Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pockets of Time

Life is good right now because things are fitting into neat little spaces. That's not a common circumstance with me, so I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts. My job is decidedly not stressful (at least at the moment). I've worked out a schedule to fit everything in. I may not feel like following the schedule at the time, but once I start doing whatever it is I'm supposed to do, I'm glad I did.

Dragging oneself out of bed at 5 a.m. is no small task. Particularly when one is wedged between two cats, as is generally the case these days. But I've been doing it (OK ... 5:20 ... gimme a break). It's also hard to focus on writing a novel at 5:00 5:20 a.m. But it's getting easier because I've begun making it a habit. Of course, this commitment means that I've pretty much had to be in bed by 9:30. Which doesn't always happen, which means I'm tired all day ...

The hour-long commute to work in the morning goes pretty quickly, now that I'm a podcast junkie and never run out of podcasts to listen to.

Work is going well. I'm still not entirely certain what my job is supposed to be, exactly, but I'm having fun doing it, whatever it is. I'm downright comfortable with FrameMaker now, and I've been working on a good template for the internal documentation bits that I write. It doesn't sound that exciting, but it's actually kind of fun.

Lunchtime piano practice sessions are rocking. It's amazing how focused I can be when I'm not within spitting distance of a wireless connection. I've been using my 55-minute lunchtime practices for technique and Bach, and my half-hour nighttime practices for Liszt. I know that doesn't seem like a lot of practice time, but I'm so focused during these sessions, particularly the Bach sessions, that I think I'm getting more done in a shorter span of time than I normally would.

I've become a creature of habit. Because I spend my lunch hour practicing, I eat at my desk before I go. And then at 2:00 I go to a local coffee shop and get myself a cup of joe. Every day. And every day I ask if they have any bagels, and every day they tell me no. One of these days I'll learn.

And then there is the commute home. More podcasts. Have I mentioned that I've become a podcast junkie? I also downloaded the New Testament onto my iPod and am listening to that as well. I just started Luke.

Then I go straight to the gym. Do not pass Go, do not collect anything, just get my newly sedentary butt to the gym. I started training for another half-marathon this week, so I've begun following a relatively set schedule. See my sidebar (and the link to Buckeye Outdoors) for reports of how those workouts are going.

Then I run errands. Then I come home. By now it's 8 p.m. or later. I eat some sort of spinach-wrap concoction, then practice for a half-hour. Then check e-mail, then read for a while, then fall asleep around 11 p.m. Sometimes. I'm having trouble sleeping lately.

So, that's my life these days, and I'm sticking to it. Strict schedules can be good as long as they don't make us crazy.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Good Practice Today

I have no idea how long I practiced today. I think it was about two hours.

For those who don't know, I took a big, long sabbatical from George during the madness that was Relay For Life in March, April, and May. I'm not proud of having taken such a long break; I certainly didn't plan it. I suppose I could psychoanalyze my reasons for stepping back, but I think it was just a matter of priorities. And now George and I are getting reacquainted.

When I started practicing again (about the time I started my new job), I was happily surprised to find that my playing had not suffered much for the break. The Liszt was a little sloppy, but to tell the truth, it had always been a little sloppy, in my mind if not in the execution. I had a few issues with scales here and there ... but they were the same issues that had developed back in early March. (Do scale issues never cease to bombard the hapless pianist?) Arpeggios actually sounded better than before. And the Bach pieces, while they took some re-familiarizing, sounded as good as before.

Deborah is going to be performing next weekend, so my lessons have been few and far between while she prepares for her recital. That's fine with me. I got a crazy idea: to have everything ready by my next lesson. I'm pretty far along in all of my pieces (I'd better be, after working on them for a year!!), and I know, deep down inside, that if I would just work seriously on these for a few consecutive weeks, I would be able to play them well, enjoy doing it, and move on to new pieces.

So that's what I've been doing. My intermediate piece, a Bach prelude, is sounding polished. The C#-major prelude sounds great and I'm now working on speed. I can play the entire fugue, hands together, and am simply working on smoothing out some rough edges before I begin focusing more on speed. And the Liszt ... the Liszt sounds beautiful. All I'm doing with it is drilling the "sloppy" sections to de-sloppify them. And that's going well.

It's my dream to someday participate in the Cliburn Amateurs Competition. It'll probably have to wait until after the novel and the marathon and the PCT thru-hike, but it's a dream. And I may as well keep it in mind as I practice each day.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Yes, It Has Been Awhile

But the blog isn't dead. Not yet anyway.

I've been practicing regularly but haven't made the time to post about those practice sessions. I haven't had a lesson in several weeks, and won't have one until the first week of July or later. But I've been practicing.

I'm going to talk a little bit about my intermediate piece right now. I've spent more time on it than I imagined I would, but you know how we musician-types get when our perfectionist gene kicks in ...

I'm playing an "easy" Bach prelude in F. It's in a piano book I bought in England, something called "World's Greatest Piano Pieces" or some such, and it has a few dozen "popular" pieces, mostly from early-intermediate to intermediate, with a few late-intermediate pieces thrown in.

The prelude has been a challenge for me. The notes are easy enough--they are mostly broken chords, typical of a Bach prelude. Nearly every measure has some form of an F chord, a Bb chord, or a C7 chord. One good thing about having played piano so long (and having practiced arps and inversions in I-IV-V progressions) is that I really don't have to think about moving from one such chord to another. My hands just sort of do it naturally.

The problem with this prelude, however, is that it calls for six or seven fingers on each hand, and I only have five.

OK, it doesn't really call for that many fingers. But it would be an easier piece to play if I the arps didn't keep jumping by a fifth, even after I've run out of fingers.

So the challenge with this piece has been the same challenge I've faced in previous pieces: figuring out the fingering. Deborah has done a stellar job of helping me to become more confident in my ability to work out my own fingering. Or, I guess I should say, I've become a lot less reluctant to try every fingering pattern under the sun until I stumble upon the one that works best for me. I try to follow the usual arp fingering for much of it, with a few adjustments.

I think I've figured it out. So now I'm at the stage of playing through the whole thing and listening for the patterns and repetitions in the piece, and thinking about the voices and how they work together and apart. (It's not an invention or a fugue, but I think of everything as being in "voices" now.) I guess that's a way of saying that I've moved from "learning" the notes, to working out the fingering, to being able to play the piece smoothly, to where I can really hone in on interpretation and style--the fun part! (Of course, it's all fun.)

What's cool is that I went through all of these steps this week. I've had the intermediate piece for a couple of months, but I've never really looked at it or thought seriously about it until several days ago.

I love Bach.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Week Three of Corporate America-hood

Week Three was good. I'm liking cube life. Not a lot going on here in my corner of the world besides that. Here's a roundup:

1. I'm practicing piano regularly again. Yee-hi! I'm trying, with a little bit (but not a lot) of success, to revive The NAPS Blogger.

2. My new job rocks so far. I'm becoming a FrameMaker junkie. In my field, it's good to be a FrameMaker junkie. I'm glad I'm having to learn it for this job.

3. Jan's book is inching ever closer to publication. Stay tuned (just a little longer).

4. Linda's book, Kindergarten Countdown, is coming out July 10! Congratulations, Linda!

5. I haven't worked on my novel in several days (mainly because I've had another writing job--one with a deadline--to do), but I've been itching to get back to it. That's good. If I ever get to the point where I'm not itching to get back to it, then I'll know I'm in trouble.

6. The toilet water at my new job is blue. Blue. And it smells good. How cool is that?

7. Speaking of the toilet at work ... I can drink as much water (my water ... not toilet water) as I want, and pee whenever I want, as often as I want, at this job. I never dreamed I would appreciate such a thing, but after (1) being a teacher, and (2) working in retail, I've learned that it's a real treasure to be able to hydrate, dehydrate, and rehydrate at one's leisure.

8. I clap a lot at my job. I'll be sitting at my desk, and then I'll figure something out in FrameMaker, or come up with a cool new icon, or take a screenshot with FullShot, and I'll just get so excited that I break out into applause. I hope others do not find it too annoying.

9. I've kept up with my running. I start training for the Phedippidations Second Annual Worldwide Half-Marathon Challenge next week. Anyone wanna run it with me?

10. Life hasn't been a bed of roses lately, but I've had a real "it-is-well-with-my-soul" kind of peace about me, and that's been a blessing. My first instinct is to believe it is a spiritual thing, but then my inner cynic reminds me that it's probably just that sense of security and contentment that comes with having a regular paycheck combined with a non-stressful job.

That's about it from this side of the mountain. Tonight is Piano Frenzy night, and George is a-calling.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Done. Done, Done, Done.

I just sent Jan my proofreading comments on the last chapter of her book. The very last chapter. I'd proofread the acknowledgments and the epilogue already, so do you know what that means?

I'm done. It's over.

What's funny is that the last word of the second-to-last sentence of the whole book was "ove." Yes. "Ove." It's supposed to be "over." So I marked it thusly and sent it on.

It's really amazing; so many eyes have pored over this manuscript, but it wasn't until I was looking at the formatted "galley proof" that all those little groaners and typos jumped out at me. I knew it would happen that way. I originally hadn't intended to look at this final pre-printer copy because someone else was lined up for that, but Jan asked if I would, and of course I said yes. I can't resist a good proofreading job.

Boy, am I glad I looked over it one more time. I'm sure I missed a few groaners here and there, but I sure caught a bunch of them. Missing instances of "of" and "and," and double instances of "that" and a few sentences that had more than one "which" clause. And oh, the semicolons. Like me, Jan loves semicolons. You know what they say about great minds.

I'm afraid I am not a good editor for whacking semicolons. Semicolons are Godiva truffles compared to the Hershey's kisses of all the other punctuation marks. Semicolons are the sweetest and most exquisite of the punctuation marks. We don't want to overdo them.

Only problem is, I think I could eat my weight in Godiva truffles, if I let myself. And I feel the same way about using semicolons.

So the proofreading involved a bit of semicolon (and comma) whacking, though probably not enough. I tried to make sure no paragraphs had more than one semicoloned sentence.

I tried, but I failed. Alas, my hope is that the semicolons work for you, dear readers and future buyers of Jan's book, as well as they work for me.

I rooted out some dangling modifiers, too. And caught some serious hyphen infractions where en-dashes should have been used.

What's really sad is that, after all this work, there will still be typos and groaners. There always are. I find them in every book I read, no matter how sophisticated the publisher.

What's even sadder is that I'm going to miss this project.

But I'm done. I've done my best at my first-ever book-editing job, and I'm done.

Time for bed.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

So Close ...

I'm proofing the last six chapters of the formatted text (of Jan's book) tonight and tomorrow.

Then my job is done.

Y'all are really going to like it.

Yes, Sherry, it's okay to end a sentence with a preposition. At least I think so. Particularly if, by not ending it with a preposition, you end up with some really weird and twisted-sounding sentence, like "You are a good friend out with whom I like to hang." Stuff like that. :)

Time for bed.

P.S. I still like my new job.

Update

1. Anyone in the mood for another rant/pet peeve? Here it is: When the person ahead of me in line at Subway orders a sandwich that contains pickles and/or tuna fish, and the pickles and/or tuna fish get all over the plastic gloves of the sandwich artist, and then the sandwich artist does not change the gloves before handling my delicate veggie delite, and therefore gets nasty tuna fish and pickle germs all over it. Blech. I'm not near the picky eater I used to be, but I draw the line at tuna fish and pickles.

2. I'm slowly catching up on e-mails. It's hard when I can't take mini-work breaks to do so, but a g-mail block is a g-mail block.

3. Speaking of the job: I continue to like it so far. After feeling like a bumbling newbie at so many things for the last two years (teacher, bookseller, memoir-editor, Relay For Life PR person, etc.), it's nice to settle into work that I know I can do. I still have a learning curve (the subject I'm writing about, getting used to FrameMaker, reacquainting myself with RoboHelp), but the main part of the job--the part where I take complex information and make it easy for normal people to understand--is old hat.

This is all I have time for now. Hope everyone has a lovely Thursday.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why No One Has Heard from Me

I am working a lot and cannot access my personal e-mail or Blogger from work (probably a good thing. Yes. Definitely a good thing.)

I'm awash in galley proofs of "The Ordinary Adventurer." It's very exciting, seeing the actual text of the actual book. I'm reading through and setting right every last misplaced comma, weeding out every last extraneous period, snipping every last embarrassingly dangling modifier, and generally pruning this just-before-final edition of anything that just isn't quite right.

Y'all, this is going to be a good book. I'm not just saying that because I edited it (would that I had that much confidence!) or because the author, a fine writer herself, is a friend of mine, but because it's just going to be a good book.

So, my apologies (again) to all who are wondering where I've been. When you see this book (and you are going to buy it, aren't you?), you'll understand. (When you do read it, be sure you notice how well-placed the commas and semicolons are!)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Rant

I rarely rant here. But I'm going to do it now.

Ever since I started telling people last month that I'd be taking a tech writing job, I have heard more people comment that, because they are good at grammar and spelling and making nice sentences, they would be good technical writers. It annoys me, the same way it annoys me when people say things like the following:

- "A 5K is only 3.1 miles? Oh, I could run that!"

- "I've been dabbling with the idea of writing a book in my spare time. I know I could do it."

- "Oh, I was really advanced when I was a kid, but I can't play at all now." (when I tell people that I play piano at an advanced level)

I want to say:

- No, you probably would not be a good technical writer, particularly if you think the main requirement is to be able to put words together into sentences.

- No, if you don't run on a regular basis, you probably couldn't run a 5K ... at least not with the ease with which you're implying you could.

- Yes, you could probably write a book. Anyone can write a book, I suppose. But no, you probably couldn't write a good book, particularly if you plan to dabble at it and you don't read and you've never enjoyed writing. I don't know if I can write a good book, and I've been consciously working on the craft of writing for most of my life. Oh, and I've been dabbling with the idea of practicing law in my spare time.

- If you dropped piano so completely as a kid, could you really have advanced that much before quitting? I'm not saying it couldn't happen ... I just have my doubts. And thanks for making me feel like my "advanced level," which is now three decades in the making, is something akin to how you played when you were six.

Rant over. Time for bed.

Day 4 of Life in Corporate America

I'm cautiously optimistic.

I forgot that it was possible to have a job in which you (1) are happy with the work you do, and (2) are paid something close to what you think you're worth.

Right now, I have one of those jobs.

I spent the whole day writing a small manual for programmers. I got to write it from scratch. I love writing tech documents from scratch. It allows me to be creative.

It looks like there is going to be a lot of room for creativity in this job, for several reasons. One, I'm the only tech writer and don't have to follow some pre-determined "group style" of developing documentation. Two, a lot of stuff--like this programmers' manual--needs documentation to be written for the first time. Three, the current user guides for the signature software need some work, and I'm the one who gets to revise, rewrite, and recreate. Four, I get to learn lots of new software.

Life is still good.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Cubicle without Wall

My cubicle is missing a wall.

My employer apologized, saying I would have a wall by Friday.

Everyone seemed truly sorry that I didn't have a wall. Everyone seemed like they wouldn't have been surprised if I had cursed, stamped my foot, and grumbled and complained about not having a wall.

Two (or was it three?) jobs ago, I taught five classes and didn't have a classroom for the first four months of the school year.

I think I can live without having a wall.

Day 3 of Corporate America-hood

I'm learning new software programs. There's the company's signature software, and then the various internal software tools, and then the very, very cool screenshot software--all of which are brand-spanking-new to me. Next week, add FrameMaker (which I don't know very well) and RoboHelp (which I learned pretty well in Cubicle Land but haven't revisited since then), and I have quite a plateful of learning and re-acquainting ahead of me.

I feel like a thru-hiker at an all-you-can-eat restaurant. I'm happy as a clam.

I get to write the "how-to" guides for the first two software programs. To do that, I'll use the last three programs.

I hate to say it, being the pianist and novelist and creative person that I am, but ... I am so in my element right now. I think I'm going to move the Hubster and cat pictures in tomorrow.

I am nothing if not adaptable.

I practiced piano at the Baptist church during my lunch hour. It's so cool to go from software to the glory of Bach (the C#-major prelude) to software, all in a matter of a couple of hours.

Day 3 of Corporate America, and I'm still going strong.

Chapter 16 Draft: Done, and Not as Bad as Before

OK, I just finished my third draft of my Chapter 16 draft.

I've been waking up at 5 a.m., and I pretty much immediately start working on the novel (after coffee and feeding the cats, of course). I don't do Morning Pages. I don't have any kind of devotional. I just start writing. And I only look up for more coffee or to pet Hideaway. (I call her my "mews" because she always sits with me when I'm writing.)

This is a short post because I need to get back to writing. Just wanted to let the world know that Chapter 16 is done. (For now!)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Day Two of Corporate American-hood

5 am: Woke up, started working on the novel. Also did some work on Jan's book. Took periodic breaks to pet the cat and get more coffee. Washed, dried, and folded a load of clothes. Got dressed for work. (We can wear jeans at this company!!)

7 am: Left for work. Listened to NPR and Bach.

8 am: Arrived at work. Did exciting things like comparing QuickRef cards I found on the internet.

9 am: Got a cool ergonomic keyboard because I had complained that my old keyboard had a peanut butter & jelly sandwich beneath the keys. I could see all the crumbs, and all the keys were sticking.

10 am: Complained that my cool (but used) ergonomic keyboard had even more crumbs (however less stick) than the previous keyboard. Was given a high-pressure crumb-blower thingy. Cleaned the keyboard, then attacked said keyboard and desk with Clorox wipes.

11 am: Had a meeting with my two bosses. Learned that all documentation is FrameMaker, a program I'm not very familiar with. I swear I don't remember them saying that in the interview. And wouldn't I remember something like that? The good news is, my friend Snickles is a FrameMaker expert and will be reacquainting me with FrameMaker for a few hours this weekend. I'll be a FrameMaker whiz kid by the time they install the software on my computer.

11:30 pm: Met with a co-worker to discuss some documentation I'm going to be writing over the next week or so. Learned the basics of the software I'll be writing the user guide for. Played with the software and took preliminary documentation notes for a while.

12:40 pm: Went to a local church to ask about borrowing one of their pianos during lunch hour. Had a bit of a reunion with a woman I'd met when I was two or three years old. She and her husband had served at my parents' church back in the very early 1970s and had adopted their kids from the same agency my parents used.

1:10 pm: Went to a coffee shop around the corner from my job. (Yes! There is a coffee shop around the corner from my job! And it has free WiFi!) Checked e-mail. Chilled.

1:40 pm: Back to work. Played with the software some more. Made more notes. A few hours later, I had a very specific and complete outline of the documentation, which I'll actually start writing tomorrow after I've gone over it with the developer.

2:30 pm: Got a brand new ergonomic keyboard. Said goodbye and good riddance to the crumbs of the old ergonomic one.

5:00 pm: Helped a co-worker figure out some stuff in Word. I am a Word SME. Who knew?

5:30 pm: Drove back to my neck of the woods. Went straight to gym. Realized I'd forgotten my gym shorts. Went to Wal-Mart. Tried on several pairs of $8 gym shorts and bought two. Went back to gym. Ran four miles.

7:30 pm: Got home. Said hello to herbs, peppers, and 'mater patch. Made veggie pasta with broccoli, cauliflower, and cherry tomatoes. Ate. Put stuff in containers so I can bring lunch to work. Checked e-mail. Blogged.

Now it's 9:45 pm and George has been silent all night. I'm taking my music books with me to work tomorrow for Day 1 of practicing at the church.

Time for a shower and some sleep.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Non-Cubicle-Landed Stuff

Novel: I woke up this morning at 5:00 and worked on Chapter 16 for about an hour and a quarter. I took several breaks to look over proofs of several pages of Jan's book and send feedback to her and to the publisher. But mostly I got to work on the novel.

Making the Most of the Commute: I listened to Mass in B Minor on the way to work, and then some of the Brandenburg Concertos (Concerti?). All Bach. I had to listen to some NPR as I neared the office, just so I could have a buffer between the miraculous world of Bach and the everyday world of work.

On the way home, I listened to the podcast of last week's "This American Life." I love that show.

Piano: I practiced for about 20 minutes tonight. Not good. I hope to resume lunch-hour practice sessions again soon and will be pursuing that possibility tomorrow.

Hubster: Talked to him on the phone twice today. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. He is the sweetest old Hubster there is.

Exercise: Worked out at the gym after work. Weight training and 25 minutes on the elliptical.

I almost forgot! I ran a 5K this weekend and finished in 27:11!

Healthy Eating: I pretty much ate nothing but fruit and yummy salad all day. Then I went to the grocery store after work and bought a bunch of ... fruits and vegetables. And some frozen chicken breasts. And some pasta. Came home and was too tired to cook anything. So I ate a TLC bar, some a bunch of veggie chips, and a piece of cinnamon toast.

The 'Mater Patch: I have a 'mater patch. I didn't know I was supposed to lime it, but my friend Jan (the author) said I should lime it, so I went ahead and limed it this evening.

Sleep: It's 10:00. Going to beddie-bye. Good night.

I am a Corporate American

Today I re-entered the world of Corporate America.

I have a nice desk in a nice cubicle. I'm working with nice people. In one day, I made more money than I would would have made working three Sundays at the bookstore.

The dress code is casual and the company is flexible about when employees show up and when employees leave.

It's a good situation. I haven't started actually working yet; today was kind of a "get acquainted" day. It was good not to be stressed right off the bat ... but around 2:00 I found myself itching for some work to do.

They've assured me that I'll be extremely busy for the next few weeks. I've even been given my first deadline, though I won't be able to start on the project until after a meeting on Wednesday.

I'm happy to have a job, and insurance, and all that. I'm happy that I'm working at a good company with good people.

Still, I'm a little sad. The past year of my life (my teaching job ended almost one year ago to the day) has been one of great contentment and happiness for me. Things changed today: I started a new job, and Hubster's summer camp season started. All at the same time. I'm entering a new phase, and it's going to be a good phase, but there is still the sadness of "moving on."

There's the excitement, too. I'm just feeling melancholy tonight.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Performing Surgery on Ch. 16

I wanted to perform surgery on Chapter 16 yesterday but kept getting interrupted. By the end of the day, I was in a very bad mood because I had let those interruptions repeatedly take me away from my writing. So I performed some surgery for a couple of hours last night and will continue to do so this morning. I have a million things to do today, so I'll do as much as I can right now.

This has been a hard chapter to write. I can't help but think that it wouldn't be so hard I'd been a little ruder to everyone in these past weeks, and a little more protective of my dwindling time to write.

Three more days until I become a Corporate American.

Two hours later: Surgery is over. I don't know how successful it was. I'm going to take care of some non-writing responsibilities for a couple of hours, and then come back to Chapter 16 at little later, to see if it "takes" or not.