Category: A Writer’s Desk
The work I've been recently doing on my genealogy fits, since the information I can pull from records about my family tree (assuming a judicious pruning of remote cousins and in-laws) is finite. You can read about that here.
The second project is larger, but even more finite. You see, I have this website of Scandinavian fiddle tunes…
Blue Rose Music
Twenty-five years ago, in my 30s, I was listening to some Swedish twin-fiddle records (of which I already had a few dozen — now many hundreds). As a harmony singer I've always been a sucker for two- and three-fiddle folk music performances, and the best of these come from the Swedish folk tradition.
I said to myself, “Boy, I like this stuff. Gee, I wish I could do that.” And then the light bulb went off — how hard could it be? I had a musical background and knew my way around a piano and a guitar (as an amateur).
So, I picked up a violin for the first time, just to play the Scandinavian folk repertoire, and never looked back.
You can read about this in some detail here, but the short version is I've been going to workshops and playing solo and with small bands now for a very long time, primarily for the use of dance groups who are equally fond of the folk dance traditions of Sweden and Norway.
Playing for dances in pick-up groups means you carry around huge binders of material because the repertoire demand for all the dance forms is very large in the Scandinavian genres. It's not like, say, Irish, where if you know jigs, slip-jigs, reels, waltzes, and polkas, you're covered for most dance requests. No, the tune categories alone are broad, and many of those categories cover several different dance types with different musical requirements.
I improved the situation by using early digital music printing programs to create binders of incipits, the first bars of each part of the tune, to serve as quick hints for what tune to play next for dancers. Then, naturally, I put up a website, Blue Rose, where those lists of incipits went online, with links to PDF files for each tune, so that people who played together regularly could find them. When I went to workshops, I posted the tunes we learned for everyone to use.
Over time, this grew…
There are now 2000 Scandinavian fiddle tunes in my binders and up on Blue Rose.
If I were a rational human being, I'd sit and do my 4-5 hours of writing every morning without a quibble. I like writing. Being a normal human being and not a rational one, I instead find a myriad of other things to occupy me, all apparently fascinating.
So I resort to tricks. The most effective of these is to channel the desire to punt into other productive work. Better almost anything (I tell my subconscious) than just to play games or read. Best of all if I can tell myself that the alternative projects are finite.
There have been two big (but productive) writing procrastination sinkholes recently. Here's the first one; I'll save the second one for a separate post.
I was raised by wolves. Nice wolves, but still… There were no family stories around the dinner table. None. I had the equivalent of a single sheet of paper for both sides, together, and not a full sheet of paper, either.
Considering that my father had lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins, and that my mother was a war-bride from Antwerp, you'd think they'd have something to talk about, like the time Aunt Bertha did this, or the time Grandpa Louis François said that. Or even just the stories of how they met during the war. Not so. The only family story I ever heard about came from my father's sister. I met my two aunts (one on each side) and their children a few times, and that was about it. I couldn't name, with certainty, my own grandparents, much less their siblings.
When I put out that story about my great-grandmother, I sent a link to my father's niece and asked her to forward it to any relatives she knew. Lo and behold, cousins on my father's side sprouted from the woodwork. They all know each other, more or less, and haven't quite understood that I didn't know who any of them are. So when a free trial arrived for Ancestry.com, I went to work with what little I knew.
I was able to pin down more of the connections between my great-grandparents on my father's side. (It helps that the two Jewish lines arrived from Odessa (father's father) and Germany (father's mother) at about the same time, into the land of census records and Massachusetts Masonic membership cards).
When I stumbled across someone else's family tree that included my great-grandmother Clara, I contacted them and passed along a link to the story about her. That got me connections to another bunch of cousins, as well as a professional genealogist who specializes in Jewish immigration (mother of a family in-law), and that side of the tree firmed up nicely. I didn't get any further back (some but not all of my great-great-grandparents), but it certainly got very broad with all their descendents.
Even the dry bones of demographics have interest. There's got to be a story behind the 3rd cousin who married on her 18th birthday, though I'll never know what it was.
Some procrastinations are grasped gratefully, on the grounds that at least something is being achieved, even if it's not writing.
Rebuilding eight websites to comply with Google's “mobile-ready” imperative falls into that category. Which led me to update my BlueRose website, which led me to clean up the 2000 tunes that live therein, buy an iPad so I could throw away my music binders, fix all the metadata for 2000 files, etc. Three weeks later, my obsessive nature is gratified, but not a word's been written (sigh…).
Other interruptions are unforeseen.
A couple of days ago, a neighbor who was mowing for us caught sight of a mother woodcock on parade, taking her four babies on an outing across the newly cut grass behind the cabin. She flew off, dangling her wing in an attempt to lure the human predator away and her chicks obediently hunkered down, trusting to their camouflage. They didn't move so much as a bit of down, but if you click on the picture you can see their beady eyes watching me.
Whereupon I tromped around with a camera for a few moments, before letting mom come back and take the chicks off into the woods.
I would have delivered photos sooner, but my dedicated photography computer decided not to start, the other copies of the software I use, on my laptop, failed to run, and there's no help desk support on a Sunday. Grrr!
It's not the event itself that takes the time, but all the technology wrapped around it that promises to make things faster. Three minutes to play a tune vs half an hour to set it in a score, label its metadata, and stick it on a website. One second to snap a photo, half an hour to flounder in a morass of “but it was just working!” technology. One minute to write a paragraph — how long to look for a virtual pencil to sharpen?
It's a buddy story. Seems clear to me that these two gobblers must be siblings. They're of a size, and very friendly with each other, and it's hilarious watching each of them behave as wing man (so to speak) to the other as they gobble speculatively into the woods, hoping to hear from some interested hens.
Now that I can see him better, I can see that this white turkey is certainly not an albino. He's clearly marked, on a cream background, and his beard is black. A domestic turkey somewhere in the ancestry that expressed itself only in this individual, or some sort of natural color variant for wild turkeys?
And in other news, today we were woken up by urgent, loud, gobbles echoing through the bedroom window from the lower slope of the orchard, where two wild turkey jakes, puffed up in full display, were following a couple of hens with clear, if stately, intent.
The slow procession wound its way back behind the root cellar. Don't know how it will all come out, but I expect to see poults in a couple of months.
One of the jakes was completely white — a domestic turkey somewhere in the woodpile, no doubt, or perhaps an albino. Surprising that he survived his first year without the benefit of camouflage.
This is my great-grandmother, Clara Gasperov Mayerovich (Myers), as the Statue of Wisdom, freshly re-gilded in 2014, atop the Capitol Dome of the State of Maine, in Augusta.
(You can tell there has to be a good story behind this, right?)
Every now and then a family story is corroborated by external evidence. Clara and her husband Sam Myers left some things behind — newspaper articles and the work of their hands. And, of course, their descendents.
Samuel Nathan Mayerovich, first-born son of Nathan Meyerowitz, was born circa 1860 in Odessa, in the thriving Jewish community of that cosmopolitan city. The family stories that came down from my great-aunt Bertha, one of their daughters, remember a family that thought of themselves as native Odessans, and musicians were common.
Sam made the leap first, as so many Jews did, leaving the Russian Empire where strikes were disrupting life in the cities and arriving in Boston circa 1903, where he began a career as an artisan.
Clara stayed behind in Odessa with her three children (aged 9, 6, and 3 in 1905 — there would be two more later) and prepared to eventually join her husband. Bertha was the three-year-old, and the nine-year-old, Luzen, would become my grandfather, Louis Samuel Myers.
Perhaps you know what happened in Russia in 1905? In Odessa, a new wave of strikes began in sympathy with several cities, and the most important naval mutiny occurred, that of the Battleship Potemkin, in the port of Odessa, on June 27, 1905. (Which is really June 14, 1905 in the rest of the world, since Russia didn't convert from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar until 1918.)
Ever wonder what an alien thinks? Well, aliens may be in short supply in our daily experience, but life in the country recognizes alien beings all the time. It's just that they typically have four legs.
So, today we're driving along the road on top of the holler and we see a good-sized goat trotting diligently down the middle of the (deserted) pavement. We pull alongside and ask it what it's doing, and it pauses to consider the question, but continues on its determined way.
The next driveway belongs to a neighbor, and we think he may keep goats, so we pull in and, sure enough, the goat (following us) turns in, too. So we head to the house to let the neighbor know he's got a goat loose, but no one's home. Meanwhile the goat trots into the one-stall barn, and takes up his post next to the horse there, good buddies that they clearly are.
We shrug, head on home, and later give the neighbor a call to tell him about his goat's travels. Only it turns out, it's not his goat. It belongs to one of his neighbors and is in the habit of paying his horse a visit from time to time.
That goat had places to go and people to see. Wasn't lacking for motivation at all. Wonder if it borrowed a cup of oats while it was there?