Singing: The Ultimate Detox

Image courtesy of thehoopla.com.au

Image courtesy of thehoopla.com.au

Perhaps it is because I’ll be singing karaoke in January or maybe I just need to howl at the moon—whatever the case, I’ve recently found myself singing loudly, well, everywhere. I do most of my singing on my commute to any one of the three colleges I teach at, but I also sing at home and while running errands.

A while back, I wrote a post on the link between grief and song, but my current penchant for belting out various tunes has me wondering what other connections there might be between singing and everyday life. Here’s a short list of possibilities I’ve come up with:

  • I just like the feeling of being loud
  • Singing acts like a catharsis, a release of frustration (I am a teacher, after all) and, as previously mentioned, grief (I recorded a podcast about my very recent journey with grief after the sudden death of a family member.)
  • I’m super serious about prepping for karaoke
  • One of my not-so-secret wishes is to be a rockstar, and singing loudly helps me live out this dream, even if only for a pretend audience

Whatever the reason (and the list above is by no means exhaustive), I find I always feel refreshed after indulging in some screamo or holding an extra long note. I’m not super into regular “cleanses” that involve only drinking juices or other dietary restrictions, so maybe singing is my detox and way of giving voice (no pun intended) to all that is not language within me yet.

Your turn: Do you like to sing? If so, what are your reasons? Is it for fun or might there be another purpose?

Beautiful Sadness: A Review of “The Middlesteins” by Jami Attenberg

Photo courtesy of Goodreads.com

Photo courtesy of Goodreads.com

In Goodreads, I have a category called “This might depress you, but it’s worth it” because  I tend to read depressing books. Maybe I’m crazy, but I find depth in sadness.  I feel like joy is only fully realized when darkness has precluded it.  And not necessarily right before, but at least I’ve found that when times are really good, I appreciate it all the more because I know what it’s like to not be so happy.  

“The Middlesteins” by Jami Attenberg fits nicely into this Goodreads category.  The book details the journey of a family that includes Edie, a wife, mother, and grandmother who is diabetic and overweight. Despite her conditions, she continues to gorge and not watch her eating habits or blood sugar.  Her family wants to help her, but every attempt fails.

This book asks an important question: What do you do when someone you love is in trouble, but he/she does not want help?  There are attempts to get Edie to eat healthier and to remind her that she should be healthy so she can enjoy her life. But these attempts and pleas go unconsidered. Edie continues to go to her favorite Chinese food joint.

Perhaps other reviews may focus on the obsession with food depicted in this story as a commentary on American culture. That aspect is certainly present, however, along with asking that important question, what stuck out to me the most was the very realistic portrayal of the family members’ reactions. Whether you hate or love a character in this book, you must give them room to react in their own way since everyone deals with grief, even pre-grief, differently. One is militant in her resolve to get Edie on a strict food and exercise regimen. One is somewhat indifferent. Edie’s grandchildren are a bit too young to fully understand, yet Attenberg captures their naivete and subsequent realization of the gravity of the situation so deftly.  Her ability to weave in humor, and even the mundane tasks of real life, in such a way that makes them seem important is truly stunning. It takes hard work to make everyday life resonate.

In addition, I found the book totally quotable. I kept writing in my journal as I read.  One quote that I still think about today (perhaps because diabetes runs in my family) occurred when one of the grandchildren muses on her grandmother’s illness. The family is Jewish, and Biblical imagery is sprinkled throughout the text.  The granddaughter thinks about the plagues and how that kind of widespread destruction is the definition of biblical to her since it is so grand. After seeing the negative effects Edie’s uncontrolled diabetes has wreaked on her family, the girl thinks, “Diabetes felt biblical.” This, to me, is wonderful writing: nuanced and grounded in the characters’ world.

Attenberg’s writing style is very reminiscent of William Faulkner. The book is arranged in sections, each chapter written to follow a different member of the family.  I appreciated the different perspectives because it mirrored the situation so well: Dealing with an ailing family member (and one who’s in denial of her illness) is such a multifaceted situation, and the author captured this effectively through the novel’s structure. Additionally, the writing style of “The Middlesteins” is probably among the best I’ve encountered in a while. It’s accessible, funny (sometimes darkly humorous), and always rings true to life.  I’m excited to read more from her.

I highly recommend this book to all readers looking for some well-thought out characters with emotional depth, all of which wrestle with some tough life choices. Also, it’s a good read if you’re willing to delve into some depressing, yet important, subject matter.

Poetry Monday – Kim Addonizio

Thanks so much for joining me today!  This week’s poem comes from Kim Addonizio’s book “Lucifer at the Starlite.” The poem I am reading is “Happiness After Grief.” Enjoy!

Poetry Monday – Matthew Dickman

Thanks for joining for this week’s Poetry Monday! Today’s poem is “Blue Sky” from Matthew Dickman’s latest book “Mayakovsky’s Revolver.” Enjoy!

Poetry Monday – Christine Beck

Thanks a bunch for joining me for this week’s Poetry Monday! Today’s poem is “Given Salt, Given Time” by Christine Beck from Adanna Literary Journal’s “How Women Grieve” issue. Enjoy!

Poetry Monday – Jason Schneiderman

Thanks for joining me for Poetry Monday! Today’s poem is by Jason Schneiderman from his collection “Striking Surface.” The poem is called “Elegy VI (Metaphors for Grief).” Enjoy!

The Link Between Grief and Song

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between grief and singing.  I know these can be thought of as pretty disparate concepts; one is filled with anguish and the other is (usually) associated with beauty.  And yet I can’t help but think they are inextricably linked.

I’m reminded of a poem by Jane Hirshfield called “If the Rise of the Fish”.  In this poem she writes, “If the leaves.  If the singing fell upward.  If grief./For a moment if singing and grief.”  I love these lines.  What would happen if singing and grief existed together in the same space for a moment?  What would that look like?  Would it be a mixture of light and dark?  Would it look gray and muddled or luminous?  I’m not quite sure but I love the fact that Hirshfield plays with this concept.

As far as my own creative process is concerned, I tend to write when going through a hardship.  Tension, living in the gray and unknown is what moves me to write.  And this creative process is helped along by music.  Most of my process has been influenced by the belief that tragedy is not necessarily found in the process of enduring a rough time; the real loss would be doing nothing to turn hardship into something beautiful.

There is a song by RED that I find myself going back to.  It’s called “Hymn for the Missing.”  Although these guys are pretty hard rockers, they compose some beautiful instrumentals.  And I think this song illustrates the concept of melding grief and beauty really well.  The lyrics clearly convey loss: “Where are you now?  Are you lost?  Will I find you again?  Are you alone?  Are you afraid?  Are you searching for me?  Why did you go?  I had to stay.  Now I’m reaching for you.  Will you wait?  Will you wait?  Will I see you again?”  So many questions.  I can’t help but think of this verse as depicting the bargaining stage of grief.  The uncertainty leads to questions, but questions don’t always lead to answers.  And still, we put them out there.  In the backdrop of this song is a beautiful piano arrangement that crescendos into an absolutely gorgeous, full instrumental – a reminder that grief and song can complement each other in the most heart-breaking, stunning way.  Listen to “Hymn for the Missing” here:

Hymn For The Missing

 

As I mentioned before, Red is a rock band so I wanted to showcase what they can do.  Check out their face-melting performance on Conan back in February: