“We’re singing what?!”

A lot of the music I really like.  The others, the commoners will love.Our concert is Saturday at seven o’clock.  After four months, tonight was our last regular rehearsal before our “crunch week”, so to speak.  Dr. Lange held up a piece of music showing us the cover.

“Take out ‘The Ground’.”

That one?  What’s that?  I thought I had picked that up accidentally!  I almost handed it back last week.  When did we work on that one?

I pulled out my copy of “The Ground”, opening it to sing for the first time.  Fortunately, it’s pretty easy and let’s just keep all this between us.

Don’t let this deter you.  The Lange Ensemble is a collection of professional musicians… and me.  We actually sang the aforementioned piece so well we used precious rehearsal time so we could “play that one again”.  You may come and hear us sing this Saturday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lansing.  Below is a recording of “The Ground” by Central Washington University’s chamber choir.

(I could tell straight away the composer, Ola Gjeilo, was a movie music fan.  Can you?)


Not Your Classic Santy Claus

"Saint Nicholas" by Ann Tompert (Author) and Michael Garland (Illustrator)

“Saint Nicholas” by Ann Tompert (Author) and Michael Garland (Illustrator)

Medieval D likes to pretend St. Nick is the one leaving things on my doorstep.  He never let’s me thank him and will say he doesn’t know what I’m talking about.  He had phoned me while I was with Big Frodo.  We sat betwixt giant televisions at Leo’s discussing writers’ jobs and the proper balance between disgust with one’s fruitless life and utter despair for maximum productivity.  D was out delivering toys to girls and boys.

“Enjoy your beer.” he had said.

“What? Oh.  Ohhhhhh!  Thank you, David!”

Coming back from Writers’ Chat with Big Frodo I assumed my present would be outside my door.  Once I got there the beer was gone.

“Where’s my beer, David?” I asked him on the phone.  “Somebody stole my beer!”  I pass through a Bermuda’s Triangle of questionable, subsidized housing to get to my neighborhood — I’m sure I heard a clip fired off in the park near my house last week — and I saw four people meandering down the road more southerly than is usual, a bag in hand.  The poor and downtrodden are stealing my Saint Nicholas presents! I thought.

“Go back inside, Megan.”

“What?  It’s inside?”

“Go back inside.”  Moments later, I head a knock at my door.  I ran to look and there were two little glass bottles of Guinness outside.  Medieval D was no where to be seen.  I closed my door and locked it, to keep out the poor and downtrodden.  Good ol’ Medieval D.

Every year in Catholic circles people post and talk of the real St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, to counter the trite, fat elf.  I used to joke to an Evangelical friend, “Christmas is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of the pagan god Santa Claus.”  The real St. Nick did time.  Yes, you heard that correctly.  He was imprisoned during the Diocletian persecutions and was freed by the Edict of Milan.  In Catholic circles, we also love the story of St. Nicholas’ right hook to a famous heretic.  He reportedly punched the heretic Arius at the Council of Nicaea; unable to endure the rantings of this priest denying the full divinity of Christ, Santa walked over and clocked him.  I have no idea if he confessed it (which would have been public at the time — private confessions were begun later by St. Patrick).  Next year, I would like to make sugar cookies in the shape of boxing gloves.

Look for the book “Saint Nicholas” at your local libraries.  Though I do not believe the punching episode is recounted in this telling.

Cat Tries at Ghawazee

Here I am practicing for a show I was in on Saturday in Saginaw, MI.  I was very excited I was in enough dances to warrant a costume change (that is, two).

The Ghawazi are traveling lady dancers from rural Egypt.  This dance is of that vein.

Into the Harem with Tam o’ Shanter

Ten o’clock and not on stage yet.  Friday night and killing time in costume, finally the first act begins and I get a call from Medieval D, driving back from taking his girls to Silver Bells (the local tree-lighting ceremony at the capital building).  Since he was alone now, I pressured him into stopping by.  Mid-first act, I see him turn the corner of the hallway.  “Is that where it is?” he asked, looking toward the closed entrance to the hall.  Some song by Korn blared and beat against the double doors.

“Some people aren’t so into traditional music” I said.  D was anxious about being a stray looking in on my number, so before he arrived I told the two dancers checking names at the door, “Um, I have an ex-boyfriend coming.  He’s going to be peeking in the doors.”  I received blank stares.

“So… do you want us to bounce him or not?”

“Oh. Not.”  They assured me they were familiar with men peeking in the doors.

Medieval D and I waited in the hall through the first act and he moved to the music a bit as musicians like him do — half dancing, half directing.  Medieval music, he will tell you, is similar to Middle Eastern music, having common ancestors, a relationship that accounts for my love of the two.  Three women draped in garments to cover their costumes proceeded down the hall.  D looked at me.  “Double, double toil and trouble!” he said.

Between acts, the doors opened and I took Medieval D in behind the harem.  There are usually a few husbands about, given some technical busy work.  Not so this time.  The open bar was, well… opened (and had been for about an hour).  A young woman with her grandmother asked if we were looking for a spot.  I had hoped to plant D on the side somewhere; I was in the second dance and could sneak him out after that.  But the woman brought us to the second row of seats.  D was trapped on a chair in the middle of a room swirling with drunken women.  Now, D likes a room of happy, dancing, drunken ladies on any given night — as a musician and sensualist he loves wine, women and song — but even the bravest of men would feel a twinge of fear and incongruity as the sole man so deeply behind veil. I abandoned him to wait “backstage” (a hallway to the hotel’s kitchen area).  Not knowing my phone was turned off and sitting next to him, he sent me this text:

“I am literally the only guy in here… just waiting for them to start boiling the cauldron or waiting to see ol’ cutty sark!”

He explained to me later the “cutty sark” reference.  It is a theme from “Tam o’ Shanter“, a poem by the Scottish bard, Robert Burns.  Tam has left an evening of drinking, setting out for home upon his mare.  Along the way he happens upon some beautiful young witches dancing whom he watches, unseen.

As Tammie glowr’d, amaz’d, and curious,
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious;
The Piper loud and louder blew,
The dancers quick and quicker flew…

Tam o’ Shanter, becomes caught up in the provocative abandon of the witch in the cutty sark (short shirt).  He forgets caution and yells “…’Weel done, cutty sark!’/And in an instant all was dark.”  Discovered, poor Tam is furiously pursued.  He barely escapes when the witch in the cutty sark reaches for him but grasps his mare’s tail instead, ripping it clean off.

D sat, conspicuous, and saw us ladies of padded bras, glitter and vibrating shimmies.  A group of women behind him shouted cheers and zaghareets to friends on stage.  A number thrown in at the end the dancers had just learned an hour before.  “Keep that in mind.” they said.  “That’s okay, we’ve been drinking!” shouted the woman with her grandmother.

Afterwards, D kept giggling; I was sure he wanted to leave quickly.  I cleaned the glitter, Egyptian eye make-up and adhesive metallic accents from my face and we went for a beer.  He introduced me to “Tam o’ Shanter” and I congratulated him on the new experience in his repertoire of Wine, Women and Song.

Whene’er to Drink you are inclin’d,
Or Cutty-sarks rin in your mind,
Think ye may buy the joys o’er dear;
Remember Tam o’ Shanter’s mare.

Below is a practice video I made of the number I was in.  Pardon the explosion of laundry on my settee as well as the fuss over my headphones which kept catching in my cleavage and pulling out of my ears.  And keep in mind that when I am still, four other phantom dancers are active.

(Having trouble with youtube.  To see this video, visit my Facebook Page.)

The Dance of the Great Lakes

I am sitting here finishing my second post on “The Exorcist in the 21st Century” but I am afraid, my readers, I will have to take more time.  Yet I promise you it will be completed this weekend.  You see, the annual Great Lakes Belly Dance Convention starts today.  Post cubical paper-pushing, I am off to prepare to dance in the ten o’clock show, to deck myself in enough glitter and eyeliner and ruffles to play a prostitute in Cirque de Soleil.  Then, early Saturday, I’ll take my gear bag of coin belts, veil and zills, don yoga pants and what the plebeians call a “hoody” (my very first, recently purchased from Kellie’s Consignments — I don’t pay full price for plebeian), grab a notebook and prepare to learn from a variety of middle eastern dance instructors of the Great Lakes area.  I hear others go to get smashed on jello shots.  How one can learn sword and poi dances that way, I don’t want to know.

Wouldn’t I love to say I will write on Saturday night, especially since I’d still like to start that short story for NaNoWriMo, but I believe I am to go bend the elbow with Neekee and “Kath”.  Oh, and yes, I am to work a shift caring for people at Mother Teresa House at 7:00 a.m. Sunday.  But I do promise to take up the pen after that.

Exorcism, Always a Winner, Pt. I

This was the second showing in the United States for the Norwegian film.  As with many European films, documentary or fiction, it is quiet and patient.  “The Exorcist in the 21st Century” will pause often to visually reflect on the meaning or beauty of one movement, one process, one image.  An animal eating trash in the gutter, for instance, quietly opens a lens on the beastliness of evil and the degradation of humanity the demonic tries to drag God’s children to.  This approach is more respectful of an audience than the alternative.*  It did not try to manipulate me with an overbearing musical score or over-editing.  I was allowed space to think on my own.

The trailer implies a focus on Fr. Fortea yet I was pleased the movie was more variegated.  The filmmakers interviewed several exorcists worldwide who offered their sometimes varying views on whether an exorcist should remain anonymous or any merits of the famous 1970’s movie “The Exorcist”.  Throughout, the film crew also followed a Colombian woman who claimed to suffer possession and her faithful friend who tries to get her to help.  I was quite concerned about this since video is usually not allowed in an exorcism.  The process is an intensely personal, even embarrassing one with a vulnerable person and I don’t know why she would allow it to be filmed, much less the priest for the one exorcism shown.  Other than the perplexing choice of ending in which the strange phenomenon of speaking in tongues through the Holy Spirit is introduced but not explained, the documentary is very well done: not preachy, not dismissive — fairly played.

There were no scornful comments or questions in the afterward with Msgr. Michalek and Fr. Thelen.  I was a bit surprised since in response to the question from the M.C. “Did you like it?” the feminine half of the middle-aged pair in front of me said, “No!” and I spied two or three smirks amongst the crowd.  I was curious how many of them believed in demons or exorcism.  One questioner wondered at the fact that all the possessed shown were women (mostly Latina).  She thought perhaps these women are acting out for attention because they are powerless in their native cultures; quite an accusation against those women and their countries.  I myself figure men are so easily brought down with sexual sin, why would a demon waste time with possession?

The fathers (priests, that is) reassured all that these cases are very rare.  Though people watch films like this, fret about demons and think, “I need an exorcist!”, the general rule of thumb is, if a man comes to a priest insisting he needs an exorcism, it means he does not.  (I had the same reaction to “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” thinking I needed a juice fast.)  The reason for the several possessed seen in large gatherings in “The Exorcist in the 21st Century” is because when a known exorcist like Fr. Fortea visits, people in need of help come from everywhere.  Fr. Thelen recounted a friend’s experience in Europe in which what he described as A Busload of Polish Demoniacs visited a parish and went absolutely bonkers in adoration.**  One would hope the bus driver, accustomed to day trip bus tours for retirees, was forewarned on that one.

I did not fill in my ballot on “Exorcist” but you may see how well it’s fared in the competition here when the festival is done.  In Part II of this topic, I will recount my own experience with exorcists.

*I really do hate a bullying musical score and over-editing, the equivalent of explaining a joke.  These two together and it becomes a three hour music video and I might as well have left my brain in the car with a book so it has something interesting to do.  The one time I had to suffer a movie in 3-D I discovered that with the glasses I could only watch those parts of the scene the director wanted me to.  Any attempt to look at the set or other character and it was out of focus.  Twenty minutes of that and I tore the glasses off, shook my fist at the screen and shouted, “This is fascism, man!”

** “Adoration” is when the Eucharist is exposed in a monstrance (from the Latin, “monstrare”, meaning “to show”) for the purpose of prayer with Christ.  As you may know, we papists believe that the Eucharist is truly the body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord, Jesus.  If one believes a demon, which cannot stand the presence of anything of God, is in the physical presence of the Almighty, one can logically conclude the demon will go “positively apeshit”.

Exorcism at the East Lansing Film Fest

If you are unawares, the East Lansing Film Festival takes place this weekend.  I will be attending the film “The Exorcist in the 21st Century”.  I lifted this flyer from the Holy Spirit Oratory for this post and have every intention of returning it tomorrow morning, I do swear.  Msgr. Michalek I do not know yet Fr. Mathias is a very young priest who was the parochial vicar at my former parish.  If you come, bring your questions.

The film profiles Fr. Fortea, a Spanish priest with his doctorate in exorcism; I’ve read his book, “Interview with an Exorcist“.  Though it’s not at our local libraries, you can request it from Capital Area District Libraries here.  I did, in fact, visit with our own diocesan exorcist not long ago (not for exorcism).  Don’t ask me who he is; I will not tell you.

If you see me at the movie, feel free to say “hello”.  I will be the one with a notebook — I am always the only one at a movie with a notebook.

Lament Continues

Walking into dance class tonight, I was greeted by the sleek-looking Neekee, black pants and turtleneck, cascading bleach-blond hair.  She ties her hip scarf as I note her “I voted” sticker.  I ask if she’d gotten out and “voted Romney”.  She answers but I now question her sincerity.  We stand and chat before warm-ups.

Are you dancing at Convention?  No, I can’t; crazy weekend.   I’m gonna’ make the show on the 1st.  That’s great, I’ll save a jello shot for you.  Having a drink with David later so I can’t go out; he can’t stand the election.  Gotta’ pick up this and that.

“By the way,” she says, “I read that thing you wrote.”

“Oh.  The ‘Lamentation‘?”  She expresses to me that she is very sorry, that she thought of writing something to me online but waited, rather, to say it in person.  Those of my friends still with the library, she says, are all so very sorry and I then thank her.  My library people have known of my little dream of ships since I started work there.  At that time, I began actively seeking ships and writing to them.

“Eric read it.  And Carol told me about it.”

“Oh, Carol read it?  That’s very sweet.”

“Yes, and Kathy read it too…”

“Well, they don’t all have to read it.”

Neekee continues, looking up and counting off with her fingers all those who’ve “read it”.  I pantomime taking out my notebook and tick off the names as she lists them.

“Did Tom read it?” I ask.

“No, I don’t think Tom read it.”  I shake my head and cross off Tom’s name.

Slow Arab techno as we stretch the right arm to the ceiling, palm in, palm out, left arm to the ceiling, palm in, palm out, bend at the waist, stretch to the floor.  As I brush my hands from the right foot to the left foot I become tearful.  Walking my hands out  in front, lifting my heels, pressing my heels, stretching the calves, tightness in my throat thinking on The Bounty.  I don’t like the moments when I think on it and am not grieved, when I am too scattered in thought about the whole thing to find the fitting sadness to settle into.  The whole business feels an artificial concern until it’s found.

Soon enough we are moving through parallel figure-eights with baskets on our heads and the mind has other business.

Please say prayers for the captain and his family, as well as for Miss Christian and hers.  His memorial service is tomorrow.  My Bounty friend, Kenn, boarded a plane for it today after voting.  I certainly care less about this election than I had expected to today.

If my lament has meant anything to anyone, especially to those who have far greater reason to grieve than I, I am honored.

For those of us who didn’t get the chance know them, an obituary for Claudene Christian, and here is one for Capt. Robin Walbridge.



“Do you ever feel  like your life is passing you by?”

Early Monday morning I sent this message to Big Frodo.  At last report, the crew of the HMS Bounty had abandoned ship and all had been rescued by the Coast Guard. It was hoped the ship would survive the storm and be salvaged. I thought on the SV Satori in Sebastian Junger’s “The Perfect Storm”, the sailing vessel abandoned but later found intact. The Satori was a fraction the size of The Bounty. Writing to a new friend of mine, close comrade of The Bounty and her captain, I said, “ I assume you feel what I feel: a sense of longing and regret at not being there to weather it with them… Maybe that’s a mad thought.”

I had mistakenly thought The Bounty was in the shipyard for the whole of winter and was thus surprised to see her headed to Florida. The last report I saw before sleep Sunday night was that one of her generators had failed and she was “taking on more water than they would like”. Mechanical problems happen at sea, as do bad storms. Not worried it could not be handled, I went to sleep and awoke to the heartbreak that the crew had to abandon her. Further dread arose when I received the email that she had sunk and some crew were unaccounted for.

The few of you who know my writings here know that I’ve had sailing on a tall ship as my castle in the air; since childhood I’ve propped it and patched it with the Quixotic idea it will become what it is meant to be. It is very difficult to leave one’s life for just a stint and have a life to come back to. I had petitioned the library to allow a few months’ leave but learned they never allow leave, not even for professional development for librarians. Two weeks’ vacation was all anyone was given (though, never taking vacations, I had accrued months of paid leave). My new Bounty friend aforementioned told me that if two weeks was all I had, two weeks may be possible; Capt. Walbridge honors a great desire to sail. Two weeks on a ship is a sad compromise but a beggar takes the scraps.

You may notice I’ve been absent from my writing the last year. It has been a troubled one. I lost work with the library and experienced a “series of unfortunate events”, the details of which I won’t bother you with. Newly housed in a cubical for Corporate America, I was at a starting point again for accruing paid leave. Though as of late, I came to the realization I have nothing to stay for and was preparing my petition for The Bounty. Then the hurricane came.

Some years ago, I visited The Bounty with my pal Kim.  A crew member gave us a tour of the crew’s quarters. I remember the tight bunks, the kitchen, feeling the floor move beneath my feet as I listened to this deckhand say what an incredible thing it is to be handed a baton of knowledge centuries old, now given over to so few. Later, speaking to Capt. Walbridge, I eyed his endearing sailorly pigtail. I could see he’d had a proper haircut at one point which had mostly grown out and some graying locks were askew from the wind because they could not make it to the hair tie. I remember little of what he said. I’m known for my focus on the inconsequential.  In later email correspondence, Capt. Walbridge informed me they were at their crew limit for Disney. I put off my speculations for later.

That fall, on the plane to Boston and back again, I read “Mutiny on the Bounty” by Charles Nordhoff.  I was visiting a convent in the city for a vocations weekend (that is, for women inquiring about becoming a Sister). This time also became a difficult one, feeling the pull in three directions: the religious life, marriage and the sea. Not a one happened.

Big Frodo was a journalist until his newspaper went under. He is a devoted writer of excellent quality in a suffering industry. He replied to me Monday that he did indeed feel like his life is passing him by. For him, watching coverage of the hurricane, he feels the pull of the writer to record stories of those in the thick of life. Instead, he is here, watching, and so am I.

Later in the day my heart sank when I saw that Capt. Robin Walbridge was one of the missing. And later, Claudene Christian was recovered lifeless. I recognized her from my Bounty friend’s pictures. He had sailed with Claudene just recently. For the last several days I’ve spent most my time before the internet news.  I just sit with the computer in my lap and click “refresh”.

Within tears and prayers I don’t know what part of my grief is vicarious sorrow for my friend who knew them well, what is from the fact I knew the captain a little or what is from the casualty of my own selfish hopes. By Tuesday I prayed the angels would help the captain. By All Saints Day I prayed to St. Maximillian Kolbe whose last days witness to me that there is no dark place in Creation that does not belong to God and which cannot be made a temple of Joy. But by sunset and the start of All Souls Day, the Coast Guard called off their search for the captain. Excrutiation. In the readings for Mass was this:

But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure was taken for misery: And their going away from us, for utter destruction: but they are in peace. And though in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality. Afflicted in few things, in many they shall be well rewarded: because God hath tried them, and found them worthy of himself.

As gold in the furnace he hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust he hath received them, and in time there shall be respect had to them. The just shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the reeds. They shall judge nations, and rule over people, and their Lord shall reign for ever. They that trust in him, shall understand the truth: and they that are faithful in love shall rest in him: for grace and peace is to his elect. [Wisdom 3:1-9]

There are other tall ships, yes, but none like The Bounty. And there is no other like Captain Robin Walbridge.

A Day at the OK, Installment II

Petey R refuses to eat vegetables.  I am always looking for ways to sneak them into him.  I don’t mean in ways like the cruel tricks I play on “Kath”, but clever and delicious ways like making cauliflower mash that looks and tastes like mashed potatoes (but certainly doesn’t smell like them).  This William Sonoma cookbook gives four ways each to make classic dishes.  I don’t remember the other two but this fanned tomato is a way to make Capresian salad.  A Caprese kabob was the other I remember (which I don’t think would work well).

It was so delicious I was strongly tempted to lick the plate.  I took this one in for Petey R at the library last Sunday because I know he likes “‘maters” as he calls them.  (Every time he says ” ‘mater” I insist on saying “tomahto”.)

“Will you eat a leaf of basil?” I asked.  He said he would.  If he had said “no” I would have told him to give it to someone else.  Caprese Salad without fresh basil is just a ‘mater with cheese.  You should know ahead of time that this salad is tomato-dependent.  Get the best tomatoes you can.

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