Friday, December 29, 2006

Running Required

I was such a good little runner before the holidays. Now I am a slug. A pitiful, pathetic slug. It's not my fault, though. Honestly. My bones got out of whack, and I was forced to quit running for a couple of weeks. And now I feel like a slug. A pitiful, pathetic slug.

I ran once while in Louisiana, and boy, did it feel good. Something in my soul just opens up when I start running. I'm not particularly graceful, and I certainly don't look like a runner--lithe, athletic, and all that--but that doesn't matter. I feel like I'm all of those things when I'm running. After my Louisiana run, I felt better than I'd felt in ... two weeks.

I started running again yesterday. I'm starting with a few easy runs, and yesterday's run was 3.1 miles. I could have gone farther, wanted to go farther, but I made myself stop at 3.1 miles.

I can't begin to explain how on-top-of-the-world I feel after a run. I don't think it's the legendary "runner's high." I think it's just that sense of being able to breathe deeply, of knowing the muscles are strong and working, of feeling healthy. And it's nice to know that I can eat that 300-calorie dessert and not have to worry about gaining weight.

Speaking of gaining weight: between my forced hiatus from running and my holiday diet of chocolate and pecans, I've put on a pound or two. Which is another reason that I feel like a slug. But, because I ran yesterday and will run another five miles before Sunday, I don't feel guilty or depressed about gaining the weight.

Since I've spent much of my life feeling guilty and depressed about eating and gaining weight (a typical American female, I probably am), I've decided that running is a definite requirement for me ... for the rest of my life, no matter what it takes, and no matter where life takes me. Barring permanent injury, I hope to still be running when I'm eleventy-one.

My next planned race, by the way, is a 5K with the Hubster (yes, the Hubster!) in Myrtle Beach in February. We're hoping some friends down there will join us, either as cheerleaders or as fellow runners. I'll start my official 5K training next year (heh, heh ... as in "next Monday").

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Thursday Thirteen



CaliforniaTeacherGuy and Ms. George have been doing the "Thursday Thirteen" meme for a while. So I thought I'd join in. I'm going to start with an easy topic, since it's late and I don't feel like thinking.

Thirteen Jobs I've Had

1. Microfilm picture-taker at my dad's office when I was 12
2. Writing tutor at Mary Baldwin College
3. "Kitchen help" at Yellowstone National Park
4. Ticket collector at various Mardi Gras balls
5. Teacher at a private Christian school
6. Social services director at a nursing home
7. Technical writer at several corporations
8. Model for figure-drawing class while trying to make ends meet in grad school
9. On-again, off-again freelance writer
10. Mortgage loan closer in Hendersonville, NC
11. Administrative assistant for various companies
12. Bookseller at an independent bookstore
13. Newsletter editor and brochure-maker at LSU's Wellness Ed Dept.

Let me know if you're also doing the Thursday Thirteen, and I'll add a link to yours here.

Cool header graphic found at Blue Star Chronicles.
More Thirteeners:

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Working at the Bookstore

Today's a work day at the bookstore. I've been listening to Bach and reading bits and pieces of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. The store will get frantically busy from time to time, but then it quiets down and I once again hear Bach as I nestle into my chair and open my book again.

This is a dream life. I'm not going to pinch myself because I don't want to wake up from it just yet.

We've been selling a lot of religious books today. Strange. This is an independent, somewhat left-leaning, "secular" bookstore (i.e., not a "Christian bookstore" or a "Bible bookstore"), and I've sold two books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (authors of the "Left Behind" series) today, plus several other books from our small "inspirational books" section.

I've listened to Bach all day long and am surrounded by books. Do I wake or sleep?

Monday, December 25, 2006

A Good Christmas

Hubster and I had a good Christmas 2006. Here are some of the more memorable moments.

1. The Drive Down: We flew down the highway until we got to Baton Rouge. We sat in Baton Rouge traffic (I-12) for an hour an a half. We were glad to get home.

2. The 88-year-old Osteopath: Dr. M.A. Truluck, an old-fashioned osteopath in Ponchatoula, is a true healer. He fixed my hip/thigh problem. They no longer hurt. I can run again, after a few more days of letting my body heal. I don't know what I'm going to do when this man ultimately passes on. There aren't many left like him. Fortunately for me, if there are any, Asheville is the likely place to find them.

3. Seeing Friends: Saturday night, Hubster and I went to downtown Baton Rouge, where we met Jan, Andye, and Alison at Tsunami. My, but downtown Baton Rouge has changed since I was last there. The Shaw Center for the Arts is a brand-new enterprise that includes the LSU Museum of Art and houses small concerts all year long. The restaurant is at the very top of the building and boasts a view of the Mississippi River and the bridge. Our friend Erv met us a little later, then we went over to a bar called The Roux House, where we met up with Mary and Nancy. It was great to see everyone. We didn't have nearly enough time ... even though we stayed there until 1 a.m., we still didn't get completely caught up.

4. Christmas Eve: We went to church Sunday morning. Brad Williams (who blogs here) is an amazing preacher (and singer). That night, he did a wonderful monologue as Simeon ... which was interrupted by the greenery in the baptistry catching fire from some nearby candles, and the fire spreading a bit before they could put it out. I think Brad was hoping for a Christmas Eve service that would never be forgotten ... and he got it. (But to be fair, his monologue was pretty unforgettable, too. Even without the fire.)

5. Making Pie: I actually spent much of Christmas Eve in the kitchen. I had such success with my from-scratch apple pie at Thanksgiving that I decided to do an encore. I must admit, crust-making in Louisiana during a downpour is a bit different from crust-making in western North Carolina when it's dry and 40 degrees out. My crust was a sticky mess, and I had to add a lot more flour than I wanted to, then ended up with a bloated crust. It was, however, an extremely tasty bloated crust. And it made for a beautiful pie. And everyone said the extra work (to make the pie, crust included, from scratch) was worth it. Ah. I love making people's taste buds happy.

6. Muffins: I woke up before everyone else on Christmas morning and made what I'm calling cinnamon puff-muffs. They were pretty good, but you could just sense those muffins pining away for a hint of banana, a crunch of toasted pecan. So, next time I'm going to experiment with making pecanamon puff-muffs. I'll let y'all know how they turn out.

7. Christmas: Christmas Day was good. We did the present thing. Our gift-giving is pretty subdued, as there are no kids (the youngest person in our immediate family is 33-year-old Mu). Everyone liked the gifts that The Hubster and I gave them, so that made me happy.

8. Visiting Again: Hub and I went back to Baton Rouge Christmas night to visit with a few more people before heading back to Carolina in the morning. We got to see Jan's new house and meet her man, and we also got to visit with my friend Ellen's parents, which was great because I hadn't seen them since our wedding.

It's been a good holiday, but I'm ready to get back to "real life"--editing, bookselling, writing, and piano-ing. I hope you, dear readers, had a merry Christmas as well.

Merry Christmas

For unto us a Child is born,
unto us a Son is given,
and the government shall be upon His shoulder,
and His Name shall be called
Wonderful, Counsellor,
The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace.


Merry Christmas, all!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Safe in the Loo-zee-anna

Hubster and I drove all day today, and we're finally at the home of Mrs. Gwen and Mr. Hugh, where we found a big pot of chicken-and-sausage gumbo waiting for us. And a head of cauliflower. (I love cauliflower. My mom made me cauliflower.)

We had a good trip. When it took us an hour to creep through Baton Rouge in the "rush" hour traffic, I was reminded of Baton Rouge traffic and glad I now live in rural North Carolina.

I read a most excellent book on the 12-hour drive. Cover to cover. Fascinating stuff.

Merry Christmas, all! (I'm sure I'll blog again before Christmas day, but I'm writing this just in case I don't ...)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

There Go The Comments

I'm very sad. I changed my blogger template and lost my comments. It now looks like I have nary a blog-friend. :(

Update: My blogroll is gone, too. I still have Bloglines, but I'm putting the new blogs in (as you, my dear blog-writing friends, update them) through Blogger.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Crunch-Time Crunch

Remember how calm and uneventful my first couple of hours at the bookstore were today? Well, the serious shoppers started around 2:30 this afternoon. It got busy. I was on the phone constantly, putting people on hold while I looked up books, led people to books, straightened up books, and giftwrapped books. Oh, and sold books. I sold a lot of books today. About three times the sales I usually have on Sundays.

Things finally started to slow down about fifteen minutes before closing time. It was then that I noticed that my good ear was empty.

My good ear isn't supposed to be empty. See, my good ear isn't so good (it's just "good" compared to my bad ear) and is supposed to contain a plastic, battery-powered device called a hearing aid.

I have to take my hearing aid out before answering the phone. Normally, I shove the hearing aid in my pocket when the phone rings. (As you may guess, I'm not particularly good at communicating on the phone.) So I checked my pockets.

No hearing aid. I looked on the counter near the phone. No hearing aid. I lifted up papers and bags in the surrounding counter area. No hearing aid.

Panic. I go into a panic every time I misplace my hearing aid. Not only am I dependent on it to hear and communicate, but replacing it would cost upwards of $1,000--possibly twice that.

So I checked some of the shelves I had recently been to. No hearing aid. I wondered if I'd accidently bagged it with some customer's books. Would they find it and bring it back?

I seriously panicked. Checked my pockets several more times, just to make sure it wasn't there. Checked the bathroom, even though I hadn't been in there in hours. Checked the counter in the back, even though I hadn't been there in hours either. Checked the cash register. No hearing aid.

I suppose I would have heard the crunch if I'd been wearing my hearing aid, but I didn't hear a thing. But I did finally notice my hearing aid on the floor beneath the cash register. Oh, joy! My hearing aid! Panic was replaced by euphoria!

I bent down to pick it up, and ... the plastic was broken. All the tiny, wiry innards of the device were hanging out of it. It wasn't completely crushed, but ... I was.

I'm hoping I can get it repaired before Christmas. I don't want to spend the holidays cupping my ear and asking people to repeat and/or write down things. I'm hoping it can be repaired, period. I'm really sad about this.

So, crunch time at the bookstore was great, but the ensuing crunch (which I didn't hear) wasn't so great. I'll let y'all know the conclusion of this gripping saga tomorrow.

Sunday Browsers

People don't seem to want to buy books on Sundays. Our bookstore sits between a coffee shop and a restaurant, and down the street from several churches--First Presbyterian is a block one way, the First Baptist and First Methodist churches a couple of blocks the other way. Those who enter the bookstore are chronologically somewhere between church and lunch, and this is an in-between place for them while they're waiting for their tables to be ready. They come in to browse, but yesterday's shopping madness is ... yesterday's.

It's a beautiful day out ... sunny, a few clouds, and a temp of 63F. I've propped the bookshop door open and am playing some relatively tasteful holiday music on the CD player. I've been reading bits and pieces of different books, straightening out the shelves, checking to see if anything new came in on Friday that I haven't noticed yet.

I'm reluctant to write things like, "Oh, I love this job! It's perfect for me! I'm meant to work in an indie bookstore! I've always known it!" I wouldn't be lying, but ... I tend to have the same thoughts about every new job. I had it about teaching. I have it about freelancing. I had it about tech writing. I had it about social services. I get it every time I start a new writing project, fiction or nonfiction. But still ... I really do love working here. Even though it's only a part-time and non-permanent thing. Perhaps that's part of what I love about it.

Few are buying books today, but I've learned, from working various days during the week, that this is more of a Sunday thing than a Waterfall-is-a-terrible-salesperson thing. At least I hope that's what it is.

The store has become crowded. Perhaps someone will buy something. Perhaps not. Either way, I need to quit blogging and put my bookselling hat back on!

A Blog, and Two Books

I learned at my friend POG's holiday party last night that my hiking friend Susan "Jackrabbit" Letcher has a blog. It's called West of the Fields and is about her field research in Costa Rica (she's a doctoral student researching tropical ecology).

I also learned that she and her sister Lucy ("Isis") recently published two books about their Appalachian Trail "yo-yo" hike. Adventures of the Barefoot Sisters, Book 1: Southbound is about their Maine to Georgia hike in 2000-2001, and Adventures of the Barefoot Sisters, Book 2: Walking Home is about their hike back to Maine in 2001.

It's time for a bit more Christmas shopping!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Blogging from School

Notes from a Day of Substitute "Teaching"

8:15 a.m. One of last year's seniors spoke at chapel. It was great to see him again!

8:45 a.m. Normally, I'm eating breakfast and writing Morning Pages at this time. Not today!

9:00 a.m. First class o' day is my freshmen from last year. They haven't changed a bit--the same kids are still forgetting their books.

9:27 a.m. This is really scary. The English teacher I'm subbing for has my old computer, and all of my passwords are still in the computer. Ack! I thought I had deleted all those cookies! I think I really have this time.

10:40 a.m. Planning Period. Ahh. I'm ready for a break!! It's been good to see everyone again. A couple of my science students from last year came up and gave me a big hug after chapel. I got to talk to the principal for a while, so that was good. One of my lit students from last year got the highest score possible on the writing section of the SAT, and another of my comp students got into The Citadel! I'm so happy for them!

11:22 a.m. I so do not miss this job. I mean, really. It's nice to be back and all, but I'm already missing the bookstore, George, my laptop, and my editing job. Most of all, I miss the blessed solitude that comes with being a writer.

1:00 p.m. Had a nice lunch period. Spent most of the time talking to one of the teachers who is a marathoner.

2:18 a.m. It's over. My brain hurts from all of the chatter. It's been a good day, but I'm ready to go back to my non-teaching life!

Two days later: And I was doing so well. I've felt panicky, irritable, and depressed all weekend. I think some secret part of my psyche is scared that I've started teaching again and is rebelling mightily.

Working All Week

I've worked every single day this week--on something other than the novel, I mean. I've been putting in time on the novel, but this week I've been very busy with other (read: paying) jobs, between the bookstore, editing, and ... subbing.

Yes, friends, today I'm substituting for the English teacher at the school where I taught English last year. I should be more excited about this than I am; after all, I'm going to see lots of people that I haven't seen since last May, teachers and administrative staff that I love, and students that I love even more. Though I'll miss "my seniors," who are probably in the middle of their first-ever college exams right now.

I think it'll be a good day. I hope it will. My memories of last year are not particularly good (not because of students or co-workers, but because of stuff I was going through at the time), and I pray that today will be a good experience all around.

And then it's back to the bookstore tomorrow!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bad News and Good News

The Bad News: My left hipbone is higher than my right as a result of some weird twisting thing my hips did. They've done this before, so I'm reluctant to place the blame on running ... though running probably didn't help any.

The Good News: The miracle-working osteopath who has treated me the two previous times this happened (six years ago and nine years ago) and is about 100 years old is still ticking and still open for business. So I'm going to see him next week!

***

The Bad News: I probably shouldn't run between now and then.

The Good News: I can still walk! And bike! And swim!

The Even Better News: This condition isn't one that stops people from running!

***

The Bad News: I probably bought a new pair of $running shoes$ last week for no reason.

The Good News: I have a brand-new pair of running shoes!

***

The Bad News: Yesterday was my last scheduled piano lesson of 2006.

The Good News: Deborah's Christmas present to me is a free lesson next week!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Welcome Back, Gusto!

During the couple of weeks before the half-marathon, my life seemed to slow to a standstill. I became very sluggish, very unproductive, and, yes, even a little depressed. I ran when I could, but not with the same gusto I had previously. I started getting weird physical symptoms--side cramps, knee pain, shoulder pain--and was afraid that I had some sort of injury. I also went on some mindless eating binges and gained a couple of pounds, which I of course carried with me for the 13.1 miles of the race.

I got a couple of calls to substitute-teach at my old school, but I told them I couldn't do it. I was too depressed to get out of bed in the morning. How was I supposed to show up for a job at 7:30 a.m.?

I became stuck on the edge of Chapter 6 of the novel I'm writing. All of a sudden, the novel seemed a waste of time.

Piano was the only thing that was working. And, sad to say, piano tends to work best when I'm trying to avoid dealing with Other Things In Life. Like fear. And I think that, on some level, I was afraid of this half-marathon. Even though I'd already run the 13.1-mile distance several times in training runs.

Two nights before the race, I had nightmares about my family disowning me. Only once in my life have I ever had nightmares like that: the night before I climbed Mt. Katahdin to begin my AT thru-hike. Some deep part of me was afraid that, by catapulting myself out of my comfort zone (and everyone else's comfort zones for me) and potentially failing, I was somehow going to render myself unlovable or unworthy or unacceptable.

Of course, I wasn't aware of that on a conscious level. But I guess that, no matter how much we challenge ourselves, we never lose the fear that necessarily accompanies such challenges. And there's one thing that I have learned: the greater the fear, the more important the challenge.

What's a little scary is that I've learned to ignore certain fears. As a result, I've ceased to realize the importance of the life-challenges they are associated with.

Odd. This was supposed to be a "Welcome Back, Gusto!" post, but instead it's made me all pensive-like.

See? Now that this race is over, I've started having deep thoughts again.

Welcome back, Gusto!

I'm Back

So my blogging break turned out to be a two-week vacation. I figured as much. Blogging will still be light for the next couple of weeks, but I'm feeling chipper and refreshed at the idea of blogging again.

I've managed to keep up with blog-reading, for the most part, though I haven't been commenting much either. Here are some of the exciting things that have happened in the little corner of the blogosphere that I care about:

Two of my favorite blogs in the whole world are Tonia's blog, Intent, and Ann V's blog, Holy Experience of Listening. Recently Tonia announced that Intent would be coming to an end, and that she will soon be posting on a new blog with Ann V. I must admit that I'll miss the old blogs, but I'm looking forward to the new one.

Hilda, the Dominican Oboist, made her official debut with the "Merrily Orchestra" in New York and is now hooked on the ensemble thing.

My artist friend Amy on the east coast finally put her Christmas tree up. So did my artist friend Linda on the west coast. I guess we should put ours up pretty soon, too.

Oh, poop. The bug man is here. I going to go ahead and post this, even though I'm not finished writing it. I'll write more later, I promise.

Meanwhile, here's a pianist named Steven Spooner playing the Liszt piece that I've been learning.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Tonight's Practice

I didn't have a very long practice tonight. I'm a little disturbed about what a challenge it's been to speeding up my scales and arpeggios. I can play them perfectly up to a certain tempo, but if I try to go past that tempo, my hands just start slapping at the keys, not even trying to hit the right notes. It's as if they're saying, "I can't do this, so I'm not even going to try. So there. Blah."

I think I have some idea of the reason for this strange problem. I know the notes. I don't think it's an issue of not knowing what notes to play. I think part of the issue relates to the fact that I've been slowly, over the last year or two, adopting a new technique of relaxed hands and using my arms more and my fingers less. My hands don't seem to understand how to unite "relaxed" mode with "playing really fast" mode. My hands almost feel lazy.

I worked on the Suzuki Beethoven some. Not much to report there.

For the fugue, I reviewed my work from the last practice and began work on another measure. I really felt tired, though, and didn't feel like I was benefitting much from the practice. So, after I completed the measure, I moved on to the prelude and simply worked on emphasizing the leading voices. So much easier said than done.

Then I moved on to Liszt. Resisted the urge to just sit down and play it through, and instead worked on the final line of the piece, trying to make it sound more "shaped" and less ... like a bunch of randomly twinkling stars. I worked in rhythms and was surprised (once again) that I didn't know the line as well as I thought I did.

That's about it for tonight. The entire practice lasted about 50 minutes.

No Practice December 8

I spent the day in Charlotte for the Thunder Road Half-Marathon. Didn't get to practice piano, though I did play a bit on my birthmom's keyboard that afternoon.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Half Marathon!

Time: 2:15:46
Pace: 10:22

More later! ...

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Practice 12/7/06

Only an hour or so of practice tonight. I've been feeling a little depressed and sluggish and wasn't in the mood for practicing.

I fell apart on scales and arps again. I ended up spending quite a bit of time on them, particularly the scales (Gb and eb). I tend to mess up in the same spot in the LH, no matter what scale I'm playing, regardless of whether I'm in major or minor. I worked through that LH spot, worked in rhythms, played it very slowly, etc., and then was able to play the scale perfectly at 88. I still feel a little "shaky" about it, though.

I played through the Suzuki Beethoven. Didn't really practice it.

Went straight to the fugue and learned four new measures. Yes, four! I saved the easiest least complex page for last, and it was nice to be able to learn four measures in just ten or so minutes.

I worked on tone quality and emphasizing the "leader" in the first page of the prelude. Played very slowly. I ended up picking the two "LH leader" passages apart, playing every other note, every two notes, etc. I don't feel like I have the control I need in my LH for the subtleties Bach is asking of it. So George and I worked on acquiring that control. One thing I did was to have my LH touch play a note, then touch the key (but not depress it) for the next note, then play the next note, etc. I don't want to do too much of that because I have an inkling it can cause hand injury. But the short exercises I did tonight really helped me to see what I need to do in order to rein the LH in as a whole.

I didn't have time for Liszt, so I just played it through once. He gets to be first tomorrow.

Monday, December 4, 2006

December 4 Practice

Friends, I would not have practiced tonight if I hadn't promised myself to update this blog every day, whether I practice or not.

But I did practice! And I'm glad I did.

I actually practiced a total of about two hours, give or take a few minutes, today.

Scales sound good. Arps sound pretty good. D Major, of all keys, gave me trouble. Hm.

Inversions: I think I might be swinging too much. I've started leaning my weight into the keys. Not enough that it would be obvious to a non-pianist, but enough that I notice it.

Liszt: I actually practiced Liszt several times today. Worked on the "boring" quasi Violoncello part. I started paying more attention to the accent marks (pressure marks?) and slurs, and it wasn't so boring after that. It was challenging. But I have a host of questions for Deborah now.

Bach Prelude: Worked on page two. Drilled the poop out of it. Drilled the poop out of the transitions. I've been playing page two pretty well, but I get a nervous feeling whenever I get to it. I wanted to wear out that fuse, and made some progress toward that.

Bach Fugue: Added about six measures HT! Drilled and drilled and drilled. I didn't want to stop, but it's late. I now only have ONE PAGE left to learn HT. I won't have it before tomorrow's lesson, but I will by next week's--if I keep working at it the way I am!

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Breakthrough

Good practice tonight. Scales and arps are sounding good, even at the faster speeds. I worked on both the prelude and the fugue tonight. For the prelude, I drilled a few measures on page two, and for the fugue, I reviewed those last three measures, then went to work on a HT measure elsewhere in the piece.

For the Liszt, I did a bit of drilling here and there, and they played the piece through a few times, thinking about the architecture. I think this creative visualization thing is working. Each time I play through it, it feels "bigger" somehow.

What I really want to write about for this entry, though, is a tiny breakthrough that I've been observing lately. It's been a long time coming, and I really noticed it yesterday when I was playing at church. It has to do with hand positions, finger curve, gestures, etc.

Ever since I started taking lessons from Deborah three years ago, she has been after me to relax my hands, to use more than just my fingers and wrists when I play. My playing was VERY "fingery," and my hands got tired easily because I let them tense up so much. My thumbs and pinkies, when not striking the keys, stuck out at funny angles, just because they were so tense.

Part of that was, I'm sure, because I *was* tense--I started taking piano at a very stressful time of my life (new job, new marriage, new state, new house, etc.). Part of it was that I hadn't played piano on a regular basis in over ten years. I'm sure my current less-stressful lifestyle, along with a much-increased familiarity with the piano, has helped. Liszt and Bach deserve some of the credit, too.

What's the big breakthrough? It's this: I finally seem to have adopted the "relaxed hand" mode that Deborah's been trying to get me to understand for three years. I can tell that my arms are in the driver's seat--not my wrists and fingers. And I'm not having to consciously think about it. It feels natural.

I don't know when this change took place. I'm sure it's happened over time--and glacially so. But I noticed it at church tody because my brain tends to dissociate itself from my hands sometimes when I'm playing there, and I watched my hands almost like I was watching someone else's hands play. And I could see a real difference. My hands looked more like Deborah's hands. Like a professional's hands. Smooth and gliding. Not tortured and stiff.

So ... small breakthrough. Big breakthrough. Take your pick.

'Tis the Season for Christmas Songs

It's that time of year again. This morning for church I practiced "Oh Come All Ye Faithful,"Emmanuel," and a few others. We're supposed to do "Go Tell It On the Mountain," but I don't have the music to it ... so I went through my old music and found a book of Christmas Carols for Level Four Piano, edited by David Carr Glover. I wrote down the chords, and voila! I now have the music.

I think Christmas carols are tricky, partly because we only play them for three weeks out of the year. So it's almost like I re-learn them every December, and I never feel like I quite have them down. I've always found "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" particularly difficult to play well, since the chords change with nearly every beat.

The bad thing is that everyone knows these pieces, so the pressure's on to play them exactly right--to give them what they're used to hearing.

The good thing is that people generally sing Christmas carols so loudly and with such gusto that they either won't notice or won't care if there's a missed note here and there.

I think my favorite carols to play are "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger." When I was in my 20s, I worked out a little conglomeration of "Away in a Manger" and the famous Brahms Lullaby. I knew nothing about counterpoint or harmony at the time, so it's not a very polished little composition. But I thought it was cool how the two shared a lot of chords and chord changes, and I had fun weaving them together.

OK. Time for a shower. Considering I have 2 hours of church, 5 hours of work and 2 hours of running today, it looks like this morning's Christmas practice is the only one I'll have today.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

12/02/06 Practice Report

Today's practice wasn't much of a practice. I had to work most of the day and am too tired tonight to practice. But I did sneak in about twenty minutes earlier today to play through those last three measures of the fugue. The notes are starting to feel more natural to my hands. I still have some work to do before they feel *completely* natural. The plan? Spend another 10 or 15 minutes (no more) on them, with the goal of memorizing them, and then move on to other measures.

No other practicing today. Tomorrow morning I hope to get an hour in before practicing the music for church.

Friday, December 1, 2006

12/01/06 Practice

I hope I'm not overdoing it. I practiced for about 110 minutes tonight. I'm so very tired, but I want to post a quick report while everything is still fresh in my mind.

The second-to last measure of the fugue is perhaps the most difficult complex single measure I've ever played. Deborah said to spend "about 10 minutes" learning each measure. Um, Deborah? This one took me thirty minutes. Okay, thirty-five.

If there's any one thing I've learned as a pianist, it's HUMILITY.

I spent the bulk of tonight's practice on the Fugue. The last line (final three measures) is a toughie complex bit of music, but I finally managed it. Each new set of rhythms was a challenge. I felt disoriented each time I started a new rhythm. Completely disoriented. Thinking, "What is this piece? Am I in the right fugue? Is this the music I thought was so familiar, once upon a time?"

Once I got that last line, I realized something: I now only have a page and a half left of the fugue. Once I learn that page and a half, I'll be able to play the whole thing, HT! After ONLY FIVE MONTHS! And maybe I'll be able to play it at tempo in JUST FIVE MORE MONTHS!

OK. So maybe I would have learned it faster if I'd practiced more diligently, instead of the fits and starts of the last few months. But still. This piece has been a bear very complex. A very friendly, fuzzy-wuzzy bear. Heh. Who am I kidding?

I worked on the Prelude for maybe 20 minutes. The final few measures are sounding quite good. I played through the whole thing VERY slowly, with the metronome. Then I drilled a bit of the second page. Then I realized I have this piece in my hands. There are only a couple of spots now where I pause a bit and have to think about what I'm playing. Know what this means, folks? This means I'm going to be able to start working on tempo before long! (I think!)

I played the Liszt several times throughout the day, always thinking in terms of architecture and wholeness. It's been interesting. In a good way, I mean. This weekend, I really want to drill the quasi Violoncello section. It's technically the easiest, but it's also the least interesting section to me ... which means I don't try as hard when I play it. The result? Not only do I sound bored, but I miss notes I shouldn't miss. Lovely. I need to work on that.

I didn't do scales or aps or inversions or Suzuki. Didn't think about it. As usual, JSB hogged my practice session. So I'll start with something else tomorrow.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

November 30 Practice

Friends, you won't believe this. I actually practiced for about 100 minutes tonight. All because I knew I'd decided, once again, to be accountable to this blog.

I'm tired, though, so this will be a short practice report.

Scales: D major and B minor at 88. The slight increase in speed has made for a bigger adjustment than you'd expect. Here's how each scale went the first time I played them:

Phase I: 2 octaves, parallel motion: Lovely.
Phase II: 2 octaves, (outward) contrary motion: Not bad a-tall. Until maybe the last five notes of the octave.
Phase III: 2 octaves, (inward) contrary motion: The first five notes (the same five that tripped me up in Phase II) are a problem.
Phase IV: 2 octaves, parallel motion: Lovely. Except for those same five notes.

Oh, and those five notes? They're a LH issue. Though they're probably a RH issue, too, since I can play the LH alone perfectly. If I add the RH and try to focus on the LH and let the RH just play, then the RH forgets what it's supposed to do.

Maddening. So I used the increasing "trill" exercises by Mark Westcott with the D-major. It helped. I spent extra time on the five notes at the bottom. I think part of the problem might be that I get nervous because my hands are so far apart at that point, and I can't really "get behind" either of them, so I choke a little bit.

I needed to do the same drilling with B minor, but I'd already spent a half-hour on scales, and had a lot left to do!

Inversions: Good. I listened.

Arps: Good. G major and E minor.

Suzuki (Beethoven Sonatina in G): I played through it. We didn't go over it at piano yesterday, so I'll continue practicing what I've learned, and learning the rest of the piece by ear.

Bach Prelude: I drilled the poop out of the last few measures. Practiced with the new fingering, and it was a challenge. My hands have gotten so used to the previous fingering; they didn't want to change fingering again. (My hands probably get really annoyed with my brain for constantly changing fingerings on them.) But I finally got it the new way and practiced in rhythms of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 (the piece is in 6/8 time). Then I played through the entire piece at a super-slow pace, with the metronome, to train myself not to get faster and faster and faster as I play through the piece. It's one of those motoric, whirring preludes Bach is known for, and it's easy to get caught up in it and play too fast.

Bach Fugue: I worked on the last three measures. The antepenultimate measure was the one we focused on in my lesson yesterday. I went over it a few times, then moved on to the penultimate measure. It's a mean and nasty complex little measure. I slogged through it the way I was slogging through individual beats of individual measures when I first started learning this thing HT. I need to do some serious rhythm practice with those measures. No time tonight, though. Tonight I just focused on learning to feel at home with the HT notes.

Liszt: It was getting late, and I was getting tired, so I played through the Liszt a few times, thinking not so much about pedaling or fingering, but about architecture. Thinking about how the sections relate to each other--how they're part of the whole, and how they contribute to the whole. The word that keeps coming to mind is "texture," for some reason. I listened for texture, and how the texture of each section fit into the overall piece. I think the creative visualization helped, and I'm going to continue to do it.

My playing of the Liszt was good, too. There were times when I felt like I was pouring my whole body into the music. That has to be a good sign.

It was a good practice. Now, if I could just have about five more of those before next Wednesday. I'll do my best!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Piano Lesson Today

Today's 1.5-hour lesson included a lot of talking, but in a good way. I love my piano teacher. It was a great lesson, even though it was mostly talking.

Today's theme seemed to be "Trust Yourself." See, I have very little faith in my ability to play well. Have you ever thought you looked good in a certain outfit, then, when you saw pictures of yourself in it, thought, "Oh, horrors! Why did I ever think that turquoise jumpsuit looked good on me? My butt looks like Mars!"

OK, maybe you've never had that experience. But try to imagine. I've always been very critical of myself, not just in piano. When I don't play well, I know it. When I do play something well ... I know it. I can feel it. Or I think I can. And the other week in the group piano class, I thought I played the Prelude and the Liszt well. Not perfectly, of course, but beautifully.

Then ... later ... I wondered ... "What if I just thought I sounded good? What if I really sounded like crap? What if I got too involved in the pieces and my playing was nothing but a bunch of muddy, overly rubaticized (is that a word?) cacophony of notes?

Oh, my. What if everyone could tell it was bad except for me?

This actually happened once. Sort of. I played a piece for a group class back when I was about thirteen years old. I thought I played fine. I felt good about how I played. Then, at my next private lesson, Mrs. W. said something to the effect of, "I couldn't believe how badly you played. I was embarrassed for you." Then she proceeded to get on my case (which I'm sure I deserved) for not practicing.

Well, the cut was deep. The scar is still there. To this day, whenever I think I've played well, I later think, "I wonder if I actually played so badly that people were embarrassed for me."

It's crazy, and it's silly, and it makes no sense. But I had to ask Deborah today, "Did I really sound good at the group lesson? I thought I sounded good, but I don't know. So if I sounded awful, please tell me."

So she looked at me kind of funny and said I'd played beautifully--not perfectly, but beautifully. I still didn't totally believe her, so I told her about the Mrs. W. tongue-lashing of 1983. Poor Deborah must think I'm crazy. We work though "childhood piano issues" a couple of times a year. She doesn't exactly play therapist at those times, though she does have some good advice--much of it gleaned from her own experience.

So we talked through the "Mrs. W. issue" today, and she said she's going to start giving me more responsibility for interpreting and judging my playing. (Ack! No! I like having an all-wise, all-knowing teacher!)

On to the lesson report (as if this post isn't already long enough!) ...

Scales: Good, good, good. I played Ab-major and F minor at 88. I'd been doing 84 forever, so 88 was new. I did well on the Ab, but struggled a little with the F minor (which, along with F# minor, is probably the scale that gives me the most trouble these days). She told me to trust myself (doesn't Yoda say something like that?), to accept that I know this scale and that I can play it. So I did, and even though I felt a little uncertain while playing the F minor again, I did play it evenly, and without a single missed note. So that was good.

Inversions: I've gotten a little sloppy about making sure all notes hit evenly. I'm to start listening to the inversions more attentively when I play them, hearing every note of each chord, and how the sounds differ from one inversion to the next.

Arps: Pretty good. She left the usual comments: "Soft thumbs." "Soft hands." I tend to tense up if I'm at all uncertain about hitting the right notes (which is often the case in the black-key arps--though I've developed an comfy-old-armchair feeling for the white-key arps). She said I just need to trust that my hands will fly to the right notes. I tried it. I played lots of wrong notes, and I usually don't play any wrong notes. But you know what? The world didn't come to an end. So I'm to practice the attitude of trusting my hands, and they'll know where to go.

Fugue: I wanted her to watch me practice the last couple of measures because I'm uncertain about the fingering (there's a weird jump in the left hand in the second beat of the penultimate measure, and I was wondering if I might somehow avoid the weird jump). So I went into a 10-minute mini-practice session while she watched and listened.

About six minutes into it, I asked, "Am I playing this too legato?"

She said. "What do you think?" (argh!)

I said, "I think I am. The sixteenth notes need to be just a little shorter ... like this." (And I played it.) And, "When I play them less legato, they sound more like Bach should be played (duh!) and that unavoidable jump in the LH doesn't sound out-of-place anymore."

She said, "See? You didn't need me to tell you that. You already knew."

Trust your feelings, Luke.

Prelude: Before we even started work on the prelude, I said, "OK, I need help on the last two measures of this one too. My left hand doesn't feel powerful when I play this, and it needs to." Turns out it was a matter of fingering (of course!). We changed the fingering around, and I practiced it a few times with the new fingering, and voila! my LH felt more comfortable.

Liszt: I'm still confused about pedaling. Apparently, I was pedaling it like a pro, except for a few measures. So she said I need to make sure my pedaling is good throughout, and that one measure doesn't jarringly morph into the next. Of course, Little Miss NAPS* becomes obsessive and overly sensitive about pedaling and starts pedaling very poorly (this was a couple of weeks ago). Tonight, Deborah said to play through the Liszt, and pedal it the way I felt I should, and that she'd stop me when the pedaling wasn't working.

There were just a few places where it wasn't working. And we fixed those.

My other "issue" (it's not really an issue, but ...) with the Liszt is the idea of "architecture." Right now, each section for me is a lovely little room, and I get lost in wonderment at the details of each room. I don't feel a sense of all of the rooms being connected into a single whole-is-greater-than-its-parts mansion. And that comes through in my playing. It sounds beautiful, but it sounds ... like a story that has too much detail and goes on too long. So I think I might actually write about the Liszt as if it were a house, picturing it as a single structure that contains lots of cool rooms. For some reason, I think this "creative-visualization" approach is going to help me.

But, ah ... She said the last page in particular sounded great!! Which made me happy. I actually spent a good bit of time practicing the chromatic scale toward the end--making it smooth, fluttering the pedal, slightly speeding up as I go, etc., and making the F# of that final third "ding" like a little bell.

It was a good lesson, even though it involved more talk than playing this time. And I do need to learn to trust myself more. It's not like I'm a complete ignoramus when it comes to music.

Or ... am I? ;-)

*Neurotic Adult Piano Student

Oops, Accountability

I forgot to write about accountability in that last post. I'm supposed to be practicing right now, so I'll make this short.

I want to try to post here every day. If I fail to make time for piano, I'll write about it here. So, I'm going to be accountable to this blog, and to you, dear readers (all three of you!). I hate the idea of writing down something like, "I chose to watch "Law and Order" reruns rather than practice today." But if that's what happens, I'm going to write it down.

Now I'm going to go practice. Bach is a-calling!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Progress and Accountability

I've been practicing in fits and starts lately. I am so mad at myself. I don't know why I do this. I love piano and I love practicing, but for some stupid reason, I fail to make it a priority, day after day after day. Why?

I think part of it has to do with where I am in each piece. I'm slogging through every last one of them. I have all the notes, and learning them was no small task. But now it's time to work on the hard stuff: tone, dynamics, articulation, articulation, articulation, and gestures, gestures, gestures. Those last ones are the big challenges for me. Oh, and pedaling in the Liszt.

So, I've come a long way from the starting point, and I've thought I've seen glimpses of the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. (I know. It's all light. It's the journey not the destination. But geez.) At this point, I just feel like I'm slogging. Trying to make my way through a swamp of notes and rests and pedaling and dynamics. Progress comes, but it's slow to come.

Here's what's really frustrating: progress would come a lot faster if I were to make piano more of a priority. Just tonight I sat down for 20 minutes and perfected two measures of the fugue by playing rhythms in 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, and 6s. And it only took 20 minutes. Then I spent 20 more minutes on two more measures. Forty minutes total, and I can play those four measures, holding all the right notes, staccato-ing all the right notes, doing everything the way I'm supposed to.

(Have you noticed ... even when you play Bach in weird rhythms with weird timings ... that the music still sounds miraculous?)

I think I need to do some soul-searching here. Or something like that. Most of my time lately has gone to writing, running, freelance jobs, "homemaking," and Hubster. To tell the truth, Hubster has been my biggest priority, and "homemaking" is part of that.

OK, I feel a sudden need to defend myself.

I put "homemaking" in quotes because I'm not much of a homemaker. "Homemaking," though, refers to home-care, everything from washing clothes to changing sheets to scrubbing toilets to vacuuming to cleaning out the litter box to raking leaves to grocery-shopping to making dinner to doing the dishes. Of course the Hubster helps, but he also has a very demanding job, and I don't. So this is the way things are for now, and it's something we've both agreed on, and it's something we're both happy with. So there.

But I will rue the day when scrubbin' becomes more important than Scriabin. Or, to apply it more to my repertoire, when baking becomes more important than Bach-ing.

I'm trying a new approach to things. Sometimes I can just practice "when I feel like it" and manage to get in an hour or two of practice time a day ... because I really feel like practicing that much. Other times, like now, when I'm slogging through the middle of a piece, practicing "when I feel like it" means not practicing all that much. This has got to change. It's time to impose a new schedule on my life.

I'm going to try this one:

5:45-6:45 a.m. -- Run
6:45-7:45 a.m. -- Clean some house, then shower
8:00-9:45 a.m. -- Practice piano
10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. -- Work on the novel (this is when I do my best writing)
1:00-4:00 p.m. -- Freelance work
4:00-6:00 p.m. -- Errands, including groceries
6:00-8:00 p.m. -- Make dinner, do dishes, clean kitchen
8:00-9:30 p.m. -- Hubster time!
9:30-10:15 p.m. -- Read, go to sleep

We'll see how this works. I know I don't have any eating time in there. It's there. I just didn't inlcude it. But this gives me an hour and forty-five minutes for practice. Wish me luck!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Taking a Break

Note: I'm still updating my piano blog. One reason I'm taking a break is that I know I need to devote more time to music.

Last November, I made an announcement that I would be shutting down my blog. I had every intention of shutting down my blog. I was so sick of it. It had become, in my mind, uninteresting. So, at the end of November, I declared an end to A Sort of Notebook.

Well, we can see how that went. What was to be the end of my blog merely turned into an extended break of about a month.

Maybe it's a November thing, but I feel a great need to quit blogging again. So I'm going to take another extended break and see what happens. My prediction is that, by the start of 2007 (or sooner), I'll be posting up a storm again. But I'm taking a few weeks off for now.

Later, y'all!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Reader Quiz

This quiz, which I found over at CaliforniaTeacherGuy, is pretty accurate ... I managed not to score a single point in the non-reader category!

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Literate Good Citizen
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Book Snob
Fad Reader
Non-Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Friday, November 24, 2006

Blue Friday: Best & Longest Long Run Yet!

It's not Black Friday here. Well, I suppose it is, but I've once again managed to stay away from the malls today. (Actually, I usually have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into a shopping mall. But that's another topic for another day.)

It was Blue Friday for me. No, not "blue" in the sense of "depressed." Blue in the sense of blue. We have the most unbelievably blue sky, there isn't a cloud to be seen, and the temps are in the fifties. A perfect day for my Long Slow Distance (LSD) Day. LSD-Day comes once every two weeks, and I look forward to it almost as much as I look forward to Piano Lesson Day. This week's long run was to be 16 miles.

Sixteen miles. Sixteen is the magic number for me. I'm not sure why. But when I started running a few months ago, I thought to myself, "I wonder if I'll ever get to the point where I can just walk out my door for a little 16-mile run." At the time, I couldn't imagine it. Now I can.

And I did it. I actually ran 16.95 miles, or something like that. Not on purpose. I didn't want to run my usual loop route over and over again (it's 2.5 miles, so it makes it easy to add how far I've gone), so I decided just to run "wherever." If I was to run 4 mph, it would take me four hours. If I was to run 5 mph, 15 miles would take me three hours. I figured I would average a little more than 5 mph, so I decided to run for three hours, plus a few minutes, without stopping, then figure out the mileage afterward.

I felt great for most of the entire run. I hit the 10-mile slump (I've now run four courses over 10 miles, and I hit a 10-mile slump every time), and then I hit a real slump at about 13 miles. I didn't feel winded or anything, but my legs and right shoulder started feeling Really Tired. I also started to feel Really Thirsty. My usual route allows me to get water every 2.5 miles, but this one didn't, and I know I went too far without drinking water.

I pushed myself to run the final three miles, even though my "run" was more of a "slow shuffle." Still, I felt pretty good. I even sang Christmas carols to make the miles go by faster. When I finished, I gulped down a bottle of water, then walked another half-mile as a cool down, stopping periodically to stretch. I love stretching after a run. I usually stretch for about ten minutes.

When I got home, I rewarded myself with leftover sweet potato casserole. I would have rewarded myself with leftover apple pie, but Hub and I finished off the last of it last night. :)

My legs are tired, Very Tired, but I feel great. I burned about 1600 calories, maybe more because my route was relatively hilly. That means, friends, that yesterday's Thanksgiving dinner calories, PLUS the leftover apple pie, are HISTORY.

Two weeks from tomorrow: the Thunder Road (Half-)Marathon in Charlotte. Hard to believe it's almost here. I hope I don't chicken out.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Since Linda Cares What I Had For Lunch ...

Heh heh. The inimitable Linda Davick cares what I had for lunch, even if no one else does. :) Today I had the same thing that a few other people in these United States had. And it was one of the yummiest Thanksgiving dinners I've ever eaten.

We had Thanksgiving dinner (lunch, really) in Brevard, North Carolina. Dinner-eaters were Big Don and Bee (Mu's parents-in-law), Alison and Max (Mu's sister- and brother-in-law), Victoria (Mu's niece), Gnu (my brother), Mu and Stu (my sister and brother-in-law), Hubster (the sexiest man alive), and me.

My brother Gnu prepared the turkey, and Bee cooked it. She also made the dressing, which was scrumptious. And the mashed potatoes and gravy. And a pecan pie, which I heard was wonderful, but didn't eat, since I don't like pecan pie (even though I love pecans--weird).

My sister Mu made the green bean casserole and a corn casserole. That Mu, she can make a mean corn casserole.

Allison, Mu's sister-in-law, made a sweet potato pie. Yum, yum. That's the pie I ate.

I'm not sure who prepared the cranberry sauce. That might have been Bee, too.

I made the sweet potato casserole and an apple pie. We brought some vanilla bean ice cream to go with the apple pie. Double yum. Sweet potato casserole and apple pie just happen to be my favorite holiday dishes. And if I make 'em, that means I get to keep any leftovers. :)

I made both the casserole and the pie from scratch. Peeled and chopped a bunch of potatoes last night, then woke up early this morning to start making the pie crust, and then core, slice, and peel a mixture of Granny Smith and Cortland apples. I'm still not an expert at making neat pie crusts, but it was dee-lish.

We had a wonderful meal, and a wonderful time. Two-and-a-half-year-old Victoria is a doll. We had fun playing baby songs on her toy keyboard.

We missed Mr. Hugh and Mrs. Gwen. But we still had a great Thanksgiving.

It's Thanksgiving!

It's Thanksgiving Day!

I am so thankful for so much. I've been given so much. So much bounty. It's overwhelming.

I'm thankful for my dear husband, Dan (yes, he has a real name!). I'm thankful for his love, and for his patience through this difficult year. I'm thankful that he wasn't more seriously hurt a couple of months ago when he got caught between the lawn mower and a heavy piece of furniture. I'm thankful for his light spirit and for the way he embraces life.

I'm thankful for my parents, Mr. Hugh and Mrs. Gwen. They'll be missed at Thanksgiving this year; they were supposed to be here, but weren't able to come after all.

I'm thankful for my brother, Ghent. We haven't seen much of each other in the last 20 or so years, so we've been getting to know each other again for the last year, as he's now living in North Carolina. We still don't see each other often, but he'll be at Thanksgiving dinner today, and I'm thankful for that.

I'm thankful for my sister, Megan (yes, she has a real name, too!), and for her hubby, Stephen, who has brought her so much happiness.

I'm thankful for my birthmom, Sherry, for giving me life and giving me to my family.

I'm thankful for all of my family, and my friends. I'm thankful for Cyril Ann McBride and Steve Cavanaugh, two friends that we lost to cancer this year. And for my Aunt Ruby, who is battling cancer as I write this.

Speaking of aunts, I'm thankful for my Aunt Joyce. I have several aunts, but I'm probably closest to Aunt Joyce. I get to see her at Christmas.

I'm thankful for people who are in the military, for those who have given their lives and for those who are currently in Iraq and other places when they would rather be home with their families.

I must admit that I'm thankful for modern pharmacology and antidepressants. And modern technology and the internet. And my hearing aid. And books. And Bach. And George the Piano. And my church. And my cats. And coffee. And chocolate. And sleep-number beds. And the delicious apple pie that's cooling in my kitchen right now.

I'm thankful for these beautiful western North Carolina mountains. I'm thankful that I'm healthy and can run.

I'm thankful for you, dear readers, and for too many more people and things to name. We have been grieving the loss of loved ones this year, but today I'm focusing on how those we have lost have blessed our lives and made them richer.

May you all soak up the richness and blessings of life today, my friends. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thankful for Mu

Tonight I am thankful for my sister, Mu. Mu teaches fourth grade and is a very patient person. She's also a grad student in counseling, an amazing tennis player, and a silly girl. Oh, and she makes a mean corn casserole, too.

Mu probably knows me better than anyone, except maybe my mom. She's seen me at my absolute worst, and she still thinks I'm the coolest sister ever. (Maybe. I'll need to verify that with her, actually.)

Whenever I start talking to Mu, it's as if some silly bone in my brain is activated. I suddenly become very silly. And then Mu becomes very silly. And we end up laughing so hard we can't talk.

Mu cries when she laughs.

Here's Mu with our dad, Mr. Hugh.



The wild dancin' couple to their left is Mu's hubster, Stu, and his sister (Mu's sister-in-law).

I get to see Mu tomorrow. Stu, too. I love words that end with an "oo" sound. It's true. Don't you?

I'm so thankful for Mu.

I'll write about other things I'm thankful for tomorrow. But for now, I'm celebrating the miracle that is Mu. You should, too!

Hmph.

This morning I deposited a $106 check from a freelance job I did last week.

This evening I went to K-Mart for my prescription happy pills. They were $105.65.

That's just wrong.

Working Again Today

Today I'm doing a freelance tech-writing job. This is kind of an important job because it's the first tech-writing job I've done for this particular company. If they're happy with my work this time, then they're likely to send more work my way.

So ... it doesn't look like I'll catch up on e-mails today either. And I'm really hoping the store won't be out of sweet potatoes, Cortlands, and Granny Smiths by the time I get there this afternoon. I have some baking to do tonight.

Update: All right. Freelance tech-writing job finished. It took more time than I thought. I guess my tech-writing muscles are a little stiff. Okay, a lot stiff. My brain will probably be sore tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Working Today

Since I've never been one to blog from work (ha ha), I'll keep this short.

Yes, I'm working today. I'm normally the Sunday shift girl, but I told the owner two weeks ago that I would fill in for one of my fellow employees today. Then I found out Sunday that I would be the only person working today.

So guess what? I'm running the place! On a weekday! You would not believe the sense of sheer power that is coursing through my veins right now! :)

Ah, yes. I'm currently sitting in my an independent bookstore, listening to the cello suites, drinking coffee, and making light conversation with fellow bookworms. Selling a few books, too.

It's a pretty good life today.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ready to Start Chapter 6

I'm ready to start drafting Chapter 6 ... just as soon as I fold another load of clothes, sweep the kitchen floor, vacuum up the cat hair, and ... oh, I really should go shopping for Thanksgiving groceries today. And then I have that meeting this afternoon.

I'm hungry. No. I can't be hungry. I just had breakfast an hour ago. I'm not hungry.

I'll get more coffee. No, I should get water. Then I'll do some housework, then I'll start Chapter 6.

First, I'll pet the cats for a few minutes.

No. It's time to start writing now. Three hours. Then I can do all that other stuff.

It's really hard to make myself write when there are clothes in the dryer, waiting to be folded. Ever since I started working on this novel, I've become super-aware of household duties that need attending. I was never particularly aware of those before.

It's 10:00. Time to write.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Piano Update

It's time to practice. Poor, poor George. It's not that I haven't spent any time with him ... I just haven't spent much quality time with him. I owe my piano friend Maurizio an e-mail, too, one that I started writing several days ago and haven't finished yet. My poor, neglected musical life. Sigh.

Friday afternoon was piano group class, where Deborah's students perform pieces-in-progress for each other. I played the C#-major prelude (the Bach) and Standchen (the Liszt).

The prelude started out well, but it spun out of control. It got faster, and faster, and faster, and faster, until I finally had to pull my hands away and politely say, "OK, I'm going to pick up where I left off, but I'll be playing it about ten times slower." Hold onto the handrails, we're slowing down! When I finished playing, Deborah said to "get a grip." In the nicest way possible. In other words, I should play the prelude ... and the prelude shouldn't play me.

The Liszt sounded pretty good, except that the pedaling still needs work. Deborah said that, if I get the pedaling right, my playing will go from sounding "like a talented amateur" to sounding "world-class." Yippee! So. Lots of pedaling work ahead for this week's practices.

One thing about the Liszt--I actually got to stop worrying about the notes and just feel the music. I've been doing that quite a bit during practice, but never, never in front of people. I broke that barrier with this piece on Friday.

Today I played with the praise band at church. Usually I'm kind of nervous about playing because my hearing is poor and I'm therefore not the world's greatest accompanist. (Yes, you may make all the "deaf church-pianist" jokes you like now.) But today I was running late and didn't get to rehearse with the whole group ... and the music sounded great. Everybody was singing, and loud. I had to turn up the volume of the piano (actually a clavinova) because I couldn't hear myself playing. :)

Tonight's practice: the usual--scales, arps, and that Bach-Liszt of pieces I'm learning (har har).

I really love Bach. Just in case you didn't know.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I'm Going to Blather About Running Now

Bear with me.

I try not to write or talk about running too much. I don't want to sound fanatical or obsessed. I've accused of fanaticism/obsession regarding piano, backpacking, writing, MBTI personality types, grammar, maps, cats, Duran Duran*, baking, bearded men, wildflowers, iambic pentameter, religion, the color purple, anagrams, and various other things. I don't like being accused of fanaticism. It implies that I'm ... I don't know. Not the most stable girl in the world, I guess. (Not that I ever claimed to be, but still ...)

I also hesitate to write about how running has given my physique a total makeover. I don't want women to read this and think I'm bragging. Because I'm not a bragger-type. But maybe the things I write about running will inspire some readers to go out for a run themselves. Several of my readers already have done so (as a result of reading this blog), and believe me, that is so encouraging to Yours Truly.

I just love running. I love so many things about it. I love the way it makes me feel (except for that sluggish first mile of every run). Hubster loves the fact that I'm nearly always happy. True, I take happy drugs, but I've had to take happy drugs for much of my adult life. I've only once felt as continually good as running makes me feel, and that's when I was on my thru-hike.

I love the fact that I got to eat half a pizza and drink two glasses of wine last night ... and that I ran most of those calories off today.

Running has cleared up my skin. It has worked wonders for my digestive system. It has brought me some new friends. It has allowed me to appreciate the beauty of western North Carolina up-close. Hiking does that too, of course, but running takes less time and preparation, so it's more convenient and I can do it more often.

I love the fact that running has cost me all of $120, which I spent on my first pair of running shoes last July. I know ... probably not the best idea to buy the really good shoes when you haven't even started running yet ... but I just had a feeling about these shoes.

I underwent an hour-long physical-fitness assessment this week and learned that I'm in better shape than 87% of women my age in America. And that I actually need to eat more cake and cookies carbohydrates in order to keep my body fat at a healthy level. And that I weigh exactly what I'm supposed to weigh. All because of running.

Running has made my hair blonder. After all those years and dollars of paying for highlights, I've found that a few days of running outside turns my hair lighter than the actual chemical highlights. Go figure.

Running has made the back-of-thigh cellulite go away. And since I started running, the Hubster keeps telling me how "hot" I am. Yes, this thrills me to no end.

Running has made me more confident. Thanks to running, I no longer fear that I'll fall back into the bulimic-style habits that have plagued me for so many years.

Running has helped me to deal with life's stresses, of which there have been many lately. When I'm upset, I go run. When I'm stuck in my writing and need to let ideas work themselves out, I go run. If I feel Depression encroaching on my space, I go run. And so far, lumbering Depression hasn't been able to keep up with me.

Running's helped my tennis game. I'm faster. More energetic. I run down every ball. I'm stronger. I'm hitting the ball harder. My reflexes are better. My mind is sharper. All because of running.

I still love long-distance hiking, and I probably love long-distance hiking more, to tell the truth, but running sure is a nice substitute for when a backpacking trip isn't an option.

I've put a lot of hours into running. I've run at least three, and usually four, days a week since the end of July. When I started, I couldn't run for five minutes without getting winded. Now I can run for three hours and still feel great afterward.

Running has given me that wonderful sense of accomplishment that comes with setting and working toward goals. It's similar to the experiences of accomplishment offered by playing a musical instrument, writing a novel, or working toward a degree. Only you also get to start looking "hot" (according to Hubster) in the process. How cool is that?

Running is awesome. Today as I stood in line at K-Mart to buy Operation Christmas Child gifts, I saw all of the magazines that advertise articles on losing those last 10 pounds, making those thighs thinner, and eating those holiday foods without adding on the pounds. And I just thought, Interesting. Every one of those articles could be one word long: "Run."

Okay. Blathering running-post over. I've gotten the rabid fanaticism out of my system for now. Back to our regularly scheduled blog.

*Okay, so I'll admit to having been obsessed with Duran Duran back in 1984. But that was before I saw the light and discovered Mozart.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Obituary

Steve's obituary is in today's Baton Rouge Advocate.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

What Would Eula Do?

The novel was on the back burner this morning. I didn’t get started until almost eleven, and I only wrote for two hours today. I got some good work done, though. Only wrote two actual pages of the draft, but I did a lot of “supplemental” writing, trying to get into the character of … okay, I’ll share her name. Eula. My character’s name is Eula. Anyway, I wrote about five pages in which I tried to get into Eula’s character. And I think I got there. Eula’s voice started to come out. And the more her voice came out, the more I began to understand how Chapter Five needed to be structured.

I feel like I’m listening to Eula today. She’s telling me that the young mother sitting in front of her at church is important. She’s showing me that a volunteer, and not the usual volunteer, is the person who needs to drive her and the other “shut-ins” back home after the service is over. I hadn’t even thought about that. But as I was writing about life from Eula’s point of view, things started to fall into place.

I had trouble getting into her mind at first. Eula has very little of “Waterfall” in her personality. Eula has lived a hard life and has done some treacherous things in her lifetime, and now, after many years and in her old age, she’s dealing with guilt and regret for these things. It was hard to just jump into a character with such a complex background.

So first I had to think, “OK. What is something that I’ve always felt really guilty or regretful about?”

My mind immediately went to a day during my senior year of high school. I was driving my friend S. somewhere, and we came very close to getting into a wreck. Had we been hit, it would have been my fault, and S. would have been seriously hurt and probably killed. I said some serious prayers of thanksgiving for quite some time after that.

I don’t know if S. remembers that event. It really was more of a non-event, but I remember it vividly because, as the driver of the car, I recognized how close we came to being hit. The memory has haunted me for almost twenty years. It is still painful to think that my poor driving and one bad decision could have ended the life of a friend.

So. I wrote out that memory, then thought, “What if S. had died, or had been made a vegetable as a result of my negligence?” My honest answer? “I probably would have killed myself.”

So. The writer in me wrote, “Well, Waterfall, Eula’s a whole lot tougher and stronger than you’ll ever be. She’s certainly not one to kill herself, no matter how big her burden of remorse becomes. All she’s ever known is how to survive, and unlike you, she's spent a lot more time surviving rather than reflecting. She's never had the time or the inclination to think about ending her own life."

So. How would she feel in this situation? What would she think, the moment that seed of remorse first started to grow in the light of self-realization? What would Eula do?

Then the character of Eula came alive and I was able to write about her guilt (regarding her father’s death in 1958) from a very real place inside me. Next thing I knew, I’d handwritten five pages and knew what I needed to write in Chapter Five.

I love writing. I’d write Eula’s story for free if I had to.

Wait … I am writing Eula's story for free. Ahem. That’s what Eula’s demanding that I do, anyway. And I’m better off listening to Eula. She has some wisdom to her. Even if she is just a crotchety old imaginary friend.

A Death in the Family

Our friend Steve Cavanaugh died yesterday after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a couple of months ago.

We're going to miss him dearly. His family and my family have been good friends for over 20 years. We first met them when they started coming to our church in the early 80s. Steve was a talented musician and singer and would bring his guitar with him whenever he, Becky, Lauren, and Chris would come to the house to visit, which was often back in the 80s and 90s. He would play guitar and sing for us and with us. I would play some piano. We would all tell stories and laugh. I loved those evenings.

The Cavanaughs were like an extension of our family. My family, wonderful as they are, are not musicians. They love music, but not from the inside--not the way a musician can. Steve understood my musician's love for music, and I understood his. It was good to have someone in the family, albeit an extended one, who shared a passion for something that meant so much to me.

My brother called this morning, and he, my sister, and I are talking about making a there-and-back road trip to Louisiana for the funeral. I have some Sunday obligations, but I may make the road trip anyway. My mom said it might be better for us to wait until we visit at Christmas, when we can spend more time with Becky and the family. She's right, of course, but part of me feels a deep need to go to this funeral.

Those of you who pray, please keep Steve's wife Becky, his daughter Lauren, his son Chris, and his daughter-in-law Annie in your prayers. I can't imagine the pain and shock that they are going through.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Trouble Writing

I've started to write several e-mails and several blog posts today, but I keep deleting them. It's because I'm really stressed about some things that are going on, and my not-very-happy attitude keeps spilling over into my writing. Today I've been in an emotionally draining "Damned-If-You-Do, Damned-If-You-Don't" situation, and I'm frustrated because ... well, I'm damned if I try do something about it, and I'm damned if I don't. I can't win.

As if there isn't enough suffering in the world. I'm going to go shopping for Operation Christmas Child gifts. It'll get my mind off my own frustrations.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Pre-Writing" for Chapter Five

I let myself out of the house today. Went to the coffee shop, away from telephones, dirty clothes, and the internet. Away from anything, in other words, that might distract me from the novel. Regardless of my other responsibilities, I am determined to work for at least three hours a day, five days a week, on this draft until it's completed.

I'd planned to start work on Chapter Five today, which I did, but I didn't actually write anything that will end up in Chapter Five. Chapter Five is about one of the main characters, a character who has shown up in a couple of previous chapters, but only very subtly ... she's shown up like a design in wallpaper so far. You see her, but you don't really notice her.

I realized that I needed to understand more about this character and her past before I could write a single word of Chapter Five, even though her past would have little to do with Chapter Five itself. But I couldn't write about a character I didn't know.

So I sat down and typed out a five-page monologue, from that character's point of view. I basically have her tell her life story. What came out was pretty tragic. I knew this character would be a complex person, but now I'm seeing just how complex.

I also had to make a character list and figure out when everyone was born and how old they are in the story and how old they were in 1956 and how old they were when different, younger characters were born. That was very time-consuming, but the final chart was a handy-dandy reference when it came time for this character to tell her life story.

Next: Housework. Work on Jan's book. Run. Practice. More housework.

It's been a good day for writing. Maybe I'll start actually writing Chapter Five tomorrow.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Chapter Four Draft: Done

I turned off the phones at 10:30 this morning. Sat down in front of the computer. Did my best not to play on the internet. Focused on writing.

My chapters are getting longer and longer. Chapter One was 12 pages. Chapter Two was 14. Chapter Three was 16. And now Chapter Four is 17.

I only wrote about three pages today. I was writing a rather sensitive scene in which a young woman befriends a stroke victim who lives in a nursing home. He's very sweet but not very verbal. I didn't think it would be hard to write the scene, but it kept veering toward the saccharine--"sappy greeting-card style," I call it--so I kept deleting and rewriting, taking out the sappy-sounding adjectives and replacing them with concrete description and dialogue (in this case, the woman's thoughts, the old man's face, and the babbling of another person nearby).

I'm still not happy with the scene, or with the chapter ending (which also qualifies for Sappy Greeting Card Status), but I'm going to move on. The words will come to me when they're ready. Meanwhile, I'll plow ahead to Chapter 5.

I'm Back

I just switched both of my blogs to Blogger Beta. Just testing here.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Fourteen Miles, and a Few Doubts

Yeah, baby. Fourteen mile-a-roonies. The toe-tips are sporting the usual 10+ mile blisters, but I'm otherwise feeling great. I ran at a nice, easy pace, and the total run, including occasional water stops and one pottie break, took me about three hours.

As has happened in previous long runs, I start to feel really tired after the 10-mile mark. But around 10.5 miles, I get a second wind and feel great for the rest of the run.

Now, I've only done three runs that have been at least 10 miles. Not a lot, but enough to see a bit of a pattern.

Today, my legs started to feel like lead at about 13.1 miles. I think it was a psychological thing, since 13.1 miles is the distance of a half-marathon. I kept pushing until I reached 14 miles (give or take a couple of tenths, since I don't have a GPS and only had a stopwatch to go by), and then the old bod said, "Okay. Enough." So I walked back to my car, which was another mile (I didn't plan to have that long of a walk afterward, but that's how it happened).

After drinking some water and eating a banana, I headed home. Ever since I started this running thing, I crave bananas and eat them all the time. Not so long ago, I didn't even like bananas all that much. Weird. I guess I need the potassium.

I feel tired now, but ... whew ... it feels really good to be able to say I ran 14 miles. And that I felt pretty good throughout the whole run. I did a lot of thinking when I was running and discovered that I have some doubts about running this half-marathon coming up in December. Some of those thoughts were:

- I don't know what I'm doing. I don't have a coach. I'm clueless.

- I'm pushing myself too hard/not pushing myself hard enough (yes, both thoughts came to mind).

- Long runs are supposed to be run at something slower than "race pace," but I don't even know what my race pace is. What if I'm moving too slow? Too fast? Though I can't imagine that my slow-run shuffle would ever be considered too fast.

- I should have a trainer. It's probably really dumb to train for something like this using a mixture of intuition and a "beginning runner's half-marathon training guide" from Runner's World online.

- I've only been running for three months and I'm already doing 14-mile long runs. Is that good? Bad? The guy at the running shop was concerned that I was running too far too fast, but I've followed the "beginning runner's half-marathon training guide" pretty closely. Maybe I wasn't a beginning runner. I was, but I was also a veteran walker, stair-stepper, elliptical-machine person, and long-distance hiker. Did that count for something?

- I can't do this. My nutrition system is entirely wrong. I get my veggies and protein and all that, but I've also used running as an excuse to eat all the carbs I want. I munch on my favorite cereal, Grape Nuts Flakes, each and every day, and I eat, with abandon, I might add, toast with butter and jam whenever I want. And no Wheat Thin is safe around me. No banana, either. Funny, though--I haven't been eating sweets as much as I thought I would. But I still think I could do better in the nutrition department.

- I'm not doing enough weight-training. My flapping upper-arms will render me airborne during the race, and I won't be able to finish. (Or who knows ... maybe I'll sail past all the other runners and win!)

- I can feel my pulse throbbing in my right ear. What does that mean? What horrible thing have I done to my body that's making my pulse throb in my right ear?

So, these are the thoughts that ran through my mind while running today (the pulse-in-the-ear thing was actually during the cool-down walk). Lots of positive thoughts were there, too, but that goes without saying. Maybe I'll post them in a future post, since this is the month for being thankful for things like, I don't know, legs that work. But this is the first long run I've done where I've really found myself beset by doubts. Even though I was listening to music and/or Phedippidations throughout most of the run.

The doubts are similar to the ones I had when I was preparing to thru-hike the AT, so I'm not putting a lot of stock in them. Mostly I'm just listening to my body and taking care not to push myself further than the old bod is willing to go.

Friday, November 10, 2006

I Got Rhythms ... I Got Pages ... Etc.

Today was a most wonderful and productive day. (Don't you love when those days happen?)

I worked for three hours on my novel and managed to write seven pages. I now have just a couple more pages to write in Chapter 4, then it's full-speed ahead to Chapter 5.

I practiced the prelude and fugue both using alternate rhythms. Very difficult to wrap my mind around, but I finally got it, and I'm now playing the sections I practiced much more smoothly and gracefully. My beloved Bach is thanking me from his organ loft in heaven.

Today was also a work day at the bookstore. I love work days at the bookstore (ah, the honeymoon phase of a job is always so nice!).

Know what I love more than work days at the bookstore?

LONG RUN DAYS!

And guess what tomorrow is, my friends? Correct! A LONG RUN DAY!

Woo hoo!

Wish me luck ... I'm going to spell words for a spelling bee tonight to benefit the local literacy council. That crazy Hubster nominated me. I hope they ask me to spell onomatopoeia. I can spell onomatopoeia ... or is it onomotopoeia ... uh-oh ...

Whoosh! Zing! Bang! I'm outta here for now!

Thursday, November 9, 2006

One-on-One

Yesterday was my piano lesson, which is almost always one-on-one. After that was my novel workshop, which included a one-on-one conference with the teacher. Reports below!

PIANO

Had a good piano lesson. I didn't practice as much as I should have, but I did practice more than I've been able to lately. I've spent a lot of time on scales and arpeggios, and it showed. Both are sounding great. I played through the B-minor scale, contrary motion, like it was nobody's business.

The Bach Prelude sounded good, but she wants me to practice each measure in rhythms now. I know the notes, and I have the fingering ... now I just need for it all to feel as natural as breathing. And rhythms are the way to do that.

Deborah thought the fugue sounded good, too, and she said to keep going, but to review individual measures of the material I've already learned in whatever way I feel is necessary to maintain them. Hm. First thing that came to my mind was "rhythms." "So, should I practice these in rhythms, too?" "Not necessarily," she said. "Just trust your intuition. You know what you need to do." I sighed and said. "Yep. Rhythms." She laughed.

The Liszt sounded muddy and not so good. Two weeks ago, my pedaling was "masterful" at times. Yesterday, it sounded like I had a lead foot combined with restless leg syndrome. Pedaling comes very naturally to me, and I couldn't figure out why it was so bad yesterday. Deborah said it's most likely because, with most pieces I've played, I could get by on pedaling when it "felt" right. "Now," she said. "You're working on a piece that requires a lot more technical know-how, and you're actually going to have to practice pedaling." So, that's good. It means I'm getting better.

We worked on a Beethoven sonata for Suzuki. I'm actually enjoying this piece. Basically the idea is to learn a piece that doesn't pose any technical challenges, simply as far as playing the notes is concerned. The technical challenge, then, is all in the dynamics, the shaping, etc. And I like working on that stuff.

WRITING

Class went well. Charles met with two other students before he met with me. When we finally got into the private little room and talked, he basically said something to the effect of, "You know what I think of your writing. You're a natural. You seem to know just what you're doing. My only advice for you is to keep writing. Any questions?"

"So, I'm all concerned that I'm spending too much time figuring out the life stories of every character. I don't want to spend all that time, but it seems necessary so that I can understand why they say and do what they say and do." I went on to explain that I'm drawn to the paradoxes in people's personalities, and how I need to understand the "why" of those paradoxes in my characters."

Instead of saying, "Just write, and don't worry about all that," he said, "Well, you're writing serious fiction. And you're meeting head-on the challenges that occur when one writes serious fiction. And I have no doubt that you'll get through this."

Then I said something about how I feared Chapter 3 was too chatty. He said to cut out chatty sections that didn't add to the overall arc of the story (or something like that), but that I should also realize that dialogue is a great way to move the story forward, and that I shouldn't automatically reject the idea of using lots of dialogue in places.

I never got to the question about outlining, but I did tell him about the next few chapters and what I planned to do with them, and with the novel as a whole. He just grinned and said, "You have great characters and a compelling story. And it's so true to life. You have a great project on your hands, and I'm excited for you. Just keep going."

So, that was the consultation. I felt really good afterward, because Charles wouldn't say something like that if he didn't mean it. At this point, I actually think I need confidence and motivation more than actual writing instruction and advice. And that consultation hit the spot.

I won't have any trouble setting aside three hours for writing today.