Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Waking the Dead

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

Dreaming about death can be a terrifying and cold song, so much so that when you wake up the raw emotions remain with you such as the case at 4am this morning.  You’re like a plane that wants to land, but the landing gear won’t drop.   And when you wake up you can’t get back to sleep again because you’re terrified and too afraid to analyze it.  The raw emotion is captivating, so much so that you possess the urge to distance yourself emotionally.

It’s your worst fear when you dream about a loved one that goes missing, then kidnapped and harmed.  Then the next day you try to assemble the pieces like a jigsaw puzzle, wondering what lead to that.  Was it something you ate? Could it have been a reaction to something that happened during the day?  In fact, you don’t have the guts to journalize about it because of the fear and the lack of getting a good night sleep.  You get a sigh of relief when reality sets in and your mind reconciles with your nervous system.

Despite the obvious fear, I think dreams about death have more to do with managing events in life.  Like death itself, it’s the dawn of a new life challenge and the eve of another.  It feels much like change which is difficult in itself.   When you look beyond the obvious, it’s a way to bring something that needs to be dealt with to your immediate attention.  Bookmark that!  No Watson, “the game is afoot.”

If change is like a difficult ship that is hard to maneuver in the night, then dreams are like light houses that pave a clear path.  When they moved the Intrepid from the Hudson River for a remake, it was no easy task.  The dang boat was really stuck in the mud for decades of being sedimentary.  It took lots of tugging and basic engineering to get her to move, but she did budge eventually.  And that’s what change feels like sometimes, especially as you grow older.

Dreams can be a gymnasium for working out life’s problems.  Dreams can also be a trip, a dimension for communicating with those who are no longer living.  When I dream for instance, I am not always conscious whether or not the people I’m interacting with are actually still living.  In fact, I have no recollection that they have passed on.  I dream of my parents, relatives, friends and even former baby (secondary mothers) sitters.  I’ve even written about my experiences with them during the dreams.

I’ve had dreams of doing things with my dad, such as cooking or driving.  I’ve had dreams of having silly tiffs with my mom or other mundane things and conversations.  In fact, I have had more fun with my dad in my dreams then when he was actually living.  I once dreamt of a cousin who came to see me.  He was wearing a white suit, looking very sharp and mature.  I hadn’t seen him since we were kids and that was 1974, but he died in the 80s.  The virus took him away and it was a family secret.

I had wished I had gotten to know him better.   My mom used to shake her head about how swishy he was.  She said he could snap you into next week.  I got the feeling we would have had a blast together and a lot in common.  In many ways, I think that’s what may have drawn him to my dream world.

I don’t think connecting with the dead is anything unique.  I think anyone can do it and remember the positive experiences.  It’s just that I tend to recall the details very easily and for years.  When I dream of familiar people who are now deceased, it’s always usually a very pleasant and peaceful experience.  We’re having a good old time in the present the way we would have in the real world.

Last night I dreamt of reuniting with some former Lavender Light Gospel Choir friends.  Three of us were posing for a group photo.  There was David M, a third person who I can’t recall since I let the time lapse before actually writing this down and myself.  I recall that we were about to meet up with other former Lav Light members and we were chatting it up and laughing.  The only problem is that David M was long deceased and yet during the dream I had no sense of that at all.  I recall now that when he was alive, he was a gentle soul and always a wonder to be around.

It’s important to write down dreams when you first wake up and I admit, I don’t do it often enough.  I keep a dream diary by my bed but lately it’s been collecting dust because if I start, my pen will burn or I will burn up the keyboard one way or another.  The end result will leave me feeling exhausted the next day.  I usually end of tossing and turning anyway which is the net difference.

Dreams about death and trying to make sense of it all  reminds me of the British TV mystery, Waking the Dead.  It was a crime series about a team of personalities who put together the puzzles of solving crimes forensically.  What I really liked about the show was that it delved deeply into the lives of the main characters and their flaws.  It exposed their strengths and vulnerabilities.  I think just about every episode they were put to the test and it was ultimately the balance of their training versus their humanity that kept them on the mission as a team.

As a team, they each fulfilled a pivotal role to maintaining the unit.  I think dreams are like that in that we dream with a purpose even though we may not be conscious of it.  All the characters in a dream fulfill a role in the whole narrative, much like a play or opera.  In the opera, the narrative can be symbolic much like Einstein on the Beach.  It very much felt a like a dream to me. By the way, I’ve seen every episode of Waking the Dead through series 6.  I discovered the show after it went off the air and thank God for Netflix streaming video.

I think my sub consciousness wants to schedule an appointment with kind spirits but the superego prohibits it.  When I sleep, all bets are off as I am uninhibited.  I noticed that when I dream of spirits, they appear as I remember them best. My mother and father are always in their 50s or early 60s the every latest.  My cousin is dapper and both babysitters (Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Bradley) are quite youthful.

I don’t have any conclusions to make, except that I am still on the journey.  I will hold on for the ride, fasten my seat belt and go!  It really does feel like a roller coaster ride and I never liked roller coasters when I was kid.  I remember refusing to ride them in Palisade Park when I was a kid and I don’t fancy airplanes, but I always catch that flight.

During dreams, all bets are off.  I am like a superhero without the cape and blindfold.  No joke!  And there are times when I most vulnerable.  I don’t know what to expect next, but I leap forward.  I am like Jacque Cousteau charting the next island of dreams and I kind of like the journey forward, even more so that the interpretation.  Besides, I am pre-occupied with dreaming or rather remembering than trying to figure them all out.  I suppose that’s truly the next growth step.



Marriage Equality

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Recently I attended a conference on Marriage Equality sponsored by the Lambda Legal Defense Fund. My expectations were low. I thought I was going to attend an event built around someone else’s agenda but I was pleasantly surprised how it made a difference to me on a personal level. I encountered a conference that was in fact very relevant to people of color; one that was more personal than political.

It was no accident that the event was planned around MLK Day, held at the Paul Robeson Center of Rutgers University, Newark Campus and led primarily by woman of color. It worked for me but it wasn’t what I was expecting. It was attended by a dvierse group of attendees: young, old, couples, men, women and people of all colors in the city of Newark. I wonder what Dr. King would say about this?

It started out on the right track. The political aspect of the conference hit home because of the emphasis on the personal. There was a black lesbian couple that spoke about the discrimination they faced at the hospital, despite having a civil union that is supposed to be equal to marriage. The fact is society places a high value in marriage. If you say that you have a partner and are in a civil union, someone just might ask you what type of business that is. Legally, GLBT people have to take triple if not quadruple measures to back things up or face legal hurdles.

There was an Ice Breaker that was designed to get people to connect with unfamiliar faces and it worked. It got people talking right away. People who had legal terms had to match themselves with those in the room that had their definitions. It was a great way to segway into the legal discussion. There were also workshops on Personal Finance designed for different levels of experience.

Aside from learning how much money some people actually spend on weddings, the real power of the conference was the sharing of information and strategies by the participants. People were very forthcoming about sharing what worked and what didn’t.

We were entertained by the singing talents of Cheryl and Javonne, two wonderful performers whom I’ve known for years. They treated us to two original songs and really got the crowd going.

For anyone opposed to marriage equality, I challenge them to get beyond the politics and talk to GLBT families in their communities and in their own families. It’s not about someone else’s agenda or about desconstructing an age old institution. It’s about taking care of each of other.

Under The Lens

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

During one hot sticky Sunday in June,  I met with photographer Angela Jimenez and her lovely assistant Cantina for the Sign Post photo shoot.   We met on the street outside of the Brooklyn Arts Exchange (BAX).  When I saw them, I immediately felt at home.   I was eager to get started, though a bit nervous about the whole thing.

Angela and I were back and in forth over the last fewl weeks conceptually mapping out the imagery for the shoot.  Each and every time, I came up with abstract images that seem to lead to a theme of self reflection.  As a listened to every song on the CD,  I was looking for the big picture and that’s what spoke to me.   When I stepped back and looked at it as a whole, it became very clear.

The night before I was asked to bring in props and so I went on a scavenger hunt for objects that we could build different scenes around.  I went to Enchantments, one of the largest stores of its kind in New York, looking objects I could use.    I left with one Crystal Ball and 4 pumpkin colored candles encased in glass.  I combed the streets in the East Village and came upon a novelty store and found a vintage hand held mirror.  We made good use of all of them.

There were a few prominent images that we built our theme under namely: The Veiled Woman, reflection of Eyes In The Mirror and Martina Under Candlelight.


The Veiled Woman

Angela has an amazing eye for detail.  And you could tell she was literally building a scene from scratch, but it worked.  The Veiled Woman was an image of me at the center of the universe.  The effective use of the light made me appear as if I was being beamed up to an alien ship through a funnel of light surrounded by celestial objects.  All of this was done by carefully veiling me through a colorful scarf with careful use of light at the right angles.  I have not yet decided yet but this image screams of the album cover itself.

The origin of the Veiled Woman was inspired by an image I saw the Internet.  It was an opaque image of a woman’s face thinly veiled by a silk scarf.  You could carefully see the outline of her face.  We re-created something similar but went the additional mile of creating a vortex of light with me at the center.


The Crystal Ball

There were several shots of me posing with a Crystal Ball but the money shot are two photos: one that is an upside down photo of me inside of the Crystal Ball while I’m holding it right side up.  It’s a photo of opposites.  During the second image, the camera instead focuses on me instead of the Crystal Ball.


Eyes in the Mirror

Eyes in the Mirror is an interesting trick of capturing reflections through mirrors.  Through the use of two mirrors and careful positioning, Angela photographed the reflection of me instead of me directly.  It was an interesting concept because I was one of the ideas we spoke about a few months ago.   During an Internet search, I came upon the eye of Horus and I was quite intrigued by this Egyptian symbol.  During my scavenger hunt, I was actually looking for the eye of Horus but came up empty handed in terms of objects so we decided to create the effect ourselves through mirrors.

I had always wanted to work with mirrors.  The technique involved careful positioning the two mirrors at the right angles to capture both the light and my eyes exclusively and it worked.


Martina Under Candlelight

Our first attempt was to create an altar with me at the center.  We settled by using just candlelight candlelight to illuminate the canvas, mainly myself.  The room was pitch black with only the pumpkin color light in the backdrop.  Dark Caverns was playing in the background for effect and I felt like I was in the stillness of the night.  It was a very serene scene.  The result were images of me sitting under campfire light.

We worked very hard that day for three hours but everything seemed to come together. I got a chance to see some of the outtakes of the shoot that day and I was very impressed.  We left with a plethora of images that I’m going to have fun working with as well as the designer.

Giving Birth to Sign Post: My New CD

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

Giving birth is certainly no easy task and sometimes it takes a little longer than 9 months, but I am very proud to have released my new CD, Sign Post.  It is now available at CD Baby, iTunes and Amazon.  Soon it will be available on many other digital platforms.

The hardest thing about the process is letting go.  It’s the kind of project that you can tinker with it forever, but if it’s not shared then what’s the use.   I’ve worked hard on the songs and have had some life changes during the process: a death in the family and a fall towards the end of production, but still I rise each day.

Sign Post was a collaborative project that involved many talents.  I’d like to thank first and foremost my producer and multi-instrumentalist, Robert Urban of Urban Productions.   He kept encouraging me to carry on and pushed me towards excellence.   We had many magical moments in the studio together.  I’d like to thank Steven Sullivan who played bass, Barbara Tone for her sax works and my partner, Tawanna for her technical help and editorial feedback on the lyrics.

As for the songs, they stand onto themselves like little islands.  Some were written prior to going into production.  Others were written during this period.  What I find really interesting is how I can really measure the growth from the first song we recorded to the last.  By the end of the project I was really comfortable stretching my wings in all sorts of directions.

And now it’s time to share these songs with the world.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.






Sunday, September 11th, 2011

I have spent the last few months mending from surgery on my left ankle and learning how to walk again. It stemmed from a “slide in tumble, slide in stumble” I had late last December and it hasn’t been easy. It has given me a deeper understanding of what life must be like for someone who is permanently disabled, but finds a way to cope in the world.

For all practical purposes, I am temporarily disabled. I learned how to adjust my routine to enjoy life and found innovative ways to work with mobility devices. However, the reality is I knew that in the back of my mind I would be walking again. I think it’s having the knowledge of being temporary versus permanent is the key difference.

Dream Weaver

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

I’ve had a steady flow of dreams lately and dream inspiration. Dreams inspire me to be totally free, creatively like no other. For me, it’s the answer to unblocking those creative arteries. It unlocks all the gems that I withhold during my conscious state. It requires that I get to bed at a decent time and don’t unload daily stresses into the dream state. Stress inhibits creativity for me.

This week I’m residing in the City of Fake, otherwise known as Las Vegas at the fabulous Wynn Encore Hotel. The Strip is everything you imagine: glitz, glam and flim-flam. It’s very magical and Las Vegans (pardon the pun) take pride in it, as they should. There’s no place on earth that can marvel the magic of Vegas. Ironically, I’ve managed to find a space to step away from the glitz and go deep inside to connect with my inner magic.

This week alone, I’ve planted the seeds for three unique songs: some with words and other with just the music. Musically, each seed stands alone onto itself, so I’m never exhausted of originality. Even with all of this, I sense that there was even more music and words that I just can’t recall at the moment.

Thanks to recorders, I file the seeds away on my hard drive until I’m ready to develop them into full fledged songs or even connect the dots. And I’ve got tons of them. Tapping into dreams is like tapping into a hidden well of creativity. My goal is to be able to tap into it even more freely and willingly for those hidden gems.

Timing is critical to capturing these seeds before they slip away from memory. I’m usually able to capture seeds within 30 minutes of being awake. And I usually have a tape recorder nearby and lock myself in the bathroom for the added acoustics. I’ve even captured story ideas this way as well.

And it was during one of these post dream rituals that I came up with a song called Slide, a song about taking better care for Earth before we destroy it. I hope you enjoy it.

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lyrics & music by Martina Downey

Martina Downey: lead & backing vocals, keyboards
Robert Urban: guitar, bass, synths & drums
Steven Sullivan: bass

produced, arranged, recorded & mixed by Robert Urban

What's on my iPOD?

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Well, the more I think about it the more I realize that I could be a flower child. The music that inspired me the most when I was growing up were Bowie, Beatles, Stax Records, Temptations, the Jackson 5 and the rest of Motown but not necessarily in that order. I could put on a Parliament record after listening to David Bowie’s Heroes. I remember when David performed it on Bing Crosby’s last special in ’77. It was really something to see. The choreography was great.

On Sunday morning, my mother would play Aretha Franklin singing gospel with songs like How I Got Over or a James Cleveland record. So there was no escaping gospel music. It was always at the root.

Today, I still enjoy the music of the late 60s and 70s because it was the era of convergence. The Temptations began to sound psychedelic and psychedelic rock bands sounded like the Temps. And speaking of the Temps, recently there is a later song circa 1975 that I’ve really grown fond of. It’s called Memories.

And speaking of psychedelic, I could really trip to King Crimson. Songs like 21st Century Schizoid Man and Cat Food are timeless. Check out the dissonance of the piano in Cat Food. You can tell they were inspired by African music and Jazz. They take me on a ride and I just get lost in the music. It’s a wonderful feeling. No wonder I can connect with it. It’s a familiar feeling. And speaking of Cat Food, there is this Japanese band called Benisyoga that does an impressive interpretation of it.

21st Century Schizoid Man is like a symphony, each part of the song is it’s own movement. It’s like several songs within one. This approach to music had a great influence on me. There is a Japanese band called Seasons and they tear it up in their version. They are sassy strings bring the song to whole other emotional level. Check out the video and buy the record! You won’t be disappointed.

I’ve been listening a lot to Traffic a lot these days. There’s just something about those old songs with Steve Winwood on vocals and organ, songs like Freedom Rider and Heaven Is in Your Mind. Ooh, I just love the meter changes in that song. It goes from 4/4 time in the verse to 3/4 time in the chorus. That’s so cool!

Strange Culinary Desires

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Thanksgiving day couldn’t have been more perfect. I spent the time with family and friends. I did some cooking and everything came out just perfect. The highlight of the day was eating a chocolate bar infused with bacon. I was dared into it and I can’t refuse a dare. Believe it or not, it really worked just like the lasagna with raisins I had 20 years ago. If you are ever in Whole Foods, stop by the candy aisle and pick up a chocolate with bacon bar. You won’t be sorry.

Music For Film

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

Today I am feeling very old school. The doc says my voice will be just fine with “west and welaxation at wast.” Well, I don’t think so but at least the prognosis looks good. I’ve been feeling very old school. I’m listening to one of favorite Eno compositions, Music for Film. Check out what he does with rhythm on the track “M386“. It’s somewhat somber, serious and moving at the same time. It feels very familiar to me and hopefully with you as well. Enjoy and discover Eno.

Lost My Voice

Monday, November 10th, 2008

It’s Sunday evening, several days past one of the greatest moments in American history, namely Barack Obama becoming president and I have lost my voice. Yes, I have absolutely no singing voice and it’s been gone for two weeks plus. I got sick two weeks ago and my speaking voice was all but a whisper. I feel better but my voice is completely annihilated. I am worried sick about it. I had a dream about me being asked to sing and instead I had to play a recording of one of my songs. I’ve even had thoughts of making music the Quincy Jones approach by having other performers sing and play my music, while I direct. That idea worked for a hot minute. Okay, so I’ve jumped the gun a just a little.

I went to the GP yesterday and he couldn’t figure it out. He said it’s time to call the ENT and that is what I am going to do first thing tomorrow morning. You see, I have hope that somebody is going to return my voice just like I have hope that Barack is going to take action in restoring the economy and the damage that has been done to our nation. It’s going to be a tough battle ahead on both accounts because the damage is quite grave.

It’s so bad that I can’t even hit a note. The most I can do is squeal like a mouse. Well, if you have any bright ideas or home remedies, please pass them along. I have temporary lost my voice before, but not like this. This is bad as the Dow falling 700 points. I have hope that all will we well again with time and good care.