This summer (this year actually) is clean-up time. That means pushing forward old music projects to wear big-girl pants in the world, the first of which will be a release of a single in the late summer – details to come! It’s also going through piles of stuff, including some beloved childhood books. I came across one from my mother’s childhood, Manners Can Be Fun, by Munro Leaf, who wrote gems like Ferninand, and How to Behave and Why.
I love children’s literature and its lens on the world, and it is sadly underestimated by the gatekeepers of adult lit. In particular, the proscriptive books that teach mid-20th century children how to behave are fascinating. I’m still traumatized by the stories from that authoritarian English institution, Edith Blyton, particularly the one where a mother teaches her daughter not to whine, by making her sit on a dog mat. Therefore it gives me great pleasure to see those same books drooled and chewed on by children, illustrated with all the verve and sauce of a subway train tagger. In Manners Can Be Fun my mother illustrated her iconoclastic (and not terribly well-mannered) family as carefully arranged around the table, her sister somehow missing – and now I only have a few pages left of this little family map.
My father was old-school, pronouncing that “manners maketh man”. To my younger ears, this was just his anxiety that the Empire creak onwards. I argued with him that manners created convenient silences around oppression, and stifled creativity. For many of his generation and culture, love was in a far-off room, only reached through a labyrinth of ritual and appropriate speech. If you made the wrong turn, well then, off with your head. It is even more poignant then that his manners left him in later life, as he fell into the deep.
My older self still votes for speaking truth to power, but my father did have a point. Manners, when not weaponized, may slowly weave language and accountability, especially when people have been injured. Years of neo-liberal policies, capitalist shenanigans and Social Media High School seemed to have made many of us more grabby and shallow than usual. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that an artist that you happily connected with on social media is the same one in person. It’s even more disturbing when an artist has social justice cred, but treats their colleagues like utility boxes.
A few years ago a director referred to us musicians as being on her farm, followed by ruminations of whom she’d keep, or discard for further productions. It was kinda jokey, mostly rude, and truthful in how we are encouraged to view one another.
Which is all to say, we, as creative humans, are not farms, mines, and reflecting mirrors. Here’s to amplifying people and work that attend to the unseen and unsung.
I found another book next to Manners called The Crow Whom Came to Stay by Judy Varga (who is biographically invisible on the interwebs). Clyde the crow is a sensitive sort, who doesn’t like corn, unlike the rest of his Crow clan. He nestles inside the jacket of his beloved scarecrow on the Pepperpot farm, and over time, befriends Mr and Mrs Pepperpot. It’s beautifully illustrated by Varga, an ode to understanding, not bullying.
It’s always fun when your work spurs on another’s. Amy Miller, a great poet who lives here, wrote a poem after experiencing the Alone | Together science fiction concert that Caballito Negro performed as part of the Ashland Independent Film Festival in April . Amy was watching my husband Ken empty out my waterphone, post-concert. Her poem is a lovely tribute to the mysteries of co-creation.
After the Concert – by Amy Miller
The musician’s husband carries
her waterphone outside—
a spiky sort of futuristic
cathedral or punishing crown
that she’d held in one hand
and bowed with the other,
the sound a metal shriek
ascending to electric hum
as she walked up the aisle
through the audience. Now,
in the dark, he upends it
over the storm drain and pours
the water out as it plays
from memory a summer song:
stream from a hose,
splashing on the pavement.