[The Night Shifters is] a fascinating ride. The voice feels a lot like Neil Gaiman. This is a huge compliment in my mind, and one not to be taken lightly.” - Melinda VanLone Reviews

Thursday, October 29, 2015

More Crappy Self-Promotion (and a Change of Font)

Way back in August, when I certainly should have been on top of the situation, my writing again appeared in CLARKESWORLD magazine – and I failed to tell anyone about it. Despite that, my story (technically a novelette) “The Servant” has managed to get some recommendations for the Hugo award. Since “The Servant” started out as an idea for a novel, I've placed it on the front burner and am now ambitiously expanding and developing it into what will eventually be a 125,000-word book. Shazzam. (Shazzam is not the title of the book; it's just a mild, happy expletive with old comic book roots.)

In the same issue of CLARKESWORLD, I also have a nonfiction piece, “Hipsters of Zombieland.” You lovers of all things zombie, please visit and counter the one comment on the page that was penned by a zombie-hater. Unless you hate my article. In which case, never mind . . .

And yes, this is a new font: Chalkboard. Apparently quite a few people hate Comic Sans. (Just about everyone but me, it seems.) Granted, you may have a tough time telling the difference between the old font and the new one, but to me it seems less wiggly. In fact, this is the way I wish I could write with the raw paw (mechanically). Of course, that's how I felt about Comic Sans, too. So my judgement is still questionable.

Fall is coming to Phoenix, which means that the temperature has dropped into the 80s (Fahrenheit) instead of the 100s. Work here at Casa Devenport/Hogan proceeds apace. A lot of failure is mitigated by a few successes, so we are encouraged to continue. I hope you are too.

Monday, October 26, 2015

"Nero's Lyre" Gets a Ballet of Its Very Own . . .

If you can get to the London Place Theater for this performance, buy your tickets now! Michael Levy's music is featured in a new ballet. Click on the links below for more information, and to buy the music for your lyre collection . . .

"Nero's Lyre" To Feature in Riccardo Buscarini's New Ballet Production!

Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Stravinsky? They can now retire - I bring forth into ballet, my awesome lyre! I am delighted to announce that my composition for solo lyre, "Nero's Lyre" is to be featured in a new ballet production "No Lander" by Riccardo Buscarini - to be performed live at the London Place Theatre on 28th October:

"Five sailors lost at sea are exposed to an unrelenting space, nothing to hang onto, no roots, no light and no land. Falling in and out of intricate duets as they grapple to hold on to something, their flesh emerges from the darkness in waving and sculptural torsions. Stark industrial lighting and live-captured sound collide and transform the stage into a deserted wreck. No Lander is a dance about longing and belonging"

More details at: 
A video of the section of the ballet which features my music can be viewed here.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Good and Affordable Stuff -- Updated for 2015!

I posted the original version of this report a couple of years ago, but I thought I'd better update it.  A few things have changed, and some things remain the same.  One of the things that stayed the same was price range (for the most part).  All but one of the shops that I visited had the same, ultra-low prices, ranging from 25 cents per item to $15.  One shop had prices that doubled, but I suspect that shop will bring its prices back into line with the market.

Our favorite used book store in Santa Fe disappeared, but Ernie was able to find books at all of the thrift stores we visited this year, and actually came back with a bigger haul than in previous years.  He was quite happy with his spoils.

In the last quarter of the 20th Century, a gal used to be able to find wonderful little shops in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos. These shops carried handmade jewelry, unique clothing and shoes, art and folk art, perfume and lotions, books and nick-nacks, pots, plates, wind chimes, fossils – you name it. The cost of the items started at $2 and went up to a few hundred dollars, but you could get quite a lot in the $15 to $45 range. My mother and sister and I looked forward to visiting these shops every time we visited New Mexico.

But many years have passed since those days, and recently a woman came into the Heard Museum Book Store during my regular shift and asked me if there was a shopping district like that in Phoenix. She told me that visiting those quirky little shops used to be one of the highlights of her trips in the Southwest. Lots of cities had them; locally we had the Mill Avenue shops in Tempe, and Tucson had its own shopping district near 4th Avenue. Flagstaff still has something resembling a cheap-and-fabulous shopping district, but not to the extent you would have found back in the 1970s and '80s. “What happened?” the traveling lady asked me. “Was it the economy?”

I suspect it was the opposite. Those shops were enormously popular. I think the landlords who owned that property decided they should raise the rents. They raised them so high, the owners of those little shops couldn't pay. In New Mexico, expensive jewelry, rug, furniture, clothing stores, and art galleries moved into those spaces. The top 5% of the population can afford to shop there now. The rest of us seem to be out of luck.

It's sad to see our paradise lost, but there are some alternatives for those who are willing to hunt a little harder. My search always starts with thrift stores. Prices there usually run from $1 to $15 for clothing, and quite reasonable for a gamut of other stuff. Places that advertise themselves as consignment stores or vintage clothing shops often charge more, but their items still cost considerably less than what you'll find in the expensive stores in the shopping districts. Second hand shops also run the gamut, price-wise, but are always worth investigating. And some of them carry new work by local artists and artisans.

Antique stores are also a mixed bag. We have a lot of them in Arizona, and almost all of them are low-priced. I walked into an antique shop in Taos on my recent trip to New Mexico, and I had to conclude that the place was too close to the pricey downtown district. The item I looked at (a gorgeous buddha) was $550. But you don't know until you look – that's part of the adventure. What sort of treasure you find depends on how much you're willing to dig, and whether or not you're bothered by dust. My tolerance for weirdness and unexpected adventure is high, and I've waded through worse things than dust to find the fabulous – on a recent journey in the Cave Creek foothills for garden rocks I fended off swarms of thirsty yellow jackets. Fortunately, bug swarms are rare on the thrift store circuit, and most shoppers can find a few places they like.

Here are some of the places my mom and I have discovered in New Mexico:

BOOMERANG THRIFT BOUTIQUE in Española carries a wonderful variety of hip clothing, including smaller and larger sizes. While we were there, they were running a sale, so we got our items for even less. The price range was $1.50 to $9.50. They carry an eclectic selection of other second-hand items as well. They're on the southbound side of HWY 84-285, near the southern end of town.

ENCHANTING BARGAINS THRIFT STORE in Española is also on the southbound side of HWY 84-285, a bit farther north than BOOMERANGS. Just drive until you see DANDY'S BURGERS and then pull into that little plaza. Their price range is $1 to $10. On this last trip I found 2 pairs of pants and 3 blouses I liked, and my mom found 5 fabulous blouses. Our tastes are quite different, yet we both found things we liked. (My husband bought 4 books.)  NOTE: THIS STORE CHANGED OWNERS RECENTLY, SO THE NAME MAY HAVE CHANGED.  BUT THE LOCATION AND PRICES ARE THE SAME.

THE WATER STORE in Española is under new management and has re-opened as of this publication.  They have a thrift section stuffed full of clothing priced from $1 to $4. If you're in the area, it's worth checking to see what's going on with them – they're on the northbound side of HWY 84-285 that leads through the town to Taos.

Habitat for Humanity Thrift Store in Española has a dressing room that's kind of uncomfortable.  It's in an overstuffed closet behind the register.  But that shop has one of the best selection of Ladies' pants/slacks I've ever seen.  I bought five pairs from them on my last trip, at $1 apiece.   

In Taos we always check out the COMMUNITY AGAINST VIOLENCE store on 1046 Paseo Del Pueblo Sur. From the road, you simply see a sign that says CAV. This year they only had half as much clothing as they did last year, but my mother and I both found a few things we liked, and they're worth checking out. On the other side of the street at 1024 is a consignment store called PIECES that has a trendier selection than most of the other thrift stores.  Their prices are very reasonable, from $5 to $45.  I found several fabulous blouses there this year (2015), and my mom found a gorgeous skirt.

TREASURES, located much farther North on Paseo Del Pueblo, is always worth a visit, though we have only bought a few items of clothing there. They also carry antiques and folk art from local artists, and they have a lovely little garden out front. Just up the road from them (going north) are a couple of affordable import stores, like the CAMINO REAL IMPORTS AND GIFT SHOP. They must have sold out of all their Jesuses by the time we got there (see photo), but I got a lovely urn-style garden pot and my husband Ernie bought a faux-alligator-skin wallet and a nifty t-shirt. (That was the only time I saw him get excited about an article of clothing on the whole trip.)

As you're headed out of town toward the High Road To Taos Scenic Highway, you'll see THUNDER LIZARD DIRECT CORAL IMPORTERS. They specialize in beads, so if you're a bead junky in recovery, don't go in there.

In Santa Fe, there are a lot of thrift stores on the southern end of town on Cerrillos Road, and you don't have to drive near the complicated tangle of the main plaza to visit them. These shops include GOODWILL, one of my favorite thrift store chains. I love the way they organize their stuff by color. GOODWILL discount days vary from place to place, so expect blouses to cost about $4.99 to $5.99 when they're not on sale.

The HOSPICE CENTER THIFT STORE AT 1303 Cerrillos Road offers clothing and antique/collectible items, and their clothing is always 2nd-hand fancy stuff. They were having a 50% off sale the day we visited, so we got several gorgeous items for a steal. Call them at 505-473-0972.

If you want a break from clothing shopping try A BIT OF EVERYTHING at 1836 Cerrillos Road. They don't have anything you can wear, but they're a 2nd hand/antique /collectible emporium that offers – you guessed it, a little bit of everything. You can call them at 505-983-0665.

So yes, the halcyon days of cheap and fabulous, quirky and hip shopping districts are gone. But it's possible to roll with the punches. And though people who have to shop for smaller and larger sizes sometimes don't have as much luck when shopping for second hand clothing, thrift shops usually offer more than just apparel. These are the places you might find pretty dishes, garden décor, books, etc. Second-hand book shops are always worth investigating, and they could use your patronage. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Tortoise Shell Lyre, Revived!

I'm late with this announcement, but if you haven't heard this music from Michael Levy, it's still new to you. Follow the links below . . .

The Ancient Greek Tortoise Shell Lyre - Revived!

I am delighted to announce the release of my most authentic sounding album to date! My new album, "The Ancient Greek Tortoise Shell Lyre" was inspired as a tribute to the great philosophers of ancient Greece, performed on an inspirationally authentic replica tortoise shell lyre, hand-made in modern Greece by Luthieros Ancient & Modern Music Instrumentswith an actual tortoise shell for the resonator, an authentic replica 2500 year old carved bone plectrum, gut strings and actual goat horns for the arms of this magnificent musical instrument of the ancient Greek gods!The free PDF of detailed album notes can be downloaded here

Here are the main purchase links for the album:

Buy This Album on iTunes!
Buy This Album on Amazon!
Buy This Album on Google Play!
Buy This Album on CD Baby!Buy This Album on Bandcamp! 
Hear & Share This Album on Spotify!

Remember, each new album review on the major digital music stores is literally a 'libation to Apollo' in my efforts to honestly promote the reintroduction of the lyres & ancient musical modes of antiquity back into our bland, 'Bieber music' soaked, modern manufactured 'musical' world - thanks, everyone for your support in my ongoing musical mission!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Book Store Is Not a Library (This Is Not the Rant You May think It Is)

For an inordinate proportion of my adult life, I have worked as a book store clerk, and I have learned something that may upset book lovers: you sell more books when books are an impulse buy.

If this is upsetting, it's because most readers think of themselves as a cerebral bunch. They're particular about what they read, and they consider their choices carefully. I know this is true, because I've been watching browsers for decades. As they peruse bookstore shelves, they're both hunters and gatherers. But the hunting far exceeds the gathering, and this is for a good reason: book stores are designed to look like libraries. And if you want to sell more books, that's the worst way to do it.

But wait, you may cry, I like the process of digging in the stacks and finding the gems that are hidden there. I like to spend hours browsing. Why would you change a model that's so pleasing to your customers?

The simple answer is that while customers find some hidden gems, they don't find all of them. Not even close. So a lot of good books never sell, and they end up in a bargain bin or being returned to the publisher. The book stores, publishers, and authors lose those sales. Customers may like the fact that they got a good deal on that bargain book, but that model is not sustainable. If a book store is going to stay open, it needs to make more profit.

The store where I work is currently one of the most profitable I've ever seen, despite the fact that it's small. It has the added benefit of being attached to a museum, so we get more traffic, from a wider range of customers. We sell a variety non-book items, like dreamcatchers, small sandpaintings, cards, magnets, etc., and that also widens our appeal. But we have the same flaws that other bookstores do: shelves with most of our titles spined out, shelves that are below knee level, and shelves that are above head level. (The last two flaws also apply to spinners for cards and activity books.)

Spined books are harder to see and harder to sell. If I could re-design our store, I would build display-slot shelves that start at waist level and go up to face level (not over six feet). I would face titles out in these slots. (A lot of State and National Parks have shelves similar to these in their shops.)

Cookbooks and children's books especially benefit from being faced out. Children's illustration is some of the best art being produced today; a kid's book with a great cover stands a very good chance of being picked up by a customer. The same is true of cookbooks with delicious covers. If the dish on the cover makes you hungry, you're much more likely to buy that cookbook than you would be if you simply saw the title on the spine.

Books that are faced out require a lot of section maintenance, and they still need to be organized by title/author and subject. But this allows employees to stay familiar with the stock. And it gives clerks a chance to interact with customers who are looking for particular things. But what about the space above six feet and below waist level?

I think the lower shelves are the perfect place for overstock. If there is room to face things out down there, and you have enough stock, it will break up the monotony of rows of spined-out titles. And to make this stuff easier to see, those shelves should be slanted upward and graduated like steps, so people can see what's down there at a glance instead of having to bend knees that are often sore. Being able to see those books without kneeling or sitting also helps eliminate nincompoops who think it's okay to sit on the floor in front of a bookshelf and read. (Why these folks think no one is going to need to stand in that area to shop, or that no one can trip over them, is beyond me.)

The area above six feet can be used for displaying art, sample t-shirts, and that sort of thing – and in the case of the store where I work, it's a great place to put stuffed animals (a.k.a. plushies). Though we've had many folks inform us that we should have those toys on a level where children can grab them, that is a crummy idea. When kids can grab toys and stuffed animals, they beat them up while the adults who are supposed to be watching them are busy browsing those spined-out titles that are so hard to see. Nine times out of ten, those adults don't buy that item for the kids.

If you really want to sell stuffed animals and toys, place them on a level that the kids can't reach, but a level they can see. In other words, at Grandparent level. Parents practice saying No! All day long, but grandparents are the good cops. I've also had success selling stuffed animals that are displayed alongside children's books that are about that animal.

So diverging from the library model allows buyers for bookstores to think about what sorts of non-book items they can include in their mix. But it also encourages more communication between clerks and visitors who no longer feel constrained to be quiet (as we're all trained to be in libraries). The more you interact with your visitors, the more you get to learn about what appeals to them. You can charm people who are just passing through, and cultivate your regular customers.

Take a good, hard look at the idea of the bookshelf. When you peruse your shelf at home, do you always find the titles you're looking for? (I don't, even thought I try to keep my shelves organized.) Maybe it's time to break away from the library model for displaying books that you're trying to sell.

By the way, a book store is not a coffee shop, either – but that's a rant for another day.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Michael Levy Beats Justin Bieber, With A Harp (Film At Eleven)

Click on the links below to see/hear Michael Levy's take on the most ancient music that can be interpreted!

The World's Oldest Melody in History has just made YouTube History!

I am pleased to announce that I finally have managed to create a video of ancient music on Youtube with view counts to finally rival those of Justin Bieber's 'musical' offerings on VEVO!!

My arrangement of the 3400 year old Hurrian Hymn Text H6 from ancient Ugarit, the oldest fragment of a written melody so far found which can be interpreted, with a slide show which attempted to capture the rest of the world at about 1400 BC, to give the melody some historical perspective (e.g. a melody which was already over a century old, before the birth of Tutankhamun!)...HAS JUST REACHED OVER HALF A MILLION VIEWS! Here it is:

Recorded on a rather appropriately ancient, £5 plasticy PC mic from Argus, Salford Precinct and put together in my former grotty spare room on my first ever 'bargain basement' lyre (easier to play a piece of bedroom furniture!), with my clunky old desktop 'computer', I somehow managed to create this YoutTube slideshow video of the 3400 Hurrian Hymn from Ugarit - which now has over 440,000 more views, than the full orchestral arrangement of the same melody by the Syrian concert pianist and composer Malek Jandali: only this, but in the same week, another of my YoutTube video slide shows, featuring my earlier ancient Greek-themed albums, has also just beat the half a million views milestone:

At long last, I seem to becoming the 'Justin Bieber of the Early Music Scene'!

Thanks for all your support, everyone...and keep enjoying the music!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Time of Odd Innocence

The other day I watched a movie that had a huge impact on me when I saw it on TV: Beach Party. It was released to theaters in 1963, but didn't make it to my TV set until about 1968. I was nine years old, and it rocked my world.

You could say the same thing about Godzilla, The King and I, Jason and the Argonauts, The Pink Panther, and dozens of other movies my impressionable young brain soaked up from the TV, but unlike the other movies, Beach Party and its sequels and impersonators were about something I thought was actually going to happen one day: I would become a teenager, go to the beach, and get a boyfriend who surfed and played the guitar.

After all, isn't that what happened with Gidget and Moondoggie? To me, this seemed like the True and Only American mating ritual. Never mind the fact that I knew nothing about actual sex. And watching Beach Party did not educate me in that regard. Seeing the movie almost fifty years later, I was struck by the artful balance between what the characters said and what they did not say. The adult characters use the word sex several times, but the young characters, the people I thought were teenagers (on the second viewing, they struck me as college-age), never do.

But here's what really blows my mind. They never mention the word marriage, either. Prior to that time, you had to imply that couples were heading in that general direction if you were going to make it past the ratings board, but by the time Beach Party came out, everyone had grown up at least a little.

There are two couples at the center of the movie, and the younger one, whose age group was undoubtedly the target audience for the movie, is having trust issues. He wants to be alone with her; she's afraid to be alone with him. As an adult, I can see that he was hoping their relationship could move to the next level of intimacy, the one that would require at least one of them to use birth control. But she's afraid of that level, because she's not sure he's in it for the long haul. If she ends up “in trouble,” she may be on her own.

Even as an uneducated kid, I understood her fear of abandonment. And since the movie was a musical, it also seemed natural that the characters should burst into song from time to time. (I'm convinced this is the reason we insist on blasting music in cars, stores, and malls – we think real life is supposed to have a sound track.) The surfer guys all looked like the handsome guys from the Mystery Date game (I rigged the door on the one I owned so it would always open to show my favorite guy), and a general silliness held the plot together, so even when I didn't know what was being implied in the sex education department, I could go with the flow on the surface emotions. I was thrilled with the ride.

In 1968, the real world was coming to pieces and trying to remake itself into something new. Viet Nam divided the younger and older generations, people were beginning to question whether war caused more problems than it solved, whether a 9 to 5 job was the only worthy goal in life, whether drugs should be illegal. And the family itself was a reason for conflict – was it really a one-size-fits-all proposition? Was Western religion the only true philosophy, or did Eastern religions have something to teach us? In another year, the pinnacle of hippie culture would be realized at Woodstock, the nadir in the Manson killings. Younger people felt an irrational hope; older people thought the world was coming to an end.

More relevant to the two couples in Beach Party, the first birth control pills were approved by the FDA in the late 60s. The idea of a relationship outside marriage was about to get some moral support (though many still called it immoral).

But the whole love theme was only half the story in Beach Party, because another phenomenon had already started to re-shape pop culture: the Tribe of Surfing. The writers of Beach Party were right when they sicked a couple of anthropologists on the main characters, and Paul McCartney was right to worry that Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys was his biggest competition. Once Dave Sweet and Hobie Alter designed light-weight surfboards that more people could use, anyone who had access to a beach at least gave it a try. The Gidget movies turned surfing into pop culture, Dick Dale perfected surf music that summed up the surfing life and the lingo, and Hawaii suddenly seemed like a happenin' place to a new generation.

And me? I lived in Arizona. I bought into the beach myth with all my heart, and it was with great dismay that my balloon was burst many years later, when I made my first trip to an actual beach in California, thinking it would be Pavones. But every square foot was taken up by a human being, and almost none of them looked like those fabulous people in the movies. They were old and fat, or screaming toddlers, or people who gave me the creeps. The sand was hot, the water was cold and full of icky stuff, and I got a sunburn just by walking from the parking lot. (All of you people who didn't belong on my beach, I still hate your guts 30 years later – especially now that I look like you).

But I did glean one useful thing from Beach Party. At the end of the movie, the surfers protect the Anthropologists from evil bikers by forming a moving ring around them and singing their own version of Ring Around the Rosey (“Punch You in the Nosey”). I tried that trick on the playground after I saw the movie. I can tell you with authority – it's a great trick. But it only works once.

Then the bad guys wise up.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Volcano Music

Volcano music! What could be more appropriate for this science/SF/music/weirdness blog? Michael Levy's music will be featured in another BBC production, this time enhancing the glory of volcanoes. And there will be Naked scientists! Sort of. Click on the links to check it out. And Happy Birthday, Michael!

Volcanoes...and Ancient Roman Lyre Music!

The perfect birthday pressie - I am getting airplay on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire at 6 pm on my birthday, Sunday 3rd May!

The show, "Naked Scientists" is about volcanoes and will features clips of my Roman-themed compositions "The Temple of Mars" from my album"Echoes of Ancient Rome""Gloria Belli (Glory of Battle)" and "Tristitia (Sorrow)", from my album "The Ancient Roman Lyre", played during a reading of Pliny the Elder's first-hand account of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE.The show will also be out then on BBC iPlayer.

For anyone who simply can't wait and feels the need to be up at the crack of dawn, the show will also be on BBC Radio 5 Live on Saturday 2nd May at 5 am!

The show will also be going global on the Naked Scientists podcast - at last, my lyre music will soon be erupting all over the known world!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Crappy Self Promotion, Inc.

I must be a crappy self-promoter, because two of my stories have been published online recently, and I have yet to promote them on this blog. The first is “Dr. Polingyouma's Machine” in UNCANNY magazine, and the second is “Postcards From Monster Island” in CLARKESWORLD. Click on the names of these magazines to visit them, and while you're at it, think about subscribing and/or donating. Keep short fiction forums alive and well!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mr Spock's Harp

Some of you may recall an episode from the original Star Trek series in which Mr. Spock is forced to play the harp and sing for a bunch of mean, telekinetic aliens – and he's actually really good at it. The interesting thing is that Leonard Nimoy, who wove some of his Judaic traditions into his role as Spock, comes from a long line of harp-loving folk, including King David. So it only makes sense that Michael Levy should pay tribute to Mr Spock in his newest album. Click the links below! No harp and/or Star Trek collection is complete without this wonderful new album!

Alien Harp - Music From An Alternate Universe

I am pleased to announce the release of the third in my recently ultra-experimental EP length albums, dedicated to providing the lyre of antiquitywith a new voice for the 21st century, and hopefully way beyond!"Alien Harp: Music From An Alternate Universe" is my own personal tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy, inspired by his Star Trek character Spock's 'Vulcan Harp' - featuring original compositions for solo lyre, transformed by a veritable vista of contemporary studio effects, evoking an 'alternate universe' of mysterious, alien soundscapes, going boldly where no lyre has gone before...Here are all the main purchase links:

Buy This Album on iTunes
Buy This Album on Amazon
Buy This Album on Google Play
Buy This Album on CD Baby
Buy This Album on Bandcamp

A free PDF of the detailed album notes can be downloaded here.

As an independent artist, without the benefit of a record company to do all the promotional stuff on my behalf, my music only really manages to 'get out there', thanks to the infinitely appreciated efforts of ALL you lovely lyre lovers out there, in each and every Facebook share, tweet, web blog about my music and album review - thank you all, for your continued support in my musical mission, to reintroduce the lyre of antiquity back into the 21st century musical world! 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Power and Pants

LGBT issues have been in the news and all over social media lately, so an aspect of life that used to be considered out of the mainstream is right in the center now. This is helpful to my friends and family who are LGBT, but it also sheds light on a subject that has fascinated me since I was a girl in grade school, petitioning for my school to allow girls to wear pants (especially jeans): gender-specific clothing.

I was in grade school in the 60s – in Phoenix. In Arizona. In a corner of the U.S. that was anything but cutting edge. Our population was 698,000 in 1965, about four times smaller than it is now. We were considered the Wild West, and our styles trended years behind hipper parts of the country. When I was a girl, most of the women that I saw on TV, in magazines, and in real life were very feminized, so we girls emulated them. We thought dresses and skirts were the most wonderful things in the world. But we were in a unique situation too, because as denizens of the Wild West, we also knew about Cow Girls. Cow Girls in AZ wore jeans, just like the Cow Girls in movies and TV.

I became aware of other women on TV who wore pants, like Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, and lady scientists in SciFi movies. Plenty of women in Science Fiction movies/shows wore skirts too – most notably the cocktail-waitress outfit the female officers wore on Star Trek. But the garments under those uniforms looked like shorts to me. I already wore shorts under my skirts and dresses because we had P.E. every day at school, and wearing the shorts under my skirts made it easier to change. That's what I told myself. But the truth was, I lived in shorts or pants the rest of the time – it was the clothing I associated with freedom and adventure. And because of that, I have gradually become aware that it is also the clothing of power.

To me, power isn't punching some guy in the face. Power is the ability to handle your own finances, pursue your own interests, and walk (or in some cases hike or climb) with confidence in the world. You don't need your husband to negotiate with a car dealer (though you'll probably discuss the options with him beforehand), and for better or worse, you are the mistress of your life. Plenty of women do that in skirts, often in high heels, and some would argue that stylish dresses and skirt-suits are the essence of power clothing. I think that's true in some cases, but not in most.

I don't want to get in too deep with psychology here, but I feel traditional women's clothing is not as physically comfortable, and that seems to be deliberate. It limits your range of movement, and there is an implied sexual component to it – it's supposed to enhance your figure and make you look attractive. But what if you don't want to attract? What if you just want to go about your business? In some cultures, people try to solve that problem with shapeless garments that cover you from head to toe. But that's the opposite of comfortable. Let me tell you about comfortable.

Comfortable is shoes that you can walk or stand in for long periods of time. It's jeans that fit properly without being too loose or too tight. Comfortable is a shirt (or blouse) that fits the same way. Sometimes that shirt was manufactured for women. But sometimes it was manufactured for men.

Here's a photo of my three favorite shirts (currently). Two of them were manufactured for men – I found them in the men's section at various Goodwill stores. I would guess that ¼ of the shirts in my closet are men's shirts.

Back in the 60s, a gal like me would be called a tomboy – we're comfortable with our heterosexuality, able to appreciate feminine clothing, but we're much more likely to wear the jeans and comfy shirts. We like to hike, garden, paint our own houses, sometimes even repair our cars and/or appliances. We go to college to pursue science degrees (among other specialties). We may or may not wear makeup/dresses/heels occasionally. But we conduct most of our important business in pants.

I can't even guess how much of my tendency to do that is due to my perception of men from the decade I grew up.  Men were doctors, lawyers, school principals, and presidents. I didn't think there was anything wrong with women doing those things, but at that time, most of the decision-making jobs were held by men - and they wore pants.

On the other hand, my mom was divorced, and she was a woman to be reckoned with, whether she was wearing slacks or dresses. And there was another factor that must have shaped my love of jeans – the culturally turbulent 60s. Okay, the 70s, too.

That's when bell-bottoms were in style, for both men and women. I would wear them today, if they were re-introduced. Alas for me, I can't resist the Groovy Look. Most styles are enjoyed with some level of delusion. In my case it may be quite high. But for me, the jeans and the comfy shirts will always be a symbol of the control I assert over my own life.

So as the discussion about sexuality, gender, and gender identity (or even the choice not to have a gender identity) continues to unfold, it will be interesting to see how clothing styles evolve. Whatever happens – I'll keep haunting Goodwill for my favorite stuff, regardless of how the aisles are classified.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Get In Touch With Your Ancient Muse

Michael Levy has released a brand new album, in collaboration with Lutherios Ancient and Modern Musical Instruments. Click on the links below!

The Lyre of Hermes

I am pleased to announce the release on iTunes, Amazon and indeed, every other major digital music store, of my brand new EP album, "The Lyre of Hermes" - featuring my amazing chelys (tortoise shell form) lyre, handmade in modern Greece by Luthieros Ancient and Modern Music Instruments.

This album is the sequel to my album, "The Lyre of Apollo - The Chelys Lyre of Ancient Greece". Both of these albums are part of an exciting collaboration between myself and Lutherios Ancient & Modern Music Instruments for their inspirational "Lyre 2.0 Project" - dedicated to reintroducing the beautiful lyre of antiquity back into our much aesthetically poorer, bland modern world. Their vision is one I share and which continues to inspire me - maybe, someday soon, the beautiful lyre of antiquity will once again resonate the 21st century and beyond, with its haunting, ancient beauty...

All of the tracks in this album are composed in a selection of the original ancient Greek modes, in the wonderfully pure just intonation of antiquity. The tracks are inspired by the unique characteristics of some of the Nymphs of ancient Greek mythology. The pieces are all spontaneous improvisations on a basic melodic idea - 'inspired by the Muse' whilst I was actually performing them!

The pieces demonstrate a whole new palette of lyre playing techniques which are possible on this amazing lyre, which also features an authentic, replica 2500 year old carved bone plectrum, tied to the lyre with a leather cord. The greater mass of the plectrum allows some really interesting techniques, such as portamento - sliding effects created by sliding the plectrum down the length of the vibrating string.

The perfectly straight bridge on this lyre also allows for the seamless playing of harmonics, achieved by lightly stopping the strings at their centre points, since the straight bridge results in the centre point of each string lying in the same plane.

Another new effect which is possible on the light tension strings of this lyre, is the use of vibrato - achieved by applying pressure above the vibrating point of string, above the bridge.

All these techniques are based on the limitations of what is possible to play on the instrument and which I am sure, that any ancient Greek lyre player with any musical imagination, would have been able to also use to enhance their performance. Barely 100 or more generations separate ourselves and the ancient Greeks - regarding musical imagination and experimentation, we are them and they are us!

A PDF of the detailed album notes can be freely downloaded here.

NB! Each and every new album review or online blog post about my lyre music, is like a literal libation to Apollo...thanks everyone, for helping to 'spread the word'!

Here are the main purchase links for this album:

Buy this album on iTunes

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why We Got the Jerks We Deserved (and Now They're Loose!)

I'm going to warn you right off the bat, some of you will recognize yourselves in this post. If you do, I want to apologize – not because I've offended you by calling you out, but because I'm one of the ex-Borders employees who taught you to be an entitled jerk.

Most of you other readers are innocent of any of these shenanigans, but will recognize your own customers, regardless of what sort of store you work in, because the economy we've suffered for the past 15 years has bred a lot of desperate customer-service policies. But there are some issues that are peculiar to bookstores, mainly because someone got the bright idea that book stores should have a coffee shop attached to them.

I can just see the wheels turning the head of the jerk who thought that one up. What would I want in a book shop to make the experience relaxing and perfect? they asked themselves. A place to sit down, read a book, sip a latte . . .

Yeah, that's great, all right. And in the late 90s this worked out fairly well for Borders and Barnes & Noble. People trashed a lot of stuff in the cafes (spilling coffee on unpaid merchandise and getting goopy fingerprints all over it), but the economy was good enough that they also spent a lot of money in those superstores. They became social meeting places, and that must have seemed like a great way to get customers into the stores

In fact, it was a great way to get people into the stores. People are often not customers. And as the economy tanked, and people had a harder and harder time paying for even the basics, some were able to continue enjoying their books and lattes – because they didn't have to pay for the books. Or the magazines. Or the newspapers that they spread all over the place as if they had purchased them.

There was an unspoken agreement between the superstores and their clientele that if you were sitting in a chair and reading a book, it was because you were considering buying that book. It was (mostly) true at one time. But by the time Borders went bankrupt, it was usually not true. And as we employees watched families move in to the children's section to grab armloads of books and spread themselves out on the floor as if they were in their own living rooms, we could see which way the tide was turning. These folks became so bold, they brought bags of MacDonald's food in with them and put greasy fingerprints all over the books they left in untidy stacks on the floor.

And we did it to ourselves. We created the environment that made it possible for people to walk all over us. We should have been trying to adapt to the bad economy instead of pretending it was all a matter of good customer service. And now Borders is gone, and surviving book businesses are having to cope with customers who were raised in a barn. Many of these folks are now shopping for books they are considering buying online, but they want to review them first, turning local bookstores into the showroom.

Yes, people are behaving pretty badly sometimes. And very few businesses have adapted to the situation. One of the few I can think of is Wired? Cafe in Taos, New Mexico. They have a handful of book titles that they sell, but most of the books on their shelves are used books donated by staff and customers, available to read for free. Primarily, they sell lattes and internet/computer time. Since they're located in a popular travel destination, this model works beautifully for them.

As for the rest of us, we're still suffering from the austerity policies that have wrecked economies all over the world (she said, without the least hint of political bias). Until things get better, the knee-jerk customer-service policies that companies think up to compensate for the fact that customers don't have any money will continue to create monsters among their clientele. Sooner or later, regardless of the economy in general, this is going to have to be sensibly addressed.

Photo by Em, drawings by the fabulous Ernest Hogan.