a different arrangement? What does an arranger zero in on when formulating a chart of music?

My freak adoration of music has perplexed me for so long, I even wanted to make it part of my academic career. When I was first at MTSU and in the honors college, I was told I could do my Honors Thesis on anything I could think of, pending approval. I immediately thought “Music.” Wild ideas chased each other around my head: Could I ask Columbia to examine the master tapes of Streisand’s 1985 sessions? Are there instrumental tracks without Barbra’s vocals mixed in? I envisioned myself doing a 70-150 page examination of how orchestrators, past and present created music for the entertainment icon. Sadly, that never came to pass. I still have tons of questions I’d love to ask Streisand and her “team.” To add insult to injury, David Foster, (who produced “Somewhere” on the album) also created a duet for the young soprano, Jackie Evancho for her debut album “Dream with Me.” The duet between Streisand and Evancho uses 1985 outtakes of “Somewhere,” further fueling obsession.