A Raid on the Music Library


The circumstances under which composers compose is a matter I have always found fascinating. Part of it is as a writer, I am always curious to hear where creators of other art forms find inspiration. The biggest fascination, though, is that music seems to be such a tangible form of magic, and the fact that it could originate from someone’s pen is even more mysterious.

Last  summer while at grad school, I wandered the library on main campus toward the beginning of the summer and discovered the music library. There I found biographies of just about every composer imaginable. I picked up a few favorites whose biographies were lesser known to me and picked them up whenever I had a few minutes of non-school reading. I realize that this is a stretch for light, summer reading. Even my grandmother made fun of me when I told her. However, I loved this little extra-curricular study and wished I had more time to devote to their stories.

One biography made a lasting impression, and that was the life of organist and composer César Franck. I learned in the course of the book that Franck wrote an oratorio that caught my attention for a number of reasons. As I understand it, the composition was not initially as well-received as Franck had hoped, but a sort of revamped version released later in his life was met with great acclamation and popularity. One quote in particular stayed with me, and I wrote it on an index card that summer.

“If M. Cesar Franck had obtained, twenty-five years ago the success which it had obtained today, how many works might he not have produced which perhaps have been stifled by discouragement, self-doubt and the sad necessity to provide for the needs of each day? And let us not believe that the acclamations which have been bestowed on him, the emotion of the populace and all those hands which were extended for the honor of grasping his after the concert can compensate him one evening for long years of solitude, of silence, of oblivion ”
Reyer, via Vallas, César Franck

The idea that an artist would be “stifled by discouragement” even to the point that self-doubt would prevent the creation of further works, especially by someone as talented as Franck, is a haunting one.

I spent the last 8 months writing a translation of that same oratorio, which had fallen back into relative obscurity over the years. It was not a project I ever expected to tackle, but it has been one of the most exciting and rewarding endeavors of the last year. Countless hours have been spent buried in that score, playing a sort of four-way tug of war between accuracy, singability, poetry and structure. My belief in the piece has only grown the more time I have spent, and I know that this journey is far from over.


More than that, the life and works of Franck has continued to inspire me, the more time I spend in this project. Whatever comes of all this, I never could have imagined what a significant role that little biography would end up playing in my life one year ago.

Journey on, Dearest Hearts

As a mentioned previously, saying good-bye at the end of this school year was particularly difficult, as I will be transitioning to a new school in the fall. As frequently ends up happening when emotions are high, I wrote a song, and played it for my juniors on our last day of class. I did record it, though the audio is a little quieter than I would like.

The lyrics are below:

Verse 1:
Words feel as scarce as time as minutes slip away
I knew this day would come, though I don’t know what to say
If we could freeze the moment, step out of time somehow
Take one more adventure, yet we only have right now

Oh___ as our paths fade apart
Oh___journey on, dearest heart

Verse 2:
We faced the morning mists and ghostly shrouded trees
Boarded a charter bus for castles and tapestries
We journeyed through the ages, in tales of days of yore
Discovering in the pages, the adventures we came for


If I could have just one minute
To look each of you in the eye
Try to explain what you mean to me
But then I would probably cry
Let’s be honest, I’d probably cry

Verse 3:
Our quest led to treasure, the memories that we share
Treasure in the bonds that formed and moments spent in prayer
The time has come to leave you, and though it hurts to part
I carry with me always, each of you upon my heart


© 2016

Workplace Du Jour


This is the overhead view of my kitchen table. This is the perfect vantage point from which to do scary things like sending proposals to literary agents, drafting correspondence in French, and calling publishers. The tea is the secret power, or at least that’s what I tell myself. This is one of my favorite things about summer break. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all bonbons and mimosas in our bathrobes. Summer is when I can move the part-time job as a freelance writer back into the full-time slot. There’s still plenty of time for pool sitting and trail running, but nothing beats the feeling of productivity and dusting off neglected projects. Even if sometimes they are a little scary.

The Bard of 2016

Lin-Manuel Miranda, craftsman of words, and creator of the theater sensation Hamilton, penned a sonnet as acceptance speech for the first (of many) Tony’s won on Sunday. I have posted it below (as quoted in Playbill).

“My wife’s the reason anything gets done.
She nudges me towards promise by degrees,
She is a perfect symphony of one.
Our son is her most beautiful reprise.

We chase the melodies that seem to find us
Until they’re finished songs and start to play
When senseless acts of tragedy
Remind us that nothing here is promised, not one day,
The show is proof that history remembers;
We live through times when hate and fear seems stronger,
We rise and fall and light from dying embers,
Remembrances that hope and love last longer.

And love is love, is love, is love, is love, is love, is love, is love, is love.
Cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story.
Now fill the world with music, love and pride.”

(Source )

I love this for so many reasons, and I think one of the biggest lessons Miranda teaches by example is every aspect of his career is that excellence opens doors for an audience. When you speak,  and write, (or  rap) with excellence, people listen. Plus anyone who can drop a sonnet as a beacon of love on a day when the nation reeled from a horrific mass murder and hate crime, has my immense respect.


Golden Years

When I was in high school my senior superlative was “most likely to have 10 kids”. At our 10 year reunion this came up again as a classmate pointed out how true our predictions had been. Obviously in the time that transpired I had not had 10 kids. I had so many more than that. For six years, student after student’s name appeared on a roster, and then became attached to little faces in chairs. Or sometimes big faces as the case may be.

I remember the fearful moment I stood in front of my first class of as a brand new teacher. They stared at me, and I stared back, face frozen in an awkward deer-in-headlights smile. Then bell rang, and I realized I was the grown up in the room. Something changed in that moment. My heart opened wider than I ever thought possible and they all climbed in. I remember later on that first day walking down the hall on a  planning period and one of those same students caught a glimpse of me from his 6th grade math class. He looked around and with an impish grin, gave a surreptitious wave of his little hand. I realized within mere hours I had gone from standing terrified in front of middle school strangers, to walking the halls of a school populated by  “my kids”.IMG_2063

Year after year passed and my heart has never failed to grow with each name and face. I still crawl across the summer vacation finish line as much any teacher, but with each ending comes a little sadness.  This year was a particularly sad good-bye, as I will be teaching at a new school in the fall. (More on that another time) However, I did get to spend my golden birthday with the seniors chaperoning the senior trip. As I spent some time reflecting on my own senior year and the time that has passed since then, I am amazed how full my heart has become over the years. Faces, names, and memories  accumulate year after year. And there’s always room for more. Transitions and endings can hurt, but I have learned to value the precious commodity that time is. J.M Barrie said it best when he penned the opening words of Peter Pan: “All children grow up, except one.”IMG_2966


All in a Golden Afternoon

It’s been a while since I had publishing news to share but my latest article is out now in Living Education Journal! The topic is integrating nature in a study of the language arts and includes tales of Mama Jones during my late elementary/middle school years when I was home schooled.

Living Education Journal is published both in print and online. The online version can be accessed here.

For more information, the main page for the journal can be found here.

Once Upon a Time I Knew a Magic Man

Remember a while ago when I referenced my Describing the Imagination Professor?

“Under the gentle guidance of a universally-beloved 80-year-old British professor,  we studied theory of children’s imagination and discovery and examined children’s stories an artwork as we would have a literary classic. He allowed us the freedom to make our final product a creative endeavor,” and then I wrote about the screen play I had wrote this past summer.

This is him reading Calvino to us around the campfire:



This is the two of us at the end of term celebration. IMG_7229

He asked me to send me my screenplay so that he could read it again at more leisure when he got back to England. I was planning to clean it up and revise it for a film festival that fall, before sending it to him. Then life got nuts, and I put it off for another time. Except that I got word in March he had passed away suddenly.

It didn’t seem real at first, but as the weeks past, I found myself increasingly unsettled. Times in the past that I have left a beloved professor or teacher, I have often been able to get in touch with them for questions or guidance, or returned for a visit or a chat. The fact that Michael is gone still seems like an impossibility. His influence and inspiration permeated so much  more of my own than I ever could have imagined, including the trickle-down effect to my students. In making sense of my own grief I wrote a song for him, which I have (roughly) recorded and linked below. The lyrics are linked in the song description on YouTube. In the absence of a better title, I have simply titled it “For Michael.”

“Hello… It’s Me” or “But I promised myself I wouldn’t use Adele lyrics as a title”


Well, here we are. Emerging yet again, after yet another blogging hiatus.  How can the last eight months be summed up?

Complex. Textured. Intense. Beautiful.

It’s difficult to articulate, because the time that has elapsed since that golden summer on the mountain have been at some moments the most difficult, painful, and even fearful in recent memory and at other points jeweled with some of the sweetest memories, victorious triumphs, and the dearest people who in a variety of forms have been a tangible expression of hope. I think that’s what makes the last eight months particularly beautiful in its complexity.

Can color and light truly be appreciated without shadow? Can the swell of a crescendo have any power without the moments of pianissimo? Can the ending to a story be happy without the preceding moments of fear, struggle and even despair?

Looking back over the last eight months, the overwhelming emotion is thankfulness. I am thankful to the Artist who paints light among the shadow, the Author pens a new chapter after a cliff hanger, and the Composer who scores both major and minor keys.

The last eight months gives me tremendous excitement and anticipation for the next seven months and beyond.

To quote J.M. Barrie: “Forward, brave hearts. To what adventures I cannot tell, but I know that your God is watching to see whether you are adventurous.”

Pied Beauty


My junior class took a unit test on Friday, and I faced that awkward end-of-the-quarter/too-short-to-accomplish-anything interval of 30 minutes or so. The day was autumnal and golden, I hatched an alternate plan, reading to them Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Pied Beauty and then took them on a stroll on the trail behind the school. The poem is a whimsical celebration of beauty and language and I’m sharing it below.

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.
Source: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985) Via the Poetry Foundation
Together we closed out the quarter in a delightfully leisurely adventure, looking for dappled things and taking in the pied beauty of the afternoon.photo

Emerging Part 2: Summer 2015 in Listicle Form

This is probably where I should say “Good heavens look at the time! How am I just now posting Part Two of the Vermont homage and it’s now October?” But my track record being less than stellar, it’s probably to be expected. So here we are, coming up for air in an already hectic school year, and it’s finally time for this post I wrote in August in Vermont to see the light of day. As promised, here are some highlights of the summer as told in a countdown from 5-1.
Five Dances  The orientation letter contained an all-important quote: “dancing hours are generally from 9-12:00pm on Saturdays”. You have to respect the fact that dancing hours carry equal weight on the orientation letter to class periods and dining hall hours. I always looked forward to Saturday nights: the pre-dance hours when the house porches became abuzz with, well, the buzzed, the barn newly transformed into a dance hall of some theme or other, and the early morning wanderings back to the houses under a star-dappled sky. The dances were:

  1. The Country Line Dance with a live band and real live Vermonters in the real live country in an actual barn.
  2. The 80s dance, which necessitated the buying of this rad eye shadow, and the biggest hair and hoop earrings possible. IMG_5925IMG_5337
  3. The 90s dance, in which I went as Cher from Clueless. The music from this dance was obviously the best by a long shot and many shouts out to my favorite DJ Clare (pictured above in all her 80s glory)IMG_5394
  4. The One-Hit Wonder Dance. This wasn’t necessarily a theme-dress occasion but I was so inspired my friend Jess’s Harper Lee costume, that I wore a Little Prince shirt as a nod to literary one-hit wonders. (Yes Harper Lee has two books, but I reject the latter as a “hit” so there you go)
  5. The Dance Formerly Known as Suppressed Desires. Suppressed Desires was always a costumed dance with a vaguely literary theme. Here I am as a mint julep from the Great Gatsby-themed dance two years ago: IMG_1009This year the name was changed to the Wilde-Rumpus and the theme was literary characters in general. I dropped the “literary” from that and went as Mad Men‘s Betty Draper with Jess (mentioned above, of Harper Lee fame) as the sullen, teenage Sally Draper


Those were the dances and these are the…

Four Day-Trips


2. Montpelier

3. Montreal

4. Burlington (on several occasions-full disclosure)


Three Favorite Coffee Shops

I love a good coffee shop workday and especially when the nearest Starbucks is at least an hour away. Here are my top three:
Bristol Bakery and Cafe, Bristol VT

Sandy’s Book and Bakery, Rochester, VT


Carol’s Hungry Mind Cafe, Middlebury VT. Carol’s was a home base for us, and the one I miss the most.


Two Classes
Classes, what? Yes, the purpose of the summer was, believe it or not, academic and the  two classes this summer balanced one another well thematically.

  1. Vengeance: a study of just that, as found in classics like the Iliad and Dante’s Inferno, to Kill Bill (Vol 1 and 2). A good stretch and challenge with a fabulous professor and a good crew of classmates.
  2.  Describing the Imagination. This class was magic. Under the gentle guidance of a universally-beloved 80-year-old British professor,  we studied theory of children’s imagination and discovery and examined children’s stories an artwork as we would have a literary classic. He allowed us the freedom to make our final product a creative endeavor which brings me to…

One Screenplay


I had been toying with a screenplay plot earlier this year, that became fully formed when I began to do the assigned reading for Describing the Imagination. I got the project approved fairly early on, set weekly page number goals, and churned out a feature length (90 page) screenplay in 6-weeks. The undertaking, while certainly labor-intensive, was exhilarating and also prompted somewhat of a writer’s identity crisis.

I now have a novel that has sat unedited for a year, a one-act play that as sat unrevised for two years, a short story/novella I’m trying to market for publication, some non-fiction articles published last year, and now a screenplay to edit and figure out what to do with the final product. The week between classes ending and returning home, I had a helpful conversation with my play writing professor of two years ago who encouraged me that it’s okay to be spread around several genres and to pursue inspiration in whatever form it is takes. So that’s the plan for now. I would like to explore screenwriting more in the future, but I’m returning to the novel for now to make editing, polishing and marketing the priority. Oh and teaching full time. Hence the blogging lapse. Much to juggle and much to navigate, but I am so thankful to have spent a truly glorious summer with some of the very best folk on a mountain sprinkled with Robert-Frost-fairy-dust. The End.