Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Looking Back on 2018

It's 2019! And now, for my sometime tradition of answering questions about the year, with my paraphrased 2017 answers for comparison. So let's take a look back ...

1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?
2018: I got Henry, my new (antique) grand piano, and I started taking piano lessons again. I also found a voice teacher that I love and joined our church choir. Oh, and I started going to church again. That has been good.

2017: The move to Georgia, and selling our Maggie Valley home.

2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?
2018: Work issues. I could write a book, but I probably shouldn't.

2017: Rifts with people that I thought were friends.
3. What was an unexpected joy this past year?
2018: Henry! Henry came out of the blue. I found a voice teacher, Richard Cook, who also happens to be the music director at a church in Augusta. At my first lesson, I mentioned that I play piano, and he said, "Do you need a grand piano?" Turns out they had an old, abandoned grand collecting dust at the church, and it needed a good home. I went to visit "Henry," as I would name him later. After a couple of days of thought and research, I decided to take him. I haven't regretted it for a moment. The piano itself was free, and the moving and tuning costs added up to about $1,000 ... a pretty penny, but I know I got a great deal.

2017: I love living in Georgia, and Anne discovered taekwondo. And I got to meet Rick Springfield!
4. What was an unexpected obstacle?
2018: Insurance woes, and our renter moving out of our Franklin house with no warning. Oh, and hip pain.

2017: Dental problems and leg pain ... and the related bills.

5. Pick three words to describe this past year (or to describe yourself this past year).
2018: Anxiety-ridden, overbooked, musical.

2017: Novice (at learning voice and guitar), comfortable (living in a nice house with a neighborhood pool), painful (see above).

6. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe your year—don’t ask them; guess based on how you think your spouse sees you.
2018: Stressed, unhappy at work, depressed.

2017: Unsettled, musical, tired.

7. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe their past year—again, without asking.
2018: Stressful, financially challenging, unhealthy.

2017: Satisfying, challenging, stressful. 

8. What was the best book you read this year?
2018: Body and Soul by Frank Conroy

2017: Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, by Anders Ericsson

9. With whom were your most valuable relationships?
2018: My daughter and my husband, as always. But two of my most valued new relationships are with my music teachers. I've also made some valued friendships at church and in my neighborhood.

2017: My daughter and my husband.

10. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year?
2018: I have a lot more anger. I hate to think that I am becoming a bitter old woman, but that is what happened this year. I feel like I've been treated unfairly, and there is nothing I can do about it. The sense of helplessness is maddening.

2017: I'm more guarded and protective of my feelings. I'm not as open or friendly. I'm also learning to live with chronic pain.

11. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?
2018: I feel like I regressed emotionally this year! If I've learned anything, it's that I need to guard my time and my energy. I was far too willing to give it away this year.

2017: I guess the upside to being more guarded and protective of my emotions is that I am not going to get hurt the way I did last year. The downside is that I have trouble trusting people.

12. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?
2018: I opened myself up to the possibility of a spiritual life again. I am still stunted beyond recognition, but I feel like there's a flash of green somewhere among the wreckage.

2017: Not sure if this is spiritual, but with guitar I've found a new way of communing with music. It's been wonderful to develop a whole new mode of creative expression. It'll be a long way before I've reached any level of proficiency, but I'm excited about the journey.

13. In what way(s) did you grow physically? 
2018: None. Thanks to hip pain, I'm now going on three years without regular exercise. But I haven't gained any weight. In fact, thanks to the depression and anxiety of the past few months, I'm ten pounds lighter than my normal weight.

2017: This year was a struggle physically, a(nother) year of starts and stops. Motivation is not the problem; I'm plenty motivated to exercise. But the pain keeps coming back, and a few days of exercise lead to a few days (or weeks) of hobbling around, wincing with every step. I did manage to run a 5K on Thanksgiving (and haven't been able to run since).

14. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?
2018: I made some new friendships in the past year, though I work too much to give them as much attention as I'd like. I love Dan more than I ever have. My relationship with Anne is changing as she grows older and more independent.

2017: New friends in Georgia, but no real growing yet. Dan and I are much happier together than we were a year ago, but there's still work to do. Anne and I read the Harry Potter series together, and I think our relationship grew as a result of our mutual love for the books.

15. What was the most enjoyable part of your work (both professionally and at home)?
2018: There are still a lot of things I like about working from home, though there are definitely some downsides. The most enjoyable part with the raise I got with my promotion, I guess. Work itself was not as enjoyable as it's been in the past. I have hopes that that will change in the new year. At home ... hard to say. I pretty much worked all the time this year, and I neglected home duties in every way.

2017: Working from home! I also started doing a lot of QA for new builds, which I enjoyed as a nice change of pace from technical writing. I also seem to be pretty good at it. At home, it's been nice to have a comfortable home that we own. Reading Harry Potter with Anne was also a high point of mom-life this year.

16. What was the most challenging part of your work (both professionally and at home)?
2018: Getting a new role, never having time to sink my teeth into it because I kept being given other priorities. And then losing that role because I never got anything done. Go figure. At home: Working all the time and never having energy to cook, clean, or be present for my family.

2017: Being burnt out at work. The challenges of working from home.

17. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?
2018: I don't feel like I wasted a lot of time this year. I wasn't on Facebook as much. My biggest time-waster was probably the vicious cycle of negative thoughts that came with 2018's anxiety and depression.

2017: Facebook.

18. What was the best way you used your time this past year?
2018: Playing piano, and taking piano lessons. Taking voice lessons. Being part of the choir.

2017: Practicing guitar every morning.

19. What was biggest thing you learned this past year?
2018: I recently made a friend who, observing my life objectively, confirmed that I'm not crazy and was saddened and sympathetic that certain of my life circumstances have made me a basket case. How sad is it that the biggest thing I learned this year was that I'm not delusional?

2017: As I get older, I'm going to have to deal with physical limitations that I didn't have when I was younger. It's been humbling.

20. Create a phrase or statement that describes this past year for you.
2018: I can't do it all, and I can't do everything to everyone else's satisfaction.
2017: Pretending to be a suburban mom. I have all of the trappings here in Georgia, but the shoes don't quite fit as comfortably as they should. Still, life is pretty comfortable.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

DIY Mad Gab: Puttin' My Bored Cat On

Another "fun with deaf people" post, this one from a meeting where I didn't have the benefit of video and couldn't see the speaker on the screen. Here are some of the things I heard and could not translate:

Kind of break up you have to be pig
This meeting isn't about defibrilating
Peau-wee. Peau-wee.
The daily bot.
Cool time, Amanda!
Sales, fork, spooner dollars.
We said we would have the new ones
A gross bar o'gin
We look in the path
Probably about a hundred knee
We paid to bed down, that's a good thing
A booze sleepover
We never beat on our bangs at all
We're a crocodile company, we get what we deserve
Clearly our biggest fishies
We got a bunch o'butchers
Puttin' my bored cat on
Those'll be the thankful talk tomorrow
Don't let us snot, that's the half of this shit
Coalesce. I am here.
Hate days plus one bloated.


Friday, August 31, 2018

Vocal Stuff

I have written enough about my voice insecurities in the past, so I'm not going to go into that here. But I do want to write a little bit about what's going on with voice.

Some days I feel encouraged by my progress, and other days I wonder why the heck I am doing this. Why am I trying to sing? I feel like a fool, attempting an art form that I have no business attempting. I might as well try to take up professional basketball.

Of course, I'm not trying to be a professional singer. I'm just trying to graduate from "bad" to "not bad" for now. Maybe someday I'll aspire to "good."

It's been slow progress. I have to make myself practice voice. Once I start, I love it and can go for an hour or more, and then I'm singing happily for the rest of the day ... but I have a bit of an inertia problem at first. I think it's because I always feel a little silly practicing, wondering if it's all a waste of time.

There I go, writing about my voice insecurities.

Here are the songs I'm working on right now. There are a bunch of them, and it's a little overwhelming to see the list, but I'm trying to focus on just a couple of songs a week.

From the 24 Italian Songs book:

  • Alma del core (Caldara)
  • Sebben crudele (Caldara)
  • Caro mio ben (Giordani)
  • O del mio dolce ardor (Gluck)
  • Tu lo sai (Torelli)

From the Standard Vocal Literature book:

  • Come again, sweet love (Dowland)
  • If music be the food of love (Purcell)
  • Weep you no more (Quilter)

Huh. Somehow I thought I had 10 or 12 songs, but I guess it's really not that many.

I love every single one of these songs, though "Weep you no more" is my absolute favorite and has been for months.

I'm going to have quite a bit of free time over Labor Day weekend, so I'm planning to spend a good bit of it on voice. My big focus will be less on singing and more on memorizing. I've been lazy about memorizing, even though I know how important it is to be free of the crutch of the sheet music.

I hate writing that I've been lazy, but I think it's probably the truth. Another problem is I haven't been able to practice regularly. My voice lesson is on Monday evenings, and then Tuesdays and Wednesdays are just crazy, so I usually don't get to practice until lunchtime Thursday. I can get some time in after work on Friday, but I don't really get to dive into practice until Saturday and Sunday. When I'm not singing these over and over again every day, the familiarity (and memorization) doesn't come.

OK, this blog post doesn't seem to be going anywhere and I have to get to work, so I'll sign off for now.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Carving Out Time

I've never been a big fan of summer, and I'm happy that it's finally coming to an end. Kids are back in school, and all of the fall activities are starting up. Last night at church we had our first WOW (Wesley On Wednesdays) of the season, and we started practicing Christmas music at choir. Last weekend was the kickoff event for both Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts. Anne's taekwondo classes have gotten crowded again after sparse attendance throughout the summer. And hopefully, I'll be meeting with a piano teacher to discuss piano lessons (for me, not my kid!) for the fall.

This morning, I sat down and realized, with great relief, that life is going to start having some semblance of structure again. Summer is hard; there's day camp, and overnight camp, and Bible school, and vacations, and visitors, and so much more. Fall? Wake up, get the kid to school, work, kid comes home, and then most evenings there's something to do, plus homework, then get ready for bed, read, and go to sleep.

In college, I both loved and hated the semesters where I had just a little too much work to do. I didn't have a lot of free time, but I still managed to get more done because I was forced to stick to a strict schedule. So by the end of the crazy semester, I had more knowledge, had knocked out some amazing papers, and had mastered a few new piano pieces for recital.

I think that's what it's going to be like this semester. With things falling into place, I can better plan meals, make time for exercise, work in thirty minutes here or an hour there for music (voice and piano) practice. Most importantly, I can carve out the quiet time for thinking and meditation because so many of the stuff going on is fixed.

Is life going to pass by in the blink of an eye for the next few months? Perhaps. Perhaps not. The days seem to elongate when I'm able to carve out time for slow things. I love that metaphor "carve out time" because that's what it feels like. The day is a flat surface, and I carve it into something with indentations, curves, texture. Something that increases the surface area somehow, and I'm able to make more of the space of the time I have.

I do need to be diligent, though. I need to abide by the schedule, which is harder to do now that I'm not in college and I don't have an institution and faculty telling me where I need to be at what time, what I need to do, and how it needs to be done.

When I first got out of college (OK, for probably the next 5 or 10 years after college), I arranged my life like school, even to the point of giving different elements of my life course name. Seriously -- working out was "PE," making dinner was "Culinary Arts," reading was "Russian Literature" (or whatever I was hooked on at the moment), work was "Technical Writing," and my other writing was "Creative Writing" or "Fiction" or "Poetry." I'd make a schedule and give myself assignments. It was great fun and an effective motivator.

I suppose it's time for "Technical Writing" now. Only 7:30 in the morning, but I have lots to do for this 8- or 9-hour long class!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Noodling on Cm7

This is the kind of thing I've been doing lately, now that I have Henry. I'll practice other things, but I fall back into "noodling"--just playing with a chord progression and pretending, I guess, that I'm at a piano bar, or maybe stuck in some elevator that has New Age piano music playing in the background.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Playing Musical Chairs (or Musical Clothes?) with Musical Instruments

Most of my life, I have focused on only one instrument: the piano. But then, in 2017, I decided to branch out. I wasn't playing piano that much anyway, and I'd always wanted to learn to sing and play guitar ... so why not?

I signed up for voice lessons first. It was December 2016, and a friend was taking voice lessons and encouraged me to do it. I signed up with a teacher at Asheville Music School, but I quickly learned that I needed a more experienced teacher. As a beginner, I didn't need to go to a conservatory, but I guess I've had so much experience with music teachers that I can tell a rookie when I see one.

At about that time, I also started taking guitar lessons, and my guitar teacher recommended a friend of his who was a classical voice teacher. So I called his friend, whose name was Andrew, and made an appointment.

loved Andrew. If we hadn't moved, I'd still be taking voice lessons from him. He helped me to be less "breathy" and to not be afraid to make some noise. I looked forward to our lessons every single week.

But then we moved. I found a non-classical voice teacher in our new town. She was very nice and I enjoyed working with her, but work took over my life and I couldn't justify spending $40 a week on voice when I wasn't able to practice. She was a good teacher, though, and she had a wonderful system for helping ensure I practiced what I needed to practice. I was sad to leave her, but money and time were tight, and it wasn't the right time for me to be taking voice.

I also looked for another classical guitar teacher in our new town. They were few and far-between, and no one's schedule could accommodate mine.

After we joined our church in January, I joined the choir. I'd always wanted to sing in a choir and thought this might help me to improve my voice. But really, I just felt worse and worse because I knew I couldn't sing well, and I felt like I was making the choir worse. (Truthfully, I probably had no effect on it whatsoever because I didn't sing loud enough for most people to hear.) And when you're feeling stressed (as I was), it's even harder to sing because your jaw and neck are tight from the stress (or at least mine are).

That's when I decided to get another voice teacher.

Right here in my neighborhood is a choir director who teaches voice. His prices are reasonable, and he's good. So I've been studying with him for, oh, about four or five months now.

Am I any better at voice? I think so. But there's a problem. (Why does there always have to be a problem?)

See, I have this new piano named Henry. And when I sit down to play Henry, all my stress washes away. I feel like I could curl up into the music and rest for as long as I need to. I lose sense of time from the very beginning. All I care about is the sound. I play Hanon to strengthen my fingers, then some Chopin, then some Bach, then jazz or hymns or Carole King or Billy Joel or Elton John, or stuff I wrote, or ragtime, and then back to my beloved classical, working on old pieces or sight-reading intermediate pieces from something like Music for Millions. I know my way around the piano, and I feel like I could stay there forever. The piano is home.

I would love for singing to feel like home. You'd think that would be an easier feat; after all, your voice comes from inside you, from your body, and what is more "home" than your own body? No giant contraption of wood and strings and ivory is needed to produce the sound; it's just you.

But for me, playing the instrument of voice is like wearing someone else's ill-fitting clothes. They're my own clothes, for sure, but they are scratchy, stiff, and uncomfortable. They need to be broken in, washed a few dozen times, cared for properly. That's all it is, right? I need to learn to wear them, and wear them a lot, and one day they'll feel like they fit.

The piano, in contrast, is the velvety-soft bathrobe that I've had forever.

I don't want to stop taking voice. That's not the question. The question is, Do I start taking piano? There are two barriers here: money and time. If it's $50 a week for piano, I can probably pull it off, though it wouldn't be easy. But time? I barely have time to practice voice. How will I make time to practice both? And if I sign up for lessons and don't have time to practice, what good is that? And what if I practice lots of piano but neglect voice-practice even more than I already do?

Many of my friends would say that I don't need piano lessons. And maybe I don't ... but I think I do, if I'm going to get better and play some of the pieces I've dreamed of playing.

So that's the question I'm struggling with. It's a lovely, first-world kind of problem to have: Do I take piano lessons? Do I make even more room in my already-overstuffed life for music? If I look at it practically, the obvious answer is "No." But if I look at it any other way--like from the perspective of myself as a 90-year-old wracked by arthritis, or from the perspective of someone who doesn't have an easy, first-world life--I think I'm crazy not to do it.

It's time to go wake up my daughter. Thanks for listening, blog!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Why Things Don't Happen

Some of the fun from the past week: Playing in the water sprinkler

I have three blogs now: this one, my professional blog, and my piano-practice blog. None of them are updated on any semblance of a regular basis, though I was doing a pretty good job with the professional blog for a few weeks. I was blogging every Saturday morning, but ... my professional life got in the way. I've spent the past few Saturday mornings working instead of blogging. And so the professional blog appears to be in the middle of a long summer's nap.

I posted a couple of things to the piano-practice blog last week, after getting Henry (my new old piano) tuned. I was hoping to practice every day, even if it was just 5 or 10 minutes of Hanon or scales or arpeggios. I was hoping to post my progress. But ...


Things just don't happen the way I want them to. To blogging and piano practice, you can add exercise, voice practice, and quiet time in general. And cooking and housework--not things I want to do, but things that need to get done.

Usually the issue is work: I have more work to do each week, than I can fit in a week of 8- to 9-hour days. So I work a few hours on Saturday, and then another hour or two on Sunday. And I'm still not caught up.

But we've had a lot of visitors lately, too. My parents and my sister and her girls were here for several days, and then this past weekend we had some friends from the neighborhood over for dinner. And then yesterday, my brother and his family visited and stayed last night. Don't get me wrong; these were all wonderful visits. I loved seeing my family, I loved spending time with my neighbors, and I particularly loved seeing my brother, my sister-in-law, and their sweet little ones, whom I hadn't seen in over a year. But now I need some quiet time: a few aimless hours at a coffee shop where I can sit alone, write, and think. Or a few aimless hours at the piano, where I can do those scales, practice some Chopin, improvise some stuff.

Normally, my "quiet times" come on Saturday mornings. And/or Sunday afternoons. But I have something scheduled for most nights for the next couple of weeks, as well as for the weekends. I see no quiet time in sight.

And that stresses me out. And the stress makes me feel exhausted because my mind can't rest. When my mind can't rest, I can't sleep. And when I can't sleep, I can't wake up early to exercise or write. And when I can't exercise or write, I feel yucky. And I just wake up and go to work. And work all day. And then play my mom/wife role after work. And next thing I know, it's 11:00 at night, and it's been another day without a single quiet moment. And this is how life flies past.

I guess I'm having quiet moments now, though, taking time to write something.

I need to find some quiet moments where I can figure out a way to better plan my quiet moments. I have to plan them, because they won't happen on their own. They rarely do.

All righty. It looks like I might have a half-hour of quiet time right now. So I'll write a quick letter to my niece (who is at summer camp) and maybe practice a bit of piano.

Looking Back on 2018

It's 2019! And now, for my sometime tradition of answering questions about the year, with my paraphrased 2017 answers for comparison. S...