Words – Songs of Comfort

By Emily Lee Stehle

Originally published February 2021

. . .
Words have always been important to me. I went into journalism because I realized that my mom, born in Pittsburgh but raised in China since the age of 10, could barely read and speak English after returning to the United States nine years later. In high school, I remember Mom dictating letters to me for her friends.  It would’ve taken her too long to write them herself.

And then, when I was in J-school, I saw how she would read my “clips” to me. Every bylined article that I sent her (I was interning at various newspapers on co-op jobs) went into a large manila envelope. When I came home during break, she would take out the envelope and ask about the stories, reading them aloud. We read them together.

So I was encouraged to continue using simple, common words to communicate with people like Mom who couldn’t read well and struggled to understand them. I found my profession as a news reporter and later, as a writer.
. . .

Vincent Van Gogh

. . .
These thoughts about words came to mind when Mike, my friend Melissa and I went to see the Vincent Van Gogh immersive exhibit at the Dalí Museum on New Year’s Day. Wall-sized moving images of the artist’s works accompanied by the loud, sweeping sounds of popular classical music were fantastic.

But to me, it showed a commercialism that was amazing yet disturbing. Although I enjoyed the immersive experience, I think seeing his original work, in its original size and format in quiet solitude would have better conveyed Van Gogh’s mind and spirit. I was very fortunate to see many of his works at his namesake museum in Amsterdam decades ago. But it was a choice between the museum and the Anne Frank House. It was a hard decision. We had a few hours one afternoon and the line at the House was long.

I feel just the words on the walls would have been more expressive of Van Gogh as a thinking and emotional artist. But, what do I know? I found his written words, probably sent in letters to his brother Theo, more moving and profound than the large paintings and portraits.

Self-portrait Vincent Van Gogh
His Words

So, I have used words, in 11 Songs of Comfort baskets, in my COVID-19 basket series. I chose 11 songs that made me feel better during the 41 weeks (actually I performed more than 100 songs) of the Pandemic 2020 and made the official sheet music or a page of my ukulele music into a basket.
. . .

. . .
The construction of these baskets was a challenge. Since I’m using as many discards as possible, I had intended to print out the music sheets on the blank side of a cardstock poster and then, with a paper cutter, cut each song into strips. Then weave them around the reed armature, bead it and finish the interior with torn pieces of lime green tissue paper.

It didn’t happen according to plan. The nice guy at the Staples copy center said he could not print on the blank side of my cardstock poster unless I had proof that the poster was printed on a laser jet printer. Ink from an inkjet, he explained, could gunk up and ruin their expensive laser jet printer. I got it.
. . .

11 Songs of Comfort

. . .
My solution was to go home, print out the music sheets on my inkjet printer on heavier cardstock paper, spray mount them to the blank side of the poster and then cut into strips. I wove each song sheet into its basket armatures, then beaded the basket and finished the interior with torn pieces of lime green tissue paper (donated to my basketmaker guild from the estate of an artist who had recently passed).
. . .


But these 11 Songs of Comfort baskets and the other 30 are completed and I’m excited. They are not all happy songs. Which did I choose?

You-u-u-u Send Me

. . .
1. “Blue Skies” by Irving Berlin
2. “The Rainbow Connection” by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher
3. “The Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell
4. “The Water is Wide,” Traditional
5. “You Send Me” by Sam Cooke
6. “Attitude of Gratitude” by The Swinging Belles
7. “Love is Like a Butterfly” by Dolly Parton
8. “Don’t Get Me Wrong” by Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders
9. “Mad World” by Roland Orzabal
10. “Summer’s End” by John Prine
11. “What if We Went to Italy” by Mary Chapin Carpenter

I love these songs and will continue to play my uke and sing them. The exhibit will include the link to my YouTube posting of each song. They are not perfect and not intended to be!

. . .
We celebrated the Chinese Lunar New Year with lunch at one of our fav restaurants, Ha Long Bay in Dunedin. We had some of my favorite foods. . .  beef chow fun, fried bean curd with stuffed shrimp, shrimp dumpling and roast duck. Haven’t been to HLB since mid-March right before COVID-19 was formally announced.

Love Locks in Dunedin

Valentine’s Day

We all know what tomorrow is. For everyone, a happy day. Be safe.

Lastly, a Valentine’s Day gift to all of you from fellow Emerging Artist Mason Gehring and my message to Mason –  I have not met you yet, but I do love your work. You are worthy, and your art makes me feel happy! I would love to stick your stickers on my uke cases.

Red Hibiscus on the Trail

Mike and I came across Mason’s Lover’s Kiss Bench while walking along the Pinellas Trail in Dunedin. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Mason’s Gehring Lovers Bench
You can explore the work of Emily Lee Stehle here

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