Art Is What You Make It

I got a lot done today, though I feel as if I did nothing but play. My new logo is finished, it’ll also be my next album cover. Here’s a t-shirt I made today to play with concepts:

ImageMy partner was instrumental in this. She took a rough sketch I made and turned it into art. I traced her finished product to make the shirt. Carbon paper is a beautiful thing. I did the letters in Word and printed the text on thick paper so I could cut a stencil. Carbon paper doesn’t work on thick leather, and this project was originally another sign. She’s now going to take the finished idea and turn it into my next album cover.

My partner is a graphic artist–I know just how lucky I am to have her around. I can trace and paint and sew, but I can’t draw to save my life. She also has mad computer skills, and she redid my first album cover from the cassette j card (which she also made) to a CD wallet. Now all I have to do, besides get the things printed, is find someone who can take my old digital audio tape master and turn it into a CD.

Tomorrow, back to the transit stations.


Three Drops of Honey For Three Drops of Blood

Three Drops of Honey for Three Drops of Blood

My eyes stare up at the blue of the sky
My blood runs over the rock
My life was mine to live
I took my part of it with me

Three colors I could love in a man
Snow white, night black and crimson red
I dreamt of him till he came to me
I took his hand and stole us away

Mine was the cry that struck
Fear in the men of Ulster
I screamed from my mother’s womb
My life was bounded by that shriek.

Only Conchobor’s women
Raised me to womanhood
I was claimed by a king
Before I was even born

But I made my choice
Uisliu the finest man I’d seen
Then the chase began
Across the isles we ran like deer

Those were the days of the life I chose
My bonny man my heart’s delight
Running made life sweet
For the king would never give me up

Three birds came to us,
beaks all smeared with honey sweet
They flew away with drops of our blood
And we to Ireland returned

Battle to Ulster came,
My beautiful lover lay in his blood
Just as the druid said
My life the coin that bought their lives

I was the king’s again
Rolling away from the bloody field
Littered with Ulster’s pride
I leapt from the chariot

My eyes stare up at the blue of the sky
My blood runs over the rock
My life was mine to live
I took my part of it with me


An embryonic song. I have tried to write Deirdriu’s side of the story for over twenty years. A look at an article from 1913 gave me the image that opened the conduit.

I understand, I really do. After all Deirdriu went through, after all the choices that were made for her, I can understand why she simply wouldn’t care what anyone else thought about her story. She lived her whole life on someone else’s terms. When she finally made her own choice, she never had a place to lay her head two nights in a row. She had the sense to stay away from Ireland, but her boyfriend didn’t. Why should she want anything but peace once it was over?

She has it, I hope, but we need to understand her story, for all the women whose choices are made for them. May I eventually tell it to her satisfaction, in song.

Bare Voiced Busking

The first time was like shouting into the wind. I felt invisible and unheard and I did stupid things. My hands were empty, would anyone listen to me without my drum? I lasted half an hour before my voice began to break. My tips were about what they would have been with the drum. I was catching ears, getting compliments, even during rush hour in a space people run past on their way to everywhere.

I know better. Acoustically I was in one of the best spots in the system. All I had to do was sing to the opposite wall, not ten feet away. We all do these things, we let little things throw us off balance and we work against ourselves.

This injury is akin to a final exam from the Universe, or that’s the way I’m going to look at it, anyway. It means it’s time to take my craft to the next level. I’m much more dependent on the drum than I realized, and it’s time to see how far I can go without it. It’s time for my art to be carried on the breath, my voice, and it’s past time to get my tinwhistle skills back into shape.

The next times were much easier. I tried out several spots, and so had some basis for comparison. I can still play most of the spots I used before. My take is about the same as it ever was, the only real issue is adding in repertoire. That is only a matter of time and practice. The list grows every time. Oddly enough, a lot of the songs I thought absolutely required a drum really don’t. Follow Me Up To Carlow, one of the bloodiest war songs I know, works just as well with just a voice. All I have to do is remember that I don’t have to fill the whole space, I just have to sing. The attendant in the kiosk at the other end of the space I was in made a point of coming across the station to tip me so I must be clearly heard over there.

Slowly my drum hand is coming back. I don’t plan on taking a drum with me to the station for a while yet, but I can work out beats and teach them to my partner, who is learning to play with me. I should be able to record again, and get everything in my head onto the hard drive. The album is back in the realm of possibility. There are definitely things I’ll never do again, but thankfully playing the bodhran is not yet one of them.

In The Footsteps of Goddesses

There are three goddesses who are the main inspiration of my trip. First of all, I’m going in search of Scathach, the woman warrior who gave her name to the Isle of Skye. From London I’ll be going to Inverness, and from there to Skye. Destination: Dun Scaith

There’s very little to be known about Scathach, her surviving claim to fame is as the teacher of Cuchullain. She apparently stood in a way in the place of Chiron to the warriors of Greek myth. Does that make a woman warrior as mythical a being as a centaur? Well, to some, I suppose it does, but most of us know better by now… I have been trying to write a song about her for years, and this castle, ruined and of dubious connection to her as it is, seems like a good place to cast about for clues.

Scathach, after all, must have had a lot more to her than simply teaching men to fight. What did she do to gain her experience? Her exploits had to be well known in her day. Is she another aspect of the Norse goddess Skadi, the hunter and skier, who also was known as the shade? Scathach’s name means “shadowed one,” and like Scathach, little is known about Skadi, though there’s more about Skadi than Scathach.

The second goddess is Brighid. I plan to visit her well and her sisterhood in Kildare. Erynn Rowan Laurie has kindly put a guide to getting there on her website. Brighid herself was long ago kind enough to give me a song, and I would like to give it to the well, and the Sisters, if they’ll have it.

The last goddess is Macha, whom I’ve written of before. The first song I wrote that I consider to be worth anything was my final project for a Celtic literature course. I was more than a little annoyed with a certain group of Ulstermen, who didn’t want me carrying a sword, and I was quite taken with another Irish tale related to the Tain, which explained why the men of Ulster were afflicted with birth pangs whenever their province was attacked. The short version is, Macha, the goddess of sovereignty in Ireland, a horse goddess who shares much with the Welsh Rhiannon and the Gaulish Epona, married an Ulsterman and got pregnant. Her husband got drunk at the races, basically, and started bragging that his wife could run faster than the king’s horses. She was forced to prove it. She won the race, had her kids on the finish line, and cursed the Ulstermen before dying or leaving, depending on the version of the story you read. The race was run at Emain Macha, so I’m going there as well.

There are plenty of other songs that I would like to sing in other places on this trip, but those three are the essential ones, and the core of the next album. Amusing, I guess, that the other two deities were more than happy to have me tell their stories, but The Shadowed One requires a wild goose chase way the hell up to Scotland to a place that may or may not be her home which might or might not result in a song. I don’t mind, I love adventures. If I end up cold and wet walking my way across Sleat in the middle of the night, at least I’ll have an interesting story to tell. It won’t be the first time I’ve done something of the sort, after all.

What Is Needful

Screw this. I see the acupuncturist tomorrow, I see my doctor on Monday. That’s what clean credit cards are for, and I keep mine that way for a reason. I can pay it off next check and I need to get all the help I can get.

In the meantime, one of my Faire friends from my teens, one of the ones who can hold a part and has a brain, has come back into my life. She too has been battered by fate and come out the stronger for it. Perhaps we shall both rise again. I was sneaky, I gave her a CD of all the songs I’m learning. If they catch her ear the way they caught mine we may well have something.

I have a rough plan, and so many gifts. Most of all, I will not give up. I will grab the Universe by the throat and shake it till it gives me a way forward.

Finding That Sweet Spot

Setbacks happen to everyone. We all have to ask ourselves each time, “is this a crushing blow, or an opportunity for growth and applied brilliance? For me, the latter wins every time. Overwhelming odds call out my Inner Pixie and really, the other alternative leads nowhere.

Busking every day was one of those decisions that seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but turned out to be a big mistake. I took a break and went to the acupuncturist last Tuesday. Monday’s here and there’s no real change.

This is scary, but I have to turn my back on the spilled cups before me and look at the ones that are still full. I still have a voice, all I have lost is the frame around it. I have tools in the form of a yoga routine, various holistic and allopathic medicines, and body awareness to try and heal myself. Then there are the healthcare options to consider. Step one: If it hurts, don’t do it.

I asked Brighid today, as I do every day, what she wanted of me. As I looked up at her picture, quietly giving her space to speak, I heard a fond, slightly exasperated, “Well you could move my picture down so you didn’t have to crane your neck looking up at me.”


Set her as low as I could. I still have to look up, but if I stand up straight and pull my head back–in short, if I stand the way my last physical therapist wanted me to, she comes into focus. Hurray for daily practice, and the gifts a simple devotion, repeated regularly, bring.

We all have a choice. We can do our best to dig our way out of our various holes, or we can let our problems consume us. It’s that simple. What is the first helpful action that can be taken? I’ve found that no matter how bad things are, if I just do that, the next move comes to me. When you’re in a trap, don’t struggle.

I’ve put my frame aside for now. I’ve given my partner a bodhran assignment: learn the drumbeat verbatim for one of the new songs I’ve written, and luckily, have a rough recording of. She’s a great dance drummer, and as a belly dancer I have heard her pick apart what the music “told” her body to do. She understands the basic concepts behind what I do and she’s capable of mastering them. More to the point, she wants to. She suggested this.

I’m going to bring in my small backpack and busking sign tomorrow and see if I can find a spot. How will I do in a BART station as a pure singer? My choice of spots will be more limited, but there are plenty of areas I can use, I think.

I’m going to the open mic at the Freight and Salvage tomorrow night. I’ve done a capella on that stage often enough, nothing much will have changed.

I’m going to continue to rest the stuff that hurts, and call either my healthcare provider or my acupuncturist again. I can’t decide which, I can’t afford to see both of them this paycheck. I’ll see the other one in the next few weeks, though. Daily meditation is also a must. I’ve been falling down on that the last couple of months and I need my subtle superpowers more than ever.

I’m going to continue to learn repertoire. Sadly, two of the three songs I’m working with demand a drum. The third one might stand on its own. Time to pick some others. I’m also going to spend some serious time with my tinwhistles. Damn, but they sound fine in a transit system corridor!

This blog entry was originally about balancing the optimum amount of busking time against the demands of my body. I figured that I could surely go back to one or two days a week no problem. As the week progressed though, I realized that the hole I’d dug for myself was far deeper than I’d imagined. I can still see the light, though. All I have to do is follow it.