HISTORY LESSON TIME!!! (pt. 1)

Okay, something I realize I have not written about is history, even though my blog has the name of an ancient-ish empire in it. So it’s time to change that! One of my students has requested a history lesson with visuals, so I’m going to write until I have exhausted all of my resources and brainpower. It’s 12:30 AM, why not? Pack your lawn chairs, it’s Russian Revolution time. LET’S BEGIN.

ALRIGHT

Our fair tale begins in Russia in the mid-1800s. On one fateful day, a man named Alexander Ulyanov was hanged. To be specific, the year was 1887. His crime? Plotting to kill the tsar, Alexander III. Why is he special, you may ask? Isn’t he just a random would be assassin? No, not quite. He was a leader by example, his younger brother would become the famous?? infamous?? Russian leader V.I. Lenin. This event likely left a great impression on small Lenin, for he grew up to fill his brother’s shoes…and more.

This says a great deal about the political climate of the day. Europe alone is fairly imperialist and centered around monarchy in 1887, Germany is bursting with nationalism and will soon cause trouble, see: World War One, but for now most everyone is holding it together. But underneath, especially in Russia, things are growing more and more tense. Rulers like Catherine and Peter the Great favored the landowners and nobles above all others, knowing that without their support, they were toast. But that came at the expense of the peasant class, which would make up 80% or more of the population by the time the revolutions begin. And the peasants were not pleased.

Alexander III dies in 1894, and a very inexperienced tsar named Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra rise to the throne. Nicholas has very little political or military savvy and neither does his wife, but they do have four daughters. Then, in 1904, they have a son, Alexei. Alexei is the heir to the throne, but there is something…wrong with him.

He has hemophilia, a genetic disease making it so his blood doesn’t clot. Alexandra is a descendant of Queen Victoria of England, from whom the disease originated. Hemophilia is carried by females and manifested in males, as was the case with Alexei. It’s a battle just to keep him alive. Alexandra is desperate for hope, and finds it in a mad ex-monk who is known to history as Rasputin. He has so called prophetic powers and is the only one who can heal Alexei, or so Alexandra says. Then the World War One breaks out.

Before I can tell you that story, however, I must tell you this one. Remember our friend Lenin? He is still here, and he is up to no good. While the royals have been getting married and having kids, Lenin has been stirring the pot of revolution. He picked up Marxism when he was younger, and he believes it can work for his country. In 1903, there are two factions in Russia’s main socialist group, the Mensheviks (meaning minority) and the Bolsheviks (majority), and they split over a few key issues.

The Mensheviks are in favor of educating the populace and gradually phasing in communism, but the Bolsheviks wanted a revolution and they wanted it NOW. With that in mind, let us continue. In 1905, they lead a revolution, and it is violently crushed. The tsar issues the October Manifesto, which is a sort of compromise that says that the tsar will grant civil liberties and make use of an elected parliament, called the Duma.

It’s enough to hold the nation together for a few more years. But then World War One breaks out. Russia is failing miserably in the war from the outset, and continues to fail miserably after they are beaten time and time again. Our friend Nicholas II may not have any military experience, but has a strong sense of duty to his country and as such feels the need to go and assume supreme command of the army. The situation goes from bad to worse.

Now, picture this. The year is 1916, and you’re a peasant. Your family was tied to the land until the 1860s as serfs and even then you’re still pushed around by the nobles, who always seem to have full stomachs while yours is empty. And now your son is sent to war, where he will almost certainly die. And then you run out of food. What’s a hungry person like you to do in a situation like this? Start a revolution? Sounds good.

It’s situations like the one above that led to the March Revolution. Protests and demonstrations turn violent in Petrograd, and the tsar abdicates when his soldiers, ordered to stop the protesters, join them. A new provisional government is put in place. It only lasts a few months, because unrest breaks out anew in Petrograd in November after a failed coup in July. This unrest boils over and the Bolsheviks take a chance and seize the Winter Palace, the final stronghold of the Provisional Government. Their coup is successful; the Bolsheviks are now in control of the country. How did this coup succeed where others failed? What now?

To be continued….

Cathedrals

I was writing the other day and one of the sentences I came up with was “There was no better cathedral than the wilderness”.

I don’t know why that struck me so, but when one of my friends asked what God meant to me, that came to mind.

It’s interesting how my thoughts on God have changed over time. From my very Mormon view that God has a physical body to my current view that God is everywhere and everything, the one thing that has remained constant is that I believe he is found in people and the connections between them. When I was 15 and couldn’t wrap my head around a loving, personal God, I found him in the love people showed to me. When I was 18 and going through hell, my friends were there for me. One of my friends rallied the entire school to write me letters, and I was given a box full when I returned from watching my dad’s last days. This friend is a miracle, and I firmly believe that her kindness saved my life. When I was 20 and lost, I was given 4 friends who showed me that love wasn’t gone and and hope hadn’t died. Now I am nearing 22, experiencing a personal renaissance, and I recognize what God has done. Even though I couldn’t see him, he could see me, and he let himself be known through friends and family.

One of the things that I don’t understand anymore that I thought I did long ago was the need for church attendance. I used to enjoy church and get a lot out of it, but now large groups of Christians give me anxiety and I can barely tell the message from my own racing heart. Where I do find comfort, however, is in one on one interaction with people, whether I’m with my husband being silly, helping a friend, or helping a student see something from a different angle. Everyone has wisdom and something to teach, and I believe that God can even be among only two people who are doing good things.

I also don’t think you have to be doing things that are widely regarded as holy, either, in order to experience church. There’s as much church (to me) in crying and cursing with a friend who needs someone there with them as there is in meditation and reading the Bible. And sometimes I don’t realize that I’ve participated in something sacred until after the fact, when I sit back and feel at peace, like I have helped someone else or have been helped for myself. Literature can have the same effect on me – Fahrenheit 451 spoke to my soul about as much as the Book of James in the Bible does. God is everything and is everywhere. Nobody has a monopoly on truth or knows the absolute correct way to believe, because faith is by nature a personal experience. No two people are entirely alike, and so no two faith journeys are entirely alike. People will believe different things, and what works for one will not work for another. It all comes down to three things for me – God is love. He is everything and everywhere. Everything and everyone has something to teach.

Am I a heretic? Absolutely. Am I proud of my beliefs? Yes.

Burning Bright

It’s very rare that I read for pleasure, or even read at all. It’s an even more rare occurrence that I read a book and find myself in the pages.

I read Fahrenheit 451 last night and that was one of those times.

I first picked it up when I was about 13 out of my parents’ book collection. I didn’t have what I needed to completely grasp it, I think. I was a smart kid. I could understand the words and the concepts, but I never finished it because it wasn’t relevant at the time to what I was going through. I didn’t have enough of myself in me to be able to see my reflection in the pages.

I don’t think I would have understood the book in the way I did last night had I even read it a month ago. For the last month – no, several months – I have been learning how to question. Question what was told to me as a child and teen. What was told to me in church. What was told to me in college, all of my colleges. I was taught to question in college, but the lessons always had an undertone of “question the way WE want you to question”, as though they were expecting you to do the opposite of what happened here. I was taught to question growing up, but never in a way that went excessively out of the realm of “reality”.

Reality. Along with truth, everyone has their own version of it, even if two people claim to have the same perception. And so it went – people trying to keep me grounded ultimately became scared of me, I think, and then tried to keep me sane. I felt from around the age that I first picked up Fahrenheit that my emotions had to be convenient to others or else they were strongly encouraged to be managed and damn near suppressed. As the years went on, though, it became apparent that my emotions – specifically anger and sadness – were not convenient, could not be neatly expressed, easily gotten over, or fully escaped. I was not one of those houses in Fahrenheit, fireproof. I was, rather, the fire. I was a destroyer.

As mentioned in a previous post, I saw myself as deserving nothing more than to be labeled as such because I wasn’t “normal”. I wasn’t someone easily handled. Potential romantic partners fled, and that’s when I began to resent myself. I wanted to be like the girls who got that guy, and I asked myself, why did I have to be such a house fire? Why didn’t I give anything to the world? Why did I feel so damn strongly?

In high school, when I asked what I should do to get a guy, the answer in its simplest form was “be less intense.” This usually came with advice such as “don’t answer so many questions in class” and “wear more makeup”.

I tried that for a bit. It was as much a betrayal of myself as it would have I pretended to be someone completely opposite me. So I went back to being myself to the best of my ability.

I think some people were scared of me because of my sadness and anger. As 2016 drew to a close, my anger festered. My dad had died less than a year before, I carried a hated so bright it could be seen from space after the end of a traumatic relationship, and I had just left a college that felt like home for Texas and then Idaho. The environments couldn’t be more different.

I went from questioning books to questioning God, even though that was not the effect that the college wanted. I had learned to some degree how to wrestle with a book, and I supposed wrestling with God would be similar. My anger continued to rot.

It never felt safe to express emotion to some, for their response would be without fail some variation of “are you taking your meds?” or “have you told your therapist about this?” I listened to these people more than others because I felt they knew me. I had hurt them, and I was convinced that only those whom I had wounded truly knew me. So I listened to them forgetting all the while that there was some possibility that I wasn’t crazy, or on the brink of a manic or depressed episode, or even a full on meltdown. In the end, though, they were wrong.

That small motion, the white and red color, a strange fire because it meant a different thing to him. It was not burning, it was warming.

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

In the novel, firemen start fires, not stop them. Guy Montag is one such fireman until he meets a girl who starts to make him think. From there the meaning of fire starts to change. It goes from a way of life, the status quo, to a weapon, and finally a source of warmth and salvation.

He hadn’t known fire could look this way. He had never thought in his life that it could give as well as take. Even its smell was different.

Fahrenheit 451

I started to go from wanting to be like one of the fireproof houses in the novel to accepting my role as the fire upon my move to Alaska. My husband changed everything for me.

Towards the beginning of our relationship, I challenged very little of what I had been told about myself. I thought about gender sometimes, but even that was deeply suppressed because how could that possibly be a part of me? I’d been told it wasn’t me when I went through it the first time, and I’d seen enough evidence to know it was correct. But something was still missing, it couldn’t be that? I was just a house fire, right?

No.

It took months into our marriage to start changing my mind. My husband and I talked at length about how I might NOT have bipolar disorder. The doctor upheld the concerns that all of us had about my meds and ordered that I start lowering the dose on one and tapering off another entirely. I learned a few days later that the bipolar disorder diagnosis had been removed. It was some of the best news I had ever heard.

That’s why I love Fahrenheit so much. Montag went from accepting that things are perfect the way they are to learning there is much work to be done for there is nothing okay with the current situation. There are some in the novel that refuse to change and hear the truth, like Montag’s wife, Mildred, in the end:

“Montag, falling flat, going down, saw or felt, or imagined he saw or felt the walls go dark in Millie’s face, heard her screaming, because in the millionth part of time left, she saw her own face reflected there, in a mirror instead of a crystal ball, and it was such a wildly empty face, all by itself in the room, touching nothing, starved and eating of itself, that at last she recognized it as her own…”

Fahrenheit 451

The people in Fahrenheit hide from themselves, the world, and self-awareness. There’s no real external government censorship involved. The citizens have chosen for themselves. Thinking is scary, and those who think for themselves are branded as insane. This is another reason why reading this novel was so vindicating – people who think and are branded as insane are the ones who triumph. And along with them, the meaning of fire changes.

The meaning of my fire has changed. Breaking free from what I have been told, thinking for myself – I’m no ordinary house fire.

I sang once in a song I wrote called “Gone”,

“And the cities we built, they stood for a time, but I will rise like a phoenix from the ashes they left behind.”

“Gone”

I have risen like a phoenix from the ashes I have left behind. Maybe that’s why I write so much about fire.

Love,

Meg

How to record an improvised song

Hello, y’all!

Seeing as my favorite group chat is spiraling into meme territory, I figured that it’s high time to write today’s blog post. We’re going to talk about how to record an improvised song.

Some people fear that they’ll mess up while they improvise, but let me tell you something – and pardon my French – the best way to improvise is to not give a fuck. I’ve learned this over the course of quite a few hours and sessions and it’s really quite liberating.

When I record my Candy For Trees music, it’s a thrilling thing to make sound a canvas and not a mere equation. I love pounding on the keyboard and making it make strange, dissonant noises as well as soft and beautiful ones. It’s a thrilling thing to let go.

That’s what makes CFT such a great release – there’s no worry about getting the “perfect” take, there’s no worry about supposedly messing up, because there’s nothing to perfect or be nervous about. It just flows, and that’s gorgeous.

As a result, that makes my music kind of hard to classify. I call it “freeform piano jazz” because it’s kinda like what would happen if Stravinsky met the Bad Plus. I love it dearly.

That’s how you improvise.

Love,

Meg

Rain Is

red on red

not what you think

red on red reflected

on slick concrete

pitch reflected in raindrops

someday i’ll make beauty

from a burning house

and the mind on fire that my

skull contains

will be doused with rain

“beauty from a burning house”, a poem by me

This is a poem I forgot about that I had written during my short-lived Poem a Day challenge last year. I was a long way away from believing in myself then, and I remember speaking poorly about myself in poetry and everywhere, really. I still don’t believe in myself in many ways, but I am coming to accept my mind on fire.

I’ve been working my way down on some of my meds, and I am feeling…alive. I am feeling. Feeling like myself, kicking the sadness in the pants, being my intense self and feeling mostly okay about it.

The one thing that bothers me is that I am able to laser focus, laser focus to nearly the point of obsession until my project is done. That bothers me because I want my ideas to come to fruition right now and that involves pestering people a lot. I don’t want to be annoying, but I need to get stuff done! According to my brain, that is. This has resulted in a pair of pieces that are nearly album-length apiece. You’ve already read about Light Steps, and last night’s jam resulted in Benson Boulevard Under Cover of Darkness.

My project last night was getting them on Apple Music, Spotify, and the like. I was so focused that I didn’t write a proper blog post, I’m so sorry! They should be live in a few days, though!

Before that, my project was recording Light Steps to cassette, which failed miserably. I’m starting to question my cassette quest since the jams are so frequent, so I’m setting that idea aside. This is what happens when I don’t try and put out the fire in my brain, coupled with staying off social media. I’m probably going to record a few hours’ worth of music by the end of April. I feel a lot better about myself.

all these cars

in such a hurry to get somewhere

i spent the day drinking tea

and wondering what it would be

like

to be okay

the simple answer is that i do not know

maybe it’s like being so

tired you cannot sleep

seeing the thing for what it is

but being unable to touch it

or maybe it’s

something like the moment

of clarity a person

first has at the moment

they plunge into ice cold water

they feel alive, don’t they?

This poem is called “beauty from a burning house”, and that’s honestly how I saw myself – as a burning house. Nothing more. I was under the impression that that was all I deserved, to be put out by a rainstorm.

I felt for years like I had to summon the rainstorm in order to make beauty from the burning house that I was. I didn’t see that the burning inside was okay to have. It seemed that I had to moderate my emotions. I had to have a valid reason to be sad, angry, very happy, or else I’d see myself as crazy and I thought others would, too.

In hindsight, it doesn’t matter what others thought. I was so focused on “being okay” that I overlooked the times when I was “okay”, and even worse, was being my true self. These were opportunities where I should have been feeling alive, but I crushed them. I was trying to look without seeing. I was looking to feel alive in all the wrong places.

Writing this blog was the first step to feeling alive, but now I feel real.

Feeling real to me is being able to embrace who you are without fearing how others think and view you. It’s not putting on airs, it’s not doing stupid stunts just for attention. It’s being unafraid to be creative and inventive and to also care for yourself. It’s being able to say “this is who I am” and roll with that.

I know I’m weird. I know I’m eccentric as all hell. I am excitable, I am smart. I deserve far more than to be put out by a rainstorm. You don’t deserve that, either.

Carry on.

-Meg

Light Steps

There have been several game changing points in my time of making music. The first game changer was the release of Little Voice by Sara Bareilles. I happened upon that record when I was looking for another song that I had heard in the video game Thrillville. For a kid, that game had a great soundtrack, and I still listen to many of the songs from the soundtrack to this day.

I heard “Love Song”, the album’s main single, first because it was that day’s free download on iTunes waaay back in late 2008. In hindsight, that was a lucky day because it would eventually change the way I think and write musically. Even though I didn’t find the song I was looking for, “Lovesong” by Annie Stela, I did discover Sara Bareilles, and my life changed forever.

A couple months later, I was in a store called Hastings, which sold all kinds of electronics. This included CDs. My Mimi had a tradition of taking my brother and me to Hastings, where we could buy one item and get one drink from the cafe. It was getting late in the day and we’d already been there for an hour or two and I still hadn’t found anything I wanted. Just as we were about to leave, I scanned the tracklist on an album called Little Voice and saw that it had “Love Song” on it, the song that I had played on repeat for the last few months. I snatched it up and bought it with a gift card.

To say that that album was well loved was an understatement. I only liked the opening few tracks at first, but as time went on, I played the album all the way through at least once a day.

I was baffled by the album, especially when I read through the liner notes and found that Sara had had a hand in writing all of the songs on the album! How was that possible?

I asked my mom that same question, and her answer was that songwriting is poetry set to music. I was still baffled until one day I sat down at my keyboard after playing far too many hours of playing the video game Wii Music and the melody of “Ride of the Valkyries” flowed out from under my fingertips. That really threw me through a loop. How had I done that?

That didn’t stop me. I picked out melodies whenever I could, and a few days later, I achieved what I once thought impossible – I wrote a song. I poured my twelve year old soul into a few notes and composed an ode to my first crush. It was a hit among my classmates, and was actually called “Ode”.

Here is the original recording, recorded onto a Creative Zen MP3 player in 2009. I can’t believe I actually found it.

Ode, original recording

The next big leap was when I discovered Pandora Internet Radio.

Pandora fueled the writing of an album, two books, and helped me discover music on my own. I was raised with the music of the ’60s though the ’90s, and listening to modern pop music was discouraged by my dad, who preferred to listen to U2, the Police, REM, and the like. My mom listened to a lot of disco, ’80s pop, and ’70s folk. My dad even went as far as to say that he did not marry my mother for her music taste. Even today, my music taste leans more toward my dad’s, but I did inherit my love of ’80s pop from my mom.

Pandora helped me discover my own styles of music, and eventually they influenced my songwriting and poetry. It took several flops and another year for me to compile an album’s worth of music, and I took to my 100-year old piano to record. It took 3 months and take after take to get some semblance of an album. It was never finished, because a producer took over and turned my happy songs into poppy wonders. I don’t consider them my best work, because my songs aren’t happy as a whole. The Mellon Session, my first album-length recording, spare though it may be, is a better representation of my style and body of work than Sweet Pea (the EP we recorded) is. But it was a start.

The EP dropped in November of 2011, and remained on the Internet for a year until we took it down. It was never rereleased.

My dad died in 2016, and that sparked a whole new level of creativity within me. In many ways, it was the final push I needed to record albums 4-8. Add that to the toxic environment of Idaho school, and the albums flowed fairly quickly.

Candy for Trees is a different story, however. I believe it was in this post that I spoke about how CFT was formed. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring helped my instrumental style come together. In many ways, I feel as though I’m coming out of the melancholy that dominated the last eight vocal-and-instrument albums and entering a new era.

My last release, Light Steps, was me exploring the sounds of my keyboard and creating landscapes with it. It was recorded last night.