A Forgetful Man (and other things)

Hey readers! Here’s a cool thing on the internet you may find interesting, or reassuring, or simply true:

A Forgetful Man by Tom Rich

That link will take you to a blog post by a dear friend of mine, whom I have erstwhile referred to on this blog as Leftenant Weatherby. I also post this by way of apology because, in the fashion elucidated by Rich, I seem to have forgotten how to make regular posts about interesting topics on this blog. I’ll get back to it soon, promise. The good news is that I am writing—if you can call it that. I am limping forward on my manuscript, a few paragraphs at a time. The way it’s going right now, a single sentence is a mighty victory. I’m nervous about the whole project as I near the end of the manuscript; the ending is the part I am most unsure about, the part most susceptible to criticism. I can easily imagine a scenario where I end up completely re-doing the last few chapters on the advice of my first readers. In order to get advice from first readers, though, I have to do the best I can with my manuscript and get it ready to be read.

I’m still playing the harp. My teacher says I’m doing very well, and I should be proud of myself. I can play quite a few little songs now, and they’re real songs, not “baby-music”, as my teacher puts it. Maybe in the near future I can make a video of me playing, and share it with you. Would that be of interest?

harp

My biggest scheme right now is to save enough money to purchase the harp I am renting. My teacher is selling it for a discounted price, and all the money I am putting in for rent will go towards that purchase. At first I wanted to save up for an entirely different harp (were all things equal, I would prefer one that was not blue) but that will take too long. I am too anxious to begin modifying this one; I want to install more levers, and a pick-up, and purchase a more padded case (because apparently I will never ever master the skill of walking through a door without banging my harp against it). And I want to do all that while paying my student loans, and saving up for more travel at some point soon. The obvious, most economical option is to purchase the harp I have, and with a little work I can slowly turn it into exactly the harp I want.

My last post was about making changes. It is a period of change in the Makley household—my father has entered a weight-loss competition at work. Since of course we have to support him(!!) I have seized upon this as an opportunity to change my own habits for the healthier. I’m trying to cut sugar and bread out of my diet as much as possible, and hoping to re-integrate exercise into my routine within the next week.

There are other things I am working on, other things I have forgotten, other things I am thinking about, but they will have to wait. I hope you’re having a good day. Let’s all keep keeping on.

-Grace out

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Hobbit, Book Two, and Harp

I found out last week that it’s really hard to do multiple blog posts in a week, especially if that week is one of the few leading up to Christmas.

I owe you a review of The Hobbit movie. Perhaps later? Or maybe I will just say this: the things in this movie that were good were really good. In several ways it exceeded my expectations. The things that were not good about this movie, though, were really not good, and for me these things rendered the movie less than a success overall. If you were not bothered by the things that bothered me or were able to set them aside more readily, I am happy for you, and since I’d really hate to ruin the experience for someone else I’m not going to get into any specifics here.

I’ve been stressed out about getting everything ready for the holidays and saving up for my first student loan payment (due three days after Christmas). It’s getting in the way of the writing; I haven’t moved forward on Wanderlust in a number of days. I did write 700 words of the first chapter of Wanderlust Book Two last night, though, so I’ve been thinking about the characters. I haven’t told anyone about that Book Two opening scene yet. I’m worried it’s too dark, but I’ve been playing with it for months and it feels really true to the characters and true to the tone I’m trying to set for a second book. Not that I’m even working on Book Two yet—just letting it bump around in my subconscience and dashing down ideas as they come. Eventually we’ll see how it all plays out.

Harp lessons are still going really well; I’ve had three now. I’m working on a lot of stuff and getting better every day. I’ve even played at a few open mics, which was fun and nerve-wracking. How do all these guys with guitars regularly play stuff and sing at the same time? Oh, I bet they’ve been playing their instrument for more than a month. That must have something to do with it. I’m impatient to learn more things and get my own harp and play better and faster, but at the same time I love every minute of playing exercises and chords and even just holding the thing as I tune it (and it’s even holding a tune better than it did when I first got it). About a week ago practicing the harp did begin to feel like work, because I was frustrated on a couple of my pieces and also my hand hurt from doing something else and I was worried that harping would make it worse. This thing, where little things get in the way and make it hard to keep going, is something I recognize from every other instrument I’ve ever tried to play. And yes, I didn’t practice for two days in a row this weekend. But then I did practice and I worked through it and I still love the harp and the sound of it and everything about it. I really think I’ve finally found my instrument, and that I won’t be putting it aside anytime soon.

Hopefully I’ll update again before the 25th, but in case I don’t, I wish you a very Merry Christmas, and I hope you and your family have a delightful holiday season.

-Grace

Updates and Oddments

I’m preparing an actual blog post about an actual topic, but it will have to wait a few more days. We’re in an uproar here, by which I mean we are all sitting around in our bathrobes with cups of coffee, but we do have to leave in a few hours. We’re going to Boston tonight, to see our excellent and admirable cousin play The Pirate King in an MIT production of Pirates of Penzance. Since it is (it is) a glorious thing to be a Pirate King, this is something we really could not miss.

I’ll give you some updates—it’s all I have time for.

Harp: Still GOING WELL, although since our car was in the shop I had to cancel Wednesday’s lesson. I have the two songs my teacher gave me memorized, and I can play them at a fair speed. I can also play nearly all the songs from Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and I also know the chords to Billy Joel’s Downeaster Alexa and can even play them nearly up to tempo, and I almost have all the verses memorized. My harp teacher is sending me new music, and with any luck I shall see her next Friday so she can tell me all of the things I am Doing Wrong. I am hungry for that new music. I am still playing every day, but for the last week it hasn’t really felt like a challenge.

Wanderlust: I am cruising through chapter 8, and I really feel that the end (of this revision) is in sight. The writing may be questionable in the later chapters, but at least the plot was mostly hammered out by the time I wrote them. I have a theory this will make revision easier. Thanks to a comment by Lady Higg on my last post, I may have come up with an entirely different format for the stories-within-stories. This is both exciting and scary, because it will require working back into chapter one AGAIN.

Also, a big thank you to The Literary Man for being my 70th follower mere minutes after Tuesday’s post begging for one more follower to round out the number. As you will notice, the counter now reads 75, so thank you to ALL my new followers. Your presence here is very much appreciated.

And now, I will give you one more thing. A few weeks ago, when I was mired in chapter 4 of Wanderlust and didn’t think I would ever get out, I began a crusade of finishing things. Knocked out that cross stitch I abandoned four years ago in a single afternoon. Finally made some progress on that doll kit I got for christmas about ten years ago. It was very satisfying to work on these small projects because my big project was so overwhelming. I also finished an old drawing on the back of my bedroom door, the side that faces into the hallway. A long time ago, I began to draw a picture of Vanya on it in white chalk or oil pastel. When I tried to wash it off I discovered it was almost definitely oil pastel, which makes sense as the drawing dates from the era when I tried to use oil pastels for everything. Since the drawing wouldn’t wash off, I decided to finish it. It looks a little silly, because I was working from a very old drawing, but I’m attracted to the way the pastels (I used chalk pastels to finish it) fade into the wood. Since I didn’t feel like finishing up the lower anatomy, I hung the large version of the Wanderlust cover (printed out for my senior show) on top of the pastel image. I like the finished result; the pastel drawing functions like an echo of the actual book cover, and its close interaction with the wood grain of the door gives it a magical, dreamy feel.

Pastel Vanya on wood door

It Went Well

And this is what I’ve spent all my free time doing for the past few days. I can already play my first song! I play it very slowly, but still. That harp is a Harpsicle, a quality instrument designed to be lightweight and inexpensive. They also come in pretty colors! See their website for more details: http://harpsicleharps.com/. On Wednesday I paid to rent the harp for two months, and I have another lesson in two weeks. The Harp Lady gave me two songs to work on, in addition to working on form and hand placement and all that. It’s fun and challenging  and… it’s a harp. Even when I’m just playing chords, it sounds so nice. So far, I am loving every minute.

 

Harp Lessons (!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Big day tomorrow. A big, fat, exciting, living-the-dream sort of day. Tomorrow, I begin harp lessons.

I’ve been wanting to learn the harp for years, pretty much ever since Vanya happened. It’s been an off and on sort of thing—a dream that flares up with a roar, and then retreats, tail between its legs, because I do not have the time, money, or space to feed it. I also have a poor track record with learning instruments (viola, bagpipes, and piano are all on the list of instruments I’ve abandoned) and so I couldn’t justify purchasing a harp (they’re really expensive) until I have some idea of whether I’ll stick with it. The obvious answer is to rent a harp, but finding a place to rent a harp from is a whole different set of logistics, and for the past five years I’ve been moving back between Maine and Michigan anyway, and I just hadn’t been able to make it happen yet.

Friday. As I left the Town Office, a familiar shape caught my eye. I’ve developed a sort of ingrained reaction to harp-shaped things, thanks to the amount of time I’ve spent drawing/researching/writing about/thinking about harps. An automatic, head-turn, what’s-that-now? sort of thing. There was a cork board covered in business cards, and the one my eye flew to featured a photograph of a pedal harp, and the words, “The Harp Lady.” The card mentioned weddings, dinners, concerts, parties, events, aaaand…. LESSONS. Harp Lady, I said as I unpinned the card, you are JUST who I’ve been looking for.

When I got home I sent her an email right away, wondering about her lesson prices and if she was currently taking students and whether she was aware of any options for renting a harp in the area. Not having access to a harp is a pretty major stumbling block to learning to play one, and judging by some of the rental prices I found online it would take me a few weeks to raise the money. So I was really, really excited and hopeful, but I figured it would still be a little while before the whole thing came together.

The Harp Lady called me one hour after I emailed her(!). Not only was she willing to set up a lesson with me, she has a Harpsicle harp available to rent(!!!), and both of these for such reasonable prices that I could come up with the necessary cash in a few days. EEP! So we scheduled a lesson for Wednesday. Tomorrow. I am SO EXCITED.

I’m also a little scared, because I know I have romantic notions about harping but any instrument is hard work when you get down to it and what if it’s just the same as every other instrument I’ve tried to learn and I give up before I really get anywhere? At the same time, I really want this. The one time I sat with a harp last year (trembling, hardly daring to touch it) I loved the feel of it on my shoulder, and the way my hands shaped a chord (thumbs up, first and middle fingers down, one two three). I’m genuinely excited for the actual act of playing and learning, not just for the after part when I’ve already learned to play brilliantly.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way about any of the instruments I’ve tried before, and I am so hoping that this time, I’ll get it right. At any rate, it’s too late to turn back. Tomorrow, the journey begins.

I will let you know how it goes.

The Harper Boy, and How He Began

A few nights ago, during a family game of Citadels, I said, “Now I’m going to spend all my gold and build a library.”

My mother said, “That’s just like you!”

My own harper boy, Vanya.

One of the September projects I am undertaking is to sort, weed, and organize my personal library, so I can finally get all my favorite books out of boxes onto my shelves. In the process, I’ve been finding a lot of old treasures. Most interestingly, I found some forgotten evidence of how my conception of the wandering Harper Boy began. These books (and song) clearly had a direct influence on my creation of Vanya, the harper boy of Wanderlust, and on the formation of my own life-dreams as well.

First, Adam of The Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray, and illustrated by Robert Lawson (pictured cover by Neil Truscott).

It’s all there in that lushly illustrated cover: the traveling Boy with his Harp (and dog!). Please note that the harp is strung incorrectly; it’s the only thing wrong with an otherwise lovely cover. Adam of the Road is a medieval adventure story about a boy who loses his minstrel father and his dog and must find his way through the dangers of medieval England alone. I’ve penciled the year 2001 inside the cover, alongside my name, so I read this book over ten years ago, in about sixth grade. Given that, the clarity with which I remember parts of it is surprising. Late in the book Adam reunites with a close friend. They find each other during a church service, however, and must contain their joy, keeping it close and secret and spoken only by their jostled elbows and shared smiles, until the service is over. I just re-read that scene, and it is so brief, barely half a page! It left such a large impression on me regardless; it’s cool how memory works that way. I also remember strongly the deep pain of loss when Adam’s harp is stolen. I remember the loss of the harp, and not the loss of the dog, though Adam himself cared more about the latter. At any rate, the dog is recovered, and the harp is not. At the end of the book Adam is offered a place to stay and become a scholar, but he says, “No, thank you. I am a minstrel. I want to be on the road (Gray, 320).

Next, a picture book: The Minstrel and The Dragon Pup by Rosemary Sutcliff and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark.

Again, I barely need to say it. It’s all there in the cover: The slight-figured blonde young man walking through a green world with a harp. (And a dragon; how cool!) This is a charming little book, well-illustrated and containing more words than the average picture book. I first encountered it as an excerpt in a Cricket magazine, and happily found the entire book in hardcover at a discount store not long after (I think this was Middle School). The book is all about the Minstrel and his Dragon, of course, but it’s set within the archetype of the wandering minstrel, the harper who never stays in the same place for more than a few days. As a further parallel to Vanya, this minstrel even makes a sort of magic with his harp to gain the king’s trust at the end. Reunited with his dragon, he says, “Now we’re going home. Home to the open road, you and I” (Sutcliffe, 42).

There are a few other books that honed my image of the wandering harper, notably The Riddlemaster Trilogy by Patricia McKillip (which I somehow never quite finished, even though I loved it) and even Tokien’s The Hobbit, where Thorin Oakenshield is brought a harp that first night in Bag End when the dwarves weave a magic Far o’er the misty mountains cold…  Yet I think the third largest formative influence in my conception of the Harper Boy, the conception that led to my own Vanya, is the song The Minstrel Boy, written by Thomas Moore (full lyrics and some history here). The version I knew was by the celtic rock band Enter The Haggis.

The Minstrel boy to the war has gone

In the ranks of Death you will find him

His father’s sword he hath girded on

and his wild harp slung behind him.

The Minstrel boy has a ‘wild harp’ slung on his back, a harp he has taken to war, which further cements the image of a boy and his harp as fearless travelers. This song, which I discovered in early high school, is where the boy and his harp became distinctly Irish, and also where they became noble and tragic. The minstrel falls, and before he dies he “tears asunder” the chords of his harp, so that it will “never sound in slavery.” This, perhaps, is where Vanya acquired the haunting sadness that runs deep in his bones.

Adam of the Road, The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup, and The Minstrel Boy. All of these contributed to my conception of the Harper Boy archetype, and subconsciously led to the creation of Vanya, my own darling Harper Boy. The harp itself is a very feminine object (I can share my essay that touches on the erotic connection between a man and his harp at a later date), and a woman playing a classical harp is an archetype of grace and sophistication. The woman at her harp is an aristocratic image (like this still from Disney’s The Artistocats), and it is a stationary image. The woman and her harp sit in the parlor, to please and be worshiped by the society and menfolk around her. But a boy with a harp? He slings his wild harp on his back, and he travels the world. If (when? When) I learn to play the Celtic harp, I will, of course, be a foxy harper lady—yet I want to embody the archetype of the traveling harper, of the Harper Boy. The dream breaks down somewhat when I consider the logistics of carrying a harp on my back in addition to a pack containing my laptop and other life necessities, but I’m not convinced it’s impossible. Vanya is my darling boy, and I say that like a mother; a title I claim because I crave, so badly, through my work and words, to give him life. He is the culmination of all the influences that created my myth of the Harper Boy, but he is also that lost and wanting part of me that needs to strike out, brave and wild, and fill my beating heart with faraway skies and the music of distant roads. It’s a romantic notion, but long-term traveling, or any traveling, is a thing people do, a real thing I can aspire to and plan towards. And if my inspiration is partially fueled by the idea of the wandering minstrel, by that boy and his harp, who will blame me? We all come from somewhere and, as much as he comes from the influences I’ve listed, Vanya also comes from me, and wherever I go, whether I learn to harp or not, I’ll carry him too.

* * *

Leave a comment, if you like. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post. Have you had any similar experiences, where you didn’t realize what books or songs influenced you until you found them again later on? What characters and archetypes have informed your life? Does my archetype of the Harper Boy agree with your own mythology?