July 14th, 2009

Creative Joyous Cat

Busking in Cyberland - Retrospective

Since I've started putting my fiction online, I've been thinking about the nature of crowdfunding, and it has occurred to me that this isn't the first time I've put my creative work before strangers, in the hopes that some of them would choose to become patrons of my art and support my efforts.  So, here is the first part of what I expect will be an occasional series:

Busking in Cyberland, Part One:
A Personal Retrospective

It was the early 1990s, and I was going through a divorce, and trying very hard to be frugal. Still, getting out is important. I really needed to be doing something other than work and brooding on the life I’d been promised, and that wasn’t happening, wasn’t going to happen, and there was nothing I could do to salvage it.

Traveling on the El one day (actually, I was in one of the large stations, walking from the El to transfer to a bus) I heard something—live music. The bright tones of the hammered dulcimer were not coming from anyone’s radio. Don’t ask me how I knew it was live, all I can say is that from the shape of the sound, it was obvious. It transformed the space. Never mind the dozens of people rushing by, ignoring it, I had to go find it. And when I did, there was a musician, with a hammered dulcimer, just as I’d been sure there would be. And though I couldn’t stay around long to listen, it transformed my day.

A week or so later, I thought, “I could do that.” Well, not the hammered dulcimer part; I’ve never owned one of those, though I’d like to. But I play the autoharp. And so, after work, I went down into the subway, opened the autoharp case, and did my thing.

Now, I’d been riding the El (which, in Chicago, is also at times a subway; the trains follow the tracks up and down) for years. I knew what it felt like, how people behaved toward me, and so on. It felt crowded and lonely, routine and risky all at once. You kept your eye or your arm on your purse, and kept it closed.

But when I was standing there with my autoharp, and the case in front of me (with some seed money in it, laying there right out in the open), it all changed. Sure, there were teenage boys who laughed at my folk music, but there were also teenage boys who, when I complimented the beautiful, waist-long hair of one of the group, stopped, turned around, and all emptied their pockets, one even giving me his lucky 50-cent piece, to wish me luck.

And the street people—their behavior changed too; not only did they stop and listen, and sometime throw me a precious dime or two, but they treated me differently. I felt welcomed, accepted—and safer than I have ever before or since in that setting. They were the first to retrieve the contents of my case if a careless commuter kicked it, and replace the cash safely inside, returning the coins to their position on top of the paper money to keep the wind of the trains from blowing my earnings away.

And after a while, even if you aren’t good at reading people, when playing songs you have thoroughly memorized you realize that busking is very much a social interaction, and that playing for different people, though they are equally strangers, is different. It amazed me that one person, smiling and nodding and intent on the music could create a rush of harmonious energy, so the music got better—and easier!—like a force of nature. There were woman who came up with a small donation, assuring me they were praying for my safety. And there were lurkers too—you could tell were listening only by their head nodding slightly, in time, behind the book or newspaper that shielded them from the crowd.  And I still wonder at the folks, usually in suits, who would stand off to the side or listen from behind a column, then toss in money when a train was pulling in, and they thought no one would notice. 

I didn’t get rich, busking, but I got a little bit less poor. And it transformed my world, made it bigger, and friendlier, and safer, in ways I didn’t expect and at a time when I really needed those things.
night is good

Really Easy Mulberry Tarts for Tired People

This morning, I was awakened by a nice woman screening resumes.  Talked with her for a bit, but won't hear back right away as to whether I'm on the interview list because she's on vacation next week.  (I'm glad I can wake up fast, otherwise sleeping on my preferred schedule while job hunting would be a bad thing).  Then I read LJ, did some writing and some market research, and submitted a short story and a couple of poems, hoping I'm not just adding to my collection of rejection slips.  Did a bit of picking up, folding laundry, and the like.

Then My Angel and I went out in the garden to water things, and weed, and set some more tomato stakes.  A bunch of my tomato plants now have small green globes on them, and the largest cabbages are starting to curl their leaves into a proper ball-like shape.

You may remember, back when I thought I might be able to sell this house to the grandson of the guy who used to own it, I'd moved the flats of seedlings outside, in lieu of actually planting them.  And then we had an unseasonably late frost, and it killed all the nice baby plants.  I found this to be more than a little depressing, so I left the flats outside in a corner of the yard, ignored except to note occasionally that they were now growing weeds.  Well, today I was walking by there to go see My Angel's hosta garden, and I found that not all the seeds that sprouted after the frost were weeds!

So I have another broccoli plant!  It's in a container that I planted beans in, so I don't know which variety of broccoli it is, but still--bonus!

I had an idea where to put it, but found a volunteer squash plant there (another bonus, if it doesn't get that white-dust fungus on it), so I put the broccoli next to the volunteer tomato plant I found in the compost last week.  I was going to share a picture of it in its new spot with you, but apparently I didn't save the photo to my phone.  *grumble*  Oh, well, have a picture of mulberries instead!

You knew I had to get to the mulberries, right?

So, if you've never picked mulberries, the key to picking really sweet berries is to barely touch them.  Seriously.  You put your basket (I've been using the plastic thingies blueberries come in) under it, put a finger on each side, and kind of hint at them that they might want to leave the tree.  If a berry takes the hint, it's fully ripe, and very sweet.  But be warned--they can look ripe, but still be sour!  However, you have to tug at them a bit (not a lot) to separate them from the tree when that's the case. 

Once picked, you can simply pop them in your mouth, and many of our berries end up that way.  Oh, and you can eat the little stem.  Hmm...make that you should eat the little stem, unless you want mashed berries and berry stains!  Trust me, the juice is much tastier on your tongue.

But today, we had most of a pint that had been picked a couple days ago, and mulberries are fragile.  Even with our wonderful new refrigerator, it was time to eat them. or risk having to donate them to the compost pile.  Not having enough for a pie, I decided we could make tarts.  But we were tired, and not up for anything fussy or complicated.  So I got some pudding (the store was out of vanilla, so I got tapioca), some pie dough, and some heavy cream. 

Really Easy Mulberry Tarts

Pie dough    (you can make your own, it will taste better but not be "really easy" any more)
Vanilla or Tapioca Pudding or Custard  (ditto as to making your own)
Heavy Cream
Confectioner's Sugar (to taste, if desired)

Put the pie dough into muffin tins to make cups  (you can fold the edges over and flute them, but it's not necessary, and not easy)
Bake as per directions, and cool.  I found the cooling takes about a minute once they're out of the muffin tin.
Scoop custard into the cups, and add berries. 
Whip the cream, adding confectioner's sugar to the cream if you want to add a little sweetness. 
Put the whipped cream on top, and add whatever berries fell to the sides while filling the tarts.  (Of course, you could reserve the prettiest ones for the top, if you've got company, but the emphasis today was on easy.  I could have picked some mint leaves as a garnish for the plate too, had beauty been the primary goal.)

If you don't eat them all, they need to be stored in the fridge, which will make the shells less crisp.  However, the shells can be stored separately if not filled, so if that matters to you, only fill the ones you're ready to eat, and then put the makings (everything but the shells) in the fridge for later.


P.S.  I won't listen to folks that tell me that beating the cream by hand negates the "really easy" part!  That pre-fizzed white-stuff-in-a-can is NOT the same, and Miracle Whip is a heresy!

P.P.S.  More of Fireborn tomorrow!