absolutely electric


In my most powerful moments
when lightning flashes outward from my fingers, toes, and eyes
and I float evenly in the center
kept aloft in the night sky
seeing over every horizon
in those moments, I am
I rise higher, willfully
with clouds at my feet
absolutely electric
in time
I grow chilled
and lonely
and weary of the winds and jets and birds
and I return
to mud, to dirt
to safe holes in familiar glens
to roots and dust
to burrowing aphids
to warm damp subterranean space
and there, safe, I dig my toes into the soil
and I sing into the darkness
hearing the life forms plodding on the ground above me.
they have no idea I’m here
not until I’m ready
for the sun and song of the surface.

Sing out loud, sing out strong


I’ve always loved singing. My Mom wrote a cantata when I was an infant, something she worked on for a few years, about the life of Jesus Christ. When I grew older, she told me the story of how she was rocking me to sleep one night and the melody for a lullaby came into her mind. She pictured Mary rocking the Christ-child, and the ways in which a mother watches a son grow over the years.

Rock your little son, Mary. Kiss your precious one, Mary. Hold him closely now, Mary, Mary, mother of a King.

Watch him grow now, Mary. Let him go now, Mary. He must know now, Mary, what it means to be a King.

Written for a high soprano with a beautiful piano arrangement behind it, I grew up believing this was my song, Mary’s Lullaby, the one written for me. And though I am no longer Christian, still I sang this sang this song to my sons as I rocked them to sleep in their early years, and still I sing it to them now when, at ages six and four, the climb on top of me, cuddling tight as they prepare for bed, one of my three favorite songs to sing to them. (Note: I am definitely not a high soprano).

My sons are the only ones who hear me sing nowadays. Maybe an occasional friend as I sing along with the lyrics of the song on the radio, oblivious to botched lyrics and harmonizing, something I’ve done with music since I was a child. I have a jukebox of a brain. An errant word, a feeling, a scent memory, and suddenly a song is playing in my brain, often exiting my lips unbidden. Back in college, when I did improv comedy, we played a warm up game called Hot Box; someone would begin singing a song, any song, in the center of the circle, and someone else would tag them out and begin singing another song that was inspired by the first one, and on and on until the game was over; we could begin with Battle Hymn of the Republic and end with Macy Grey. This is how my brain processes music most of the time.

I’m not much of a shower singer. In the car, that’s another story. I can blast an old familiar CD from my book, songs filled with nostalgia and memory, and sing every word and every tune. I harmonize with the vocalists, drum my fingers on the steering wheel, and bop my head back and forth to Gorillaz; I sit and soak in my own feelings, tearing up or clenching my teeth to Damien Rice; I ululate and syncopate with Tori Amos.

But it has been a long time since I have sung in a crowd, loving it, feeling confident and inspiring emotion. I was 7 the first time I sang a solo in church, a small little number for the people in my congregation, and I remember the feeling of pride I got when I got the words right and saw the people smiling back at me. At age 11, I tried out for the community production of Oliver, hoping for a supporting chorus role, and got the lead; I sang in front of hundreds during performances, my pure soprano voice asking Where is Love over and over again. After the awkward years of voice changes, I dropped to a high tenor, then a low tenor, and eventually a baritone, but I kept my pitch and I loved music.

I sang all through high school, in the choirs at school and church. I tried out for several plays, in the school and in the community, and had chances to sing as characters, loving the experience every time. In college, I sang my heart out. I joined the Mens’ Choir, traveling the region to sing in performances; I sang on stage in musical theater productions; I even started an A cappella group and made a little CD.

Around the time I turned 23, something changed. I threw myself into school, then work, then my marriage, all in efforts to implement major changes in my life, and I lost my voice along the way.

And now I’m 36, and it’s a Sunday night, and I’m out in a club with my best friend, Cole. We’ve both had a drink and decided to go out to the local club, and I’m determined to sing a karaoke song tonight because it has been far too long since I have sang in front of people, far too long since I have had anyone to sing for.

There are only ten people in the club, and no one is looking at anyone else. The karaoke man sings a song, then the bartender. I try convincing a few folks to sing with me, but no one wants to, and I’m determined to do it. I screw my courage to the sticking place, choose a song, and put my name on the list. This is it.

Except they call an older man up next, and his rendition of Honestly I Love You, a sad downer of a song by Olivia Newton John, in a bar on a Sunday night, as he moves his left foot out a step then back, then his right foot and back, and his off-key flat monotone and I drift off.

I will myself awake as they call out the next performer, who sits on the stage to perform Jewel’s You Were Meant For Me, her ballcap pulled down over her eyes, her voice a strange feminine baritone, off-key. She seems to be singing to her girlfriend at the table, who I gather dated the karaoke guy a few months before based on the errant glances he keeps stealing.

And finally it’s my turn. I’m confident, with butterflies, as I walk to the stage, prepared to sing a song I can rock out in my car like nobody’s business. I take a seat on the stage and survey my crowd: the karaoke guy, the bartender, the two lesbians, and Kole, who is looking up at me encouragingly like a best friend should. The music starts, and it is about four keys lower than my recorded version is. The irony that I’m singing Uninvited by Alanis Morissette dons on me now.

Like anyone would be, I am flattered by your fascination with me.

I’m out of my range. No one is looking up. And I suddenly want nothing more than to be making my exit from the stage.

The song blissfully ends after three gruelingly long minutes, and the karaoke guy callously thanks me before walking up to do another number himself, because ain’t nobody else there.

As I leave, I think how much I want to be performing again, and then think maybe it is just a matter of having the right audience as I picture a night a few months ago when my six year old gave me a huge hug on his way to bed.

“Thanks, daddy, for singing to us tonight. I love your voice. Good night.”

The Misogynistic Merry Widow


The colors were astounding.

As Lolo, Dodo, Jou-jou, Clo-clo, Margot, and Frou-frou exposed their ankles, lifted their frilly skirts, shook their bosoms, and danced gaily around the stage, I was most astounded by the colors of the set. At the evening performance of the Merry Widow, an opera with a full symphony, I sat in the center balcony absorbing the music and color, the very spectacle of the impressive show.

I tend to rate productions in multiple categories, my internal critic going down the checklist. It makes it easier for me to sort it out. A movie, for example, may be brilliantly filmed yet have terrible actors, or may have beautiful imagery and a terrible story.

I surveyed the Merry Widow carefully. The costumes and sets were stunning. The actors were top notch, selling their characters with full commitment, silliness and seriousness, lust and love, and I had laughed out loud many times. The vocal performances and the symphony took my breath and raised gooseflesh on my arms and neck; a few of the soft high notes in the operatic solos left me gasping, my hand on my heart in pure fulfillment. And the show itself, written over a hundred years ago, was, frankly, hilarious and relevant, for the most part. This was a top-notch production, and I was having a blast.

I sat next to my colleague and friend, Kara, and we made comments throughout the show, poking fun at the roles of the women in the show. It was written in a different time, when women were seen as acquisitions, annoyances, or trophies. So when Valencienne sings about being a virtuous wife even as she cheats on her husband, it’s easy to smile and laugh. And when the dancing girls strut about the stage, singing of how they can woo married men away from their wives, it was easy to laugh.

But I had to grimace in discomfort when a group of male characters sang about women in politics, and how men generously gave them the right to vote yet women still grew discontent and had opinions. I still laughed, but I grew a bit more uncomfortable.

And then came the song about women directly. A group of male characters (all hilarious) step on the stage to discuss the problem of women in their lives.

“It’s a problem how to manage willful women when the bloom of youth is gone”, one sings. Then, in song, the men pontificate on all of the different ways women can be impossible. One likes fashion too much, another is too focused on romance, another is too moody and inconsistent, another frigid and opinionated. After they finish classifying the women in derogatory categories, the men decide, as a group, that they can never do enough to possibly satisfy a woman, but that women have enough assets to be worth the aggravation.

The production ends when (warning: 100 year old spoilers!) the wealthy widow, Hanna Glawari, who has an untold fortune left to her by her deceased husband, finds true love with Danilo Danilovitsch, a whiny drunkard statesman who has spent the entire production espousing his philosophy of making love to many, proposing to some, but marrying none. And although Danilo likes Lolo, Dodo, Jou-jou, Clo-clo, Margot, and Frou-frou all very much, he decides to marry the widow. But wait! The dead husband’s will states Margot loses her entire fortune if she marries another. Oh well, they will marry anyway, because she needs to be with a man more than she needs riches.

Kara turned to me, shock on her face. “Wait. Why couldn’t they have just lived together and shared the money?”

We shared a good laugh as we walked out of the show, delighted with the production and yet disgusted with the utter patriarchy of it all. “Wow, that was awfully… misogynistic.” I said. My mind raced to early Disney movie productions, where each princess finds love in the arms of a man before her destiny is fulfilled and happy ending written. More modern Disney productions feature women a bit more liberated and complex.

Then I thought of watching the old 1950s musical movie, Gigi, with friends a few weeks ago, when Maurice Chevalier, then an older man with a cane, walks around a promenade looking at little girls and singing about how they will all grow up to be beautiful and complicated women.

I wonder how many songs have been written over the years about how aggravating, impossible, and difficult women are, only to decide in the end that they are beautiful enough to be worth it. There must be dozens.

Kara and I had a good laugh, then headed our respective ways. Later, I told a friend about the production.

“How did you like it?” he asked.

I smiled, the music still playing in my head. “It was fantastic, but perhaps slightly mistitled. Maybe they should call it the Misogynistic Merry Widow.