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Aquarius Calling

What is your favorite song?

Google “music and memory research” and there are one hundred sixty-four million hits. But there is perhaps no more immediate proof that certain musical pieces from the past deliver a memory wallop than that moment when a song you’re not expecting starts playing on the radio. The most recent song to stir my memory banks made me smile: “Kiss You All Over,” by Exile. A number one hit in 1978, the synth-pop success never struck me as a particularly good song then. This week when I heard it while driving through the early spring sunshine, the convertible top down and the wind ruffling my hair, my reaction was: “Oh, I love this song.” And I turned up the volume.

In 1978 I had an avocado green touch-tone slimline phone with an extra-long cord in my room. Although not a dedicated teenline, it was a second number at the farm (I’ll always remember these digits: 319.683.2656 (of course don’t call them now—they may belong to someone else)), so it felt like mine. I was not allowed to be on it after 9pm and no one in those days called anyone before 9am, unless it was an emergency or a work/school-related matter. But who called whom after school was an important social register, and I looked forward to hearing that phone ring.

My longest-standing friendship is nearly the length of my lifetime, and it began when a girl finally arrived, after four sons, at the farm adjacent to ours to the west. My mother gave her mother my crib, and since we could talk we’ve said we were crib sisters. Because the district line scrolled weirdly right through our property, my friend and her brothers attended the country school system; my brother and I went into town. Nonetheless, we saw each other weekends and spent much of the un-air-conditioned hot, humid Iowa summers cooling off by floating together in inner tubes on our pond.

My friend—I’m going to call her Aquarius—spent many a night at my house. We’d go to my room and listen to music and sometimes we browsed the phone book. Young people who had their very own phone lines were often identified in the phone book under their parents’ listing as “teenline.” That meant if you dialed such a number you were likely ringing the phone of a teenager in his or her room. If anyone was going to answer, it would be the teen. There were no answering machines, no caller ID, no hold button or call waiting, but there would be a busy signal if the person were already on the line. In those days, you dialed the number and you got the person or you didn’t.

I feel a little chagrined to confess that Aquarius and I found a great deal of delight in making crank calls, specifically to teenlines. We took turns, dialing the numbers, waiting with a catch in our breath for the phone on the other end to ring, hoping that someone would answer. We’d say something we were certain was tremendously provocative, listen for the reaction and then hang up and laugh, our hearts racing.

One night Aquarius, who I suspect is still far braver than I, called a teenline and waited. When a male voice answered, she dropped her line on him. I don’t remember what she said, but the response she got was not an angry slam; it was a groggy, “What?” She looked at me with big eyes and then kinda shrugged and said, simply, “Hi.”

She had caught the attention of our call recipient and they begin to talk. His name was Kurt, and he was a college student, living at home for the summer. Just junior high girls, we were thrilled to talk to this older guy who seemed content to while away some time chatting. We handed the phone back and forth, laughing and talking for some time.

It was not the last time we would call Kurt. The next time we were armed with a list of questions. For years I had the canary yellow legal pages on which we wrote his answers in green ink. Even though I can see the pages like a snapshot, other than his first name, the only thing I can remember is that his favorite song, he said, was “Kiss You All Over.”

Was it really? Or was it just what was playing over and over and over and over on top-40 radio? Aquarius and I listened the next time we heard the song—with five older rock-n-roll brothers between us, we couldn’t imagine a guy who would pick such a schmaltzy pop song as his favorite. But we decided we liked it because Kurt did.

So many years later the song ends and I’m pulling into my destination, awash in memories of Aquarius and farm summers and innovations like push-button phone pads that my children wouldn’t even see as technology. I’m not aware of anything even similar to crank calling in their world, although I supposed “friending” or “following” someone you don’t know might give you a similar opportunity for the thrill of touching a stranger. Then again, today such interactions are discouraged because you don’t know who’s on the other end of the connection or where in the world they might be or whether they are who they say they are. And even though neither one of dials into their favorite station on a clock radio in their room, as I did endlessly during my teenaged years, I am certain, that the music they listen to today will be the music that evokes the Oh yeah, I remember when that happened memories they will cherish a few miles down the road.

Happy new April moon—it’s time to sow seeds, metaphorical and actual. What seeds are you planting? With much love, Rxo

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The seeds we are sowing this spring will arrive in surprising and mysterious and colorful ways, sometimes when we least expect them. Yes—this farm girl knows tulips come from fall bulbs not spring seeds, but these tulips were a gift from a friend I met at the most ill-imagined, uncomfortable party ever. The party was thirteen years ago; the friendship is as strong as ever. 

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Owner-(of the)-Ship

Whose rights are they, anyway?

The chair of my graduate school thesis, Professor Paul Diehl, opined in class one day that if he were ever to be some sort of lawyer or legal expert, he would take up copyright law. It was the end of the eighties, a decade that has come to be both celebrated and castigated in a way I find unnerving since it was the decade in which I became an adult. By the time I was enrolled in Professor Diehl’s class, big hair and leg warmers had given way to rolled-up jeans and rap music, a genre that left me behind, and I was studying creative nonfiction.

Copyright law was changing with the infiltration of computers and the “publish or perish” mentality at research universities. Under the construct of “educational fair use,” my fellow graduate instructors and I all-too frequently created dittos of favorite essays and foisted them upon our students. We were admonished by our department and textbook publishers, and many of us worked around the issue by customizing print-on-demand style reading packets available from some of the major textbook publishers.

Ever since, I have tried to walk a careful line and give credit whenever it’s due; I insisted my children learn MLA-style citations long before their teachers required them to include their source notes in school projects. As an editor I check carefully my client’s footnotes, endnotes and works cited lists, sometimes following hyperlinks for many pages and other times querying “indicate source?” in the margins of their work. I’m aware that when a play is performed, even by a group of high schoolers, or when the artistic director of the local ballet company chooses music for his dancers, the producers must secure permissions if tickets to the performance will be sold.

Nonetheless, I was startled awake by a recent article sent out by Yoga Alliance. Yoga Alliance is the governing body through which yoga instructors register; their newsletter is usually full of information about their business of yoga conference and partnership deals for discounts on yoga pants.

The headline, “Legal Risks of Playing Music in Yoga Class” (Yoga Alliance e-newsletter, August 28, 2014), caught my attention. As a studio owner, I am so often taken aback by a legal risk or wrinkle about which I knew nothing that I should be used to it by now. Not only am I not, but I tend to freak out when I see things like:

You have a few choices for legally playing music in your classes:

Pay the licensing fee to the PRO [Performing Rights Organization] that is requesting payment. You could also decide not to pay the fee, but that would entail a significant risk. While it is rare for the PROs to actually bring an action for infringing on a copyright owner’s public performance right, … the fine under the Copyright Act for a public performance violation can be as high as $150,000 per occurrence (i.e., per song played). (https://www.yogaalliance.org/music-licensing-information, accessed 10.21.14)

With concern, I read the article, clicked and followed the links and thought about which of my trusted advisors I might consult. Since I had a meeting already set up with my accountant, I started with her. It made sense to me, since at bottom line—whether or not Radiant Om Yoga should pay for music licensing—was in part a financial consideration. I thought she might help. She’s amazingly versatile and promised she would share the issue with a copyright attorney/friend. His reply was instructive if not precisely definitive:

It is advisable for your client to get licenses from ASCAP and/or BMI. Those are the two biggest licensing associations. Unfortunately, there are overlapping artists in both associations, so getting a license for both may be somewhat duplicative; but getting a license for only one would mean there are some artists your client would technically not be able to play on a CD or MP3.

For a small business owner it is difficult to determine just what songs you can play in your studio (although there are radio licenses too), so I find that a lot of people are not as concerned as your client is; they just decide to bet on the proposition that ASCAP or BMI would not approach them for licensing royalties. The problem with doing this is that ASCAP and BMI end up wanting past royalties, which can be expensive for a small business.

Generally, ASCAP or BMI is more likely to pursue your client based on the number of customers she has, but they have a bad reputation for being pretty ruthless when it comes to seeking royalties. If there are not many people in her yoga classes, then she might not even be “publicly performing” the work, and in such a case it might not make business sense for her to obtain licenses. (personal email, 9.23.14)

How small is small for class size? Who are these organizations? How do I know what’s playable? If I pay them, how do the musicians actually get their piece of the pie? Radiant Om Yoga’s third birthday came along and I put aside the music quandary for a bit. Then I had an appointment to discuss all things yoga with a trusted friend who is also a teacher and a studio owner, and I pulled together my online research to show her and discuss our options.

As I understood it, my options were: shut up and pay the license fees, move to some sort of music provider like Sirius that has a legal avenue for business to play music at their locations, wholesale with license to play a few CDs, or take the stereo out of the studio and cease playing music all together.

That was on a Friday. The very next Tuesday I got an unsolicited email from ASCAP (The American Society for Composers, Authors, and Publishers) offering to save me tremendous time and effort if I would just please sign the contract to license music-playing in my studio and send them a check.

I remain suspicious that Big Brother Internet somehow reported my searching, but the ASCAP rep I spoke to on the phone, after more consultations with the lawyer, insisted that they are researching and contacting every yoga studio, that her region was Des Moines. Okay, I asked her, just how do the musicians make money from the sum I’m paying you?

“I don’t really know that,” she answered. “I do know you’re paying the reduced rate for yoga studios,” this negotiated on our behalf by Yoga Alliance. I asked for a few other changes in the contract, corrected their spelling of Windsor Heights, and asked her to send me a new file. Radiant Om Yoga would toe inside this particular legal line, alongside taking the fire extinguisher to be officially tagged each year and having an ADA-compliant ramp, the engineering of which nearly drove the landlord’s central contractor insane.

Writing the check, signing and copying the contract, and putting the whole mess in the mail (and to bed), I couldn’t help thinking about how many knotty problems I deal with on a regular but never routine basis—all of the issues that come up when you’re the captain of your own small business. Some days I handle it with ease; far more often I struggle through the nuts and bolts and work hard to come down on just the right decision. At those moments, I think it might be a huge relief to let someone else take on the burdens—just have a job where I show up, work and leave. Then again, at that fantasy workplace I might not be able to get away with wearing legwarmers and the silver hoop earrings I bought in the eighties.

Legwarmers and hoop earrings, ready to wear

Legwarmers and hoop earrings, ready to wear

Wherever you are and whatever you’re wrestling with, the new moon plus a partial solar eclipse give us new inspiration. Maybe hunt up your favorite wardrobe embellishment and toss it on, connecting your past self with your present enthusiasms and future creative energies. And thank you, as always, for coming along with me on my journey. In gratitude and with love, Rxo

Phone Tag

Phone Tag

Can you sub for me today?

The request arrives via text message at 6:22 a.m. I’m in my morning flurry: packing my children’s lunches for school; getting my mother her meds and tea; making hibiscus tea for the peeps’ breakfast; calling for Twelve to hurry downstairs to eat; managing the cats and their various needs for food, water, and a turn in their pen; and shaking off sleep. My initial reaction is to stop everything, pick up my cell phone and punch in a hurried reply—hang on, let me check. I’ll let you know—something of that ilk. I put my cell phone down and ponder how technology has changed the hours during which we communicate. Take a breath, I remind myself. Just because the message arrived right at that moment, I can wait to compose my day and thus a coherent answer.

When I was growing up, my mother taught me not to place phone calls before nine in the morning, and I was prohibited from being on the phone after nine at night. Family might call late, especially after the long distance rates went down at eleven, but otherwise a phone call late at night or early in the morning was an intrusion at best, more likely an emergency or very bad news.

About the time I got interested in talking to my friends during every waking minute, we had two phones in the house. One was on my mother’s desk and the other, a rotary-dial black box with a heavy handset, hung on the wall in the between the kitchen and the bathroom. There was a phone across the road in the barn, too, that for a while had a horn that blasted so my father could hear it ring in his garden. I spent a lot of afternoons and evenings during junior high coiled in the extra-long phone cord attached to the kitchen phone and secreted into our one bathroom for privacy. Later, when I was in high school, my parents added a line and I had a slimline avocado green touchtone phone in my bedroom. I still wasn’t supposed to talk to my friends past nine, but I’m sure I did sometimes. Okay, more than sometimes.

No answering machine in college meant my roommates and I took messages for one another. I’m sure I sound like a nostalgic Luddite when I remember message taking fondly—a quality message includes the caller’s name, number, message, and a good time to return the call. One of my housemates even brought us “while you were out” message pads purloined from her father’s office. Technology and personal communication devices have sent the fine art of taking a message the way of a passenger leaning across the inside of a car to unlock the driver’s door after being let in by the driver. Who had to use a key. Inserted into the lock. Of the passenger’s door.

We exchange such niceties for the convenience of handheld devices that go everywhere with us and keys so smart they can roll down the windows to air out a car as the driver approaches. My phone actually links right up to my car when it starts, so the whole thing is like a brilliant orange rolling phone booth. (Just think—when was the last time you saw an actual payphone?) The car announces incoming calls, mispronouncing most names naturally, and I push a single button on my steering wheel to answer.

I actually resisted having my own cell phone for a long time because somehow between junior high and now, I learned to dislike the phone. I feel like phone calls are at best an interruption, and I hate calling people to ask for things. I will go to great lengths to avoid calling a store or someone in a professional capacity, preferring to show up on person, search via google or send an email or even a snail mail letter. Nonetheless, none of my electronics are ever very far away from me, even though I do make an effort to turn them off.

In contrast, this very week I noticed a box I could click when printing from Preview that told my printer to automatically print two-sided documents, saving me from having to print one side, flip the paper and then print the other. On the very same day I saw for the first time the outline of an arrow on my online banking site that lets me rearrange the entries in all manner of ways, making data reconciliation much simpler. And my phone, the same one that can shatter my morning with an early text, woke me gently this morning so that I could view the full lunar eclipse from the beginning. Watching the luminous moon turn ashy and then gray and then red, looking up with awe as the stars twinkled brightly, and then checking the moon frequently as another lively morning started in my house, I had to remind myself that as so often the case, it’s all about balance. So I may struggle sometimes with connectivity, but I confess: I like the fact that I can walk outside, watch the eclipse, and then remark publicly via my phone on Facebook and my computer right here on my blog upon the wonder and magic of the night sky.

full moon rise

Oh what a moon!

Did I sub that class? You betcha. And the day that briefly unraveled as a result of an early morning contact rolled back into a manageable bundle, events rearranged under the sparkling sun and a gorgeous moon rise.

The full October moon rising and perching playfully atop a traffic light as Fifteen drove his sister to ballet and me to our Tuesday evening writing date.

The full October moon rising and perching playfully atop a traffic light as Fifteen drove his sister to ballet and me to our Tuesday evening writing date.

Happy full moon; happy lunar eclipse day. Oh, and watch those electronics—Mercury is in retrograde until the end of the month. With love & gratitude, Rxo

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