Lena Corazon

Flights of Fancy

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 3)

Remembering Aaron Copland, American Composer

Today would have been American composer Aaron Copland’s 114th birthday, which gives me an excuse to finally blog about one of my favorite classical artists of all time. Most people may not realize it, but they already know one of his most famous works, Rodeo, from the “Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner” commercial that seemed ubiquitous in the 90s. Remember this?

Copland was born in Brooklyn on November 14, 1900. His story is, in many ways, a strikingly American tale: the son of Jewish immigrants who later became a composer of music that encapsulates the American spirit. He studied music in Paris between 1917 and 1921, part of the larger community of American expatriates including Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. When he returned to the United States, he collaborated with other young composers, and entered Alfred Stieglitz’s community of artists. Copland, like many other artists of his generation, was inspired by Stieglitz’s belief that “the American artist should reflect ‘the ideas of American democracy.'”

"AaronCopland" by Gov - http://memory.loc.gov/music/copland/phot/phot0098v.jpg. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AaronCopland.JPG#mediaviewer/File:AaronCopland.JPG

“AaronCopland” by Gov – http://memory.loc.gov/music/copland/phot/phot0098v.jpg. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

In keeping with that ideal, Copland’s work, particularly between the 1930s and 1940s, was deliberately accessible, written in what he referred to as the “vernacular” style. The landscape of the American West became an inspiration for many of his pieces, including ballet scores Rodeo and Billy the Kid, as well as his Fanfare for the Common Man and the Third Symphony.

Copland wrote an impressive array of music,  from symphonies and ballets to film scores and even an opera. My favorite, however, will always be Appalachian Spring. In it, he draws on the famed Shaker melody, “‘Simple Gifts.” At just over 30 minutes long, it is a slice of heaven. Below is my favorite recording, performed by the San Francisco Symphony and led by composer Michael Tilson Thomas. If you’d like to see footage from the original 1944 production of the ballet, check out this video clip.

One of the coolest things about Appalachian Spring is the way that it has been used and remixed by other artists to give rise to new works, in the same way that Copland himself draws on the Shaker song. Echoes can be heard in Shaker Loops by modern composer John Adams, as seen in this performance from the Ciompi Quartet below.

Likewise, composer John Williams pulled from Appalachian Spring when he wrote”Air and Simple Gifts” for President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, where it was performed by Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Anthony McGill and Gabriela Montero.

Copland is remembered for his talents as a composer and conductor, as well as his role as a teacher and mentor for countless young musicians. It was the latter role that led to his nickname as the “Dean of American Composers.”

For me, Copland’s work evokes both nostalgia for the past and unbounded optimism for the future, music that is not only timeless and beautiful, but evokes the dignity of the human spirit. I leave you with his Fanfare for the Common Man, introduced by Leonard Bernstein, and conducted by the composer himself (music starts at 2:02).

Anyone else a fan of Copland’s work? If you’re interested in more information about him, including photos, news clippings, correspondence, and other archival treasures, check out this awesome collection from the Library of Congress.

#NaPoWriMo Day 2: “Water Haiku”

wet river wide runs deep
soaks a soul parched and thirsty
words fill every breath

#NaPoWriMo Day 1: “Tales Twice-Told”

Happy National Poetry Writing Month! For all 30 days of April, Flights of Fancy is going to be filled to the brim with poetry, and I cannot wait to get stared. I adore prose, could write short stories and novels forever, but there’s something deeply visceral about stripping back language to its bare bones, slashing away till there’s nothing left but feeling and emotion. As poet Mina Loy once said,

“Poetry is prose bewitched
a music made of visual thoughts
the sound of an idea.”

That being said, for this first day of #NaPoWriMo, I’m toying with bridging poetry and prose, using poetry as a tool for fleshing out character and backstory. Today I draw inspiration from Tempest Dumont, the heroine of my steampunk tale, TELL ME NO LIES. While Tempest spends most of TELL ME NO LIES recovering from heartbreak and trying to track down a crazed killer, “Tales Twice-Told” explores a bit of her past, chiefly her chance meeting with a rakish, dashing, and an all-too-dangerous airship pirate. 

“Tales Twice-Told”


He told her once

that Home was prison

and she believed him

because Love had never grown

between the four walls where she had been born.


“Home is the Coward’s last refuge,”

he said,

“a fortress to hide from Nature and Neighbor.”


He’d found his Freedom in the skies



He answered only to the Elements

and thrived on their Chaos.


He called to her,

a Man freed from Fear,

and promised a life that could be her own:

“Clouds will line your Parlor;

stars will be


in your Garden,



themselves will be yours.”


He gave to her

wings of Bronze

strong, stealthy and true

born from


and the need for escape.


She left the World of




stole away

in his winged Chariot.


For the first time in her short life

she found Happiness

that was neither lie nor pretense

but was as real as the


fed to its Furnace,

the massive Gears that tilted and


in its Engine,

the scalding Steam that poured

from its Pipes.


But Dreams are not all they seem:

The Heavens can be cold


and Freedom from the world

may be a Prison in disguise.


The most dashing


can be revealed as Villain

and Tales


may not always be True.




Practicing Stillness

When was the last time that you stood still and did absolutely, positively nothing? When I say “nothing,” I mean it: no talking, no reading, no surfing the web, no mental planning and prepping and worrying.


How often do you stop just to enjoy the world around you? (Photo credit: Emdadi)

If you had asked me a week ago, I’m not sure I could have thought of an answer. Oh, sure, every once in a while I’ll head to the beach or relax on the deck to catch a few rays. On occasion, I’ve even been known to venture outside at night, sip hot chocolate, and stargaze, but those occasions are far and few between.

On a normal basis, I think I operate like most people: I spend my days doing. I measure my life by the number of items I can check off the daily to-do list, by the words I am able to write, by the assignments I grade for the day job, hell, even by the achievements I can accrue in my favorite video games. Real, true stillness is something that doesn’t exist in my vocabulary.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been living in warp speed: defending my MA thesis, grading wave after wave of papers, weathering finals week and the end of the quarter, followed by glutting myself on fun and games and sightseeing over spring break and the start of the new quarter. I had one day of psuedo-downtime planned for myself — a Monday that would be “catch-up” day to tackle email, reading for class, and some writing if I was lucky — but I never quite made it that far. My body, it seems, had other ideas.

My tumble off-the-grid was completely unintentional, the byproduct of a short, but nasty, bout with food poisoning. It didn’t seem so bad at first. Yeah, okay, there was the expected nausea and dizziness, but it sorta felt like a migraine, and I’ve worked through those before. But oh, ohhhh. It just got worse.

The thing is, I don’t do sick. I refuse to let most colds keep me down, pushing my way past them to at least read or write or tackle something. I thought I might be able to do the same with this. Like, maybe if I just showered and brushed my teeth, I’d be good as new. Right?


There was nausea and dizziness if I so much as lifted my head from the pillow. There were intense muscle aches and chills just from breathing, it seemed. And of course, there were the *other* symptoms brought on by my body’s attempts to rid itself of the yuckiness. Blech.

So, no, I couldn’t read for class, and I couldn’t “relax” by playing video games, at least for the first couple of days. Listening to music became too much for me to handle, and ditto on watching television.

Instead, I sat (or, rather, huddled) in bed. I did absolutely nothing, not by choice, but because I really couldn’t… and it was actually an amazing experience, if we ignore the whole “being miserable” part. For three days, I let myself just be, allowed my body to recuperate and repair itself, and let go of all the stress and worry that had been plaguing me.

It is striking for me to realize that the only time I give myself permission to “indulge” in the joys of stillness is when I’m too sick to function, and I get the feeling that I’m not the only one. It doesn’t seem fair, really. We spend so much of our time doing for others, and it’s so easy to let ourselves fall by the wayside.

What would it be like if we took even a little time out of each day to recharge and wallow in laziness? Just 10 or 20 minutes to be quiet and tranquil, to turn off the computer and television and radio (yes, sometimes I run all 3 at the same time) and just let our minds wander? We’d be healthier for it, I think, and maybe even have a chance to savor all of the joys that we have a little more deeply.

What do you do to recharge and regroup? What are your favorite places or times of the day to practice stillness?


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Waving Goodbye to 2011

This is a bit of an unscheduled post, but I spent most of the week running myself ragged and fighting a cold (the cold, sadly, has won), and I haven’t had the chance to blog in a few days. I’m closing out 2011 much in the same way that I ushered it in: curled up in bed, pajama-clad and sneezing. This year, however, my  cold is waning, and I’ll hopefully make a full recovery by the beginning of the week. In an effort to feel a little less lame, I am blasting Britney Spears and quaffing glasses of sangria (a gal’s gotta find a way to feel a little festive, right?).

2011 In Review

Marking the turn of the year is always a time of introspection for me, and I know I’m not alone in that. In so many ways, though, 2011 has been a decidedly odd twelve months. Because of the academic trajectory that I’ve been on over the years, I’m used to feeling like I’m on an escalator flying upwards. Each year brings a set of challenges and benchmarks for me to tackle and to overcome, and at the end, I almost always have a list of successes to tally: important academic achievements, conference talks, and other such things. I won’t lie — I’m an overachiever, and I hoard those little accomplishments the way a miser collects coins.

This past year, though, has been different. I declared that this would be a non-conference year (I’ve presented on at least two panels over the last 3 years) so that I could have more time to focus on my research. At the same time, the thesis dragged on much longer than I anticipated. Without having the thesis finished, I haven’t been able to move forward in my grad program, and so I’ve felt a little like a plane circling around and around in an endless holding pattern, just waiting for the signal from the control tower to swoop down for a victorious landing.

On a personal level, I’ve had my share of ups and downs as well. I started the year with loss, as my boyfriend of almost two years and I broke up during Thanksgiving 2010. I don’t think I quite realized the emotional stress I would experience, especially given that he was, in essence, my first love and my first relationship. I spent six months fighting back unexpected waves of anger, which of course gave way to bitterness and sadness and grief and a whole host of other things that I’d rather not feel.

The highlight of the last year has been my writing. I began 2011 wringing my hands and lamenting that I would never find a good idea ever again, that I would be doomed to be without words for the rest of my days. Somehow, through a combination of hard work, unexpected strokes of inspiration, the support of some wonderful communities, words have returned to me. Between two NaNo events and ROW80, I’ve written well over 100k on various projects, which is more than I’ve written since maybe 2008 or 2009. I finally feel like I have a foundation for building work that is far more mature than anything I’ve tackled before, stories and tales that reflect who I am, and where I am, today.

Looking Forward to 2012

2012 is all about change.

With school, I’m on schedule to finish my coursework by June 2012, and to advance to PhD candidacy sometime during the summer, as I close out my 4th year of graduate school. This means that my chapter in Santa Barbara will be coming to an end. I’m fully-funded for my 5th year (huzzah for small miracles), and so I’ll be moving back in with my parents, where I’ll stay for a year or two to write and finish my dissertation. I’ve been waiting a long, long time for this, and it’s scary and exciting and wonderful all at once. I have six months left in SB, and I hope to make the most of it.

More immediately, I’m marking a major milestone in February — the big Quarter-Century Birthday. Given that I spent most of my teen years wishing that I was 35 years old with a husband, family, and a career, I’m not scared to get older… but twenty-five is kind of a big deal, and it’s the sort of birthday that gives me pause. I am mostly on track with the Life Schedule I made for myself in high school (yes, there really is a spreadsheet with my life goals between 18 and 30 sitting on my hard drive), though I feel a strange need to treat this birthday with some form of reverence, or something.

One of the things that has become clear to me during my holiday break is that I need to get back to being me. This is a quest I will be talking about at length over the next few months, but the bottom line is that I’ve dropped a lot of things that I’ve loved since I got to grad school. Writing was one, and I’m delighted to have that back, but there are a host of other things that I’ll be working to re-integrate into my life.

So with that in mind, here’s my somewhat-random list of things I want to tackle in 2012:

  • Get a tattoo (or three). I’ve been nursing the idea of getting inked for over a year now, since my break-up, but I wanted to hold off so that I was sure that I wasn’t going through a rebellious phase. But I’ve figured out what I want (an art nouveau-inspired peacock, plus a couple of quotes), where I want it (a quote on each forearm, and the peacock on the back of my left shoulder), and the artist (Siri, a former illustrator who works at Black and Blue Tattoo in San Francisco, and did this amazing peacock). My first will hopefully be a quote from A.S. Byatt’s POSSESSION: “Words have been all my life.” 
  • Finish a novel. I suck at finishing things, just for the record, and I want this to be the year when I finally stop sucking at it. I have 2 partly-finished WIPs that need some tender-loving-care, and I’m going to make sure that they get enough of it so that I can have at least one completed draft to my name.
  • Stop being so scared of love. I think I’ve healed up from my last break-up, but I have been reminded that I’ve sorta sealed myself off like some uber-fragile object, all encased in bubble wrap and styrofoam peanuts and other forms of insulation. My best friend’s aunt, who is quite adept at reading people, has told me that I have been “too much alone,” and it’s true — living in my happy fantasy worlds with my lovely made-up characters is endlessly entertaining, and means that I don’t have to worry about getting my heart stomped on. So I’m not saying that I’m going to be hunting down a boyfriend, but I am saying that I am not averse to the possibility of one somehow landing… nearby.

Better yet, I’m thrilled to have another year of blogging, socializing, and supporting all of my online friends. I’m looking forward to another round of ROW80, which starts on Monday (get your engines revved, people!), to jumping into the 50/50 Challenge (reading 50 books and watching 50 films in 2012), and all the other magical, unexpected surprises that will crop up along the way.

Happy New Year, friends!

Monday Inspirations: A Wonderful World

It’s December 26th, which means that the hordes of shoppers looking for post-holiday sales are pouring into the streets and flooding the stores today. Because I am a glutton for punishment, I’ll probably be among them, but let’s all remember to take a minute to breathe.

Check out David Attenborough’s rendition of “It’s A Wonderful World” for a little dose of inspiration, and a reminder of the wonderful world that we really do inhabit. Nature is pretty gorgeous, y’all. 😀

ROW80: A Book Recommendation, and Awesome News

I’m pretty much on track with my goals, though I didn’t make my 8 hours of writing time this week. I’ve been falling asleep every time I try to outline, which either means that my story is just really boring (unlikely) or that I need to start working on it before 8:30 pm (more likely).

If anyone is interested, I have another book recommendation — Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches. I first saw the book on the shelves at Target over the summer, and it was love at first sight (or, at first glance at the blurb). I finally got it from the library last week, and read it in a single sitting on Friday. Here’s the description:

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries — and she is the only creature who can break it’s spell.

There are so many magical “everything-Lena-loves” keywords here, like “Oxford” and “scholar” and “bewitched alchemical manuscript.” I spent quite a bit of time studying in the Bodleian library while I was abroad in Oxford during my junior year of college, and Harkness does a wonderful job bringing the city to life in her book. What the blurb doesn’t mention, however, is the really sexy, ancient vampire who allies himself with Diana, or the romance that springs up between them (best part, IMO). It’s the first of a series, and I am now dying to know what’s coming next.

Reading was exciting, but the absolute best part of the last few days came on Friday, when I met with my advisor to go over the latest thesis chapter that I’ve written. Based on her feedback, it’s actually not as bad as I thought it was; there are some things to clean up, but for all intensive purposes, I’ve written almost everything that I need for the first draft.

My new goal, then, is to have the polished up first draft written by mid-December, so my advisor can read it over winter break. She’ll have her edits back to me by the start of the new year, I’ll tweak what needs to be fixed, then circulate it to the rest of the committee once she thinks its ready.

I can’t quite articulate how darn exciting this all is. I started grad school in 2008 and hit the ground running like the Type-A personality that I am, immersing myself in research for the project. I had expected to be finished at the end of my second year, in 2010, but so many things got in the way: schoolwork, my TA-ship, and the fact that the scope of my research shifted countless times as I refined my focus.

It’s been difficult, watching my classmates earn their degrees before me and move on. More than once I’ve felt like a failure for not being fast enough, quick enough, but the truth of the matter is that most of them decided to go “quick and dirty” with their MA projects, tackling something small so that they could move on to other topics for the dissertation. That was never my goal. From the start, I’ve wanted to write a MA thesis that would act as a launching pad for my dissertation and beyond. With this project, I think I have that.

Anyway! The really exciting bit about all of this is that I *might* be able to defend my thesis in February, depending on how long it takes the committee to read through and give me feedback… and that means that I just might have a MA degree in time for my 25th birthday! If that is the case, I am having the blowout party to end all parties, since there will be a ton to celebrate. 😀

Finally, I just want to remind everyone that Fun Not Fear!, the NaNoWriMo support group that I’m running with Em, has been launched. If you’re interested, check out our welcome post where you can introduce yourself and learn a bit more about what we’ve got planned. Also, be sure to check out the crazy-awesome mashup of links that we’ve pulled together. There’s everything from reflections and thoughts on NaNoWriMo to a host of resources on writing craft, plotting, and planning.

Be sure to check out this week’s updates from the rest of the ROW80 community. Swing by and show them some love!

Writers’ Platform-Building Challenge #1: “Broken Promises”

The first challenge for the Writers’ Platform Building Campaign has been issued, and it comes in the form of a 200 word flash fiction. These are the exact directions:

Write a short story/flash fiction story in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format, including a poem. Begin the story with the words, “The door swung open” These four words will be included in the word count.

If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional), use the same beginning words and end with the words: “the door swung shut.” (also included in the word count)

For those who want an even greater challenge, make your story 200 words EXACTLY!

I went ahead and took the extra challenges in the prompt, just for the fun of it. 😀 This little drabble is a bit different from my usual fare, but it popped into my head when Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” came on the radio this evening. The story doesn’t 100% mirror the song, but it is inspired by the broken-hearted, hopeless vibe of the lyrics. Here’s the song, for anyone who hasn’t heard it:

The rest of the entries can be found here. Looks like I’m #231 on the list, so there’s lots of great flash fiction to read through. Keep in mind, however, that only Campaign participants can vote for their favorite stories.


“Broken Promises”

The door swung open on rusty hinges, grating loudly in the predawn stillness. Leila scowled, for it was yet another mocking reminder that Bill Harrison was the worst of liars.

Their house, a tiny fixer-upper that the realtor claimed was “a diamond in the rough,” enthralled him for a time, the same way Leila had once delighted him.  Standing there on the front step, Leila could still hear his voice, echoes from a golden summer afternoon.

“Ignore those weeds in the front yard, baby. We’ll pull ‘em up, plant some roses. It’ll be a real home.” As though to seal the promise, he’d kissed her shamelessly, right in front of the realtor.

Three years later, the memory of that kiss tingled her lips, but the yard was still filled with weeds, withered and brown. Those dreams they had cherished were gone, and so was Bill.

He might have cared for her once, but there were things he’d loved more. Whiskey was one, gambling another, twin demons that stole him from her side.

The house gaped before her, an empty shell, but there was nowhere else for her to go. Leila entered, and with another screech, the door swung shut.

Excerpt: Tell Me No Lies, Scene 1

In honor of winning CampNaNoWriMo for the month of August, here’s the opening scene for tell me no lies, the steampunk romance/thriller I worked on.  It will, of course, probably end up getting edited and tweaked again somewhere down the line, so feedback and gentle critique is most welcome.


Tempest Dumont was no lady.

The art of feminine sweetness was lost on her, and the thought of pursuing the refined arts that were deemed appropriate for young women of quality made her want to retch.  Luckily, she had been born on the streets of Stockton to a penniless washer-woman, rather than in some gleaming Nob Hill mansion where she certainly would have been imprisoned by the trappings of propriety and respectability.

As a result, she knew enough about machinery to fix her secondhand cleaning-bot, Mrs. Three-in-One, with little more than a well-placed hat pin and the flick of a wrist, and she could beat out even the best poker players down at Roarke’s Tavern.  Better yet, she could swill cheap liquor down her throat without incurring too terrible a hangover, throw darts with the accuracy of a sharpshooter, and talk her way out of an arrest, no matter what the offense.

Of all her prodigious talents, it was her skill in flirtation and self-defense that she treasured most.  As the star singer of The Belladonna, the glittering saloon where San Francisco’s wealthy playboys gathered to sample the delights of the Barbary Coast, such strengths came in handy.  She was the Siren of the Coast, luring men to her side with the entrancing power of her voice.  They flocked to her shows, eager for an invitation back to her dressing room, where they waited like gallant swains paying homage to a fickle goddess.

At least once a month, however, one of those eager devotees made the mistake of breaking The Belladonna’s iron-clad rule: look, but don’t touch.  When they did, Tempest was always ready to put them in their place.

Exhibit A: Leander Ward, one of the wealthiest bachelors in the city and the latest in a string of fools to press himself upon the hot-headed chanteuse without permission.  Bleary-eyed and intoxicated, he accomplished little beyond tangling his fingers in the laces of her heavily-boned corset.  Pathetic, really.  Had it not been his third offense Tempest would have let things slide, but rules were rules.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

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ROW80: A Ray of Sunshine

I write this after having a day of unplanned relaxation.  It wasn’t my intention; Sunday and Monday were epic workdays where I made major headway on framing the arguments for my current thesis chapter, as well as outlining tell me no lies.  However, I woke up to sunshine streaming through my windows.  Given that the past few weeks have looked like this…

That is rain on the window. Yes, in AUGUST.

and this…

Mid-day, and already dark and dreary. Ugh.

…it’s little surprise that I abandoned working for laying out in the backyard with a book.

As a result, I’m slightly behind on my writing goals, which means I need to write roughly 3200 words today to catch up. I’m a little worried about how things are going to go this weekend, as I’ve been tapped to drive to Los Angeles so I can help my mom move my sister into her new apartment before school starts.  We’ll be staying at my apartment in Santa Barbara to help break up the trip a little bit, which is definitely exciting — I miss my deck garden, and I left a few things behind that I’d like to pick up.  Still, I’m not sure exactly how much I’m going to get done, so I am resigning myself to the fact that I might not make 50K by the end of the month.

However, not all was fun and games today!  I wrote a silly blog post about my first story, and more importantly, I finally battled the mess of my Google reader.

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