Hippie Watching* at the Memorial Union with Caroline Rose and Nathaniel Rateliff

Caroline Rose
Upon arriving in Madison, we were pleasantly surprised to see that Nathaniel Rateliff from Denver was playing at the Union.  We stumbled upon him playing there a couple of years ago and were blown away.  We've been listening to him ever since.  And now we've discovered Caroline Rose as well! What good fortune!

Nathaniel Rateliff
Caroline's dad who lives in New York and must be very cool makes these - a unique design for every show! - and she is giving them away with the purchase of a CD!  So beautiful, we might have to steal the idea to make posters for the Wisdom of Wombat Interactive Gallery at the Opening Reception this Thursday.

*It used to be Pau, the tiny and charming Filipino man and Pogo, the thin and stern bouncing man, who danced at every show at the Union.  Now it's a rotund man with long stringy gray hair who occasionally gets one of the pretty female students who is too nice to say no to dance with him.


In Defense of Not Having to Understand: Thoughts About Tiny Songs One Week Before the Opening Reception of the Wisdom of Wombats PoPuP Gallery

W.o.W. PoPuP Gallery Gala Opening
Thursday, April 24th, 5-8pm
502 West College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin


*Rib Mountain

**Joseph Schumpeter (Wikipedia)
Schumpeter claimed that he had set himself three goals in life: to be the greatest economist in the world, to be the best horseman in all of Austria and the greatest lover in all of Vienna. He said he had reached two of his goals, but he never said which two,[12][13] although he is reported to have said that there were too many fine horsemen in Austria for him to succeed in all his aspirations.[14]


On Becoming a Composer

Here's the type of thing I used to think about when my parents took me to the symphony.  I wondered why didn't the basses play the melody and the violins play the bass line.  I was curious how turning the music on it's head would sound.  I never considered this "the moment I knew I would become a composer," since I never considered myself a composer until last night even though I've been making up music since I bought a bamboo flute in Cameroon in 1996.

We learned to read words and then to write in our own words.  But in music we learned only to read and not to play our own sounds.  I haven't been able to figure out why.  Where along the line did learning to play music become such a chore?  Why do we burden ourselves with sticking so strictly to a terse and serious course?

A composer was a person who spends a great many years studying every instrument in the symphony. And even though I imagined a composer hunched over paper (something I was very comfortable with), I knew they wrote in a language too tedious for my breed.  I didn't want to study, I wanted to play.

We played diddly bow until the glass broke.

One summer, riding my bike down a curving summer lane, a perfect sentence describing the arching maples gripped me with the need to write it down.  I raced home and made a notebook with a wallpaper cover and wrote the sentence in cursive.  That's the moment I knew I wanted to become a writer.

Or at least, that's the memory that emerged when it occurred to me to try to discover where this urge to write came from.

I did what I envisioned people who are writers do:  I wrote a novel and tried to get it published and then wrote a lot of short stories and tried to get those published and I convinced myself that I was on the right path and pushed myself to keep going even though the more I wrote the tighter the writing wound until it was wound so tight, it burst.

I ask the students to write about visions of their futures starting with a scene from the past.  One tells me she doesn't like the assignment.  Her vision of the future is too pessimistic she says and she's spinning her wheels trying to write about the past.  Forget the scene from the past and write about your pessimistic vision, I suggest.  She says it's too depressing.  Then imagine an optimistic future and write about that.  She says that's too unrealistic.  I suggest she not worry about that.  In that case, she tells me, she might as well just write about how she wants a live on Mars and have a pet unicorn.

Yesterday I told Tad what I used to think about when I went to the symphony with my parents.  And it struck me for the first time that here were the memories that indicated I would become a composer even though I never knew I would become one until the moment it occurred to me to tell the story of how I became one.


April 24-27 The Wisdom of Wombats Presents

W.o.W. invites you
To not miss out on life! Be a participant.
April 24-27. 
502 West College Ave., Appleton, WI.

The Wisdom of Wombats, a Fox Valley artists' collective, 
is producing Signs of Life an interactive pop-up gallery.

Thursday, 5-8pm: Opening Reception. Snacks, live music and informal discussions with the artists.  

Friday, Noon-10pm: Open Gallery*.  3-5pm: Drawing from Negatives with photographer physicist John Beaver.  5-6pm: Gallery meditation and writing workshop with Joanna Dane.  8pm: Live music - Breath Is Song with Ian Moore.  

Saturday, Noon-10pm:  Open Gallery*.  Noon-1pm: Diddley Bow Making with Tad Neuhaus. 1pm: Signs of Life: An Afternoon in Appleton, creating a community cellphone photo essay. Head out to snap photos or stay at the gallery and help create the exhibit.  2-4pm: Community Quilt Making with Gwyned Trefethen.  7pm: Musical Improvisations with Elaborate Bungle (Matt Turner, Tad Neuhaus, Joanna Dane).  8pm: Master instrument creator and improv-er Hal Rammel and master of electric cello Matt Turner play spontaneous, mind-blowing originals. 

Sunday, Noon-3pm: Open Gallery*.  1- 3pm: Readings hosted by poet physicist Doug Fowler, and a writing event with sidewalk poet Meredith Mason.

*Open Gallery interactive exhibits include:  Be Your Own Composer, Triangle of Success, A Very Beaver Soundscape, Factorial Stories, Random Poetry, and Join Our Wisdom.


Hal Rammel Is Coming To Appleton, Saturday, April 26th!

Don't miss it!

Hal Rammel and Matt Turner
Interactive PoPuP Gallery
502 W. College Avenue, Appleton

Saturday, April 26th
music starts at 7pm with 
Appleton's own: Elaborate Bungle

Wisdom of Wombats:
a collective of fox valley artists
mutually supporting and enabling
cross-genre exploration and improvisation



Everywhere she looks is the goose.

He wants more than she can give.

But that doesn't seem to discourage him.


Short Quotations from the Conversation Between Judy Blume and Lena Dunham Published by Believer Books, 2013

Judy never thought her books would be popular.

Lena gets lots of love letters from men in prison.

"My best ideas still come from scribbling," says Judy.

"I'm fascinated by people's breakfasts," says Lena.

"I've tried really hard to not have this phobia," says Judy.

"I feel connected to you," says Lena.

"I feel so lucky," says Judy.

"I have an authority problem." says Lena.

"I'm not alone!  I'm not alone!" says Judy.

"It's an exhilarating feeling," says Lena.

"I can't always read my handwriting," says Judy.

"That's so nice to hear," says Lena.

"My father was a great rhymer," says Judy.

"I read Lolita when I was nine," says Lena.


Say Say My Playmate

I grew up on a long city block in Omaha, 13 houses to a side, the first ring of suburbs that now feels like the inner city.  There used to be a trolley car between Dundee and Downtown.  It is a neighborhood built for walking, not walking for exercise, but for everything.  Within four blocks of our house was a grocery, a dairy, a gas station, a diner, a bar and grill, a drug store with a soda fountain where we used to hang out after school, and a movie theatre, where I first saw Rear Window, and that haunting scene where Grace Kelly gets caught snooping in the apartment across the way, and then caught signaling behind her back to James Stewart who she knows is watching through his telephoto lens, the ring she has stolen, evidence of murder.  The man who they have been spying on for days and nights on end, frowns at her gesturing and looks up, straight into Stewart's camera.

On the walk home, my brother told me that Grace Kelly died of a brain aneurysm, which he was sure to emphasize, could happen to any one at any time.  I fell into a 7-day funk until my mom couldn't stand it any longer and during dinner demanded to know what was wrong with me.  "I'm going to die some day!" I sobbed.  The family rolled their eyes.  Is that it?  We all are.  Life goes on.  Get over it.

There were over 50 kids on the 51st Street block between Howard and Farnam.  We played outside and played in basements, attics, bedrooms and garages.  Factions were formed.  We held court.  The oldest was judge. Some of the games we played had designers, manufacturers, patents, and rules listed on the box. Other games were ancient, passed from one child to another over the centuries.  Hide and Go Seek.  Pickle.  Hopscotch.  Kickball.  Horse.  When we jumped rope, we sang songs.  When we chose who to be it, we chanted rhymes.  We played clapping games and skipping games and games with a circle of string.

No adults had taught us these things.  We just knew all the words without knowing how we knew.

For how long have kids been chanting Say Say My Playmate?  How far its range?


What is Your Triangle of Success?

brush teeth
comb hair
eat lunch

pack snack
set coffee maker
lay out clothes

make love
skinny dip




The Strange and True Failings of a Musical Education

Saul Steinberg's violinist

Here is a man who has played violin since he was a little boy, a man who practices everyday, who was first chair in the youth symphony, who graduated with a music degree from a prestigious university, who went on to get his PhD in violin performance.  This same man, who plays for audiences all over the world, is hired by a rock band to play some filler for an album, and panics, because despite all his years of training and practice and performance, he has never been asked to create a musical phrase of his own.

right-handed copy of Saul Steinberg's violinist
left-handed copy of Saul Steinberg's violinist


Stages of Ordinary Short-Term Illness

1) Dread that I am going to feel terrible.

2) Self-pity that I feel terrible.

3) Relief that I don't have to do anything but lie on the couch feeling terrible.

4) Acceptance that I am going to die.

5) Mild surprise that I am recovering.

6) Depression that I've done nothing but lie around on the couch.

7) Disappointment at the low quality of my thoughts.

8) Gratitude for the return of good health.

9) Annoyance at how quickly the gratitude is trampled by robust anxieties, doubts, envies, guilt.


More Thoughts About Music Inspired By Conversations With Matt Turner and Tad Neuhaus

How we have been taught is how we tend to teach, so it's no surprise that it's a slow process, changing how we teach.  What we learn, we tend to defend, so it's also no surprise that we are offended at the implication that something needs to change.

Here's a question:  Why when it comes to teaching music are we so fixated on imitation rather than innovation?

Some would argue that you must "know the basics" before you can innovate.  But wouldn't it be more natural to learn to keep innovating from the very beginning before we've become bound by accomplishment?

A baby is delighted by the sound of the rattle in her hand.  It's absurd to suggest that we scold her for playing off beat and put sheet music in front of her to teach her 4/4 time.  At what point does our attitude change?

Why is a toddler exploring the sounds a piano can make a delight, but a twelve-year-old doing the same, a nuisance? Why do we equate music making with strict rules of conduct?  Why are we shown on our first music lesson the grand staff, immediately taking the origins of music making out of the body and onto the page?

Why not encourage children to keep exploring sound the way they naturally do, by experimentation? Why can't we see this as a way to enhance our musical traditions rather than a threat?

There are music teachers who use improvisation and composition as the basis of their teaching.  Tell them thank you and encourage them to not give up.


An Open Letter to Lynda Barry

Periodically, I bring your books to class to show the students what you do.  (Yesterday it was One Hundred Demons.)  Your books (and I love Cruddy by the way), and a couple of words you advised me to say to a man who suggested I hadn't found my voice yet (*&^$#% you!), and a little obsession with Saul Steinberg (the guy used to throw parties where he and his friends would wear paper bag masks and pose for formal portraits!), all helped free me from a tight little corner I had written myself into.

I am getting an ink stone, ink stick, and Asian brushes for my birthday. (April 1st.  Yes, I know.) Can't wait to try it out!

Thank you for the suggestion!

Two women who used to hang out with Saul Steinberg.


Gray Day Note to Self

Remember that the product is always elusive, that no matter how many songs you compose in a night,
no matter how many drawings completed in a morning, no matter how many sentences written,
you always feel like you haven't done enough. 

Remember that it has been a very long cold winter.

Enjoy this last day of being curled up by the fire, before all the new life clammers forth and rings.


My Dad Really Liked My Last Couple of Blog Posts

I'm not sure why and these things don't always make sense but my dad left a very sweet message, as has been his habit lately, telling me how beautiful he thought those drawings were and the poems hit the mark too, and that he's glad to see I'm back on track.

I didn't know I was off track.  In fact, I had been feeling like I was on a real roll there, up until the last couple of posts which I found average.  Who's to say what people are going to like and how to predict when they will like it?  That is a complete mystery to me.  All I know is that it's much easier to like something when many others like it, and harder to like something that no one seems to like.


Lost Oar

I ask the students to write about their visions of the future. 
They groan.
Do all teachers ask this of them?
No, they groan because their visions of their own futures are so grim.
One girl wonders why everyone insists she has to go to college.
Another bemoans it's not worth the debt. 
They are bored and can only see more boredom before them.

What's going on?
Typical teenage angst and tedium or something else?
Yet another result of a society trapped in the ills of over-abundance?

I suggest they try, just to see what happens,
telling themselves a new story about their lives.  
That instead of envisioning a future of boredom and debt,
Envision a future abundantly interesting and rich.

They have a lot of reasons why that won't work.

Why not try and see?



The snow is beautiful,
even though we are tired of it.

The sounds are beautiful,
even though they are strange.

The mind the beautiful,
even when it's in a bad mood.

The dream is beautiful,
even though it is disturbing.

You are beautiful
even when you feel you're not.

The universe is beautiful
even when it's haunting.

The worm is beautiful
even though it's slimy.


Thoughts on Self - The Women's Liberation Movement - Belly Breathing - Ahoo

Sometimes I wonder what I would be like, born into a different era or culture.  Would I fight for women's rights?  It's tempting to say yes of course.  But would I be brave enough to go first?  Could I have stood among the strong women whose sacrifice is so soon forgotten?  I am a 43 year old college educated American woman and I don't know any of their names.  It's a shame to admit. How can it be true? What person would I be if I knew the names of the heroes of the suffragist movement?  What kind of country would ours be if we spent as much time on the great social movements as the presidents?

Honestly, I don't think I could withstand the pressure. I cry too easily. I am a pleaser by nature. I wish to get along with everyone. I'd rather listen than argue. Certainly, there is a lot we can all agree on.

Expand the belly on the inhale, contract on the exhale.

Years ago, at the Chippewa Falls library, I checked out an Iranian movie that looked interesting.  The title I had long forgotten, but I remembered it was in three parts.  Visions of the second I've often recalled, a young woman in a bicycling club on an Iranian island being chased by her husband on horseback who threatens to divorce her if she doesn't stop.  When Ahoo won't turn back, the husband leaves and returns with a cleric who divorces them as they ride and then more men on horseback arrive, all to stop a woman from riding a bike.

While looking up the names of the women who led the Women's Liberation movement (Jo Freeman? Shulamith Firestone?), I got distracted by thoughts of this movie and searched iranian movie woman bicycles horses and re-found The Day I Became a Woman, directed by Marzieh Meshkini. Maybe I wouldn't be brave enough to storm the stage at the National Conference for New Politics and demand to speak, but join the Iranian women's bicycling club even when it is against the law, that I could do.