Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Thinking of My High School Band Director on His Birthday


Born on the 4th of July, Mario DeCarolis would have been 95 years old today. He would be amazed to know his name and legacy live on in the students he mentored and taught, down to music students some of his students would teach, or those who still perform for fun or professionally. For me, I spent some time satisfying my desire to sing with years of community theater with my children, who all spent years celebrating music through dance. I now watch my grandchildren as their own interests develop, watching to see who has inherited a musical or performance gene.

As some of "Chic's" students remembered his birthday online, I pulled this story from my book. After his death, some of us got together and performed a memorial concert to start a scholarship fund in his name. I included this story in the program at that time, but just wanted to share it again, in his memory.



By Noreen Braman



The old saying goes that if you save things long enough, sooner or later, they come back in style. I was reminded of this when my daughter showed me the hot new styles featured in her trendy magazine. There were the polyester shirts, hip hugger pants and platform shoes of the seventies. For a minute I was taken back to my teenage years. Back to the ‘70s when bell-bottoms couldn't be wide enough, hair couldn't be long enough, and everyone was rocking to the sounds of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman.


The dance band was called The Indigos and it had been filling the high school band room for years with the sound of swing. It may have been too much sound for a bunch of high school kids, but we played anyway. And just when we were feeling like we had given Mood Indigo the definitive treatment, our director, Mario DeCarolis, would take out his old, shiny saxophone and wail. It was hard to not just stop playing and listen to him. He really knew those songs and played them with the feeling of a person who had lived through it.


Sooner or later it was my turn to climb out from under the baritone saxophone and step up to the microphone. The guys didn't like this part, they wanted to cut loose with In the Mood, or String of Pearls, and there I was ready to pour my 16-year-old heart into Sentimental Journey, or You Made Me Love You.


I tried not to antagonize the guys; after all, it didn't take much to drown me out. Worse than hitting a wrong note or forgetting the lyrics was knowing that all the audience got out of my performance was a look at a girl moving her lips to some old swing song. Sometimes they weren't shy about letting me know.


"Can't hear you!" somebody would shout. Turning up my amplifier usually produced some lovely feedback, and due to school budget cuts, I was sharing the amp with the electric guitar player who didn't mind being turned up at all. The result was a combination of Rosemary Clooney and Jimi Hendrix.


In addition to our unique sound, we were an interesting sight. Our white, wrap-around music stands were emblazoned with the band's logo, our instruments ranging from the brand new to battered school-owned relics. We learned the choreography, standing up, swaying and swinging our instruments. Well, they stood up. I never could lift that baritone off its stand.


Our dress code required that the guys wear jackets and ties with their bell-bottom pants. Sometimes the combination of plaid jackets, striped ties and fluorescent miniskirts was hard on the eyes. Other times it was the guitar player's long hair that drew stares. It appeared as if there had been a mix-up in the transporter room and a bunch of ‘70s hippies had been beamed down into a 1940s canteen. In fact, a similar incident actually happened on Star Trek and Leonard Nimoy's nephew did go to our school …


Not too long ago I heard some familiar music emanating from my daughter's room. It only took a few notes to tell me that she was playing In the Mood. In mid-song the tune changed to Pennsylvania 6-5000, then Little Brown Jug. What my daughter was playing was a cut from a CD by a group calling itself Jive Bunny and the MasterMixers.


It was a little disconcerting for my daughter to discover that her new hit record contained music not only remembered by her mother, but her grandmother also! Swing music really bounced back in a big way when The Brian Setzer Orchestra hit the charts with Jump Jive An’ Wail, and the tune was featured on a television commercial.


It was not a surprise for this graduate of the class of ‘73. After all, you keep things long enough, they come back. So I guess I’ll hang on to that last pair of bell-bottoms, my high school band jacket, some peace sign jewelry and my yearbook with Richard Nixon's picture on the inside cover. I'll dig out the old Blood, Sweat and Tears album and tuck it in the box alongside ones by Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington


Then to complete this odd juxtaposition of eras, I'll throw in some photographs featuring the concert that Stan Kenton and his band played at my school. If you look real close, you can see that they are wearing bell-bottoms, too.



©Noreen Braman From “Treading Water”  
Coming soon: a new edition of “Treading Water” with new essays, in honor of  2020 – The Year of Seeing Clearly. (A title selected way back in January – before 2020 revealed itself as The Never-Ending Year When Nothing is Clear)

The "I Love My Clarinet" photo

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Independence Day 2020

Even better, may we mend our flaws ourselves. ©2020 Noreen Braman
Just re-read Fredrick Douglass' speech about the Fourth of July, written when the country was a mere 76 years old. 

He describes what the celebration of American Independence "meant" to slaves, especially in light of the Fugitive Slave laws. Much of what he talks about can still be heard echoing today in actions taken after emancipation to deliberately deprive African Americans of jobs, education, housing —Jim Crow — denial of GI benefits, redlining of neighborhoods ... all of which contributed to what is now called white privilege

Most middle class white people would say they have not been actively complicit in this, (although I can remember feuding neighbors declaring revenge on each other by threatening to sell their home to a black family) however, that does not mean we were not the beneficiaries of the results. 


The ongoing harm is not because of some one-time, "ancient history," that no longer affects current society, but has been reinforced over and over in attitude and policy to the present day.

We forget that George Wallace declared "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" not 150 years ago, but in the 70s — with lots of people still alive who listened and believed him. And carry his divisive racism in their hearts.

But, one must ask, "Who benefits by keeping American citizens divided? Who has continued to earn, succeed and increase their wealth no matter what is happening in American society?" The more "us vs. them" talk I hear, the more I realize how threatened this very small group of rich and powerful people must feel — to the point that they equate their own survival to the survival of the United States.

Therefore they push the idea that one group must be victorious over another group — inflaming fear of "the other." This is very evident by the need to categorize people into groups by race, political party, religion, and by using pejorative names and descriptions. I am equally horrified to see violence and destruction, as well as hear some declare "time for another Civil War." Look around the world and see what civil wars are doing. Count how many years countries have been torn apart, how many millions of people displaced. 

The founders of the US were not gods, but imperfect humans, who, at times, acted in their own interests. Yet, they ultimately risked death by committing treason against England to form a new nation. They envisioned their new form of government would pass power peacefully, provide citizens with a system of legal redress, a process to introduce or change laws, and the right to hold their government accountable to the people. It wasn't perfect, in fact, despite writing of "inalienable rights" we have yet to assure those rights on an equal basis.

With our own Civil War as a painful reminder of how quickly a country can splinter and how long the damage remains in a torn nation's bloodstream, we, all of us, have a duty to resist the voices that seek to keep us divided: but rather find the ways to take the necessary steps to heal, improve, and unite. 

To do this, it is our duty as a nation to constantly, and honestly, review our historical narrative (including painful issues), redefine our perception of "being American," work together for the greater good, and constantly ask ourselves if the United States is truly living up to the vision and ideals it was founded on.


"A house divided against itself, cannot stand." 
 — Abraham Lincoln (paraphrasing Jesus as mentioned in the Gospels and referred to by many subsequent writers)

Divide et impera”  (Divide and Conquer)
— attributed to Julius Caesar

Monday, June 8, 2020

Critical Thinking: Not Illegal Yet

©2020 Noreen Braman

In every election, (not just for President, but down to the mayor of my town) I try to critically think beyond just the candidate, but also to what they will bring to the table. For President in particular:

  • Who will put qualified, knowledgeable and experienced people in cabinet, agency, and advisor positions who will work toward goals that benefit all Americans? 
  • Who will enact policies and procedures that are important to me today and my grandchildren tomorrow? (Which I understand may lead to "compromise" or "interim" solutions that find common ground between diametrically opposed views of topics too important to ignore)
  • Who will best follow all the precepts of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, including the need and obligation to amend?
  • Who will work with other world leaders on problems that transcend borders, such as the environment, human rights? 
  • Who will understand better the difference between public service and self service? 

I agree that no one candidate will be "perfect." I've worked with perfectionists, and sometimes have been a perfectionist myself. It is a path that leads eventually to paralysis of thought and actions. In the case of elections it leads to huge swaths of people not voting. And that perpetuates the disconnect between the small group of elected officials and the huge, diverse population they are supposed to represent. 

Set aside rhetoric. Stop seeking that slogan or meme that "sounds right." Open yourself to possible changes of mind, and changes of heart.

Your life depends on it.


Sunday, June 7, 2020

Overcoming. June 2020



Image by John Hain from Pixabay


Overcoming

To
talk without speaking
listen without hearing
work without producing
 

and
rule without leading

Creates

words without meaning
sound processed without understanding
jobs done without purpose

and

orders given without conscience Leads to
gibberish

silence
failure

and

revolution.
 

©2020 Noreen Braman

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

What Happens When a Career Vampire Starts Working From Home

Not an actual photo of sunlight penetrating my house. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  
Image by stokpic from Pixabay





Most of the year, I rise in darkness, get ready for work, spend most of the day in a mostly windowless office, and return home after dark. During that too-brief time of year when my day actually has daylight on both ends, I revel in the light and warmth, and take every advantage to be outside, including using a speed cleaning process on weekends to tidy my house. But the reality is, for much of my life, I have been a career vampire, living and working in the shadows.

Now comes the pandemic-required time of working from home, and spending long days in a domicile bathed in daylight. It has been an eye-opening experience.

At first I was fascinated by the play of light and shadow between sunrise and sunset. I had never before witnessed the golden shafts of sunlight moving from window to window, acting as spotlights throughout my house. I congratulated myself on the placement of a garden window, seeing for myself why my plants were thriving.

But the spotlights moving through my indoor space were not so welcome in other areas. For example, something disturbing was revealed at my salon-style art wall, full of floor to ceiling photos and artwork. There was not only a fine layer of dust, but in some places the frames looked as if they had been hanging, untouched, for many years. Some even had thready cobwebs hanging from them. How could this be? I even had a special duster I ran over the frames while cleaning!

And the frames were just the start. Daylight revealed a disgustingly grimy laptop keyboard, lint and other bits of detritus in the carpet, hairs and crumbs and dust bunnies on floors and under furniture. And what were those spots on the ceiling in the kitchen?

I became aware that my heat ducts probably needed to be cleaned out, my kitchen cabinets scrubbed, my furniture vacuumed, and my bathroom — which I swear I clean every week — required a Haz-Mat team. My cute, quirky decorating style is looking more and more like an episode of “Hoarders” the longer I spend daylight time here. I've found myself sweeping the kitchen floor several times a day, and running the dishwasher and the washing machine more often as I discover all sorts of not-quite-clean-in-the-light-of-day objects around the house.


The magazine photo version. ©2020 Noreen Braman
I've rearranged the coats and scarves hanging on hooks next to my front door to be more artistically pleasing. I grabbed some recycled folding doors, leftover paint and more hooks to turn an utilitarian (translation: messy) broom, mop and recycling area into a magazine worthy project.

At the same time, I am tackling a general house cleanout, having finally realized that my grown children have really left the nest, as evidenced by their house purchases, moves to distant states, and giving me 6 grandchildren. Time for the toys, books, trophies and other souvenirs packed away for 20 years in the shed to go.
 

As open shed doors, closets, cabinets and file drawers and view their contents bathed in sunlight (or even filtered cloudy daylight, to be honest) I really understand why light was such a powerful enemy of the Undead. Unfortunately, unlike the bloodsuckers who either burst into flame or turn to dust when exposed to light, my possessions and collections just sit there. Collecting dust.

In his landmark vampire tale, "Dracula," Bram Stoker created the legend that vampires need to have their "native soil" nearby in order to survive. Apparently, as a career vampire I have been accumulating my own version of that dirt all around me. And I know I’m not alone. Go ahead, run your finger along the tops of your picture frames. Pull up those couch cushions. Then pull down the shades.


©2020 Noreen Braman








Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Reverie

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay



In the sunset of life it isn’t fun to suddenly realize, that you never had the life you wanted. That things never went the way you thought they should, and even if you generally think that your life has been mostly fine – the day will come when you realize, the "somedays" you dreamed about aren’t coming.



It can happen when you are watching an old show on TV, that show you watched in your formative years, the one that made you laugh, the one you all talked about the next day, the one that seemed to describe your forward path – but it never did. And that is because life is not a sitcom. There is no team of writers plotting all the twists and turns. No one to type up the happy ending.



They say that you are responsible for writing your own story. But no one tells you that you may carry one story in your head, while you live out another. And even if that life is full of love and laughter, the day will come where a snippet of music, a mention of a movie, or the title of a book will open up a dark hole under your feet. And if you aren’t careful, you will fall into this hole, tumbling over and over like Alice, watching all the souvenirs of your life cascading around you, and as hard as you try to catch them, you can’t.


Tokens of you childhood streak by like shooting stars, the puffs of smoke that were your dreams, from the days when all seemed possible. And as you plummet you are joined by fleeting ghostly shadows of lovers and friends who swirled in and out of your life. They whisper as they pass by, but you cannot catch what they say, you’ve forgotten the sound of their voices. From deep inside you, memories flicker, what were those plans we had? The promises made to each other, the song you promised to sing at her funeral, but by then you had lost touch.



Soon you are wrapped in swirling clouds of motherhood – diapers and first teeth and the leftover equipment of their childhood activities, photos and toys and high school rings — the music of a thousand performances. The rising of a deepening ache as one by one they leave home, and the feeling of loss, of “never again” threatens to drown you. There are points of light that fill you full of warmth, and again your head fills up with dreams, this time you will get things right. The circle will re-form itself with everyone reachable, touchable, lovable, and the next generation running in and out, calling for you.



However, the hole continues to widen and as hard as your try to hold their hands, to encircle them with your arms, they drift away, smiling as they go, their own dreams covering them like fog. And you wake up one day to realize, you are living in a house that no one will visit, in a place where no one will return, and the vision of your sunset years reveals itself to be just more smoke. 

You wonder what was the turning point, where was that bend in the road that took you in the wrong direction. No amount of turning around will get you back to that place, you have no choice but to continue falling, holding on to the new life where there is still love and laughter, no longer trying to catch the things that are falling away, trying as best as you can to quiet the heartache, accepting that you have reached to part of the journey where losses mount.


©2020 Noreen Braman

With an understanding nod (after so many years denying it) to Judith Viorst’s “Necessary Losses.”


Thursday, April 30, 2020

NANOWRIMO April 30, 2020 Finis

As we end National Poetry Month, and NAPOWRIMO for 2020 I turn to Dylan Thomas, and the two poems of his that subconsciously, and not so subconsciously, color my work. "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" is almost a mantra with me, so much so, that I borrowed the phraseology to tell people at my Humor and Well-Being presentations "Don't go gently! Go Laughing!" And the second meaningful poem "and death will have no dominion" casts a long shadow over yesterday's poem. As I once spend a summer reading all the works of Shirley Jackson, to discover the broader scope of her work, with one foot in humor and one foot in horror, it may be time to rediscover Thomas, and add another literary root to my creative tree. 

This year, as every year, I title my April poems "The Cruellest Month," and for the most part, it has been a metaphor. However, this year, April was indeed cruel, bringing death under her wings like rain, raising up the flowers of mourning. Her sister May could end up being just as merciless at worst, and a valley of tears at best.

So, tonight I bid April 2020 farewell, she the bringer of a personally significant birthday, amid anxiety, fear and anger, and the balancing power of love. The stuff of my poetry for sure.



“I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.”
Frodo Baggins to Sam Gamgee― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

"The end...is just a little harder, when brought about by friends..."
 Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, Jesus Christ Superstar

"Oh what a world.."
Margaret Hamilton, as the melting Wicked Witch of the West, The Wizard of Oz 


The Sacred Heart

iconography of childhood
the heart of Jesus encircled by thorns
representing the pain we cause
felt for all eternity
even while living in Paradise
an image to shame our sins
inspire us to holy lives
yet,
the Immaculate Heart of Mary
encircled with flowers
is pierced with seven swords
because the heart of a mother bears
the blossoms she tendered in her garden
alongside the wounds of maternity
sorrows too painful to bear
so,
hanging side by side in the church
like grandparents in old fashioned clothes
not smiling just staring
their hands levitating their hearts
outside of their bodies
flaming like the candles
we light for special intentions
but,
all I can think of is
falling on the thorns of life
ten swords impaling me from behind
my mother heart stitched many times over
my feet stomping on serpents and legos
refusing to say good-bye
when they leave, one by one
since,
icons are only as valuable
as the jewels with which they are encrusted
eyes expressionless and dead
peering out from bodies
from which the heart has been removed
unlike my heart, which bleeds every day
pain born of love, not sin.
©2020 Noreen Braman

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

NAPOWRIMO APRIL 29, 2020 HUMAN SACRIFICE

Image by Alex Demoura from Pixabay



Human Sacrifice

Useless blood spilled
appeasing non-existent gods
the life taken to ensure 

the livesof others will go on
never stopped earthquake
tsunami or pyroclastic flow
made it rain

blessed the crops
or protected hordes of warriors
in uncountable battles of pointless wars


Death was the only winner. 


And now you tell me
sacrifice myself
on the altar of an ancient god
made of stolen gold
my blood in exchange for
monetary stability
status quo
the kingdom over the
surplus population
dangling generations of descendants
in front of my eyes
while the barons of finance
hide out in their counting houses
and those who once we thought of as leaders
sputter and threaten and withhold favor
choosing instead to watch from afar
as the rabble fight each other
over food and medicine and haircuts
pointing fingers at each other
assuming no blame for their actions
listening to new world Svengalis
spinning tales of intrigue
proposing heretical solutions
hiding behind philosophies and beliefs
they push on others
but ignore themselves

While death is the only winner.

And now you tell me I owe my life
to the future in which
you have already dirtied your hands
where you have pushed your piles
of filth and betrayal
ahead 
as gifts for those same 
generations of descendants

Do they not dangle before your eyes?
Do they not know your dread complicity?
And your schemes and plans and usury
for only your own benefit in this world of today?

I would step in front of a bullet
throw myself in the path of a train
sell all my possessions
and mortgage my soul
to spare my progeny suffering
but I will not die on your altar of gold
to support your narcissistic survival scheme 

and with my last breath I will call you out
for the harm you have done to humanity

And not let death be the winner. 



©2020 Noreen Braman


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

NAPOWRIMO April 28, 2020 Shelter


Shelter

not what was wanted
barely what was needed
in another world
from what was before
riddled with decay
the hidden rot of dampness
painted with desperation
time eating away the structure
a silent voracious malignancy
unstoppable.

©2020 Noreen Braman

Sunday, April 26, 2020

NAPOWRIMO April 25, 2020 Now


Image by Felicia Ruiz from Pixabay
Now



Is this the time, the day, the year,

the point in my life to know that

after all this time, those days, those years,

the point of my life may be that

spending all that time, past days, past years

pointed my life to somedays that

present more endings than beginnings

more even breaks than winnings

still, knowing what the time is today

doesn’t lessen the pain of what is drifting away

or make any easier the “good-byes” to say,

to this time, this day, this year.


©2020 Noreen Braman

Thursday, April 23, 2020

NAPOWRIMO April 23, 2020 Isolation Octopus


Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay


Isolation Octopus

digital tentacles extend out
reaching into the universe
from an electronic cephalopod
with information coursing through
its system of digital circuitry
lighting up a bulbous brain 
with changing colors
processing bits and bytes of life
redesigned in isolation
bleeding out over the wifi
feeding the living light fields
swelling in the server farm
capturing contact without interaction
transactions without movement
work without workplaces
below the vast ocean of data.

©2020 Noreen Braman

Monday, April 20, 2020

NAPOWRIMO April 19, 2020 6 word poem challenge


Image by 2427999 from Pixabay
6 Word Poem Challenge

Pandemic Poem

Pestilence proves tenacity
stronger than humanity.

©2020 Noreen Braman
with a shout out to Albert Camus
 

Friday, April 17, 2020

NAPOWRIMO April 17, 2020 International Haiku Day


Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay
Journey

life goes on despite
your plans to control its path
learn to mind the road

©2020 Noreen Braman