Need

December 6, 2012

I have a child. She’s not a child; I should perhaps say I have offspring. She’s almost 22. She lives here, with me and my pretend-husband.

I don’t have a job. I get money every month from my father and I earn a little bit as a church organist.

My pretend-husband has a job and pays a lot of his income out in child support. He is stretching his finances to the absolute limit to provide a house with utilities, phones and internet for all of us.

He has two children, who come to visit for 6 weeks in the summer and 2 at Christmas, 8 weeks total. They spend 3 of those 8 weeks at his parents’ house, in another city.

This means that the kids spend 5 weeks, total, per year, in this house.

This is a 4-bedroom house. He insists that 2 of the bedrooms be reserved and preserved for his kids. The kids who spend 5 weeks per year in them. A third bedroom is our bedroom, and the last one serves as his office.

My 22 year old, who lives here, has to craft a room out of bookshelves, carving a space for herself out of the common part of the house. She doesn’t mind.

He resents the space she is using. I resent having two perfectly good bedrooms sit empty, and a third that is only his. I have nowhere that is mine, and my child is stuffed into a cubby made of bookshelves. When she asked if our books could be moved off of the bookshelves in her “room”, he got upset. He got over it, eventually.

I grew up with my dad in another city, and I visited him for 2 months at a time in the summers, usually. I never had my own room when visiting him. I have a brother, who never had his own room in the summers either. Even when we were teenagers, we camped out on couches or in spare rooms. Those rooms weren’t held in trust for us; my dad and his family  made room for us when we came. I have a really, really hard time accepting that my pretend-husbands’ children need their own rooms enshrined for 47 weeks each year. That sounds disrespectful, I know. It’s been simmering away in me for a long time.

I can’t say anything. I can’t talk about it because I’m not contributing anything. I buy groceries when I can, and I give him money for our phones when I can, which is not often. Because I’m not contributing, I feel less than equal. And since I feel less than equal, I feel like I can’t have any issues with him.

I know that’s harmful. I know it’s poor modeling for my daughter. I am trying very, very hard not to triangulate her when I do get upset about him.

I love him. I am happy being quasi-married to him, and I envision a future for us for many years, if not for our lifetimes.

My child will finish her degree and move on, long before his kids stop visiting. In 3 or 4 years, this won’t matter. But right now, I feel tense about it. The house is crowded. It was crowded before my child moved in, and now she is living in the limited common space so it’s even more crowded. I like having her here. She came with her dog and another cat. We have a lot of animals. I can’t imagine how it will be when his kids are here too. Crazy chaos.

 

Spewbook

April 21, 2010

I have been deleted.

I confess that I have deleted people from my ‘friend’ list on Facebook. I have blocked someone. I even took myself completely off Facebook for a while, in an effort to avoid continuing a particularly distasteful conversation. I understand why someone would delete another person from their ‘friend’ list on Facebook.

Nevertheless, I was completely surprised by this deletion.

The ‘friend’ was an old friend from high school. Right after high school, 25 years ago, she joined the US Marine Corps. I hadn’t spoken to her or even heard about her in those 25 years. Then, the miracle of Facebook allowed us to reconnect. It was clear to me that we didn’t have a great deal in common anymore, but it’s also clear to me that commonality is not really what Facebook is about.

Back to my story: Yesterday, this person with whom I have very little in common posted a status update that, without quoting it, said that protesting for peace is unpatriotic and that military personnel deserve our unquestioning praise and respect.

I commented on this status update by saying something vaguely like ‘I respect anyone, in any profession, who does their job well, but there are bad guys in the military who have done bad things, and I don’t thank them for doing those bad things in my name.’

Holy crap. You should have seen the sparks fly. Comment after comment from other former schoolmates about patriotism and respect and gratitude appeared on the friend’s status. The friend herself made a point that I thought was well-made. She said the actions of a few don’t define the heart of the whole. I agreed with that comment, but inexplicably, she became even more angry. She then said that a thinking person wouldn’t condemn a class of 30 students as cheaters if one student cheats. I agreed, and said I also wouldn’t call the entire class a success if one student got an A.

At that point, I saw that my comments disappeared from her status. Then I saw that her picture was no longer visible. She made a comment on my Facebook that said she thought I was synical [sic] and disrespectful, and no longer appeared in my ‘friend’ list.

I was really amused by the events of those 5 minutes. I had to giggle at the demands for displays of patriotism juxtaposed with the lack of recognition of free speech. I was smirking at the cheating student analogy, and toyed with the idea of saying “If one person is convicted of welfare fraud, you wouldn’t condemn everyone on welfare – oh, wait, right-wingers DO do that!” I didn’t, and although it would have been funny, it’s probably better.

I was talking about it with my boyfriend, and I commented that Facebook is like the social scene at a high school. I disagreed with a popular person and I was OUT. Respect for difference and ability to dialogue were not present.

I gave the matter more thought, though, and I have come to a different conclusion. In my last post, I said that high school is removed from real life in various ways, one of them being that  high school students are forced to be together and can’t choose the people with whom they surround themselves. In deleting me because I disagreed with her, this person was doing exactly what adults are permitted to do and children are not. I applaud her for it, even though I don’t agree with it.

Reinvention

April 11, 2010

I have been reading about at 15 year old girl from Massachusetts who killed herself after relentless bullying at school.  I can’t quite figure out why stories like that touch me so deeply. Stories about school shooters disturb me in the same way.

These stories call a thought to the front of my mind. I often think about this, but it’s hard to find people to whom I can even express this opinion, much less talk about it openly. Lots of people in my family are educators, making it off-limits at family gatherings.

I think the format of our educational system is outdated. I am not talking about education, but the format. We throw kids together in groups of 30 or more simply because they were born in a specified time period around an arbitrary date. In those groups, they are expected to learn what we decide they should learn.

I need to make two things clear: 1)  I think teachers are, by and large, wonderful people. I think they are overworked, underpaid, and expected to do far too much outside academia. 2) I don’t have a solution.

But it is clear to me, and has been since I was about 7, that what we call the ‘school system’ is woefully inadequate.

I’ll start with the schedule, daily and yearly: A school day goes from 9-3. In my experience and the experience of most of my friends, a work day exceeds those hours. A school year goes from roughly September to June, with about 10 weeks off in between. I have never been granted 10 weeks vacation from work, nor has anyone I know. Teachers included. I learned, some time ago, that the system was set up when kids needed to be home to help with the growing season during the summer.  I question the relevance of that schedule in the current economic system. Again, I don’t have a solution. However, it is obvious that the school schedule is out of sync with the rest of our culture.

Next, let’s talk about the relevance of the warehouse environment.  I am never expected to be in a room with 30 people my own age, sitting quietly while someone else talks about something in which I have no interest.  Once we leave the obligatory educational setting, we choose our friends, our surroundings, our stimuli….

There are plenty of positive things that come from education. Good writing. Problem-solving. Task completion. Time management. Consequences. However, I most firmly believe that those things can be learned in other environments.

I’m not advocating abolishing education. I’m not advocating home schooling. As I’ve said, I have no solution. I believe teachers do the best they can with what they’re given, and they are given a mountainous task. But, an entrenched institution that allows horrific abuse to occur in a mandatory setting, in which the victim has no choice but to be there and endure the abuse, cannot have my support. If an adult were tortured so, there would be real legal recourse. If an adult were tortured so, he or she could choose another environment.Our societal response has been to promote more education about bullying, add rules, and create harsher punishment.

I’m reminded of Hammurabi’s code, comprised of hundreds of laws. So many laws were in place, created in response to violations of other laws, that nobody could possibly follow them all. I can imagine the people feeling overwhelmed and giving up on following any of them, getting lost in the minutiae. Jesus came along and threw those laws out, creating the Great commandment: Love God, and love each other. Perhaps Jesus could come along and create a different school setting.

In the movie Clueless, the main character is working to make a nerdy girl popular. While doing so, she says “the wounds of adolescence can take years to heal”. I think, after all this rambling, that her statement is a universal truth. But it’s one worth changing. I’d rather the wounds weren’t necessary.

Bricks

March 24, 2010

I’ve lived in more than a few crummy apartments in my adult life. I’ve seen just about every shortcut that passes for repair you can imagine. One of my favourites is the brick in the toilet tank, taking up space, to reduce the water usage per flush. The theory is, of course, water displacement. It doesn’t really work. One does, indeed, use less water per flush, but that does not translate into fewer liters of water used since the technique often requires an increased number of flushes.

Sometimes I feel like there is a brick in my brain. It sits there, taking up space and preventing efficient absorption of information. I can feel  it in there, when I work and study really hard and can’t understand. I feel it when I try to explain something that I do understand but I can’t make clear to others. I feel it when there is too much to do and I can’t problem-solve my way to completion of anything. I feel it, sitting there, making my head heavy and my eyes tired, and I want to go home, turn on the TV, and watch What Not to Wear or something equally superficial.

I notice my brick more keenly when I am spiritually challenged.  Currently, in my life, my living situation is unstable. My boyfriend lives in one city, I live in another, and I work in two additional cities. I drive a lot. I have clothes and belongings at both residences. I have a hard time maintaining any of my routines (exercise, nutrition, meditation) because my mind’s eye is wrapped up in schedules. When am I where? When do I need to leave? Do I have enough gas? Where is my purple scarf?

The brick in my brain points out my own shortcomings to me. I would like to be wiser than I am. The brick prevents that. If I didn’t know the brick was there, I think I would be happier.

Micromanaging

March 12, 2010

So, I have been working for the last 6 months at a non-profit housing organization. Non-profits are governed by a Board of Directors. My employer just moved me to a new non-profit, so I’m getting to know a new Board.

They are, to put it simply, a bad Board.

I work at two non-profits, in two different cities. Both have bad Boards. The other Board, the one I’m not writing about, is bad because they make short-sighted emotional decisions. With good leadership (from me) they are learning, slowly, to overcome that. The Board I’m writing about, though, is bad in a much more deeply ingrained way.

They hired me, and the group I work for, to manage their business. They hired us because they said they wanted ‘the best’. Now, they won’t get out of the way and let me do my job. They demand that I do certain tasks that are unnecessary, time consuming, irrelevant, and serve their own egos.

For example, this non-profit requires proof of income from its members, and from the reported income, determines the members fees. One member has been providing child care in her residence. That is a violation of the by-laws, but more importantly, she’s not reporting the income from it. The Board members are incensed about this. However, they’re not incensed because the co-op might be undercharging this person. They are mad because they feel it’s unfair that they have to be honest when this person isn’t. 

 Last night, I had my first official Board meeting with them. They discussed a letter from a member, and decided not to honour the request. They asked me to phone her immediately following the Board meeting, and let her know that the answer was no. I did that, while they huddled around outside my office, listening. I said “The Board has decided……” etc. Afterwards, they came into my office and were mad. One of them yelled at me and stomped off, because saying “the Board decided” made them look like the bad guys. Well……..I don’t know what I should have said.

The co-op has lots of money. The Board is refusing to spend $30 per month to get a debit machine. A debit machine would make everyone’s life easier. It affords members an opportunity to pay on time. It reduces bounced cheque fees. It’s generally a good idea, and co-ops all over are doing it. For them, it’s just too expensive. I suggested, politely but assertively, that they lose that much in bounced cheque fees every month anyway, but to no avail.

The photocopier they have is leased. The lease is almost up. It’s an old photocopier that isn’t very productive. I could greatly benefit from a new one with more productivity features. The Board members are mad, though, because they thought they were leasing-to-own the current machine. They feel they were ‘suckered’ into a bad contract and they don’t want to enter into another one. They are leaving me with NO copier, and I will have to go to an office supply store for my photocopying needs, which will ultimately cost them a great deal more.

I could understand their tight-fistedness if cash flow were tight. It isn’t. They have more money than they know what to do with. There are several aspects of the job that I expected to do when I started. The Board members were doing them. As I gently suggested individuals tasks to take over, they expressed gratitude and relief. That lasted all of two weeks. Now they are back to micromanaging and distrustful behaviour.

I don’t like it. I don’t take it personally, but it’s hard to do a good job when everything is subject for anger and distrust.

Time

October 14, 2009

I am late with my blog. How did that happen? Even I am not sure. I thought about my blog, I planned to write it, I remembered it was time…..and then POOF. All of a sudden, it’s Wednesday. I lose time often. Yesterday, I wanted to walk to the health food store and be home by 6. Before I got it together to leave the house, it was after 6. I wanted to go for a run at 7:30. I actually made it out the door with running shoes on at 8:55. It’s interesting that what I want to get done almost always does get done, but very rarely when I think it’s going to. I always underestimate the time it takes to travel between points. I fail to include preparation time when I’m planning to cook. Heaven forbid I turn the television on. I lose time in the bigger sense, too. My daughter is turning 19 in two months. A friend of mine just had a baby, last Wednesday. We were talking about the birth, about the baby’s first few days of life, about her mom’s response……and I remember all of that like it happened to me last week too. But it was almost 19 years ago. It’s not just the birth, either. I remember my daughter’s entire childhood. I remember the smell of her day care center. I remember her favourite shirt at 4, 5, 6…. Science now knows that time is subjective and non-linear. Meaning there is no right answer to the question “How much time has passed?”. When I ask myself where the time went, it’s a genuine question to which there is no answer. The same question comes to mind when I think of my own aging process. I am 41. I don’t feel 41—not that I know what 41 should feel like—but I feel young and vibrant and like I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Which leads me to the point: the natural state of humans is dead. If we think about human history, all the people before us and all the people who will come after, and the miniscule slice of time in which we are alive, we should be extremely grateful for any time at all instead of lamenting the passage of it. Rather than try to defy or preserve time, I will simply enjoy the gift of life at this time.

Patience

October 6, 2009

Patience is a……with what shall I fill in the blank? For me, defining patience is an elusive task.

With children, excluding my own, of course, I am infinitely patient. My stepmother used to describe my dad has having the patience of Job with kids. I think I’ve learned that skill from him.

Waiting in line demands patience, even if it’s not felt. What can be done besides wait? And what good does it do anyone to be upset about waiting? Waiting for good food to be ready is a delightful kind of patience. Waiting for anything that will provide a great reward is delightful, really. When my dad comes to visit, he rides the train or the bus, both of which are always late. I am eagerly patient while waiting for him to arrive. Christmas is another example of this kind of eager patience.

I’m learning a new job. It’s a great job. I really like it. It pays pretty well for a starting wage, the benefits are good and the support system is leagues above any place else I’ve ever worked. The managers really and truly care about each member of the staff. I don’t have to leave my humanness and my spiritual life “at the door” like other jobs. But I digress.

The point is I’m learning a new job, at a co-op. There are huge numbers of things to learn. I need to be familiar with applicable federal, provincial and municipal laws, internal by-laws, and agency policies. I need to mesh them together and apply them to situations that arise daily. I need to write grant proposals for capital repairs, which requires tendering contracts, but I’m new to this city, so I don’t know who to call for anything. I need to prepare for and run board meetings and member’s meetings. The list of things I need to know how to do stretches on and on, out of my sight.

I’m not complaining about that, at all. I’d much rather be too busy, with tangible things to do. I’d much rather have produced something at the end of the work day and be able to say “I did that” than have vague goals with no way to measure my success or efficacy, other than a supervisor’s subjective experience. But again, I digress.

I am frustrated with myself, unreasonably so, for not knowing everything. I want to know how to complete the Operational Review NOW! I want to understand the investment diversion to capital reserve TODAY! I want to have the by-laws memorized! I want to know the best plumber to call. I want to be on a first name basis with the appliance vendor. I want, I want, I want….

 You may laugh when you learn I’ve been on the job for 19 days. That’s why I am reflecting on patience. Patience is a virtue, we hear. Patience is delightful. Patience is a skill. And for me, with this job, patience is out of reach.

Patience doesn’t stand alone. It carries with is a set of other qualities. Compassion, for one. Open-mindedness. Perspective-taking. There is a part in the Bible, in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, I believe, where he talks about recognizing that other people are not our servants; rather, we are theirs. I have to remember that everything someone else does, they do because they believe it’s best. Regardless of the motivation, they believe it’s the best thing to do. It is not my place, in God’s eyes, to judge the actions or the motivations of others. And I struggle to apply that to myself, as I tend to judge myself pretty harshly. All I can do is what I can do.

Generosity

September 30, 2009

Everyone discussed in this post is nameless on purpose.

Generosity is something I prize highly. I think generosity of spirit and compassion are the two virtues that keep me closest to God.

My daughter, almost 19 years old, has this boyfriend. They’ve been together for a year and a half. She believes that she is in love. She has changed all her post-high school plans, and sacrificed a great deal to be with him. It’s very painful for me to watch her make the decisions she’s made over the past 6 months. Part of the spiritual struggle is not only recognizing but accepting that my child will (and does) have different values than I have. That’s not what this post is about, though. The very hard truth is that I am not nice to this boyfriend.

Oh, I was at first. I thought he was good for her. The first time I met him last summer, she had brought home a stray kitten and hidden it from me in her room. Of course I found it in short order and we had a chat about it. The boyfriend was present for the dressing down I gave her, and she looked at him sheepishly. He said “Don’t look at me. I told you not to bring it home”. I was surprised and please by this response.

Time passed. This boyfriend, so promising at first, quit his job. My daughter liked to spend as much time as possible at his house because he was home all the time,  but when she was home at our house, she complained that the boyfriend’s mom’s boyfriend (confused yet?) was a jerk, and wouldn’t let him (young boyfriend) shower or use the internet or even eat. I was incredulous and sympathetic. Over time, they gradually shifted their time spent together to my house. And over more time, I became grumpy and dissatisifed.

The young boyfriend sucked up all my generosity, both tangible and intangible. He ate more food than you can possibly imagine. He never (and I do mean NEVER) cleaned up after himself. He took impossibly long showers. He sat on my couch playing Xbox all day while my daughter was at school and I was at work. He has allergies and we had animals, so he generated copious amounts of used tissue. He drank beer on my deck with his friends and left many empties lying around and even when asked, didn’t clean them up. He used my car and never put a penny of gas in it. At the time, I was working 25 hours/wk for $10/hr. My daughter was in grade 12, and he would play his games until 2 or 3 in the morning, and she couldn’t sleep and had a hard time waking up for school in the morning.

You may well ask why I didn’t kick him out. That’s a topic for another post, but the fact is, I didn’t. I’m not writing this to paint a picture of myself as a victim. I’m writing to point a finger at myself and say that I have violated my own belief system and I am humble before God about it.

At the end of the school year, I said to him and to my daughter that I was not providing food or internet or a vehicle any longer. So, this boy got a job, finally. He got a terrible job on the kill line at a turkey slaughtering plant. He managed to stick it out for about 3 days, each day calling my daughter in tears at lunchtime.

He had to be there at 6 am. My daughter, in her own generous way, made sure he was in bed early and kept things quiet. I reminded her how he had behaved when she had to get up for school. She said “Mom, I’m taking the high road. I’m just a better person than he is.”

Well, that gave me pause. It is clear to me now that he is depressed. Anyone who sits in their own filth playing video games and refusing to look for work for 9 months has to be depressed. And when he got that job, however terrible, he was animated and helpful and optimistic for those 3 days. Now he’s back to being depressed again. And my daughter continues to push her future plans further and further away because this boy needs her.

I am disappointed in myself because I have not been nice to this boyfriend. I offered to take my daughter out for breakfast and she said, excitedly, “Can ____ come too?” I responded, snappishly, “You know I don’t like feeding him.”

He has taken advantage of me and of her, that much is true. I realize that I permitted that to happen, but again, that’s not the issue. The issue is that I felt vengeful. I refused to be nice to him because of how he behaved when he was in the depths of depression. I must find a way to be generous in spirit and compassionate towards him without feeling taken advantage of. I must do this to remain true to my beliefs about what my life with God means.

I called my daughter back and apologized for being ungenerous to the boyfriend and said he could come out for breakfast. I’m working on it.

Vanity

September 22, 2009

I wonder if vanity is an inherent part of the human condition, or if we are so inculturated with the need to stroke our own egos that it has become part of the human condition.

My grandmother is a wonderful woman. She’s 95 years old, still lives independently, does all of her own personal care, and is one of the most ardent feminists you’ll ever meet. She’s still in possession of all her intellect and takes one prescribed medication. It’s truly amazing to watch her. She gave birth to 7 children in her lifetime, went to university at 50 and managed a farm by herself after my grandfather died in 1992.

She’s been overweight most of her adult life. Last week, I was visiting her and noticed that she looked as if she had lost some weight. “Yes,” she said, “I’ve been trying” and then patted her abdomen. “But I still have a mummy tummy.” Yes, it’s true, she said that. Did I say she’s 95?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty too. I take a certain amount of care with my appearance and worry about it. I do find, though, as I get older, things matter less. For example, if at 20, I had weighed as much as I do now, it probably would have been a crisis (even though I can remember worrying about being fat back then). I’ve realized I have impossible hair. It never does what I think it should so now I just let it do its own thing, and I don’t care.

It’s fascinating to me how poorly and how little most people take perspective when it comes to their own vanity.

Beautiful, spiritual, compassionate people with hearts as big houses, like my very good friend (who shall remain nameless) who just had to get reading glasses for the first time. At 45. She moans and complains about it, wishing she didn’t have to wear the ugly things on her face.  I wear glasses, every day of my life. I can’t drive without them. Imagine being someone who has worn glasses out of necessity for 36 years, and hearing someone who’s just been told they have to wear glasses saying “I’ll never wear glasses! I’ll get contacts before I’ll put glasses on my face!” Imagine having naturally brown hair and having a coworker, whose naturally blonde hair is starting to darken, say “Ugh, I HATE brown hair.”

Believe it or not, it does get worse. It gets worse when they realize what they’ve said, and then backtrack with a comment like, “…..but it looks good on you.” Yeah. Nice.

My stepmother, another wonderful woman, is small. She’s pretty short, she’s thin, she’s got small bones and she works all the time. She’s always doing something. She gardens in the summer and grows enough food to feed herself and my dad all winter. Once the garden is done, she’s preserving the food. She knits, she weaves, she makes candles and soap, she writes, she volunteers and miraculously, maintains a fastidiously clean house. She hates leftovers. My sisters and I will visit, and she will cook mountains of far too much food. She insists that we eat it all. “I don’t want leftovers. Come on, everyone, eat up!” She herself, however, won’t have any. “I’m trying to watch what I eat,” she’ll say. “I don’t like the way my pants fit.”

Well, I am 30 pounds overweight. She’s tiny. She practically shoves food down my throat but rejects any herself, because she doesn’t want to gain any weight. She sees no problem or conflict in that scenario whatsoever. “You work hard, you need the energy!” I work at a desk. I sit at my desk all day, then I sit in the car on my hour-long commute home. It hardly seems like I’m expending more energy than she is.

A friend of mine’s mom just went to her 50-year high school reunion. She said, with glee, that she was the 4th skinniest one there. After 50 years, she was delighted that she was finally skinnier than the popular girls.

I have many more stories like this. They’re all illustrations of strong, capable, accomplished women who care, first and foremost, about how they look.  I have to wonder how we got here. When we compare, we suffer. In exhibiting vanity, we are comparing. Perhaps, then, suffering is part of the human condition and vanity is a component of suffering. Thoughts?

participatory singing

September 16, 2009

Check out http://www.fasola.org. It’s a great website with a wealth of information about shape-note singing.

I’m passionate about shape-note singing for innumerable reasons. It’s not beautiful music to listen to, but singing it is a form of spiritual practice.  Singing it makes it so the quality of the music, in the consumer-driven sense, doesn’t matter. Most of us treat music as a product:   musicians provide a product of sorts that we have the privilege of purchasing, in the form of tickets or a recorded product. Shape-note singing, though, invites everyone to participate, regardless of skill or ability. It’s music for the people. There is no feeling in the world like standing in the center of a hollow square, with singers surrounding you, all singing at the top of their voices. It’s transporting and transformative.

A friend of mine, in response to one of my many facebook posts about having been at a singing, asked me to explain to her why this kind of music is different. I came up with 4 identifiable ways that it’s different. Of course there are more, but these are the four I use to attempt to explain it, at first. 1) It’s participatory. There isn’t a director, no one is listening, and it’s not performed. This is a clear departure from how music has been revenue-producing since the Renaissance. 2) It’s done in relative pitch, instead of absolute pitch. Anyone can sing, in any part; just put the pitch somewhere manageable. Too high? We’ll pitch it lower. Too low? We’ll pitch it higher. This is another clear departure from the Better Music movement of the 19th century.  3) The notes are not round, they are shaped, hence the name “shape-note”. Each shape has a syllable associated with it, making it a kind of modified solfege. However, since it’s relative pitch, the tonic, wherever that is, is the start. In classical or mainstream music, do-re-mi refer to absolute pitches, so if you’re singing in the key of A, for example, it starts on ‘la’ and you have to work from there. In relative pitch, the beginning is the beginning, regardless of where the pitch is. and 4) It is, arguably, the only uniquely American form of musical composition from the 19th century. A new country equalled a new kind of music, with unusual parallel harmonies and violations of the rules of classical music theory. All of these were later squashed by the Better Music movement (Lowell Mason et al) of the 1840s.

In my experience, limited as it is, non-musicians are intimidated at first but quickly understand. Musicians hate it at first because it violates a great number of the rules of music theory. Musicians also hate it because we don’t practice, in the usually accepted understanding of the word; we just sing. What is, is. I was trying to talk about it with a friend of mine who is starting a career as a singer. I said something like it doesn’t matter how it sounds, because everyone is singing and there isn’t an audience. In predictable musician response, she said (and I quote) “Well, it’s got to matter at some point.”

Most shape-note songs are sacred in lyric.  In The Sacred Harp, every song, on some level, is about relationship with God. That can tend to make the uninitiated turn up their noses, but I urge you to give it a chance. If the content bothers you, explore it for the form. In what other context can a group of strangers gather and produce 4-part a capella harmony with no practice?

In Durham, the town I lived in until earlier this month, the shape-note singers often gather in unlikely places to  sing the aforementioned 4-part a capella harmony. We sing, from time to time, in my friend Tony’s abandoned silo. The echo in the chamber, regardless of how perfect or discordant we sound, is nothing short of angelic. We sometimes sing in the Durham Art Gallery, where the acoustics are haunting.  We have done demonstrations in the Symphony Barn, in various churches across Grey County, and once for my 95 year old grandmother and her friends at a retirement community in Hanover.

Wanna sing? Let me know. I stop just short of guaranteeing that you’ll like it if you just come and try.