Categories
Art Grief Singing Spirit

Finding My Voice

SINGING- Finding My Voice

Olga once told me the worst thing you can do when you lose your voice is to whisper.

Instead, she said, you should either stay silent or try to talk normally so as not to damage the vocal chords. Clearly over the past year, I chose silence.

Just like talking about losing my voice found its appropriate time to be spoken aloud, this new season I am walking into is surprising. With the silence broken, I find myself immersed again in music and it brings joy not sorrow. Well, not every time because sorrow lingers in the corners of words and holidays.

Last week, I found myself at church singing as if no one else might be in the room. My voice has grown stronger and in that, so has my range… Olga, one of my repositories of information on all things vocal and musical once mentioned that the voices of women establish themselves in their thirties. I think it’s kind of magical really. Her own vocal transition is testament to that. The voice is an interesting animal.

In being silent from singing for a year, my voice is making itself known now.

Several Christmases ago, I encouraged my Dad to sit at the piano and play carols so we could sing them. It had been years since we had sung together. He chuckled and his eyebrows unexpectedly shot up with a “really?” This dormant part of me wanted to sing with my Dad like days of yore. And we knocked out a few songs together before retiring to the living room with the rest of the family. Singing had been our language early on and somewhere along the way we had set it aside.

In retrospect, he never knew my penchant and love of singing harmony. We didn’t have mutual songs other than those that breathed of childhood and thus tasted musty and out-of-date in my high school aged mouth. I fretted over sentimentality and he could appreciate it. I embarrassed easily when singing alone.

And then came college. And Choral Union with Ms. T. Later followed by singing more with church after church and while at college with another student group.

SINGING- Finding My Voice

The voice I have today reminds me of the three grey strands of hair poking out from the crown of my head. They are mine. They come at a cost.  See, for anyone who likes to sing (or run or swim or bike) the limitations stop us in our heads first. To climb over that wall, conquer that impasse is to forge a new path and perhaps take a risk.

As Beck says, “you can go higher than that” to me when we sing and play together, I have passed it off with a glib rebuff.  I am now scampering over those walls with delight and unabashed glee.

It feels good to sing again. Infectious. It feels good to know my Dad would want it so.

Categories
Art Grief Singing Spirit

Losing My Voice

Grief does weird things to a person.

You don’t exactly know the when or the where, but you know to take this visitor at its word, when it says it will drop by. Right after my dad’s funeral, people kindly sent emails, texts and phone calls. In the void and silence not to be filled, each word felt like a buoy to anchor me from the weightlessness that threatened to carry me deep into the sky. What is it about that levity that drains time of its usual punctuality, letting present ebb into future and blurring the lines of the past? Except for the event itself, when each detail can be recalled with rote precision.

Some of my earliest memories of my dad bring to mind two voices singing in unison. My starbird voice trilling in that high pitch special to children. His bass would carry the bottom like a firm foundation upon which the house could be built. He would take me out “driving” on his lap- hands latched onto the wheel, steering our way straight from the veering and careening he would do, I thought, so he could see Mama’s face contort into that of an irritated mime. In choir, his deep sonorous bass distinctively stood out from the lighter sopranos, mezzos, baritones and tenors. At one point in time, I equally spoke into existence my intention to be opera singer and fashion designer. My parents taught me to dream big and I did not disappoint.

I started really singing in church. Like Axl Rose. Like MC Hammer and probably scores of other singers. During high school, I auditioned for a youth singing group and made it in, though my point of pride settled on me being the only female rapper one year for choir tour. I wove the words around one another in rhythmic time and felt myself all the more impressive because of my cap worn backwards. Ah, youth. It’s no surprise really that my best friend is an opera singer and I casually took up karaoke.

The week my Dad died, I emailed Karl, our church music director, explaining I would not be able to sing with the church band, that I was in Texas, that my Dad had unexpectedly died. This was soon followed with a conversation that included the words “hiatus” and “not sure when”. Three months bled into six that later became eight and finally almost a year. I couldn’t get up the gumption to sing- it was like the song had been stolen from my mouth.

Months after his death, I would find myself alone in church, wearing a hat, feeling the part of the walking wounded. It didn’t take much to be bowled over emotionally- from the turn of a lyric, the chord progression, the violin playing pizzicato. And that surge of sorrow swept over me anew. There is nothing more mortifying than weeping in a crowd full of singers or trying to unsuccessfully stifle the growing storm. There is also nothing more humanizing. I would catapult myself out onto the street where the austere sun would shine its cold rays of sunlight upon me. The ambient street noises muffled against the backdrop of this particular kind of loneliness.

I say this because it needs to be said.

Last year, I learned a specific way to take care of myself- that it’s okay to seek out solitude and crave it greedily. It’s okay to sob because a silhouette on the street resembles that person. It’s okay to be embraced and sat with and prayed for and cooked for because sometimes your body wants you to stop and take heed.

Then Easter changed everything.

It did not bring back my Dad. It’s hard to explain in words really. It did remove some of the burden of the loss and the lungs that had felt unsturdy weeks prior began to feel stronger. I emailed Karl and said I thought I might be ready. Perhaps I could try and sing again? In his kind, gentle way, Karl told me there was no pressure. I could practice with the band and if I didn’t feel up to it, I didn’t have to stay and sing.

SINGING- Losing My Voice

The lights blazed on our faces. The microphone blared until the sound was equalized. My nightmare of crumpling emotionally on the platform during a song went unfounded. And something about losing myself in the harmonies strung around the melody, around the guitar rhythms, the hand-tapped drum beats on my thigh somehow brought my Dad closer. Music- the very thing that had for months felt too painful and too approximate to the forging and physical extinguishing of our relationship, now became sealant and mender.

I stopped singing for a year because it felt like the right thing to do and because I had no choice. My body began telling me how to interpret “take care of yourself” and once I started listening to my body, I began to find my voice again.

Categories
Poetry

valley of shadow and ash by annelies zijderveld

valley of shadow and ash – first draft 

in this valley of shadow and ash,
i quake and tremble of the forward,
the backward keening out of view.

how to move on without losing
how to let go without-

to be present and awake to life in its simplicity :
the iguana crawl, crab scuttle, monkey swing
by tail or arm, the turtle flail in sand;- her time come

how to stop time to sketch in the eyes
how to steer the wheel of time-

impossible.

instead we take humble steps, we scratch
days off calendars, we light candles,

in death, the dead are whole, not fractured
fragments of bygone eras.

for a moment, we can hold all of them-
the mischievous child, high school band leader,
college student, husband, father, teacher.

for a moment our hands are full.

and then we find them grasping the shadow
of what once was, but can never be stolen or revoked.
take comfort in the permanence
of impermanence of coalescing from body to spirit
of watching the moth alight from the window into wind

by annelies zijderveld (c)

Categories
Recipes

Orange Black Cookies

DESSERT RECIPES- Orange & Black Cookies

2010 has been a bit of a doozy as years go. You take the sweet and the bitter.

It was the year Holland almost clinched the World Cup in South Africa. For several weeks on pre-set days, I take on a resemblance of a character from Halloween in a non-October timeframe. An ardent fan of watching the orange and black jerseys scuttle on the field, I took the early bus on several occasions to work, just so I could sit at my self-designated World Cup pub and watch the matches with others excited about the possible outcomes on the field. The rag tag crew that gathered at the pub seemed to play on the same soccer team or that’s the impression I got. Over steaming cups of coffee, we would yell at the screen, along with the bartender, sidled up to the bar. Most of them quietly eschewed my female presence among their male gathering except the bartender. He called me the Dutch team’s “lucky charm” and said when I walked in wearing my Holland jersey, they made their goals.

The final match conveniently fell on my best friend Olga’s birthday. I happened to be house-sitting at a sprawling home with a tv and plenty of space to accommodate our two rooms full of friends to a birthday cum world cup viewing party. While guests sat on the plush red couches, I sat perched on the edge of a red ottoman close to the tv, willing the orange and blacks, the Dutch to win. They played dirty football that I described as “pirate soccer,” tripping and pulling their way toward an inconceivable number of yellow cards. Even still, they were my team, part of my ancestry and in the back of my mind, I played that foolish game of thinking if they could just win, somehow it might ease the pain of my Dad’s recent death.

He loved soccer and even was responsible several years in a row for bringing a young Bolivian soccer team to my hometown to play in the Dallas cup. He would hoot and holler from the stands. He brought noisemakers. He was that guy. After the game, he took the team out to dinner with other friends where they celebrated their heritage and the camaraderie of teamwork. My spoken Dutch equates to counting one to seven and a children’s song about a dog that barks “woof wof woof wof;” whereas his fluency seldom came out but when it did, his face came alive as he chattered excitedly. It was part of the fabric of self. It was always the part of him he kept most tucked away in Texas. The part of him, I had hoped to one day understand better by traveling with him to the Netherlands.

You can imagine my chagrin when the Spanish made that final goal and with it, amid the cheers in the room, the hopefulness of the party diminished as I fought to control my tears. It was irrational, but still his absence was so new. In the early days especially, so much life feels transcribed by their voice and touch… But I collected myself and off we went to sing happy birthday to a beaming Olga.

Two weeks ago, I got married.

Nathan’s passion for baseball and the Giants puts my love of World Cup soccer to shame. His knowledge of statistics, player’s batting averages, names and detailed information on radio announcers gives serious pause. The guy could easily bleed orange and black. For his birthday a few years ago, we rounded up several of his friends and family to celebrate at a game at AT&T park. In between the sixth and seventh innings, the message “Happy Birthday Nathan” lighted the jumbo-tron as we unpeeled the paper linings of mini carrot cupcakes I’d made for the occasion. Oh yeah, he’s an avid Giants fan.

So it should really come as no surprise that on our honeymoon, we found ourselves wandering to a local pub in the town where we were staying to nosh on bar food, drink Oktoberfest off the draft and revel in the Phillies – Giants playoffs, though sometimes we left with more of a knot in our stomachs than a good feeling. The bartender began memorizing our drinks and recognizing us as we came in later in the week. He said he felt more invested in who won because of our dedication.

Nathan’s enthusiasm was contagious. Where I might have been a bit of a fan when we first met, I was now invested and took pride in yukking it up with the guys about how the team was playing. By game six of the playoffs, I drove us through the rain to the ballpark, trying to eke out a place for us at the Public House bar. No luck there, we found ourselves at a tapas microbrewery called the Thirsty Bear. I know personally how much better a game is when you’re surrounded by people intent on the outcome you too desire. My date night to Nathan, I wanted him to be thronged by orange and black. When they won, he pumped his fist up and down, then mechanically clapped his palms together exultant.

For two weeks, I’ve worn orange and black through the mostly black clad streets downtown, a nod to my dedication to see the Giants go all the way in the World Series. This has been a mite strange since normally the Rangers would be my other go-to baseball team. I am Texan after all and my first ball game was watching the Rangers. Friends have teasingly scorned me for not rooting for the Rangers, but I’m a bit of a misfit like those Giants and found myself lured into their success or defeat. Tonight, they did it. They won the World Series! If you were here in San Francisco, you might hear horns honking, people yelling and whooping it up. Fireworks crackling in the night sky. People excited to be a part of the winning team.

One rainy day during the honeymoon a few weeks back, we trolled a used bookstore. He wandered down to fantasy / sci fi as I perused the poetry section, then meandered over to food. I stumbled upon David Lebovitz’s “Ready for Dessert” and while thumbing through the pages came across the recipe for one of my favorite cookies. So in honor, of the Giants I’ve adapted a similar recipe from Gourmet magazine: celebrating the Giants’ victory, the Dutch legacy that keeps me clad in orange and black every four years and the passage of a baseball team from New York to San Francisco. I give you the Orange & Black.

orange & black cookies

 

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ORANGE & BLACKS
adapted from Gourmet Magazine

Think of them as Black & White cookies, just better. They take my love of chocolate and pair it with a subtle orange. It’s the new little black dress of cakey cookies. Trust me, they’re a home run. Hah! Eat while weaing a giants ballcap or perhaps if you’re lucky, a holland jersey or perhaps in New York…

COOKIES

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
ICINGS
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

Make cookies:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in a cup.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes, then add egg, beating until combined well. Mix in flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately in batches at low speed (scraping down side of bowl occasionally), beginning and ending with flour mixture. Mix until smooth.

Spoon 1/4 cups of batter about 2 inches apart onto a buttered large baking sheet. Bake in middle of oven until tops are puffed and pale golden, and cookies spring back when touched, 15 to 17 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a rack and chill (to cool quickly), about 5 minutes.

Make icings while cookies chill:
Stir together confectioners sugar, corn syrup, orange juice, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl until smooth. Transfer half of icing to another bowl and stir in cocoa, adding more water, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, to thin to same consistency as white icing.

Ice cookies:
Turn cookies flat sides up, then spread white icing over half of each and chocolate over other half.

Note: If you can stand the wait, cookies taste better if cooled without being chilled.

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