Friday, July 30, 2004

Amateur Adventures

At first, I thought about naming this blog something like “Amateur Adventures,” about the joys and struggles of being an amateur pianist. I plan to write a lot about that on this blog, as well as the sometimes-strange experience of being an adult piano student. I swear, sometimes I feel like I’ve been catapulted back in time as I leave for my lunch hour, music books in hand, to go to a piano lesson. Or when I’m on the phone and have to say, “Look, I need to go … I haven’t practiced my piano yet, and I have a lesson tomorrow.”



But it’s thrilling. It is so absolutely and incredibly thrilling to work hard at something, day in and day out, and to see the small successes as they occur. (In piano, big successes don’t often occur. Small ones occur after much work … and then one day, after you’ve played the same measure ten gazillion times over the past three weeks, you realize that you’ve started to sound kind of good. But it’s something you honestly have to earn.)



In this day and age (do I sound like an old fogy?), we expect everything to be automatic; we want it fast, and we want it now. Deadlines and time constraints, not quality, often determine the type of job I do, even in my own personal work. And we’re expected to be able to take in an incredible amount of information in record time. Even if we’re not expected to, we still do—every time we turn on the TV, open a magazine, or even walk down a city street. It’s overwhelming to think of the number of words we read each day, and the number of images we see each day. Or that I do, at least. Between blogs, yahoo groups, Internet news sources, my hiking lists, the books I’m reading, and—oh—my work, I must read several hundred thousand words a day, at least. And I must write at least half as many, between my job and my own personal writing.



So it’s nice, while Dan is listening to the drone of FOX news or ESPN, while the neighbor dogs are wailing at whatever it is they wail at, to shut the door to the “piano room” at home and sit there with Mozart, or Chopin, or Bach. It’s so refreshing to focus on something outwardly small—to explore, for instance, the intricacy and depth of a single measure of a nocturne. To play something over and over again at an extremely slow pace, knowing that I have to play it that slowly now or it won’t sound right when I play it faster a week from now. There is so much repose and spiritual refreshment in that. And it is sheer ecstasy be able to play a piece well, to be able to listen to the miracle of music as you make it. My ears don't work so well, but I am so thankful for the blessing of being able to experience music.



As for the non-auditory aspect of music, it is its own miracle … don’t get me started on the quiet excitement of exploring the theoretical unfolding of a piano piece. I’ll write more on that later, believe me.



It’s also nice, when at work, to log in to my favorite website, naxos.com, and listen. While writing things like “Click Enter to open the Incident form,” I can listen and marvel at the sheer miracle of Bach’s Mass in B Minor or the comic genius of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. I can stop for a minute, shut my eyes, and lose myself in the music, knowing that I’m in the presence of greatness. In a world where quality seems valued less than quantity, where deadlines seem more important than actually “getting it right,” it’s nice to be reminded that true art is out there, that true artists exist, and that, somehow, I’m not crazy for pursuing my music and wanting to be a part of it all.



Adventures in Technical Writing, Part I

Today I’m writing documentation for a software application that allows public safety personnel to fill out electronic forms. Say you’re a police officer and are giving someone a traffic ticket. You would fill out the ticket electronically using this software. Ultimately, the information you enter gets transferred wirelessly and dumped into a big-daddy records management system application.



That application, in turn, can tell you all kinds of things: if the person who got the ticket was a witness to a crime three years ago, it’ll tell you. If the person who got the ticket is associated with a gang, it’ll tell you. Heck, if the person who got the ticket thinks impure thoughts while watching old “Laverne and Shirley” re-runs, it’ll probably tell you. This system stores a LOT of stuff. I oughta know … I wrote the documentation for it, too. Three hundred and fifty pages, baby!



And who said technical writing is boring?



(Me? Did I say that?)



I’d better go now.

Sheltowee Hikes

Yesterday, Dan picked up a couple of copies of the August edition of Adventure in the Smokies. They’d done a nice article on him and his walk across the U.S. It was quite inspiring, as it always is when you read about someone quitting a corporate desk job to discover this wonderful country on foot. It’s something I always wanted to do, before I ever knew what a corporate desk job was. And now that I have (another) one, I’m ready to go walking.

Here’s how the article describes my husband: “Rogers, a burly, gentle bear of a man with a soft but authoritative voice, a kind face, and a shock of unruly red/brown hair …” It’s all correct, except for the red/brown hair section. His hair is blond, and gets really blond when he’s in the sun all day. I joked that his head is red, ‘cause he has a sweet little bald spot that is always sunburned.

Here’s more from the article:

“Following a four-year stint in the Navy, he took an executive position in 1988 with Colgate-Palmolive, where he spent his days focusing on the finer points of dish soap and deodorant. Then some life changes caused him to re-evaluate his path.

“’I was married, then got divorced, with no kids,’ he says, wistfully. ‘After the divorce, I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail. Prior to that, I had just been a weekend backpacker. I needed to clear my head.’

“So he asked his boss for, and received, a six-month leave and a promotion (which took him to [a] Morristown, New Jersey [factory], upon his return). He was on the trail for almost six months, covering 2,200 miles in all.

“’The greatest thing that I learned was how little we need to be happy,’ he philosophizes. “I realized how little I needed television and how great it is just to laugh.’”

That’s the best thing about my husband. He laughs all the time. We laugh all the time. We are silly willies.

The article goes on to tell about his walk from eastern Ohio south to Natchez, Mississippi, and then west to San Diego and the Pacific Ocean.

The writer of the article, Alissa Wolf, wrote elsewhere, “Rogers, who walked away from a fat-cat corporate position in order to pursue his dream of hiking across America, is someone who thoroughly believes in being true to oneself and one’s dreams. To his way of thinking, then and only then can we truly be free—in our hearts, minds, and spirits.

“One of the reasons why many people refrain from pursuing their dreams, according to Rogers, is because of fear, fear of financial insecurity, fear of being ostracized by society, fear of the unknown, fear of failure (or, conversely, fear of success—a curious paradox).”

And: “During the interview, Rogers pointed out, ‘It takes a lot of guts to cash in a Fortune 500 job and live your life.’ Among the many lessons he took away with him following his long months on the trail was, ‘[You] set your own limits. Never let anyone set your limits for you.’”

Many thanks to Alissa for a nice article!

For anyone who is interested, you can read about Dan’s hike on his Sheltowee Hikes website, or you can help us save money for our next hike by ordering his book, America, One Step at a Time.

By the way, Sheltowee is his "trail name." It is the name that the Shawnee Indians gave to Daniel Boone, and it means "Big Turtle."

He’s the sweetest, silliest, most happy-making husband in the whole wide world. Not that I’m biased or anything.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Welcome me, all ye who care ...

This is the way I always start my notebook. It started with one of my very first notebooks, when I was fourteen or so. I thought it sounded very literary at the time. Now I don't really think anything of it ... but still, it shows up at the beginning of every notebook, so here it is.

Today is Thursday, and I'll be leaving work soon. I'm a technical writer by trade, but what I *really* do is write, hike, and make music.

WRITING: I'm the author of 50 Hikes in Louisiana, as well as lots of un-published stuff (all written in notebooks). I'm hoping to be the author of more published stuff in the future. For now, I'm writing a monthly hiking column for "Adventure in the Smokies" (a publication by The Enterprise Mountaineer), and am working slowly but steadily on a small tome to be titled "Hiking Haywood County."

HIKING: I enjoy hiking and occasionally go on long hikes. I've made many of my friends through the hiking community, which is sort of a subculture in itself. If you're interested, my journals for both my Appalachian Trail and Pinhoti Trail thru-hikes are posted on the Web.

MAKING MUSIC: I am an amateur pianist and composer. I started playing piano when I was 4, but never considered a music career, probably because I have severe hearing loss in both ears. Still, I love music, and it continues to be a big part of my life. Currently, I'm taking piano lessons from an awesome pianist here in Asheville, and hope to put together a recital of my own within the next year or two.

OK, that's all for now. It's 4:40 p.m., and almost time to leave work (it's been a slow day). That's my intro. More tomorrow, I promise.