Tag Archives: accordions

Maths and Musics and Malodorous Masculinities and…Marmots?

This is the only image I have of me and my Hohner.

It’s officially the end of summer, and I’m in a tailspin. Over the summer, I gave up writing fiction, began a course in self-study on mathematics, and promised myself I would become an accordion player. This all sounds lovely, but it isn’t. Whatever I do, whatever fallback I have to keep me sane and complete as a human being, is done at the edges of a life filled with education, house-cleaning, cooking, errand-running, and essential kid events. Next week, I must rediscover how to maintain any sense of autonomy when I begin teaching all four of my children. In my home-school classroom, I will have one kindergartener, a third-grader, and two high school students present on my class roll. They are, admittedly, the best part of my life, but home-education is difficult (hey, even they would agree)!

I don’t know what has happened over the summer. I feel ingrown in the walls of the house–perhaps similar to the woman in The Yellow Wallpaper. Somehow, our family has managed to drop church-going, which, I’m sad to say, started with me. I needed to have three hours to myself one day a week and, although I wouldn’t call the small Lutheran church we attend a sociable church, it is a limited social event. When I say it isn’t sociable, I don’t mean the people are uncaring. I mean they are intellectual. For that, I really love the people at my church. I don’t love rising at the crack of dawn for a social experience, limited as it may be. I should add that my husband has his own reasons for not desiring to rise early for an eight o’clock service. By no means do I wish to sully his intentions with my personal issues.

And this brings me to the last subject in my titled list: Malodorous Masculinity. I don’t find masculinity to be, in general, malodorous. My husband is very masculine, and he smells great. And, besides, I love him. But I find the backlash movement of Masculine Christianity to be more than slightly annoying. Here’s the thing, men–I know this will be difficult for you to understand, but hear me out–you have been in charge of virtually everything in the world for thousands of years. The church gives no exception to your rule of male dominance. Now that we live in an egalitarian culture–egalitarian in name, anyway–suddenly men can’t stand the barest of feminine influence in churches. It’s as if they’ve woken up and discovered that God created women, too, and they’ve collectively shuddered at the implications. Women, no! Arghhh! Now we must be faced with pastel colors, emotions, puppy dogs, babies, and relationships! Gone are the days when we men, alone, braved the great outdoors with heartiness and bravado, intellect, and strength!

Yes, we women are people, too. We contain souls and spirits, if not minds. I’m terribly sorry that the male intellect has woken up to the threat of us slobbering, sobbing women, who slip around in pastel aprons muttering, “The poor, wee wee men. They needs our loveliest love and caring. Shall we put up some floral curtains for them? Aye, that we shall. We don’t understand a word of the heavy words written in those funny little books in the pew shelves. Titter, titter, titter, what could that mean? Won’t you big, strong men read the multisyllabic words for us? I’m afraid they’ll make us cry.”

While you men wake up to the astonishing truth of womankind, I needs to do my maths studies. I don’t know if my poor, wee brain will handle it, though. Meanwhile, I suggest you join league with John Piper and Mark Driscoll, who push for a more masculine Christianity. Mark Driscoll, at least, is a real man who apes up his image for the world to see. Click the link, I dare you: Is that a pastel purple vest Mark’s wearing?! I think I’ll write a song about it and play a polka dedicated to the color purple, when I can find the time at the edges of my calculations…

p.s. It was an accident. I had a tab open with a picture of a marmot, and I control C’d it by mistake. At first, it was so funny to discover a marmot for a man, that I laughed for fifteen minutes solid and decided to leave it up. But when I went looking for the picture of Mark Driscoll in his lavender shirt, I couldn’t find it, and am now wondering if my eyes were deceiving me. Perhaps the vest wasn’t lavender. On the other hand, he seems to like purple shirts: Not that I care. I just happened to have recently wasted an unparalleled portion of my precious time arguing about pastel colors over at Mike Duran’s blog.

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The Noodly Thoughts of a Wannabe Acordeonista-Comediante

My only choice is to give it to you straight out. During the weekend and the first half of this week, I went on two back-to-back road trips. Since returning, I’ve attempted to memorialize the trips into one fancy memoir filled with the deep meanings of the universe(s) and alternative reality zones, but I’m sorry to inform you that I’ve failed.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. If you haven’t noticed, I write flash fiction, weird nonfiction, and memoir-type shorts on this blog. These little 1000-word jaunts into my mental world take a fair bit of hippocampic, as well as cerebral-cortical and medial-temporal-lobic energy. To put it bluntly, I set my brain afire twice a week. Unfortunately, it’s already totally lit up, baby!

Now, my mental spaces are extinguishing fast. So, as I said, I’ll tell you straight out that for the first road trip, I journeyed to El Paso with my husband and our friends John and Lisa. John is an incredible playwright, while Lisa is a multi-talented writer of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Owing to this combination of artistic energy [My husband is an intellectual fireman, all right? He burns things and then douses flames…..], the trip’s success was fated from the beginning.

We stayed in a cheap motel run by Apu [hey, I’m not the one who named him Apu!], ate cheap, tasty Mexican food, and found musical love at the Irish Mexican Festival. We might have even danced to the brass and guitars and accordion. We might have listened to dynamic political poetry slams. Um, yes we did, actually.

And when we arrived back at Apu’s motel after midnight, husband and I said good night to our friends, and I paused on the rise of the motel lot, and I gazed southward. The lights of Juarez caught me, tore me apart inside: they were tightly knit, millions of them sweeping below El Paso. I could have stared at the lights all night, or run into their mesh–or, perhaps, the tightly woven lights would have prevented me entry.

Juarez is no longer the kind of place I can escape with my family for the day or night or spring break. The violence has escalated to the extent that I wouldn’t dare carry my young ones across the Friendship Bridge. Of course, this brings sorrow, and this kind of sorrow inspires events such as the Irish Mexican Alliance and Festival, and so it isn’t worthless, after all. But at the same time, I long for that spring day years ago–the last trip to Juarez–when I crossed the border with my family, and we stopped off at the firehouse near the Friendship Bridge because my husband knew some of the bomberos there. And, later, we wandered the streets and prayed at the plaza church and ate food meant for tourists. Imagine a long wooden table and, by its side, an ice bucket filled with tiny beer bottles.

And that last band at the festival, the one with the diatonic accordion, yes, its music played in my mind for hours after we left El Paso. Through my sleep-deprived state, the lights of Juarez also knit themselves on the backs of my eyelids–a sort of dream scape created only in the mind of road trip survivors.

For the second jaunt, we carted our children to Albuquerque, dropping them off at their aunt and uncle’s house. We met our good friend, Jerry, a comedic author, for Indian food. He, like us, is gluten-intolerant, and Indian food provides us an array of menu items made with rice, lentils, and garbanzos. Thus fortified, we sallied to the Weird Al concert. This concert was Jerry’s birthday present to my husband, and he bought me a ticket, as well, kind friend that he is.

I’ve seen Weird Al, readers of mine. I’ve seen the genius, and what else do I have to do before I die? I watched him cavort with his enormous piano accordions and change costumes every song–I screamed the loudest when he sang “White and Nerdy”–because I am, and can. And the following day, after my senses and mind were overwhelmed with restaurants and motels, we picked up the children, and wouldn’t you know it, but they had visions of parks and ice cream dancing through their minds. They didn’t want to go home, to return to the pleasant resources of one’s own bed and toilet, of ready water and food.

Finally back at my pleasant place in the desert, after too many nights of no-sleep [insomniacs don’t sleep well in motel rooms, or after too much stimulation to their hippocampi, or too many horses and sea monsters], I sat at my dual-screen computer set-up, where I can bounce documents from one screen to the next–and I do, oh, yes, I do! And I did. I didn’t write a word, though. I scooted windows and tabs. I sat and felt empty inside and didn’t know how to write this memoir. What tied my experiences together? What could tie my world together, but my own goofiness?

I left my desk and fell in my bed in my tomb-like room with its black-out curtains, and I longed to sleep and reawaken as anything but a writer, thereby avoiding memoirs and truth and fiction. If I could only, my mind sighed in a tangled web of sleep. If I could only pull a mesh of lights over my head, I might reemerge as an accordionista who dances on stage, throwing my noodly arms and legs into the swing of the moment. Yes, I said noodly because I’m not an artist. I’m a comedian, readers, and it’s time you knew the truth.

I NEED to reemerge as an accordion player. I need to pick up my instrument and start again because I’m an artist, not a comedian, and I think really deep thoughts that only play to the diatonic.

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Los Espacios–What Rises From the Music of the Heart

Me he creado un espacio para mí misma, y es mi propio espacio.  Vea – no tengo ni origenes ni raíces.  Me siento como si fuera perdida en la marea.  Mi mente es mi espacio. Es mi único lugar.

Accordion music is the grandest of inspirations for me, and I wish others could understand why.  It’s a versatile instrument that can simultaneously breathe happiness and sadness.  How can it evoke both emotions at once?  I believe it’s in the depth of sound that a wind instrument produces, a wind instrument that’s capable of depth because of its size, and the manner in which it’s played.  The Columbia encyclopedia gives this description of an accordion: “musical instrument consisting of a rectangular bellows expanded and contracted between the hands. Buttons or keys operated by the player open valves, allowing air to enter or to escape. The air sets in motion free reeds, frequently made of metal. The length, density, shape, and elasticity of the reeds determine the pitch. The first accordions were made in 1822 by Friedrich Buschmann in Berlin. Bouton added a keyboard 30 years later in Paris, thus producing a piano accordion. The accordion is frequently used in folk music.”

This begins to get at the heart – or the lungs to be more exact – of the accordion.  “The air sets in motion free reeds,” says Columbia, and this is mainly responsible for the unique sound that gives me insane rushes of joy, feelings of wistfulness, and nagging sorrow.  Also, as this encyclopedia points out, accordions are frequently used in folk music.  This is entirely because of its diversity in sound.  The accordion can take the place of an entire band – one musician is less costly than four or five.  And, after being established as a sound that encompasses the existence of regular people, it can never be removed from its place there.  It will always appeal to peculiar elements of North American society – in Louisiana, in Scottish Canada, in little pockets of Czech and German settlements, and in Spanish-German Texas and Mexico.  In the latter, the Norteño and Tejano, I discover my favorite use of the accordion.

My obsession for the accordion has led me to write insanely long research papers on Tejano music, to run away to Mexico for little trips, and to waste all my money in order to take my family to San Antonio for vacations.

And here is a lasting image of an accordion in my mind: The San Antonio river walk was strung with lights in November, lights that waved and rippled in the water.  The air was muggy, warm with little breezes that moved the palm leaves.  Along the walk, hundreds of people sat in the patios of restaurants, eating food and drinking beer and coffee.  Down the river, guides drove quiet tourist barges full of weekend people.  I had come to San Antonio to experience the culture of ‘Texas,’ which includes the Alamo and many types of people, but that also largely includes Texas and Spanish settlements.  For example, one night, we ate in a mom-and-pop German restaurant and listened to polka music, and the next, we ate in an over-priced Mexican restaurant along the river walk.  

But I’ll return to my image: We took a ride on a river boat, and the evening was just chilly enough to be pleasant, yet held warmth in its core.  We listened to the guide and learned that Jennifer Lopez stood on that bridge in the filming of the movie “Selena,” which is (as you know) about a Tejana superstar who popularized the Cumbia within the traditional Tejano conjunto.  

A fine white mist rose from the water and appeared as billows under the lamps.  After living in the harsh desert southwest for several years, the beauty and gentleness of San Antonio mesmerized me.  I looked out, and the people drifted as misty to my eyes as the fog did. I was overwrought from night after night without sleep.  My mind was numb.

And then I saw the true ghosts, a band of men who emerged from the fog as specters might have risen from a moor.  They were under a bridge – three men – one with a bajo sexto, another with a single drum, and a third that filled the air with the breath of the accordion.   It was one pure moment of magic – and gone, like that!  We drifted past, and I had fleeting thoughts of jumping from the boat and swimming to shore so I could listen for a few minutes more, and also to make sure they were real, but I didn’t, even though I knew the water was only a few feet deep.

That was that, a complex beginning and ending a la vez.  I can listen to accordion music anytime on my radio, play the CD’s of my favorite bands.  Still, though, there are things that are unattainable to me, so far out my reach.  I think of a song by one of my favorite accordion players, Ricardo Muñoz; I can hear his deep, melodious voice in my head singing, “Eres aire que da vida, y mi alma te respira; eres aire que me alienta, una brisa que alimenta.”  That’s what I have to sing to el acordeonísta: you are the air that gives me life, and my soul breathes you; you are the air that encourages me, a breeze that feeds me.    

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