Feb 10

Silence and the Drum

I discovered something at last weekend’s monthly drum circle. I attend on a semi-regular basis because I enjoy getting out and drumming in a non-performance group setting, plus a friend runs it and I like to support my friends.

Usually the focus is on raising and channeling energy with the drumming, That works well as a rule. Friend has a spiritual practice leaning toward shamanism and healing with drumming, and does it well. That type of playing is really about playing what Spirit moves you to play. There are always new people, and people with very little experience, in the circle, and they can blend in with just a simple foundation of DUM DUM DUM DUM without being overwhelmed. It almost always seems to work well, to come together harmoniously.

This month, though, Friend decided to try something different. He wanted to play with a more traditional West African-style where different people played different specific parts to create what you might call a composition. Cool! I thought. That’s exactly what we do in our Wednesday morning West African drumming class, with traditional West African rhythms. I wanted to hear this in a different context.

Then Friend demonstrated the two basic parts, with half of the room playing each, and a third part that he wanted as an accent played by one or two people. Friend stated that these were basic beginner patterns, but as I heard them I was thinking “um, whaaaat?” They weren’t what I think of, after eight months of studying djembe, as basic. They weren’t anything I recognized at all. But even though I was tactless enough to openly express a bit of skepticism,  I listened, and learned, and drilled:

Part 1:  B B B tttttttttt        B = Bass, in the middle
Part 2:  ttttttttB ttB tt        t = tone, on the rim

Well, my drum, Asase-Ya (yes, she has a name), is a BIG drum. I have some experience, I can play a solid Slap on djembe, and I recognized the accent part from class, so when it all came together I volunteered for the accent part: Slap—-Slap—-Slap—-SlapSlap, with a swing to it so it syncopates with the basic rhythm.

So we put it all together and…oh, dear. For me it was just a cacophony of noise; nothing meshed or flowed. I soldiered on, but it just didn’t work musically for me. Nor did I feel like it worked energetically, nor was the energy there being channeled anywhere — it was just swirling chaotically. If the energy had been coherent it would have been at least okay, but it wasn’t.

Of course, me being me, I had to analyze it and figure out why it didn’t work. During one break I asked Friend if the rhythm had a name, hoping I could go home and look it up in my resources. After all, in every West African rhythm I’ve worked with, the disparate parts have come together beautifully to create a whole. However, Friend said it was something he had made up earlier that day. I remembered that Friend’s past percussion training was primarily with drum set and Latin percussion (congas, bongos & the ilk). Then I remembered something that comes up periodically in both my Middle Eastern and West African drumming classes and workshops. Music isn’t just the notes; it’s also the SPACES BETWEEN THE NOTES. In all the rhythms I’ve studied in both traditions, the rests are just as important as the strokes for the rhythm.In fact, I just looked in my djembe manual, and out of the 32 rhythms notated there, there was ONE with no space at all in the rhythm (and that is because it’s a 12/8 rhythm with one djembe part keeping the “swing” feel going).

Look back up there at my notation. There are pauses in each part but they do NOT sync up, so it creates a constant sound punctuated occasionally by a deeper, heavier bass sound. Add to that the fact that sound dynamics don’t generally come in to play in a drum circle —  most people tend to play at one volume, LOUD — and it’s no wonder my ears got tired and my musical sensibility felt assaulted.

There’s probably several lessons here on multiple levels, but let’s just make this the takeaway:

Music is both the notes, and the space between them.


Feb 02

Islamic Bogeyman, Redneck Reality

Last weekend on Twitter, I responded to Ibrahim Moustafa (@Ibrahim_M_), and then kept on thinking about the exchange.

It’s absolutely true. During my teaching career, I had many, many students from not only the seven countries affected by the executive order banning entry to the U.S., I had students from other majority-Muslim countries not affected by the ban (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc.). I had Latino students in my classes. I had Asian students. I also had colleagues from a wide variety of countries over the years. Truly, never did I feel threatened by any of them, not even immediately after 9/11 when we were all severely on edge. The (mostly) young men from these countries were invariably hard-working, respectful, and determined that they were here to make the most of this opportunity for education.

It would seem that the statistics so far bear me out:

From the looks of it, I should be a lot more nervous about my four-year-old niece accidentally shooting me.

You know who makes me nervous today, who made me feel threatened at times while I taught computer science?

White males.


Not all white males. Before I retired, the computer nerds and I got along just fine because I was one of them. Military veterans didn’t bother me either — those guys might look and act very macho, but somewhere along the way they learned discipline and respect for others.

You probably know the type that makes me nervous. Conservative gun-toting “God-fearing” men that are convinced that our country has gone to hell in a handbasket because of women, blacks,  immigrants, and gays. Students in my classes knew better than to say anything, but you could tell who they were. Heaven forbid you ever got into an exchange with them on social media!

I was never sure when one of them just might snap and target me or a fellow student as one of the 11,737 for the current year.

The Islamic Bogeyman Terrorist Under The Bed? I’m not worried. I’m in much more danger getting behind the wheel of my car here in Atlanta. The White Male With A Flag And A Gun? I’ll be looking over my shoulder until he’s out of sight, and the statistics support me there.

Jul 27

Political Thoughts, Part 1 — How I Think, 2016 Version

(Oh, my poor neglected little blog, it’s sad that it took this to bring me back to you. But social media doesn’t provide the space I need for these thoughts.)

A couple of weeks ago, one of my former students openly challenged me, not once but twice, on my posting of numerous anti-Trump/anti-conservative-agenda memes via Facebook while not posting any anti-Clinton/anti-liberal-agenda ones. Aside from the obvious retort that it’s my damn Facebook timeline and I’ll post what I want (as opposed to what others might prefer to see), I thought it was worth clarifying how I think this year.

First of all, I tend to be somewhat apolitical, more out of disgust than apathy. Both major political parties annoy me on a quite regular basis. From my perspective, there is more than enough cronyism, self-serving dealings, lack of transparency, and downright corruption to go around at federal, state, and local levels. The current election cycle has forced me to take a good, hard look at candidates and platforms, though, because I believe this cycle to be critical.

I am registered to vote, but not as a member of either political party. I usually vote in Republican primaries because, given where I live, in the second belt-hole of the Bible Belt, that’s where I can make a difference. If there were one thing I could enact to improve our political system, it would be Congressional term limits with NO cushy K Street lobbyist jobs afterwards. Back to the Real World with you!! If I could have a second thing, it would be to repeal Citizens United — a nasty, disgusting little piece of work if I ever saw one.

I have long considered myself fiscally conservative — spend money where it needs to be spent, spend it wisely, and don’t waste it — and socially liberal — if nobody’s being hurt by it, it’s not a problem. I don’t see a lot of today’s issues as black or white. They are gray, gray, many shades of gray. I also believe in personal responsibility above almost everything else, which makes things interesting. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from the consequences of that speech. Freedom of religion doesn’t mean the freedom to impose that religion on others. I could go on, and maybe I will at some point, but you’re probably getting the idea.

This year’s presidential race is contentious, controversial, and potentially catastrophic. Of course I have thoughts on both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald Trump; in fact I’m going to give each of them their own blog post over the next couple of days.


Mar 11

43 Things is Gone, But I Retrieved My List

I didn’t realize it, but 43 Things went away at the first of the year. Somehow I never got any notification, so never knew to export my data there. But fear not, the Wayback Machine had me covered! I was able to copy it from here, and am pasting it here for posterity even though it isn’t a full 43 Things, and I’ve actually accomplished some of them in the meantime! I did omit the entries, cheers, and number of people with the same goal because, well, none of those matter anymore with the original site gone. The important thing is the list, after all.

Art of the Firebird’s Life List

Number Thing Current Status
1. Be a glass artist I’d say I’m a glass artist by now, and a jewelry artist, and still growing at it.
2. Become a better bellydancer Working on it — joined a troupe, perform regularly, and take multiple classes a week plus workshops when appropriate.
3. Lose 25 pounds If anything, negative progress. I do eat mostly healthy and clean but the weight does not come off. I have to wonder if it’s a combination of thyroid, insulin resistance, and the antidepressant sabotaging me. I don’t care what Big Pharma says, I put the weight back on after I started the antidepressant and it just does not budge!
4. Exercise regularly That’s the dance, but I need to do more, walking and strength training in particular.
5. Keep up with my journal Blogging & social media have pretty much replaced my journal, but I should make time for it as well.
6. Be a better blogger Two blogs, both neglected. Tsk tsk.
7. Keep my studio organized and clean Oh jeez. Don’t even go there, especially because I have to store most of the “show stuff” in there as well.
8. Minimize existing clutter and excess possessions An ongoing effort to say the least.
9. Learn PHP and MySQL Learned some, not enough.
10. Learn to use my digital camera Not enough, though I am getting better with my smartphone camera.
11. Make a zine Nothing but a few ideas.
12. Create a home inventory Still need to get on that.
13. Compile a 100-things-about-me list I’m up to, what, 65 now?
14. Become a better photographer Nope.
15. Learn CPR DONE as of September 2014!
16. Never stop learning This is not a goal to ever complete, if you think about it.
17. Draw every day Nope–but I really should at least draw out the jewelry designs I come up while on the spinalator at the chiropractor’s office.
18. Walk a labyrinth No, but no reason I can’t do this one.I just need to do it.
19. Be a better web designer Enh, maybe.
20. Relax Tard relax
21. Read all the books in my “must read” pile HAHAHAHAHA!!!
22. See the northern lights Nope
23. Manage my finances better Progress, not perfection.
24. Promote my website Mostly delegated at the moment for the business site.
25. Make a will, living will, and last wishes document This REALLY needs to get done!
26. Make my own bellydance costumes Does a tribal bra count?

Do realize, mind you, that I HAVE done other things that were not on the list and that I neglected to add to it as they came to pass. I started a business, learned chainmaille and knitting, started drumming and co-curated a digital textbook among other things. So it’s not as bad as the list looks.

Nov 19

10 Signs You Should Start Belly Dance Classes Now

Guest post by Amy Danielson of The Eye Atelier, reprinted by permission

This list was compiled from the comments of lots and lots of belly dancers, and from the life experiences of Alexandra Moehagen and Amy Danielson.

1. You already wear all your jewelry at once.
2. When you listen to *any* music, you secretly want to dance. Or you just do. In the living room. In the grocery store. Wherever.
3. You have body issues, and are SO READY to face them.
4. You’re going through a major change.
5. You need a bigger social life. A lot bigger. But one you can pick and choose from so that it fits your lifestyle.
6. You find yourself going into bohemian shops and saying things like, “But I would have nowhere to WEAR this…” while sadly fingering the jewelry and clothes.
7. You already do yoga, zumba, and anything else that comes along to your local studio. Maybe all of the above.
8. You have at least 2 cats.
9. You have a lot of very strong opinions and are well read.
10. Three words. DRAMATIC EYE MAKEUP

from letzmakeupblog.com, used under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license

Jul 15

I Hate It When I Disappoint Myself

Northside Tribe spent the last several months preparing for our big student show, Bellies for Babies, in collaboration with Jahara Phoenix dance troupe and Sherar, their student troupe. Saturday night, July 12, all three troupes took over the Dancing Goats Theater in John’s Creek to benefit the March of Dimes.

Bellies For Babies 2014 Cast

Bellies For Babies 2014 Cast

I performed in three group numbers — two of our troupe’s choreographies, the Jedi Saidi to the Star Wars “Cantina” song and our new “Shashkin” tribute to John Compton and Hahbi ’Ru, plus our first ever troupe ATS® performance. With trepidation, I agreed to perform a solo by polishing up the improv I did at the Glow Dance Studios open house a few months earlier to Dinletir’s “Ice Queen.”

I had plenty of time to prepare, and faithfully attended classes and rehearsals. I constantly listened to the music and ran through choreography in my head, but I kept putting off practicing at home because other stuff just seemed to get in the way. I figured I’d “clear the decks,” so to speak, for the week before the show and really focus on run-throughs and polishing. You know, however, that the best laid plans go astray? Sure enough, they did. Saturday night a week before the show I realized at bedtime that I had what felt like a bad case of indigestion, with pain right under my diaphragm. I figured I’d just go to sleep and it would pass. It didn’t. It spread around to my mid-back and just got worse and worse through the night. I haven’t been in that much pain since I was in labor! I got no sleep because of it, and was at urgent care when they opened Sunday morning. Not that they could find anything specific wrong, so the doctor suggested Zantac, Nexium, and Gas-X and said if it got worse contact my own doctor.

Well, it wiped me out for all of Sunday & Monday. I begged out of Monday’s rehearsal for solos. Tuesday I felt better but going to work wore me out. Wednesday I had a second, milder attack. By Thursday night I could make it to rehearsal, but was way under par. Things weren’t much better for Friday night’s dress rehearsal, either. Adding insult to injury, my stomach was so touchy all week that I could not eat very much, so I had no energy anyway.

Saturday afternoon came. I and all my paraphernalia got to the theater, with me still sewing madly on the bra for my costume up until intermission. Then tech rehearsal, dress and makeup, and it was SHOWTIME.

Well, I did not bring my A game for this show. I did not bring my B game for this show. I’m not even sure I brought my C game. I had a very visible (I saw the video :p) brain fart on “Cantina,” even though I’ve performed that choreography, with the same partner, several times. I was okay, I think, for our ATS® number even though it wasn’t terribly polished (especially compared to the other two groups’ renditions of it). With “Shashkin,” I screwed up the part that has almost always given me trouble, a part which I should have down by now.  So I wasn’t prepared enough for any of the group numbers, which upsets me because it lets my fellow dancers down.

As for my solo, calling it a “hot mess” would probably be kind. Gary and Andrea both told me I did well, but they are biased…and no one else has said a word about it to me. *I* know it wasn’t up to standard. *I* know I didn’t put enough work into it. The picture below is fine, but I am praying that there is no video of it anywhere out there, or if there is that the person who took it will erase it unseen and never, ever tell me they took it.

Bellies For Babies Solo Performance 2014

Bellies For Babies Solo Performance 2014

So yeah, I screwed up. Big time. And I have to own it, and admit responsibility. I feel embarrassed by my own performance, or lack thereof, but far more I feel humiliated for letting my teacher and my troupe mates down by not giving it my very best effort. Getting sick the week before the show isn’t a good excuse, either. If I’d been decently prepared before I got sick I might not have been at peak level, but I would have been okay. (Any of you who saw this show and are reading this, it is not necessary to tell me my performance was fine. *I* know it wasn’t so you being kind and saying it was won’t make me feel any better. Honest critique is far more useful anyway.) To my troupe mates, especially Mary and Jeanette, and to Lacy, I’m sorry. I will do better in the future.

All I can do is learn from this. Don’t ignore actual practice time no matter what!!! Maybe improvisational choreography, at least solo, is not a good thing for me yet. Don’t leave things until the last minute (a lesson which I should apply to my entire damn life). Don’t be afraid to get feedback beforehand.


Jun 22

In This Place

Layne Redmond

Have you ever found yourself at a place, or an event, where you were uncomfortable and felt like you didn’t quite  belong, but yet you KNEW you were supposed to be there?

Today at the Asheville Percussion Festival, a memorial Celebration of Life for Layne Redmond closed out the three-day event. I never met Layne. I only know her through her book, When the Drummers Were Women, which I added to my library and  read through long before I finally began to learn to drum, plus a handful of YouTube videos. The room was full of those who had been her friends, her students, people with some sort of personal connection to her. I had none.

But when the prior workshop ended and I thought about leaving, I didn’t. I moved my seat and my drums away from the front of the room, but I stayed in the room. When everyone sang, I sang. When everyone joined the processional, drums playing, out to the waterfall, I thought again about leaving, but instead I pulled out my deyereh, bought just the previous day, and joined in. I played through the ceremony, while Layne’s ashes were passed in their bowl from person to person, scattered to the four corners of the Serenity Garden, and eventually given to the waterfall. I said my own blessing and goodbye to her spirit as the bowl came to me, though I never knew her in this world. I did not leave until everything ended and everyone began to go their way back out into the world.

Maybe the only reason I was compelled to stay was to bless and charge my new drum? Maybe it was simply to acknowledge Layne’s influence, however small and remote, on me? Whatever. There was some powerful energy moving at OM Sanctuary in Asheville this weekend, crescendoing to a climax this afternoon, and I was a teeny weeny little mote of a part of it, for whatever reason.


Mar 05

List Me, Baby!

(C4ward March Blogathon Day 4)

Five Goals to Achieve Sometime Before I Die

  1. Create jewelry items that tribal dancers buy, love, and wear while performing.
  2. Perform a solo at a major bellydance event like TribalCon.
  3. Travel to New Zealand, and maybe Australia too. DH & I don’t really care that much for travel, but we could make an exception for this.
  4. Become an ATS® Sister Studio and/or Gypsy Caravan Collective Soul Certified dancer
  5. See the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). Just because.

Five Goals to Accomplish in the Next Five Years to Move Towards Achieving The Above Goals

  1. Keep learning new jewelry skills and honing the ones I already have.
  2. Have professional photographs made of my work for advertising and festival entry purposes.
  3. Research New Zealand  & Australia to determine where to go and what to do while there.
  4. Attend and perform at as many bellydance events as possible, either solo or with a troupe.
  5. Take at least two of the Collective Soul certification levels and/or retake ATS® General Skills and Teacher Training I.

Five Goals to Accomplish in the Next 12 MONTHS… as if it were the last year of my life!

  1. Take as many ATS® classes as possible.
  2. Get the Gypsy Caravan DVDs and start working with them.
  3. Perform at least one solo at Oasis, Open Mic Night, or Northside Tribe’s own show.
  4. Draw up a will!!!! (gotta be practical somewhere)
  5. Make sure my husband and son (at least) know how much I love them.

What I Noticed when Making the Above Three Lists

  1. None of the items had anything to do with my profession as a college professor. Basically, I’ve achieved every feasible goal there and I’m just maintaining status quo.
  2. Setting goals for my little nanobusiness of making jewelry is HARD because I don’t want to turn it into a career per se. I don’t want to get so serious about it that it takes the fun out of creating stuff.
  3. Tangible goals for my bellydancing hobby is easy enough because I’m such a newbie at it; the problem is that my age is working against me there.
  4. Some practical things really should not be put off.
  5. There’s a lot of DO-ing on the list, but in truth, I wouldn’t have to do any of these things except #5 (and #4 for practical reasons) on the 12-month list, and I’d be happy.

Mar 04

Sharing My Favorite Creative Work

(C4ward March Blogathon Day 3 post, a day late because Monday is my insanely long day with no breathing room)

What should I show as my favorite creative work? In what area did I DO my favorite creative work?

Was it this pair of chainmaille earrings?

Sterling & Niobium Chainmaille Earrings

Sterling & Niobium Chainmaille Earrings

Or these earrings made from one of my favorite pairs of lampworked beads?

Lampworked glass bead earrings

Lampworked glass bead earrings

Was it this paper I did for my first art class on German artist Käthe Kollwitz?

Käthe Kollwitz image

Käthe Kollwitz Self-Portrait

Or perhaps the debut performance of the dance troupe to which I belong at TribalCon last month?

I can’t decide!!


Mar 02

Five Year Plan? What Five Year Plan?

C4ward March Blogathon: Day 2 Prompt

“Where” is your creative work going? Envision yourself and your work five years or more from now.

  • Who are you and what do you see your work as “being”?
  • How is your work “evolving” and “becoming”?
  • What about your work inspires you? Inspires others?
  • Where are you going and what are you doing after this (five-year) point in the future?

The truth? I don’t have any kind of a five-year plan, artistic or business. I tend to have Artistic Attention Deficit Disorder (AADD) so what I am creating at any moment is based on what medium I feel like working in at that point and what I am inspired to create with the tools and materials available.

When I create jewelry, whether it be the glass beads & pendants, the chainmaille, or the odd mixed media concoctions, I’m trying to create items that are edgily wearable, or would that be wearably edgy? I want to create your “go-to” piece of adornment, the one that you automatically reach for whether you are wearing jeans or a business suit or a little black dress. I want to create the unique piece that becomes a part of YOU, the piece that, when other people see it. they know it’s perfect for you, and maybe the perfect piece for them is there as well.

Hunh. How about that?

My work evolves rather organically, driven by improvements in skill and technique, availability of materials, and (though it sounds rather “fluffy”) what I’m feeling from the Universe. I no longer particularly try to direct it (been there, doesn’t work). Ideas and inspiration come from many places — some of the best from my customers! — and will often have to percolate for a while before they can be attended to. Some of the best pieces both my business partner & I have made have been ones where we’ll see a bead or a component that the other made and it will trigger something in our own brain:

Shawl Pin

Pin created by Andrea, bead by Julia

Thinking about this, I don’t feel any urge to worry about where I’ll be artistically in five years, or ten years, or however long I keep at this. I only feel the urge to keep an open mind and keep experimenting.