Thursday, June 30, 2005

Skill and Talent

My birthmom, Sherry, and my half-sister, Rebecca, have been visiting this week. As part of a birthday/sort-of-Mother’s Day present, I bought Sherry a one-hour piano lesson with my piano teacher, Deborah. Sherry has played some piano on and off (mostly off) over the years, but has never studied it seriously with a teacher. I suspect she is like many adults who dabbled in piano as a child, weren’t able to (or didn’t want to) pursue it seriously, and now regret all of the missed years of practicing, learning, and cultivating the art of piano-playing.

Sherry’s a little different, though, I think. Now that she's become involved in a church, and with the children's music program, she's started trying to play again. For most of her life, she has dreamed of studying piano and playing well, but she never had much opportunity for it. So now she's taking advantage of the opportunities she's finding through the church.

Now, my birthmother has a beautiful touch on the piano, an innate sense for playing. She is at a beginner level, but when she plays, I can’t help but think to myself, “If her natural musical ability were nurtured, it would easily break through the barrier to her long-held dreams and grow into something infinitely special.” In other words, she has talent. She lacks skills (for now), but she has talent.

I told her that she's talented (and so did Deborah). I don’t know if Sherry believed either of us. But it’s true. When “talent” came up in the conversation, Sherry said something like, “Yeah, I guess I’m talented enough to read the notes.”

No. You’re smart enough to read the notes. Your ability to read them is a skill. Not a talent. Anyone can learn to read notes, if they work hard enough. Skills are teachable, even though the learning comes more easily to some than to others. For a lucky few, however, accumulation of skills—however long that takes—will nurture an innate talent. Talent can’t be taught. It can be encouraged, nurtured, and guided, but I don’t think it can be taught.

We all have our God-given talents and abilities. I know I have a gift for music—even though my own skills aren’t near where I’d like them to be—and Sherry has the same gift. She somehow passed it down to me, even though we never spoke or even met until 29 years after she gave me up for adoption. I’m so thankful that my family was able to recognize my own love for piano and provide lessons for me from a young age. The ability to play has brought me so much joy over the years.

So I’m hoping Sherry will experience that joy, too—that she’ll continue practicing and growing as a pianist and won’t be discouraged at how difficult the learning stages of playing—or at how those “learning stages” never, ever end. It’s funny how much she and I are alike in some ways. I think we both expect piano to be easy (a sign that she is aware of her own natural abilities). And we both get frustrated that we have to, you know, practice and work hard in order to reach the goal of being “good” at piano. (Imagine that!)

As she continues to work to gain the skills, though, she will find that she’s “good.” Because she has a never-nurtured seed of musical talent that’s just waiting to germinate and grow. I hope my little gift of a piano lesson, and Deborah’s honest encouragement and advice, have helped to nudge my birhtmother further toward the surface, toward a place that—after all this time—she and her talent can truly begin to flourish.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Coupla Things

1. I'm only blogging when I feel like it.

2. Practice pact people, I'm still doing the pact. I apologize for shirking the past week. So please, enter those minutes if you still want to participate!

3. Check out this week's Tarheel Tavern. Mandie did a great job. Lots of nice pictures!

4. I love merlot.

All Dewey'd Out

No, I'm not dewy-eyed. I'm dewey'd out.

Hubster and I have spent the last day and a half Dewey-Decimal-Systematizing our "home library"--all 1,152 of our books. From Austen to Zindel. From computer books (Dewey 000s) to Trail Guides and History (Dewey 900s), and everything in between.

For the first time since I was in grad school, my books are in order: by topic, by genre, by author, by title.

Yes, Hubster rolled his eyes when I said we're going to have a "poetry section" and a "children's-book section" and a "Louisiana collection." But he is a good hubster, and he played along.

(He made the comment, "Good thing we don't have any more books! We don't have room for any more!" And I couldn't bear to tell him I'd pre-ordered Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ...)

Did you know that, when you do a Google search, if you include the term (in quotes) "find in a library" with the book title, you'll be able to find the book in a library--any library in the US? And if, for some obscure reason, you need the Dewey or Library of Congress classification number for the book, you'll find it!

I found the online database of the State Library of Louisiana particularly helpful for my weekend project. Perhaps 'tis vanity, but I couldn't help but look up my book, 50 Hikes in Louisiana. My book's special code is La 796.5109763 Bax 2003.

I have so many good books. And I bought so many of them at the great bookstores you could once find in Baton Rouge: Elliott's Book Store, Caliban's Used Books, and Cottonwood. Thanks to Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million, Elliott's and Caliban's are long gone. Cottonwood is still there, and I miss it.

With all this classifyin' and organizin', I guess I haven't been in a "P(erceiving)" mood tonight (that's MBTI talk). I really want to get on Excel, onto my book database, and make charts showing the percentages of all the types of books I own.

Jeanette in California, you are a "J." Does this kind of thing appeal to you? All this classifyin' and organizin'?

My waitstaff job at Café Teria starts at 6:30 tomorrow morning. I'd better get to sleep. Library charts will have to wait till later.

Hope everyone had a good weekend! I sure did!

Friday, June 24, 2005

A Few Notes on Writing

1) TNP: I'm on page 124 of the novel I am writing. This morning after work at Café Teria, I went to my office (the local coffee shop ... one of 'em) and wrote for a couple of hours. Spent the first half-hour charting the course of the next fifty or so pages. When I finally got to the end of that, I found myself writing, "End of Part 1." According to my calculations, this draft will be between 400 and 500 pages, handwritten. The second draft will be much shorter, tighter, and better, but I'm not worrying about that right now.

2) Teaching: One of my Café Teria co-workers is a student at the school where I'll be teaching in the fall. He's giving me the scoop on what things are like there, from a student's viewpoint. I find it fascinating. Nice kid, too.

3) Website: I recently stumbled upon an interesting and very helpful site--both for me as a writer, and for me as a writing teacher. Poynter Online has an article on 50 Writing Tools, written by Roy Peter Clark. Most of the "tools" are pretty basic for an experienced writer, but I think they'll be great tips to pass on to my students. They include using strong verbs, seeking original images, showing instead of telling, and tuning your voice.

My favorite piece of writing advice? "Avoid clichés like the plague." Har har har!

Tired of Blogging

There will be no posts here for the next few days, folks. I'm tired of blogging. Tired of going on and on and on about me, me, me. Even I get bored with it. Plus, ever since I got out of Cubicle Land, my real notebook (the wire-bound, three-subject thing) has served the purpose for which I originally founded the "sort of notebook"--a receptacle for all the thoughts in my brain that were teeming and threatening to make my head explode.

Now that I'm writing in my real notebook again, writing in the "sort of notebook" every day just seems like a chore. It's been hard to blog ever since I left Cubicle Land. The blog served a purpose there. It doesn't here.

I'm thinking of whether I might want to change the focus of this blog. Cut back on the chatty, let-me-tell-you-all-about-my-exciting-life posts. Give you more on composers and poets and artists.

Or get rid of it. When I was in Cubicle Land, I was tied to the computer for 8+ hours a day. Now I'm on for an hour a day, and less if I can help it. I'd rather look up stuff and read (and comment on) other blogs than write some blah post about my day.

Something to think about. Hope everyone has a good weekend.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Giggles and Goodbyes

[Oops ... I opened this post up to fix a couple of typos, then saved it as a draft and forgot to re-load it. Thanks to Jonathan for pointing that out! And Jonathan ... I take the grandma thing as a compliment. Grandmothers are supposed to be mature and wise, right? Plus, I make some mean cookies! :) ]

Today was a day of giggles and goodbyes at Café Teria. It was the end of a session, the end of an era in the lives of certain older children and teenagers. They're all going home today, back to Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, and Kentucky. For me, it's the end of a week of faces that have become familiar as they've passed through the doors of Café Teria; for these kids, the door is closing on what will become another memory of the summer of '05.

I knew today was the end of the camp/retreat session, but I hadn't really thought about it until I saw the kids posing with our wait staff, snapping pictures with digital cameras and cell-phones. Long-haired 14- and 15-year olds girls, dressed in their hip-hugging jeans and cap-sleeve t-shirts, snuggled up to Trey and Luke, some blushing, some teary-eyed, all grinning.

I have to smile to myself. Trey and Luke are good kids, but they're just ... kids. Teenage boys who entertain themselves endlessly by jumping as high as they can, to see if they can touch the ceiling. But now I see them in a different light: they're the older guys, high-school guys, with their deep voices, hint of beard stubble, jobs, and driver's licenses. Guys who work at camp. Guys that these blushing, giggling girls will probably never see again.

These boys have been flirting unabashedly with the girls all week. Each day, I smile to see the girls crowded around Trey and Luke's station, where the boys, wearing aprons over their regulation Café Teria shirts, collect trays, throw the trash into one garbage can, dump leftover food in the slop garbage can, and set the trays and dishes in the window for washing. I try to imagine this as a sexy activity, a grown-up activity.

I can't, at first. Then a little part of me remembers what it was like to be thirteen at the Acadian Baptist Center Camp in Eunice, Louisiana. A part of me remembers how I'd go blank and speechless when certain of the male counselors would talk to me, most of them students at Louisiana College, asking me such innocent questions as, "So, do you play piano for your youth choir?"

I'd blush and fidget and nod so imperceptibly that they'd repeat the question, not knowing I'd "answered."

And then there was Ted, the counselor with the Rob-Lowe eyes at summer camp when I was 14. On the last day of camp, amidst the crying and hugging and singing of "Friends are Friends Forever," I shyly asked Ted if I could take a picture with him. He smiled and said, "Sure!" My friend Amy took the picture, in which Ted put his arm around me and pulled me close and we both smiled. I was speechless for the next hour, except for the word, "Ohmygodtedjustputhisarmaroundme!!"

Of course, the next conquests were pictures of Amy with Chris, and then of Nancy with Chris. Chris, one of the younger counselors, was all grins as he took pictures with both girls, snuggling up to each for their photo. Once he was out of earshot, we all hugged and jumped up and down, we were so happy at that unexpected closeness, captured forever by our Kodak Disc cameras. At the same time, we were tearful and dejected because we knew we'd probably never see Chris again.

Ah, the emotional life of 14-year-olds ...

And then I remember being eighteen, being the same age as Trey and Luke (and Ted and Chris), feeling old, mature, and experienced in life, yet still feeling that hopeful thrill of having my whole life ahead of me.

It was a good place to be, mostly. Not all of the memories of that time are pleasant, but they are what they are. And it's kind of cool watching Trey and Luke, who are still kids but are well on their way to adulthood. I wonder what's next for them, and I'm excited for them. I hope they stay "good" and don't grow up too fast.

Meanwhile, they're not thinking about all of that, I'm sure. The future isn't going to start for awhile, as far as they're concerned. They're probably just wondering what next week's crop of girls will be like.

I guess I'll find out Monday!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Thirsty's Blog: Sojourner

Remember my blogsitter, Brad Williams, a.k.a. Thirsty Soul? Well, he's started a blog of his very own. He only has two entries so far, but he invites everyone--particularly those of you who read theological and Christian-focused blogs--to visit him at Sojourner. His first entry, Let the Sojourn Begin, is about his reasons for starting a blog.

Welcome to the world of blogging, Thirsty Sojourner!

Café Teria

Western North Carolina is chock-full of camps, retreats, and group-vacation facilities. Which means we have lots of mess halls and cafeterias in our region. My new job is a part-timer at one of these many cafeterias.

But it doesn't sound cool to say, "I work at a cafeteria." So we're going to call it Café Teria. Now doesn't that sound better?

I am the third-oldest employee at Café Teria. The oldest is Alice, who works at the café in the mornings and works elsewhere at night. And then she has a different job on weekends. Next is Francis, the manager. Then me.

After me, everyone is young. Baby-young. Not-yet-out-of-high-school young. For the first time in many, many years, I participated in a conversation about the unfairness of curfews.

My contribution to the discussion? "When you're my age, you don't have a curfew anymore, but it doesn't matter, since you can't stay up past 10:00 anyway."

Heh! heh! I am such a card!

I actually think this is going to be a good experience. My co-workers are the same age as most of the students I will be teaching in the fall. I haven't been around teenagers much since ... well, since I was a teenager.

Did you know that teenagers are still listening to "Play That Funky Music, White Boy"? After all these years? When I was a little kid, the older kids listened to it on the bus. When I was a teenager, my classmates listened to it at lunch. Now that I'm in my 30s, my high-school summer-job co-workers are listening to it, movin' in time to the beat baby while we mop the floors and wipe the tables oh yeah.

Does that make it a Café Teria classic?

**************************************************
Play that funky music white boy
Play that funky music riiight
Play that funky music white boy
Lay down that boogie and
play that funky music till you die!

**************************************************

Work's over for the day. I think I'll go play some Bach now. That was one white (-wigged) boy who knew how to play some music.


J.S. Bach: He played it riiight.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

In & Out

I had to get a job. This is why my blogging has slowed so significantly (that, and I ran out of pictures from the AT hike).

I'll blog more about the job later. It's not as exciting as the Corn Pone, but I did write a nice draft of an essay this morning on a napkin. It's about the taste of cafeteria toast.

OK, well, it seemed like an interesting topic at the time.

I hope everyone is having a happy first-day-of-summer afternoon. I'm off to steal a few hours of novel-writing before the poetry group meets. Later, y'all!

Monday, June 20, 2005

Blowfish Kitty Cat



I haven't posted any cat pictures in while, so I figured it was about time ... Hideaway really isn't this round. Her tail is wrapped around her (on the left), making her appear more voluptuous.

Five Years Have Passed ...

(Written June 24, 2000)

What a hike this has been so far! I woke up early the morning of June 20 at Katahdin Stream Campground, and was soon approached by a man who asked me if I was a thru-hiker (it must have been the one-woman tent that gave me away).

"I will be, just as soon as I climb that mountain!" I replied. He then introduced himself as George, and invited me over to his campsite to meet his son, Greg, who was also a thru-hiker. I also met their friend, Lucy.

To make a long story short, I commenced my long-awaited thru-hike with them. We had a Class 1 day for climbing Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and the starting point for AT (Appalachian Trail) southbounders. The name"Katahdin" is Abenaki Indian for "greatest mountain." It is aptly named. Climbing that mountain was the hardest "hiking" I think I've ever done. It was much harder than Louisiana's "greatest mountain," the 535-foot Driskill!

Katahdin was such a challenge for me, both physically and mentally. Up, up, up it went, and it wasn't your typical uphill walk in the woods. There was no real trail for much of it, just boulders with white blazes painted on them, and a few cairns (small piles of rocks) to mark the path. Much of the trail was a real rock scramble, which was actually fun at times. It would have been much easier, though, if I had been taller. Sometimes I'd step out toward a rock, and my leg would just dangle —not long enough! Greg had to help me up and down the rocks a few times.

I used every part of my body —my legs, my arms, my shoulders, my butt —to creep and crawl my way up that mountain. I spent much of the day gorilla-style, walking on my hands and feet.

The last stretch seemed to take forever, because we could see the Katahdin sign at the summit. I wanted to hurry, but my heart was pounding and I kept having to stop and rest. I kept wanting to yell ahead to Greg,"Are we THERE yet?!"

What a feeling when I got to that sign! The"approach trail" had kicked my flatlander butt, but I was still walking, and I reached the sign. Now, I thought, I am a thru-hiker. No longer a dreamer. I've been a dreamer for 10 years. Now I'm the real thing. Lucy took my picture, and I know I had a huge smile on my face. It was a beautiful day —there were a few clouds, but the sky was so blue, and you could see for miles.


First Day on the Trail, June 20, 2000

The trip down Katahdin was even more arduous than the trip up. I had to concentrate on every step so that I wouldn't slip. At one point, while I was precariously balanced on a rock, a sudden gust of wind nearly knocked me over. Good thing my mom wasn't there to see that!

Six other southbounders started that day. Greg is making big miles through Maine, but the other six of us —Hypothetical, Looking Glass, Apollo, Man in the Moon, Cool Hand Luke, and me —have more or less stuck together these first few days.

There are many southbound thru-hikers in the 100-mile wilderness right now. I didn't expect to see so many, but it's nice to have some company (other than the bugs!) in the shelters at night. Most of the thru-hikers have partners. I'm enjoying being a "solo hiker." So far, I haven't met any other women who are solo hiking the trail.

Most of the southbounders out here are young, between the ages of 18 and 22. I feel like the old woman in the group at 30! There are some older section hikers out here, too, but for the most part everyone is younger. Practically all of the thru-hikers are relatively experienced backpackers, too.

Tonight I'm at the White House Landing Wilderness Camp, located on Pemadumcook Lake. The owners, Bill and Linda Ware, have been great, and the food is delicious. Too bad I haven't developed the famous "hiker appetite" yet!

Tomorrow I'll hit the trail bright and early, and I hope to make it to Monson by July 1.

For more on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike (Maine to Georgia) of 2000, visit my Trailjournals pages.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Dulcimer Blogger

One of the cool things about blogging, and about reading and commenting on others' blogs, is that you get to discover new blogs in roundabout ways.

For instance, Joe Missionary recently linked my blog, and someone named Marcy found my blog through his site. So she visited my site and commented. So I visited her site, The Irksome Girl. And her site had a link to her Hammer Dulcimer page. And her Hammer Dulcimer page has midi & mp3 files of her dulcimer music, including Marcy's original compositions.

So what does this mean? It means I've found yet another blogging musician with a thoughful blog, and that I've spent the last few minutes listening to some really nice dulcimer music.

Happy Dad's Day to my Mr. Hugh



I don't think my beloved dad is going to have a chance to read this until he gets back from his vacation of a lifetime (Wimbledon). Whenever you happen to read this, Mr. Hugh, I hope you had a wonderful, happy Father's Day. I love you!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Mush Brain, Part II

Today I wrote 11 pages and got to page 108 of TNP. The old brain is getting mushier and mushier. Blanker and blanker. Less and less "dressed for company." So many shadows of deep thoughts are racing past, too fast for me to catch hold of them. They're just there, flying past, and I catch them on the afterthought. I wonder if I'll ever be able to explore--much less articulate--any of them through all this mush.

The whole world of thought seems so overwhelming and all of language just seems like a jumble of so many pale, insignificant, tired cliches. I just want to make up new words that communicate the real meaning of things because the everyday words we use simply seem too stale, too weak for it.

Usually when this happens, I hate it. I get depressed, I get frustrated, I stop writing, and I run for cover in some safe, seemingly innocuous, temperature-controlled Cubicle-Land-type shelter.

I will not do that this time.

Intellectuelle

I spent yesterday evening reading over the Intellectuelle contest entries over at Marla Swoffer's blog. There were a lot of thought-provoking short essays, but a few really stood out for me. As one of the judging panel members, I have the honor of helping to choose which ladies will participate in the team blog to be known as Intellectuelle.

I encourage everyone to check out the many essays that have been entered in the contest. Marla also invites all readers to vote for their favorites.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Mush Brain

My brain is mush. Sorry, folks. Nothing witty or interesting to read at "A Sort of Notebook" today. I'm so much on my TNP plane that I'm having trouble with non-TNP stuff. Like at the coffee shop, I put sugar into my water and stirred it (instead of putting it into my coffee, which was the original plan). And then I nearly popped because I had to pee so badly, but I kept thinking, "I'll go after the next paragraph. I'll go after the next paragraph." And then, "I'll go after the next paragraph."

I'm on page 97 of this "writing exercise" of a novel I'm calling TNP. It's full of cliches and anachronisms so far, but that's OK. Those are fixable. The story is happening, and that's what amazes me. I'm just sort of watching it happen: watching my hand move the pen over the pages, watching the ink spill out of the pen into words, sentences, and paragraphs. Watching the characters interact with each other, converse with each other, get themselves into pickles, try to muddle their way out. Watching them grow in ways I hadn't originally expected. Reading the story as it happens with a sort of amused curiosity. Wondering just what will happen next, and then being pleasantly surprised when the thing that happens next is interesting, exciting, or thought-provoking.

Yep. I am definitely getting into the novel-writing zone. No question about that.

I'm just not sure how to get out of that zone when the morning writing session ends, though. Hmm. Something to ponder. After the next paragraph.

Have a good weekend, all! If I'm not blogging much, it's because of my mush brain.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Watching the River Flow



This was the last picture we took on our hike. It was our last day of the trip, as we hiked down into the town of Hot Springs, North Carolina. Hubster is looking down at the French Broad River. Yes, his calves really are that huge. The man was born to hike.

Sheltowee among Mountain Laurel



Here is the man of my dreams posing in the flowers. My Hubster, the Boy-Scout mountain-man flower-child teddy bear of a guy. What more could a hiker babe want?

Up Close



Hubster and I took a break from sunset-watching to experiment with the super-zoom feature of our new digital camera. Most of the pictures came out blurry or off-center, but we liked this one of a fern.

Wandering Aimlessly

I must admit, I haven't been on the computer nearly as much since I left Cubicle Land. I don't miss the wrist pain, the stiff thumb, the backaches, or the eyestrain at all, but I do miss having all the time in the world to visit other blogs. I love reading blogs, but my current life schedule doesn't leave a lot of time for internet-surfing.

Last night I made time. It was great fun catching up on what everyone else has been doing and thinking about. Here are a few, just a few, of the highlights I found.

I read at Terry Teachout's blog about Rifftides, a new Arts Journal jazz blog written by jazz writer and journalist Doug Ramsey. It's getting added to Le Blogroll here at A Sort of Notebook. (Speaking of Terry Teachout, I saw someone reading one of his WSJ theater reviews the other day. I had to stop myself from blurting out, "That's my friend! You're reading something my friend wrote!" Ah, the blogosphere really does make perceived "friends" of us all, doesn't it.)

Catez at AllThings2All is a friend--it doesn't matter that I've never met her in person, or that she lives all the way across the world in New Zealand. She cracked me up with these signs on her blog.

Julie Anne Fidler's book, Adventures in Holy Matrimony, has been out for a week and is available for ordering. Congrats to Julie Anne from one just-published writer to another!

All kinds of interesting thoughts and discussions have been flying around Marla Swoffer's blog lately, and I've missed the whole thing. I've planned to set aside a few hours this weekend, just for reading her blog. It's been that good lately, from what I've been able to tell from the few quick visits I've made this week.

Outer Life continues to be among my favorite blogs ever, even when he tries to be breezy and chatty like the rest of us. I actually thought about Outer Life while on the trail. I actually wondered how our Outer Life guy was doing.

Does this mean I need a life? Because I hike in the woods for two weeks and simulteneously miss reading stuff by a blogger who is stuck in an unfulfilling corporate job? Hmm ...

Stephanie writes about why kids don't like vegetables. I wonder, could she explain why I didn't like veggies until I was eighteen? (Actually, the answer is probably "stubbornness.") I probably would never have tried them if I hadn't been on Weight Watchers, which of course requires that you eat a certain amount of vegetables daily. I really get tickled now at the meals I make for Hubster and me. Rarely do I make anything I would have touched as a 13-year-old.

Here's one I've been meaning to post for a couple of weeks, but have been gravely remiss in doing so: Paula of Listen In posted her own "Where I'm From" poem while I was on the trail. It's quite good, and humorous, too. I just love her line, "I am from a Bible Mama plum wore out."

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Delightful New Blog

My beautiful friend Amy Powers is now officially a blogger. Amy was my college roommate, was a bridesmaid in my wedding, and is my best friend in the whole world. She has a pretty blog, too. Some of her posts so far are more personal, and some are related to her company, Inspire Company. The blog is called inspireco. Stop by and visit her sometime!

This Writing Life

I am really loving this writing life. (Am I allowed to call it a "writing life," since I'm not being paid to be a writer? I wonder.)

I'm trying to make the most of it. Who knows, once school begins in August, I may find myself with precious little time for my own writing. So here's what I'm doing every day:

8:00 a.m. (or so) to 12 p.m. (or so): Fiction. This is when I primarily work on my novel ("TNP") or one of several other much-smaller projects. I start out with journal stuff, you know, clearing out my head. This takes about a half-hour. Then I get to real work. I started out writing only three or four pages of "TNP" a day, but now I've worked my way up to more. In fact, today I wrote eleven pages. I finally quit because my hand was aching from all the writing. I have written 83 pages so far.

12 p.m. (or so) to 1 p.m. (or so): Break. Lunch, phone calls, errands.

1 p.m. (or so) to 3 p.m. (or so): Non-fiction. This has been an iffy period of the day. It's usually the period in which my brain shuts down, so the non-fiction sessios haven't gone as smoothly as the morning fiction sessions. Frustrating, because the non-fiction would have a much greater chance of getting published, and much of what I'm working on is 90% finished and ready to be sent out. I guess part of me is scared to send things. Also, my "P(rocrasinating)" personality really comes through here. (See, right now I'm supposed to be working on an essay I started last week, but I'm blogging on a mundane subject instead.)

3:15 p.m. (or so) to 4:45 p.m. (or so): Work out. Exercise. Get myself back into shape.

5 p.m. (or so) to 7 p.m. (or so): Hubster time. Hub gets home from work about then, so I make dinner and we eat dinner and talk and snuggle and just sort of unwind. (Not that I have that much unwinding to do ... but he does!)

7:30 p.m. (or so) to 9 p.m. (or so): Practice piano.

9 p.m. (or so) to 10:30 p.m. (or so): Combination Hubster/reading time.

So, as for my self-styled "writing career," I'm working about six hours a day. I was in Cubicle Land for eight hours a day, but if you consider the coffee breaks, chat breaks, blog breaks, lunch breaks, etc., that I took, I'm probably working just as much now as I was then. Only I'm working a lot harder now. And I'm enjoying it a lot more.

View from Rich Mountain Fire Tower



Hubster, a.k.a. Sheltowee, and I spent our last night of the hike atop Rich Mountain. This is the view from the fire tower up there. We'd wanted to "camp" in the tower, but it was locked.

Four Stages of a Rhododendron



Most of the rhododendrons we saw (we saw a lot!) were either just beginning to bloom or not yet in bloom. At the lower elevations, however, some were in full bloom. This picture, which shows four stages of this beautiful flower (from left to right), was taken on the way down a mountain.

Meet Murphy



Isis, Jackrabbit, and I have a name for the dark cloud that seems to follow me everywhere when I hike: Murphy (named for Murphy's Law). Murphy is actually a weather poltergeist who likes to drop rainstorms on unsuspecting hikers. He had a crush on me and was always trying to impress me with his terrible thunderstorms. I was not amused.

Murphy hovered around me on much of the hike, but rarely did he "do his thing." I had mostly sunny skies for the entire two weeks. In this picture, I'm pointing to Murphy--my constant hiking companion.

Hubster Hiker



This is my beloved Hubster (trail name "Sheltowee") as we climbed the long, steep trek south out of Erwin, TN.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Befriending B Minor

Do you ever think you like someone, or even love them ... but then you realize that you really don't know them at all?

This is what's happening with me and the key of B Minor.

I thought I loved B Minor. It's one of my favorite scales to play, as long as I'm not doing contrary motion scales. It goes up and down from white note to black note and back ... like a little roller coaster. At the same time, it has a deliciously spooky feel to it. Playing the scale softly feels a little like tiptoeing. Tipfingering, I guess.

Bach's Mass in B Minor is in, well, B Minor. When I was a working girl in Cubicle Land, I had a ritual. Every morning--every single morning--I would listen to the Mass in B Minor. If I only had time for a few minutes of it, I'd listen to the Kyrie or the Hosanna. If I had all morning, I'd listen to the whole thing. It is the most glorious music ever, ideal for transporting a bored, depressed Cubicle Dweller mentally into realms unimagined.

No, I'm not just using pretty words. It really did transport me ... somewhere. No wonder I was depressed. Whenever the Mass in B Minor was over, I would land flat on my ever-widening butt, back in my office chair and into my controlled-airflow home of Cubicle Land. Sheesh.

So. Back to B Minor. So I thought I loved B Minor. And I do. B Minor loves me, too, I think. But B Minor and I are just beginning to realize that we don't know each other as well as we thought.

See, I'm working on Bach's Sinfonia No. 15 in B Minor. It's a fast, playful piece for three voices. B Minor, like its relative major D, has two sharps: F# and C#. The harmonic minor has A# as well, which is typically used when you're resolving a cadence up to B.

Enough technical talk. Suffice it to say that there are three sharps that can be expected to show up in this B Minor piece: F#, C#, and sometimes A#.

So why do I keep playing G#? Every freakin' time I get to a G, I play G#. It's as if I'm trying to force the piece to be in another key.

This is not unusual behavior for me. Something in my brain always wants to add an extra sharp or flat. This is why I love pieces that have lots of sharps or flats. That way, I don't have to think of which notes are sharped or flatted. I just play black keys and it all sounds right.

So, I'm at my piano lesson today, and I'm playing the B Minor Sinfonia, hands separately. I periodically insert that unmistakable Waterfall signature: G#.

Of course, G# sounds awful, sounds wrong, is wrong. Like a typical piano student, I make a grunting noise and say, "I know that's not the right note." Uh-huh. Then I get to the next G a measure--or a few notes--later, and what do I play?

G#.

Hmph.

So today Deborah told me that I'm not thinking of this piece as being in B Minor, that I'm just reading the key signature and following the rules from there.

Hmph. There is a difference. It's the difference between just reading what's there, and understanding the context of what you're reading.

When I start a piece, say it's in B Minor, I do think to myself, "Hmm. B Minor. OK." Then that gets tossed out of the window. From the very first note to the end, I never think anything like, "Whee, this is fun! I'm in B Minor!" I just think, "Hm, remember to play a coupla sharps, F# and C# and ..." You guessed it: whatever other sharps I want to play. (Of course, I eventually get to where I play it right ... but for this same reason, I'm not a particularly good sight reader for pieces that only have a couple of sharps or flats.)

This is dumb, and it is silly. If I were a better pianist, it would be embarrassing. Perhaps it would be embarrassing if I had any sense of pianistic dignity. I just need to learn to lock the idea of "B Minor" in my mind--picturing the scale in my head or something--before I start practicing that B Minor piece.

So tonight, B Minor and I are going on a date. I'm going to focus on the B Minor Sinfonia for a large part of my practice time. I'm going to explore the scale itself and work on the contrary motion scale for same. Then (this will be very, very tough and will require lots of self-discipline) I will force myself--force myself, I say!--to listen to Bach's Mass in B Minor. At least once. For good measure.

[If any of you musically literate folks out there have a favorite musical work that is in B Minor, feel free to recommend it.]

Nice Day for Hiking



We had a great hike along a rocky ridge south of Erwin, TN. At times it would get really cloudy--dark clouds--but then they would blow over to be replaced by white puffy clouds. There was a light breeze on the ridge, which kept things cool and pleasant.

Clouds, Sky, and Sunshine



The Hubster loves taking pictures of clouds. We were taking a break at a summit somewhere in Tennessee when the clouds started to move in. It never rained, and the clouds made for some interesting photos.

Irises



Irises are without doubt my favorite flower. We saw this little patch of dwarf crested irises during Week 2 of the hike.

Lady Slipper



Next to the trillium, the lady slippers were probably the flower we saw most frequently. They were all over the place, but I was still thrilled every time we encountered one.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Uh-Oh



Are you new here? For more information on the practicing pact, read this post.

Y'all, we can do better than this.

I know I can do better than this. I'm off for the summer, have loads of free time, and only managed to get a measly 100 minutes in. Oh well, every little bit counts.

Hilda had the most minutes for this week at 190 ... and all that when she was busy celebrating wedding and oboe anniversaries all week! (Happy Anniversaries!).

Pei Yun, who seems to be feeling a bit better than she was last week, had 105 minutes logged on the double bass, and I came in "third" with my 100.

This week, I'm also awarding the Serenity in Practicing Award to sparrow for her uplifting post, quiet and learning. (Heh ... betcha didn't know I had a Serenity in Practicing Award up my sleeve!)

I, for one, am going to try to practicing more this next week. I'll admit it, I was lazy.

I also want to welcome Kim and dulciana back to the pact ... we've missed y'all!

Log all practice minutes in the comments to this post.

Forest of Trillium



The large-flowered trillium were in full bloom on the Appalachian Trail. I had many, many sights like this one on the 180-mile stretch from Damascus to Hot Springs.

Scary Wabbit!



This rabbit didn't really have red eyes. We encountered it on the way down Unaka Mountain. Hubster got a couple of pictures, and we expected it to run from us any second. But it kept coming closer until it was just a couple of feet away. We got what would have been some great pictures of what looks like a red-eyed bunny.

Top of Unaka



Hubster snapped this picture of me as we headed over the top of Unaka Mountain, which is covered with a forest of spruce. It smelled like Maine. It was a tough climb up, but worth the effort. I wish we'd carried water up; it would have been a great spot to camp that night.

Southern Appalachians



After Isis headed back to Maine, the Hubster joined me for Week 2 of the hike. In this picture, his Leki (hiking) poles are posing in front of a grand view of the southern Appalachians.

Tagged Again!

Lora has tagged me for the latest book meme that's been floating around the blogosphere. So here goes ...

Total books owned, ever: Thousands. I guess. It's gotta be well into the thousands. I have a real addiction to book-buying. I actually stay away from bookstores unless the bills are all paid and I actually have $100 or so that I'm willing to part with. Combined, the Hubster and I probably have 1,000 or more books crammed into our little house.

Last book(s) I bought: Let's see, I guess it was Why I Wake Early, a book of poems by Mary Oliver. I bought it with a gift certificate that my former co-workers kindly gave me as a going-away present.

Last book I read: The last book I completed was That Hideous Strength the final book of C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy. It took a very long time to read, and I found the first half to be very slow, so slow that I considered putting it down. I did finish it, though, and it got a lot better in the second half. I wonder if I'd find it more interesting if I'd had more time to read it ... five or ten minutes a night for a month (plus a two-week sabbatical from reading) do not make for idea novel-reading conditions.

I'm currently reading Conversations with Walker Percy and am enjoying it immensely.

Five books that mean a lot to me: Lots of books mean a lot to me. I hardly know where to start. Note: I started out trying to explain why each book is important to me, but the explanations started turning into books themselves ... so I'm giving you the abridged version. And just writing the first mean-a-lot-to-me books that come to mind.

1. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig: I haven't read this one in several years, but it is one book that really made me think. I love books that make me think. It stretched my mind all different ways.

2. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy--It's known as the greatest novel ever written, but I don't know many people who have actually read it. So I feel like War and Peace is my little secret. Shh ... don't tell anyone ... it really is the greatest novel ever written. I read it every few years and am always sad when it finally comes to an end.

3. The Lord of the Rings trilogy--This is another one (three) that I read every few years. The whole story renews me somehow.

4. Arty the Smarty--It's a children's book about a fish named Arty. Whenever his school of fish swims one way, Arty swims the other. It gets him in big trouble, but I didn't care. Arty was my first-ever hero. And probably my first-ever favorite book.

5. "Self-Reliance"--This isn't a book. It's an essay. But it was in a book, so does that count? I first read it in the tenth grade (it was in our American Lit textbook), and it changed my life.

OK, now I need to tag five people. Hmm. I have a bad habit of tagging people who have already been tagged. So ... I'll take a shot in the dark here: sparrow, blogsitter Thirsty (once his new blog is up and running), Rev. Mommy , violet, and Mrs. Pure Luck. If you don't want to do this, please let me know and I'll tag someone else!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Tar Heel Tavern #16

Tarheel Tavern

Well folks, it’s time, once again, for the Tar Heel Tavern, a carnival of North Carolina bloggers. Summer is nearly upon us, and a lot of us have been spending as much time as we can outdoors. So, have a seat and order a brew while we share pictures, poetry, stories, information and thoughts on getting “Back to Nature” here in the Old North State.

Pictures and Poetry

In one corner of the Tavern, a group of bloggers are sharing pictures and looking at scrapbooks of their latest back-to-nature forays.

Mandie of It's a Pixelated Life shares a picture of Brookberry Farm, where construction is coming along nicely. She explains that "the color sticks in the background are part of the construction, but this is one of a very few scenes that can now be photographed without including equipment and red mud."

Waterfall of A Sort of Notebook recently took a two-week hike on the TN/NC section of the Appalachian Trail and is showing her photo album to anyone who's willing to look at it. Each picture is a different link; find the whole slew of 'em (with captions, every one) by going to Waterfall's June '05 archives and scrolling to your heart's content.

We stop looking at pictures for a few minutes; wouldn't you know, it's open-mic night at the Tavern. A North Carolina poet and blogger, Erin of Poetic Acceptance, is first up and reads her beautiful poem, "Sacrifice." She begins:

I sit inside, safe from the rain,
a spectator contemplating a specter.

Outside, cup-palmed and graceful,
the calla lily rises through thunder,
stands head-high, as payment
to this storm. ...


Once her poem is over, we warmly welcome Erin to join the Tavern regulars. Another newcomer joins our little huddle at the same time; Rob, of The Blog and Nothing but the Blog, introduces himself as a web designer, writer, and family man, and he quietly shares his thoughts On Being Dad with the Tavern crew.

Next up on the poetry podium is Screwy Hoolie of Scrutiny Hooligans, who, in "Freedom Rhetoric Facts Defend Life," performs a poetic regurgitation of blurby buzzwords from the everyday news. I don't know if he originally meant it as a poem, but if you read it aloud, it sounds like some of what I've heard at poetry slams. I'll give it a 7.

Soon, the poetry is over and we're back to picture-sharing. Jude of Iddybud has toted along her "Back to Nature" photo album, which she organized specially for this week's Tavern. Her photo locations range from Arizona to the Adirondacks and New England.

Wildlife-Watching

Everyone loves to tell--or hear--outdoor-adventure tales, like the one about "that time I saw wrestled a bear in the woods," and such. We Taverners are no exception when it comes to good stories about wildlife encounters.

For example, Melinama, blogging from Pratie Place, has been outdoors researching the wonders of squirrel-fishing. After a few drinks, she's told us some tall tales for us about her latest squirrel-fishing trip ("You shoulda seen the one that got away!" etc.). Yeah, we believe her.

So then she launches into a story about her latest tick research and tells us about "questing," a behavior by which ticks "crawl up the stems of grass or perch on the edges of leaves on the ground in a typical posture with the front legs extended, especially in response to a host passing by."

We're feeling pretty good at the Tavern tonight, so Melinama teaches us how to quest. OK, everybody, one, two, three ... wait ... that guy across the bar is winking at me ... these aren't mating signals, are they?

Melinama has some fascinating tidbits about tick-questing, but I can't help but wonder: Are hiker-loving ticks on a never-ending Quest for the Holy Trail?

For his latest back-to-nature outing, Ogre at Ogre's Politics and Views took a trip to the zoo. In "Zoo Kids," he's reminded of the Bad Example family. He provides some pretty humorous pictures, too.

As we discuss the entertaining antics of zoo animals, Billy the Blogging Poet ponders, in "Let's Talk to the Animals," what animals would say if they could really talk to us. He has us in stitches with his animal impersonations.

Always the nonconformist, David of A Little Urbanity turns the "Back to Nature" theme on its head. He goes inward and backward, away from outdoor wildlife to human life: the human zygote. In “I, Zygote,” he asks, "When did I start being me? And when did you start being you?" What follows is a thought-provoking essay (and discussion) on the ethics of embryonic stem cell research, the development of the conceived human fetus into a distinctive human being, and the rights of the human embryo.

The Environment

Laurie of ...slowly she turned took her latest outdoor adventure to the Greensboro Farmer's Curb Market, where she had her "first experience with buying [free-range] poultry directly from a local farmer (W & C Peterson Farms of Sophia, NC). In “sunday chicken teriyaki style," she shares a delicious-looking photo of the stuffed, marinated chicken dish she concocted, and shares the recipe ... but Laurie, please, next time you make something this yummy, invite your Tavern friends, OK? :-)

Once we've wiped off our drool and Laurie's put her picture away, Ron of 2sides2ron shares the sad story in "Clear-cutting Our Landscapes" of how the clearing of the hill behind his Triangle-area home has begun, and how and the impact on nature is already evident. Says he, "The afternoon of the clearing of a good eight to ten acres of their habitat, I saw a herd of deer standing in the street in front of my home at four in the afternoon. They were already having difficulty finding food among the few trees on that land behind my home..."

When Lockjaw of Lockjaw's Lair hears us discussing "clear-cuts," he joins the conversation and steers it toward the topic of paper-recycling. His opinion? For all of our well-meaning efforts to be environmentally responsible, paper-recycling ain't all that. In "Paper Recycling, Bad for your Butt AND the World," Lockjaw gives us a humorous and informative look at why he believes paper-recycling isn't as good for the environment as we're taught to believe.

Saddened by Ron's clearcutting story, and the way that urban sprawl is eating away at our woods, Lenslinger of Viewfinder Blues shared a story of his own, about the shutting down of Blumenthal's--an "old-school trading post" in the Piedmont. While the store isn't technically shutting down--only moving to a new, less remarkable location--Lenslinger laments in "Everything Must Go" that what's being left behind is "the empty husk of a dying downtown landmark."

Outdoor Sports

Tim of Tuba City has been spending a lot of time at the track lately, preparing to participate in the Race for The Cure on June 11. In "The Four-Minute Mile," Tim takes a jog out to Oxford's Iffley Road track, where, on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister was the first person in the world to run a mile in less than 4 minutes (3 minutes, 59.4 seconds, to be exact).

Phin of phin’s blog, meanwhile, has been in the stands, watching a sport for which he's gained increasing admiration over the years: women's fast-pitch softball. In “Softball Blogging, sort of," he tells of his wife and her two sisters, and of how their involvement in sports has opened him up to the wonderful world of women's athletics. Following a brief but touching tribute to these three remarkable women, he says, "If you're even the slightest bit of a sports fan and haven't been following women's sports, I would urge you to attend a couple of games. I'd be willing to bet you'll find the experience almost as rewarding as I have, not quite, but almost."

The girls within earshot, myself among them, nod vehemently in agreement!

Suddenly we're all distracted a collective yell from the bar, where a massive crowd has settled in front of the television to watch the 2005 Quidditch U.S. Open tournament. Apparently, someone’s been injured by a Bludger. Naturally, the conversation among the NC bloggers turns quickly to that great Quidditch champion, Harry Potter. Bora of Science and Politics asks the question we've all been asking lately: "Who Will Die In Harry Potter Vol. VI?" We've all read that J.K. Rowling is planning to kill off one major character in the next Harry Potter installment; Bora's first choice (based on his analysis) is Albus Dumbledore, and his second choice is Hagrid. What's your opinion? Bora asks you to post your own bets in the comments to his post.

As for me, I still haven't overcome the grief of losing Sirius in Book V.

That’s it for this week’s Tarheel Tavern, friends. Be sure and check out next week’s Tavern, where Mister Sugar will be hosting!

A Few Lil Ole Notes

1. Practicing pact participation has been low this week. Don't forget to post your practice minutes, if you're practicing!

2. I hope everyone is enjoying the "slide show" of my hike. I haven't had much computer time in the last few days, so I'm glad to have some fun pictures to share in place of all my babbling. I'll post more pictures soon!

3. This blog will be interrupted tomorrow morning by the Tarheel Tavern, which I'm hosting for this week. If you're a North Carolina blogger and have something you'd like me to include, please e-mail me a link to the post. My e-mail address is provided in my sidebar.

Hope everyone has a happy Saturday. I'm off to work on my novel (52 pages so far!).

Dinner



Isis is quite the trail chef. Here's our meal for one evening: steamed nettles (we'd pick them from alongside the trail in the afternoon as we hiked), pasta with fresh violets (also courtesy of the woods), and homemade cookies we'd made at Kincora Hostel. The flattened stick to the left is part of a makeshift cutting board that Isis made me.

When I hike alone, I typically eat Lipton Noodles for dinner. This was much better (not to mention more interesting)!

Flowers



The AT is a really nice place to hike in spring.

Moo



Longhorn cattle are now grazed on Hump Mountain. This was a friendly bull we met on the way. I wouldn't want to run into him when visibility is low, though. We heard a story of a hiker who did that, and who didn't know there were cattle grazing up there. He encountered this bull from close range, with its head suddenly appearing in the mist. It scared the hiker so bad that he ran halfway down the mountain. He thought he'd seen an evil spirit or something.

The Forbidding Gate



When I first hiked Hump Mountain in Tennessee, back in early December 2000, it was below freezing, and a fierce wind blew--so fierce that I was forced to lean into the wind at a 60-degree angle while I hiked. The gate that led to the bald was encased in ice, and forbidding-looking icicles hung from the horizontal bars of it. Visibility was maybe ten feet, and the ground was covered with a mix of slick ice and snow.

Here's what the gate looks like in spring, and behind me is what the beginning of the bald looks like when there's a view.

Friday, June 10, 2005

A Word from Walker

"Why is it that no other species but man gets bored? Under the circumstances in which a man gets bored, a dog goes to sleep. Thought Experiment: Imagine that you are a member of a tour visiting Greece. The group goes to the Parthenon. It is a bore. Few people even bother to look — it looked better in the brochure. So people take half a look, mostly take pictures, remark on the serious erosion by acid rain. You are puzzled. Why should one of the glories and fonts of Western civilization, viewed under pleasant conditions — good weather, good hotel room, good food, good guide — be a bore? Now imagine under what set of circumstances a viewing of the Parthenon would not be a bore. For example, you are a NATO colonel defending Greece against a Soviet assault. You are in a bunker in dowtown Athens, binoculars propped on sandbags. It is dawn. A medium-range missile attack is under way. Half a million Greeks are dead. Two missiles bracket the Parthenon. The next will surely be a hit. Between columns of smoke, a ray of golden light catches the portico. Are you bored? Can you see the Parthenon?"

--Walker Percy, from Lost In the Cosmos (1983)

Friends



Isis and I get ready to hike onward and southward. This picture was taken at (near?) Campbell Hollow Road in Tennessee.

Blisters



My feet really suffered that first week. Strange, because I've never had a problem with blisters when wearing my EMS Dry Hiker boots. I think (1) my non-hiking lifestyle for the past year and (2) the heat made for an unfortunate combination when it came to my feet. The experienced hiker's blister treatments of choice, as you can see here, are Compeed (a Band-Aid product) and duct tape.

This picture was taken as we rested and enjoyed Laurel Falls, which is just north of Dennis Cover Road and Kincora Hostel.

Campsite North of Watauga Lake



Flat, high ground covered by leaves and hemlock needles. Hemlock crowns towering high overhead. Ready-made fire ring nearby. No other hikers. Perfect campsite. Just down the hill is Watauga Lake, which is between Damascus (VA) and Erwin (TN) on the Appalachian Trail.

This is our tent, a Nomad Wanderlust 2-4-2, or something like that. It weighs less than a pound, or something like that. Looks like those tent-setting-upping lessons were worth it!

Field



A new stretch of the AT, north of Iron Mountain Shelter (Tennessee), took us through lovely old farmland dotted with buttercups, dandelions, and mayapples. The post in the picture is marked with a white blaze, indicating the Appalachian Trail.

Thursday, June 9, 2005

I Survived the Storm!

This picture was taken the morning after the big thunderstorm. The smell of rain was still in the air, but it wouldn't rain again until we got to the hostel two days later. Here I am next to Overmountain Shelter, ready to hike.

The View from Overmountain

We had one thunderstorm on the whole hike. It hit at night, around 10:00 p.m., and Isis and I were lucky enough to be able to view the storm from our perch at Overmountain Shelter, which is located on the NC/TN state line on the Appalachian Trail. The shelter itself is a converted barn, and it's deep enough that we didn't worry about getting wet from the rain. This picture is a view from Overmountain that evening, before the storm hit.

Reading the Shelter Register



This is a photo of my friend Isis, who hiked with me for the first week of my two-week hike on the Appalachian Trail last month. Here, we are behind Vendeventer Shelter, where we took a long, relaxing break. Isis is resting her feet, reading the shelter register. It's one of my favorite pictures from the hike.

More photos to come. They'll be posted on days like today when I'm really busy with non-computer stuff and don't have much to blog about.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Sinfonia Happiness

Q: How do you get Waterfall to practice piano twice as long as she'd planned to?

A: Have her start learning a piece that she really, really loves.

I am madly in love with my two new Bach sinfonias (No. 11 in Gm and No. 15 in Bm). I can't get enough of them. I'd planned a one-hour practice tonight and ended up spending nearly two hours with George. I devoted forty minutes scales, arpeggios, and Suzuki. I devoted ten minutes to a quick & dirty Dett play-though, and I spent more than an hour on the two Bach sinfonias (sinfoniae?).

The Bm is intricate and dancey. The Gm is hauntingly beautiful (and intricate, too). Today at piano, as Deborah played the Gm through, using my fingering (I'm trying to learn how to assign good fingering), I got misty-eyed. And she wasn't even trying to play it well or anything. This piece is just that powerful.

So far, I've assigned fingering, labeled each voice (S, A, & B), and done a chord analysis for both pieces. I've begun the next step, which is learning each voice independently using the correct fingering. This is harder than you'd think. It requires a lot of focus. So much focus that, er, an hour flies by without my even realizing it.

I am so happy. And to think I came close to spending this evening at the Corn Pone, seating people. Not that that wouldn't have been fun, but ... George and I were definitely meant to be together tonight.

George is pretty happy, too.

Mysterious Ways?

Note: This is the conclusion of the Corn Pone saga. Earlier installments of the Corn Pone saga are located here and here. Many thanks to all of you who responded to my plea for advice in the matter. Your responses were food for thought and helped me to sort out what I needed to do.

When I told Sherry this story, she said, "The Lord works in mysterious ways."

I guess. Only thing is, I don't see anything mysterious about it.

As you all know, I was in a real dilemma yesterday regarding the Corn Pone job. I thought it would be a fun job, and I needed the little bit of extra money it would provide. At the same time, it was conflicting with a few important things in my life, and I questioned whether it was worth it. Most importantly, I had a funny feeling in my stomach, telling me that this wasn't what I was "supposed" to be doing.

When I decided to quit my Cubicle-Land job, I knew that God would open doors. I had no doubt. Weird, because I have doubts about a lot of other God-related things, but not this.

And the doors opened. Not only was I offered the school job, but my Cubicle Land company told me that their door was open there if I ever wanted to come back. And shortly afterward, I heard from a company I'd worked for years before--asking if I'd be interested in working for them again.

Wow. Also, shortly after I resigned from my Cubicle Land job (as in the same day), Hubster and I received an unexpected check for $1,300 from an unexpected source. Just like that. Suddenly, I was soon-to-be unemployed, and $1,300 richer.

Mysterious ways? That's about as mysterious as a slap in the face.

I know you're not supposed to pray for signs. Still, I kept finding myself thinking, "Oh please, if I could only have some sort of sign telling me what I should do about this Corn Pone job. Something more than just this funny feeling in my stomach."

No sign. I was going to have to trust my stomach.

So I decided early yesterday afternoon that I needed to take the difficult step of calling my new employer and quitting the job before ever showing up on the first day. Very awkward. I've never quit a job before starting.

I called The Corn Pone and got the answering machine. I started to leave a message, but the answering machine cut off before I could finish. Oh, great. I'd have to call and talk to them in person.

Shortly afterward, Hubster went to the post office to get the mail. He came home with an envelope from Cubicle Land. In the envelope was a check. Apparently, I'd racked up more vacation time than I realized. The check amount equalled close to the amount that I would have made during my two months at the Corn Pone.

Mysterious ways? Blatantly obvious ways? Synchronicity? Sheer coincidence? The sign I was hoping for?

I don't know. All I know is that quitting the Corn Pone Cafe was the right thing to do. Nothing mysterious about that.

Bach in a Shoebox

Happy news: our beloved, bejowled, and bewigged one rises again. Out of a shoebox, of all things.

Well, not exactly.

Yesterday, music experts researching in Weimar, where Bach was employed as court organist from 1708-1717, found a previously undiscovered work of Bach's: a "strophic aria" for soprano and harpsichord dedicated to the Duke of Weimar.

From The Guardian:

"The library in Weimar where the music was stored for several centuries recently burned down, but by chance, the box containing the score had already been removed. Two weeks ago a member of the Bach Archive in Leipzig, Michael Maul, stumbled on the composition while looking through material relevant to Bach's tempestuous but thinly documented life. The box contained more than 100 poems and verses, together with a mysterious 'strophic aria'."
British conductor Sir John Gardiner, who plans to record the aria later this year and perform it at London's Cadogan Hall in December, believes the aria is part of one of Bach's many missing cantata. He also says that

"It's a reflective, meditative, soothing piece, as Bach's church music so often is. It's not going to set the world alight - enough of Bach's music from this early to mid period has survived to give us a sense of his musical personality at that time - but it's just great to have this because every one of his cantatas and arias is on a completely different level from all of his contemporaries."
Along with Beethoven's deafness and the premature deaths of Mozart and Schubert, one of the great tragedies of music is the loss of so much of Bach's work after his death. He was known more as a virtuoso organist and less as a great composer, and much of his work was ultimately lost or destroyed when he was no longer there to preserve it. It wasn't until Felix Mendelssohn jump-started a Bach revival in 1829, when he had Bach's St. Matthew Passion performed, that the public would become interested in Bach--and in preserving his music--again.

Many thanks to Malcolm for sending me the link to this article.

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Log Those Hours!



Welcome to yet another week of the recently resurrected practicing pact.

For those of you who are new here, A Sort of Notebook runs this little "pact" every week. It's basically a way for us musicians with non-musical professional lives (from Cubicle Dwelling to home-making and home-schooling) to make ourselves accountable for practicing.

Because no one pays us to play music, and because it's typically something we do for ourselves more than for others, many of us have a tendency not to make time for it. I know I do. But it's important that we make time for practicing and allow ourselves to enjoy the fruits of our labor. And when we play well, that's when it's most fun to share our musical skills with others.

Rules and Regulations (ha!)

So, if you're new to the pact, feel free to join. I can only think of a few unspoken requirements. I guess they'll be spoken requirements after I type them.

(1) You should be an amateur musician. In other words, music can't be your professional job. If you teach piano or play in an orchestra as a "side job," then that's fine. If you're a former professional who has changed careers, that's fine, too. Music students, like our own Little Princess (whose mom posts her practice minutes), are welcome. If you must constantly remind yourself to make practicing a priority, then this is the place for you!

(2) Here's a non-rule: All musical instruments are accepted (except maybe air guitar!). This started out as a piano thing (since I play piano), but it's long ceased to be just about piano.

(3) I announce "first, second, and third" places each week, but that's just for fun. This isn't a contest. So if you're only able to put in 15 minutes a day, or an hour a week, please don't let that keep you from posting your minutes. The "pact" is for you. It's an informal way of helping you hold yourself accountable for practice. It's a way for us to share what we're working on. And, if you do have a competitive streak, well, it gives you even more of an impetus to practice!

So, let's get started. Post your practice minutes each day for the week of June 6 through 12 in the comments section of this post. Include the date of practice and the primary pieces you practiced. If you don't want to search for this post later in the week, you can click the link below the image of piano keys near the top of my sidebar.

Happy practicing!

Corn Pone Uncertainties

--WARNING--Very self-centered, me-me-me post to follow.
If you have the patience to read it,
I would appreciate any advice you may have.


It's after midnight. I can't sleep. I'm having misgivings about the Corn Pone job.

Here are the pros:

1. I will get paid. The salary, small as it is, will cover my health insurance, buy me a few cups of coffee per week at my coffee shop where I do my writing, and help assuage the guilt I feel at not being a salaried family member.

2. The people who work at the Corn Pone Cafe' seem really nice, and I think it will be a fun (if sometimes stressful) place to work.

3. I can write humorous blog posts about the life as a hostess at the Corn Pone. (I was kind of looking forward to that.)

Here are the cons:

1. I will be giving up all weekends (including holiday weekends), and 4-5 evenings per week for something that is barely over minimum wage, and that for maybe 4-8 hours per shift. Giving up evenings means backing out on commitments I've made previously for volunteering with the Literacy Council, the Arts Council's Piano Committee, my church, and the Boy Scouts.

2. My quality time with the Hubster is in the evenings. For the first time in our married life, I'm actually making dinner every single night, and am loving it. So is he. It has been wonderful for our marriage. By taking this job, I'll be ending that brief period of evening quality-time happiness.

3. My stomach is all tight when I think about the job. Generally this is an intuition thing that overrules all opposing reasoning.

4. Even a part-time job is going to eat into my pursuit of freelance-writing opportunities.

5. My time with my family will be severely limited. (My parents are in Carolina for the summer, vacationing, being semi-retired, and helping Sis get ready for her wedding.)

If I call the cafe' tomorrow and say, "Look, Mrs. Pone, I talked it over with my husband, and it's not going to work out. I'm really sorry," then my stomach won't be all tight anymore. But then I'll feel very guilty about not bringing in any income, other than my little freelancing pittance.

If I quit before I ever even start, then money for my health insurance and coffee will have to come out of the Hubster's salary. When I was in Cubicle Land, I was actually pulling in half (or a little more) of our combined salaries. So we're already having to live on less than 50% of what we're used to. If I don't have some kind of income, then I will be overwhelmed with guilt because I feel a need to "earn my keep." I know that's silly. But we do have bills, like everyone else. One good thing about "quitting" would be that I would have more opportunities to pursue freelance work, even tutoring kids or editing business documents.

Hubster thinks I will end up resenting the Corn Pone job because it pays so little and takes me away from so many things that are important to me: Hubster, freelance writing, volunteering, and family (my folks are in North Carolina for the summer). At the same time, he won't flat-out tell me he doesn't think I should keep the job. I want him to tell me what to do, because I don't know what to do.

That's why I'm writing it all down here. You folks are objective observers. Any opinions?

Monday, June 6, 2005

Hired on the Spot, Baby

They say that English majors and writers make great food & beverage employees when we grow up. Let's see how this English major and writer does.

I got a job as a hostess and sometime waitress at what I'm going to call "The Corn Pone Café." I wanted a 100-percent waitress job, but most of those jobs were for full-time, until-eternity (i.e., not summer only) help.

I start Wednesday, dinner crowd.

I have a few scheduling conflicts to deal with: volunteer work, Sis's pre-wedding activities, cultural stuff, etc. One scheduling conflict I do not have is with my novel-writing time and my piano-practicing time. Those are in the morning and early afternoon, and I'll be working at the Corn Pone on nights and weekends.

I just can't believe I got hired so quickly.

Another Good "Where I'm From"

Kalanna of Mere Catholics has penned a "Where I'm From" poem; you can find it here. I particularly like this one because, although she now lives in Canada, Kalanna grew up in Eunice, Louisiana--not too far from my own hometown.

I Was Shelley, So I Re-took the Test

William Wordsworth
You are William Wordsworth! You get a bad rap
these days, alas. Many people think you
oppressed Coleridge, but there really isn't
much proof. You may have oppressed the women
in your life, but hey, everyone was doing it.
You honestly love nature, and admire an
aesthetic of simplicity and honesty. You love
Milton and human freedom, though some say you
sold out in the end. Oh dear. But you left us
"Tintern Abby" and "The Solitary
Reaper," bless your heart.

Which Major Romantic Poet Would You Be (if You Were a Major Romantic Poet)?
brought to you by
Quizilla

I found this over at Searchblog.

Sunday, June 5, 2005

Practicing Totals



It's Sunday night, and I couldn't resist the temptation to add up the totals for those taking part in the Practicing Pact for this week. The "final tally" isn't in yet, though, so if you need to post your practice minutes, please click the link under the piano image in my sidebar. (Post any minutes that you practiced between May 30 and June 5.)

So far, these are Top Three practice totals for the week. It really isn't fair anymore since Cubicle Land isn't fighting with George for my attention. But it'll be back to being fair once I (hopefully) get a server job.

Waterfall: 370
Hilda: 255
Little Princess: 180

I hope Pei Yun is feeling well and able to practice. And I've missed sparrow and Em ... where are y'all?

Tarheel Tavern is Up!

This week's Tarheel Tavern, a blog carnival for North Carolina bloggers, is up! This week's host is Billy the Blogging Poet, who reports, disturbingly, that aliens are invading the blogosphere. The Tavern features the past week's posts by NC bloggers, so please check it out.

Although I am indeed an NC blogger, I'm not featured this week 'cause I got preoccupied and forgot to submit something. But I am hosting next week's Tavern, so if you are a North Carolina blogger (or know of one), check out the Tarheel Tavern's main page for information on submissions.

Saturday, June 4, 2005

(Im)Perfect Practicing

Patty at oboeinsight has a nice post on practicing, written from a teacher's perspective. She writes that "GOOD practice can make perfect. But poor practice can make imperfect."

Indeed. I have more poor practice sessions under my fingers than I'd like to admit. But I'm also (thankfully) somewhat familiar with the "dissection method" (of fixing chronically occurring mistakes) that she writes about. (I've never called it that, but it's a great word! And I can spell it, too!)

I like "dissecting." Oh, I hate to start the process because it means interrupting what I perceive as the "flow" of my playing. Of course, if I'm repeatedly making the same mistake in a piece, there's no flow at all, other than my wistfully perceived one.

But once I get into the "dissection," practice gets interesting. One little measure, or a half a measure, or a quarter of a measure, become the object of focus under the musical microscope. The brain must relearn something that it mis-learned the first time around. Or it simply has to learn what it never quite learned in the first place.

For all my hemming and hawing and putting-off the dissection process in my practicing, I've found that a little bit of effort goes a long way. It may only take 15 minutes to rectify a problem, even though, as Patti notes, it can take a few practice session for your brain to completely unlearn the mistake. Still, with a bit of intense work, you can correct, in just a few days, a mistake that you've learned to live with for weeks or months (or years).

Funny how that happens. Read more of Patty's post here.

6/5 Update: Tonight I applied this technique to a section of the Dett that I've never quite seemed to assimilate. It'll be a while before I finally get it right, but I definitely made some headway tonight.

Unfinished Business

I’m calling my novel draft "TNP." That’s not the real title, of course, but it is the acronym. I know better than to discuss the content of it here, or anywhere; as you writer-types know, the best way to kill an idea is to unveil it before its time.

I almost feel silly talking about it. Not because I see novel-writing as an ignoble pursuit. Not because I think there are more important things to do than spend three hours each morning writing five or so pages. In fact, I consider those three hours the most important, if not always the most productive, three hours of my day. Even if TNP is never published, even if I never finish it, it’s still important.

No, I think my feeling comes from the fact that, from age 12 to age 25 or so, I was always “working on a novel.” In junior high and high school, since we didn’t have the technological advances of laptops and jump drives, I carried meaty five-subject notebooks everywhere I went, along with shorter, smaller notebooks for short story projects, poetry, and what I called “short story excerpts,” or “SSEs,” which were nothing more than sketches of people and scenes I encountered.

The fat notebooks were for the novels. Most of them were dumb little teen-fiction stories that were modeled loosely after whatever we happened to be reading in school at the time—A Tale of Two Cities, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Hobbit, or whatever. My stories took place in the mid-1980s, and their characters wore headbands and leg warmers and talked like Valley Girls, much as we did.

The subject matter of my stories may have been silly and dated, but they were otherwise well written, for a teenager. I certainly put in the hours of writing practice required to improve my writing; I wrote every second I could manage to scribble down a few words. As an avid reader, I always had a feel for words and a love for stories. The writing practice was just another facet of my writing self-education.

Now, it seems natural that I’d be working on a novel now. So why does it feel silly?

Because, as much as I’ve spent of my life “working on a novel,” I’ve never finished anything.

My closet is full of notebooks that contain starts and stops to all sorts of writing projects. Some projects—like my draft novel “Gypsy’s Caravan”—are hundreds of handwritten pages long, but are only in draft format. Others consist of a detailed outline and several dozen pages. Still others are just seeds of thoughts that I wrote on for five or six pages before quitting. I also have floppy disks—the truly floppy ones from the late 1980s, as well as 3.5” disks--and a laptop hard drive full of ideas and unfinished beginnings.

Sure, I’ve had ideas die on me. I’ll start to pursue an idea then, for whatever reason, it ceases to strike me as interesting or worthy of my efforts. But more often than not, I remain impressed with story ideas I’ve had. I just let life get in the way. By the time I come back to the idea, it’s lost its luster. I can’t work the magic on it that I found before. Sylvia Plath writes about this experience in a poem, where she compares her unfinished poems to unborn fetuses in jars. I understand the sentiment all too well.

I guess I’m scared that the TNP effort will go the way of every single other effort I’ve ever made at fiction writing. I don’t even know if it’s a workable "novel idea"yet; even as I write, I know that I'll end up cutting much of out.

Maybe TNP isn’t meant to be finished. Maybe it’s just a necessary warm up for me, a way of spilling words onto a page so I can build up my fiction-writing muscles. They were in pretty good shape until my early twenties. Now they’re pretty flabby.

Hm. I hadn’t thought of that before. If I think of TNP as a warm-up draft, that takes some of the imagined pressure off. I feel more comfortable with the whole idea of writing it.

We’ll see. Maybe it’s meant to be unfinished business, or maybe it’s meant to be something that the public eventually reads. Either way, I’m enjoying writing it and building up those fiction-writing muscles. And if it’s just practice … well, I have plenty of unfinished story ideas to take its place once I'm in better "shape." Maybe I’ll even find the magic in some of those old ideas that I can’t seem to let go of.

Speaking of ideas, and writing, and stories, I have a table waiting for me at my favorite coffee shop. Time to get to work on TNP!