Thursday, September 7, 2017

Cubicles

For someone who is supposed to be a free spirit, I've always been fascinated by cubicles. Yes, I'm talking about office cubicles--those little ceilingless structures that are the bane of office cogs everywhere.

I love them. I love the idea of having a space cut off from everyone else. My own little space. While a room of my own is nice, all I really need is a cubicle. A spot in an unassuming place, on the walk from the window to the water cooler, that I can call my own.

Lately I've felt a great desire to put the different parts of my life into cubicles. To visit each cubicle for a bit each day, and then move on to the next one. Once I step into a cubicle, I forget all the others. I focus on the work at hand in that cubicle, do what needs to be done, and then I go to the next one.

This morning I visited the Exercise Cubicle, and then I spend a few minutes in the Classical Guitar Cubicle. Now I'm in the Writing Cubicle--one that doesn't get visited so often anymore, I'm afraid. Next will be the Family Cubicle--getting Anne up and ready for school--and then onward to the Work Cubicle, which itself is divided into mini-cubicles. Then the Mom Cubicle--cooking dinner, thing bringing Anne to her drum lesson, then harping after her to do her homework. At some point, I may fit in the Self-Grooming Cubicle, which includes showering and getting dressed in something other than these sweaty workout clothes.

At night, I feel cubicle-less. Nights are random. Wash dishes, maybe clean some house, mostly just whine about how tired I am and try to get my daughter to go to sleep. I really hate evenings. Everyone is home, and I feel as if life has no order. No neat cubicle. Finally, late, too late, I might stop into the Reading Cubicle for a bit.

I miss so many cubicles during the day. The Piano Cubicle. The Voice Cubicle. The Running Cubicle. The Meditation Cubicle.

So if my life was an office building, it would have a lot of dusty, neglected cubicles, along with a few that are worn from so much use.

I need to rearrange the cubicles.

I'm doing better, though. I've been exercising every morning--that's one cubicle that's gotten a lot more use lately. I'm also planning meals, which takes more time, but it's better than falling into a rut, which is what we'd done.

And now it's 7:12 a.m. and my Writing Cubicle is about to close for the day. Time to move on to the Family Cubicle.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Habits

As I grow older, I become more and more aware of the importance of habits--and the struggle of establishing them. When I look back on the times of my life when I've been most productive, the major common thread I see is that of habit and, to a slightly lesser degree, structure. Even when my days weren't structured by work or school, I had my own structure, a structure dictated by habit.

I think of some of the habits I've cultivated over the years, habits I don't have now:
  • Exercising early
  • Exercising daily
  • Writing every day
  • Walking every day
  • Running/jogging regularly
  • Praying at set times
  • Reading every night
  • Practicing piano every day
  • Weekend mornings alone at the coffee shop--much-needed times for writing and reflection
Those are just a few, and I didn't have all of those habits at the same time. But I had them, and I kept them, many of them for years and years.

Today the only habit I seem to have is obsessively checking social media ... for what reason, I have no idea. It's not like I learn anything new there, and while I like seeing pictures of friends, their kids, and their cats, it's not something that should require dozens of daily interruptions to my life. And it's not something I particularly enjoy anyway. So why do I do it?

Habit.

I also have a habit of not moving. I sit down to work in the morning, and I barely move all day. Even if I get 4,000+ steps from morning exercise, I'll end the day with maybe 6,000.

Without question, I need to actively establish some habits again. At this point in my life, it should be easy; now that we've settled into our new home and Anne is at school, my days have some degree of structure. The focus now needs to be on (1) what habits I want to establish, and (2) where those habits should fit within the existing structure.

One hard thing is that I may not necessarily be able to do daily habits. I might have to practice piano every other day, or just three times a week. I might have to exercise only four times a week. This is hard for me because a daily schedule seems easier to stick to. Anything less makes me feel like I'm going to go adrift.

I'm already adrift. Right now I'm practicing piano once every couple of weeks. I have to remind myself that any improvement is good.

Habit. This will be the beginning of things getting better.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Neglecting My Self

I am not in a good place.

I'm getting mean. Bitchy. Yelling and throwing things. I'm sleeping better than I was, but I'm not sleeping well. I don't seem to be able to maintain an exercise schedule. I feel crowded, like I've woken up buried deep inside my mummy sleeping bag and I can't find my way out. It's a suffocating, panic-inducing, hopeless feeling. I'm angry all the time. Or at least a lot of the time. When I hear the word "Mom," I just want to scream. "Can't you get your own waffle? Can't you get your own glass of water?" She can, and it frustrates the hell out of me that she wants to be waited on hand and foot, and that she still hasn't picked up her damn socks off the dining room floor.

We moved into this house nearly three months ago, and but I still don't feel moved in. My biggest mistake there was not taking a week of vacation to settle in, get things organized, get some routines in place. No, I took a single day off for moving, and then I was right back to full-time work the next day. And it hasn't stopped. Every few weeks I pack up everything and drive back to Asheville for two or three days of work, and then it's back to Augusta. Three and a half hours one way, each time. It's tiring me out. I just want to settle down. To rest. To relax for five minutes.

But the house is a wreck. There are wet clothes in the washing machine that have been there for three days now. I don't remember the last time I changed the sheets. And the shower is weirdly slippery because I haven't had a chance to clean it. There's always something else I have to do. And if I mention to someone that I need to clean house, I hear comments of, "You know, there are more important things in life than a clean house." As if I'm some sort of neat freak who thinks clean houses are important. Well, they are important, I think. I wouldn't know. I haven't had once since I lived with my parents.

I write about music and creativity a lot, so I might give the impression that I live this idyllic life with hours available each day for practicing. I don't. I'm lucky if I get 20 minutes several mornings a week on guitar, and if I play piano for an hour in a week, I'm doing better than usual. I haven't written a word of fiction or journaling in months. I used to retreat to coffee shops on a regular basis for a few hours of writing and thinking. No more. It's been at least a year since I've done that.

So I'm angry. I want to go on a long walk. I want to be in a routine where I get up each morning and work out. I've done that intermittently since I moved here, but it is so hard to wake up. And I know the old adage about it taking three weeks to create a habit. But three weeks of waking up at 4:45 a.m. when I can't sleep more than three or four hours a night is a recipe for madness after a while. So I don't know what to do there.

Years ago I worked through a book on priorities, goal setting, and scheduling, and it worked pretty well for me, so I dug that book out again. The first task was to write down the things that are important to me, and then to list them in order of priority.

I couldn't do it. The priorities--meaning the priorities I wish could be priorities--were not family, God, health, work, etc. They were making music and being in nature and making the world a better place. Not bad things, but not the things that are supposed to be the most important. I totally forgot my husband and my job in the first go-around. How sad is that? I'm listing the things that are most important to me, and I totally forget the man I'm married to and the career I spend forty to fifty hours a week pursuing.

Friendships was in the list, but, in truth, they aren't all that important to me. I'm generally pretty happy with having acquaintances and nothing more, but that's partly because I have my husband to share my deepest self with ... and he didn't even make the list.

Go figure. So I take him for granted, and that's a problem, too.

Health was near the bottom of the list because I didn't think of it sooner. My health is going to find itself in the garbage can if I don't do something soon. Yesterday all I ate was half a bag of Tostitos, washed down by a Diet Coke. I don't even drink Diet Coke anymore! I crave one a couple of times a year and allow myself to indulge. But yesterday I bought a whole six-pack because I was craving it, and I've had two already.

When it's time to make the bed or fold the clothes, I just feel sluggish and a little angry. It seems I'm running from task to task to task, and just as I sit down to relax or (gasp) play the piano, I hear, "Mom!" or "Nina!" and I have to run and help someone with something.

Have I mentioned my bills? That stack of unopened envelopes that's sitting on my desk, unopened because I'm scared to look at them?

I think I'm skirting the edge of that mucky, quicksand-filled ditch called Depression. I do not want to go there, so I need to pull myself together and figure things out. I just don't know when I'm going to find time to do that. It's 6:40 a.m. and I have to get Anne up and ready for school, and then there's work, and then there's ...

It just doesn't stop. My life is wonderful in so many ways--I live in a nice house, I have my health, I have a good family, I have two sweet kittens, I have a good job, I work with good people, etc., etc. But I am seriously about to lose my mind.

I'm going to try to work through this book on priorities and scheduling because it worked for me before, and maybe it'll work for me again. I might post updates here on the blog, or I might not. I don't know. I might delete this post before long, or I might not post it at all.

I hate feeling this overwhelmed. I shouldn't feel this overwhelmed.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Tired

Two weeks ago, my Aunt Joyce passed away. She was 94, but it was still a shock. I always thought she'd live to be at least 100. She played a big role in my life as I was growing up, but I hadn't seen her much since moving away 14 years ago. The last time I saw her alive was last Thanksgiving. I figured we'd see her again this Thanksgiving. But instead, I traveled to Louisiana last week for her funeral.

I flew back to Georgia Saturday and was home Saturday night and all of Sunday. On Monday, I was up at 4:30 a.m. and on the road by 5:00 to drive to Asheville for three days of work. On Wednesday, after a long day of work, I drove back to Augusta and got home around 9:00.

And then yesterday, Thursday, was a full day of working from home.

I'm tired. And sad. I need a break.

Yesterday I had my acoustic guitar lesson, after two weeks of barely picking up my guitar. As I played through the simple pieces, I wondered if I really needed to be taking lessons for $20 a week--particularly since I'm also taking classical guitar lessons for $25 a week.

So, I think I'm doing to stop the acoustic lessons. It was something fun for the summer and my teacher taught me some very basic things that I needed to learn. But I'm tired. Right now I give up three to five lunch hours a week for either music lessons or regularly scheduled work meetings. And I'm tired.

I haven't gone back to voice lessons, and I don't know if I'm going to go back. Not that I don't want to, but ... I'm tired.

Am I sounding like a broken record? I feel like one. A broken something, at least.

Yesterday we went to Portman's, the local music store where Anne is taking drum lessons. While she was in her lesson, I plopped myself down in front of a Yamaha clavinova/keyboard and played for a half hour. I love to play so much, and I love that I can still make magic come out of my fingers, even though I don't play regularly. I'm thinking ... if I don't do acoustic guitar lessons and I don't do voice, then I would have time for one thing I really want to do: play piano at local assisted living centers and nursing homes.

And I can play guitar and sing whenever I want, just not formally.

But still, I'm just so tired. My new year's resolution was to get back in touch with my musical self, and I've done that, to a great degree. But it's taken a lot of time and effort (and money).

One thing I won't quit is my classical guitar lessons. I'm not good at it yet, but after a few years, I'll be able to enjoy it the way I enjoy piano. I'm certain of it. And it can bring me (and others) the same peace and joy that piano does.

So, this blog post doesn't really have a point, other than to tell my four readers that I'm tired. And kind of sad. And wishing I had more time for music, while also wondering why music has to take up so much of my time.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Time for a Music Update: Piano

With the move last month (or was it two months ago?), my musical life had a bit of an interruption. But now that I've been here for eight weeks, I've fallen into more of a routine. I've also started working out in the mornings (5:30 a.m.), so it's been a challenge to wake up, work out, and still make time for music practice before the rest of my family rises and shines.

Oh, and I have a music room now.



Let's talk about piano first, since it's my first and best love, and the only instrument that I can play with some skill. I recently discovered Sheet Music Direct, and oh my ... it has put a dent in my "fun money" account (I don't have a "fun money" account, actually. But if I did, it would have put a dent in it.)

I've decided that I want to find a few nursing homes or assisted living facilities where I can play piano for an hour or so a few times a month, doing something of a rotation every other week. With that thought in mind, I started finding songs that would be appropriate for that. Of course I have a decent repertoire of hymns, and a few simpler classical pieces that I learned as a child and never forgot. I also have the Bach's G minor sinfonia and Chopin's B-flat minor nocturne, along with a few jazz and ragtime pieces. So I have enough of a repertoire to play for an hour ... but I need more than that.

Nursing home residents can range from my age (or younger) to somewhere in the 90's or even 100 or more. So we're talking about people born between, say, the 1920's and the 1960's ... with musical tastes formed in around the 1940's to the 1980's. That's everything from Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller to Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis, to Louis Armstrong, to the Beatles, to Carole King, to Billy Joel and Elton John. That's a lot of music! I can play a little bit of everything, but I need to up my piano game. I need to build my repertoire. So I've begun building a list of songs I want to learn, and once I start volunteering, I'll ask the residents what they'd like to hear, and learn those songs.

I think part of me wants to be kind of a para-professional--not a paid pianist, but good enough, and professional enough, to be one. I know I have it in me. I just need to practice, and I need to start getting some "volunteer gigs." I have a list of facilities in front of me, and I'm going to start making calls next week.

As far as what I'm working on right now, not necessarily for nursing homes but for me:
  • Great Balls of Fire (Jerry Lee Lewis)
  • I Feel the Earth Move (Carole King)
  • Re-learning Bach's C#-major prelude from WTC I
  • Polishing up Chopin's B-flat minor nocturne (Op. 9, No. 1)
OK, onward to instrument #2 ... guitar.

Time for a Music Update: Guitar

This post is part of a group of posts, the first of which is my piano update. Now it's time for guitar. I need to divide this post into two parts: classical guitar and acoustic guitar.

Classical Guitar

When I told my guitar teacher I was moving, he said, "No problem, we can do online lessons." I wasn't so sure about online lessons, but I said I was willing to try.

They've been OK. Definitely not as good as in-person, but ... in some ways, better. For one thing, it's nice not to have to lose 30 minutes driving back and forth to my lesson each week. And, thanks to a high-octane internet connection, I haven't had any technical problems. And here's something weird: I used to leave my guitar lessons feeling kind of dejected, like I wasn't cool enough for this teacher because I didn't care about power chords or electric guitar or jazz improvisation (yet). With the online lessons, the focus is solely on classical guitar; we have less chit-chat, and we go on fewer tangents.

Because I have to go back to Asheville every four to six weeks for work, I still have the occasional in-person guitar lesson, which I think is good.

I'm currently working on "Mary Hamilton," a Scottish folk ballad arranged by Peter Hudson. If you'd like to hear the version I'm learning, you can watch this YouTube video.

This piece has brought me so much frustration! I've been working on it for three months, and it was only a couple of weeks ago that it started to sound like an actual song and not a painful stumbling through notes. I think the piece is above my level, and when I told my guitar teacher that, he said he thought it was perfect--just enough to make me reach and get better.

I understand that. I understand that you need to challenge your students, and I need to challenge myself. But I still felt like I was jumping from Kindergarten straight to third grade, and it wasn't any fun. It was three months before "Mary Hamilton" began to be recognizable as a song and not some tortured finger exercise. When he assigned a second song ("Simple Gifts," arranged by Richard Summers) that was at about the same level, my frustration levels increased as I practiced the same tricky measure over and over again with very little progress.

So I got on the phone with my guitar teacher and said, "Look, this stuff is too hard. I need something easier. Baby steps." I have the feeling that, because I know theory and can play piano, there's the idea that those skills and knowledge are somehow transferable to guitar technique. Maybe they are in some students ... but I can't do it. Guitar is so different from piano, and so much harder. The white keys on a piano, and even the black keys, feel like football fields compared to the tightrope wires of the guitar strings. And on piano, everything makes sense--low notes to the left, high notes to the right. Middle C is middle C is middle C. On the guitar, there are half a dozen or so middle C's, and your fingers have to move and forth along the fret board just to play a scale.

So, we're going to ditch "Simple Gifts" for now and come back to it in six months or a year once I've mastered a few more Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade pieces. It's a beautiful piece and I want to play it, but now is not the time.

Acoustic Guitar

While classical guitar is my main focus, I also want to be good enough at acoustic guitar to lead and play songs. A woman in our neighborhood has been giving me informal lessons, working from some old Alfred and Mel Bay books. Some of the stuff is really easy, but I'm also learning some things that I wouldn't have learned (or I wouldn't have learned as quickly) in my classical lessons. It helps that my neighbor is an elementary school music teacher who has made a career of leading kids in folk songs.

So I'm working on some basic scales, practicing (and learning!) some folk songs, and working on simple strum patterns. For acoustic guitar, this is exactly the kind of thing I was looking for, and I feel fortunate to have found someone who can work with me at that speed.

OK, that's it for the guitar update. Now on to voice. (Sorry, didn't have time to do the voice update. Not that there's that much to tell, as I haven't really picked it up again since moving. I'll do an update soon ... or in a month.)

Monday, July 31, 2017

The View from My Window

The buses are doing their practice runs. School starts next week.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Moving

This is going to be a long, rambling post--not unusual for me, I guess. I started writing in my journal this morning and couldn't get rid of the urge to shut the notebook and open the laptop. For some reason, I feel compelled to write everything here instead of privately. I'm not even sure what I'm going to write, and how much the published version will resemble the messy draft. But here goes ...


We're moving. We move every five years, roughly. When we got married in 2003, we moved to Maggie Valley. Then we moved to Franklin in 2008, and again to Fletcher in 2013. In 2014, we moved from one house in Fletcher to another. And now we're moving to Augusta, Georgia.

When the Hubster first put his name in the hat for a promotion, I ... well, I don't know what I was thinking. He's considered putting his name in the hat for other promotions, and I've always been a part of that decision ... the decision of, "No. We don't want to leave the Asheville area." When the Augusta position opened up, though, I gave him my blessing. I said okay. But then, once he got the interview, I balked. Leave Asheville? Leave my job? My Girl Scout troop? My friends? Anne's friends? My music lessons? My mountains? No. Wait, make that an all-caps NO. An all-caps, bolded, italicized NO!!!! with a handful of exclamation points.

But then we went down to Augusta for the interview and for all the meeting and greeting that accompanies it. I liked the people there. And when he got the job, I saw how truly happy they were to have him on board. And even though I cried on and off the whole three-hour ride back to Asheville, I wasn't sad about moving to Augusta. I was sad about leaving Asheville, certainly, but at the same time I felt okay about Augusta.

And then we went down not long after, kid in tow, to house-shop. We looked at seven or eight houses. After a mad morning of house-viewing, we had lunch with the realtor and went back to view the house we liked best ... and made an offer on it. We're scheduled to close on June 2 and move down there on June 8.

It's crazy that we bought a house. Our Maggie Valley house, which we've been trying to sell for years, finally got an offer on the day of Hubster's interview. Two offers, in fact, and we accepted the better one. We close on that house May 30. (Though I'm a little nervous because the inspection was Friday. Fingers crossed that they didn't discover some horrible problem that we didn't know about.) The housing prices in Asheville are apparently a lot higher than Augusta, and we got a nice, roomy house in Augusta for about half of what it would cost in western North Carolina.

Last night we had a Girl Scout activity and an art show at Anne's school, so we spent the first part of the evening with the Girl Scouts and the second at the school. On our way back home after it was all over, I felt the first real twinge of sadness since buying the house. (Funny how a nice new house can make you feel better about leaving a place you love.) I've been involved in Girl Scouts for less than a year, but I've started to make some friends through that. And here I am, leaving. I'd looked forward to building on those friendships in the years to come, but that's not going to happen. And I'll get to see my Daisy Scouts grow up on Facebook, but I won't get to be a part of their lives anymore ... and they won't be a part of mine. Just that thought makes me break down in tears.

And then there are the parents from Anne's school. I've made some good friends in the last few years, and there are more parents that I think would become good friends if I'd just stick around. I've put down more roots here in Fletcher/Asheville than I ever did in Maggie Valley or Franklin, for some reason. I guess that reason is that I have a kid, and that kid has friends and school and Girl Scouts, and there are more parents/potential friends to meet through those things. It feels like a part of me is ripping apart when I rip myself away from this community. Part of me will never leave here.

The good news is that there will be school and friends and even Girl Scouts in Augusta. There will be neighbors, and there will be friends I make through volunteering. And we'll own a house that I truly love, which will be a first. And I'll be able to invite people to that house, where the driveway is big enough that parking isn't a pain. We've never had a house with a good driveway.

Isn't that weird? I'm excited about a driveway.

I'm also excited about starting over, in a way. Not that things are bad here. But I've grown a lot in the past seven or eight years; I guess motherhood does that to you. So much of that growth here in western North Carolina has been painful and humbling. It nearly killed my marriage, it's sent me from job to job, and at times I've thought I should probably check myself into a psych hospital. It's only in the past couple of years that I've felt consistently "in a good place" emotionally and spiritually. Weirdly enough, I feel somehow equipped to move somewhere new and start over. As if, if this has to happen, this is a good time for it.

There's also the money. I'm tired of debt, and this promotion is going to help a lot with that. I know that there are no guarantees in life, no real security when it comes to material things, but I'm happy, at least, at the prospect of getting out of debt and ... well, just not having the constant burden of worrying about money. I think money stress has aged me more than motherhood ever could.

I'm planning to keep up with my music lessons, and I get to keep my current job and work remotely, so some areas of my life aren't going to change that much. I'm looking forward to having an extra hour each day since I won't be driving back and forth to work. The school Anne will be attending is a top-notch public school, so there won't be tuition to worry about (though I'll miss the school uniforms).

I think it's going to be a good life. There will be a lot of tears involved in the good-byes, but I think there will be a lot of joy involved in our new life in Augusta. I'm ready for this.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Update on My Musical New Year’s Resolution

Have you been wondering, oh three faithful readers, how the musical pursuits are going? No? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway!

George the Piano

My piano project for this year is a somewhat attainable one—meaning I have the ability, but I’m not sure if I’ll have the time. (Right now, I practice maybe an hour or two a week, usually on Friday nights.) What I want to do is learn a handful (or more) of “best-loved piano pieces,” those pieces that get requested most often by friends and family. With all my years of playing, I’ve managed not to learn some very famous pieces, such as “The Entertainer,” “Linus and Lucy” and Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.” Then there are pieces I learned as a child (“Fur Elise,” the second movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” sonata, etc.) that I once knew but can’t play on request. And there are harder pieces, such as Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu, that I once knew but definitely couldn’t play now without some focused practicing and re-learning.

While I’d like to learn these pieces for others, I selfishly want to get them into my own head, so I can play them anytime I want. I guess that’s a worthy enough piano goal.

Waylon the Guitar

I am picking up on guitar much more quickly than I thought I would! I’m managing to practice between 20 and 45 minutes in the wee hours of the morning, and more on the weekends. I’m getting better at switching between chords, and I’m starting to get the hang of bar chords. I’ve started classical guitar lessons and am hoping to get my (as-yet-unnamed) classical guitar (a gift from my uncle in Louisiana) within the next month.

One thing I love about guitar is that I can practice it early in the morning, when Dan and Anne are still asleep. Piano practice would wake them up, and voice practice would have them sitting bolt upright in their respective beds, their hearts pounding in terror. But guitar? It’s quiet enough that I can play without bothering them. And that’s just what I do.

No-Name Voice

I think I hit a couple of milestones recently. For one, I’m learning to sing louder. That has been my biggest challenge, or one of them: simply raising my voice above its usual soft-spoken near-whisper. When I sing louder, my voice is less “breathy” and I can obviously make a better, purer sound. I was also delighted to learn that I’m a soprano, and I’ve surprised myself at just how high my voice can go. (It’s those loud, high notes that would rouse and terrify a sleeping person.) I still have a lot to learn, but I’m starting to feel like a real voice student, and not some lost person who happened to wander into a voice studio.

Still, it's hard to find time to practice voice. I can usually grab ten or fifteen minutes each morning after Dan leaves to drop Anne off at school. And then there is the car on my daily drives to and from work. I'd like more time, but I take what I can get.

I've named my other musical instruments, but it just feels to weird to name my voice (even though it's an instrument as well), so I'm calling it No-Name Voice for now. If a name comes up, I'll be sure to share it with you, dear readers!

So that’s the music update for now. More updates to come!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A (Mostly) Musical Day

My 2017 New Year's resolution was to reclaim my musical self, and I've been doing a pretty good job of it so far. It's a struggle and a challenge to practice every day, but I'm managing to do it.

Guitar: This morning, I woke up at 6:00 a.m. and practiced guitar for over three hours! Anne was at a sleepover and Dan had to leave early for an out-of-town convention, so I had the whole house to myself. I worked on my sight-reading, and then I worked on songs. I practiced singing a lot of them, though my voice is still depressing me.

Voice: I did work on voice a bit, practicing some exercises and the song "Somewhere" from West Side Story. The trouble with practicing songs is that it's very easy to play the accompaniment, and I find myself forgetting to sing as I play and improvise on the accompaniment. I have to stop doing that. It's just that I'm so discouraged by my lack of progress in singing that my love for playing piano tends to seem even greater in contrast. So all I want to do is play piano and not sing. Singing is hard for me, a foreign land and a foreign tongue. Piano is home.

Piano: Speaking of piano, I got a book of etudes and pieces by jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. It's pretty easy to sight-read, so I played some stuff from that book for about 15 or 20 minutes tonight. Next I moved on to Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer"--a song I've been able to play poorly for years but have never played well. I'm focusing on not being sloppy when I play it. I learned to play it well many years ago, but I've gotten sloppy over the years, and I don't want to be sloppy anymore. I also worked on Vince Guiraldi's "Linus and Lucy," one of those songs I've always wanted to learn but never have.

When I wasn't doing music, I was spending time with my kid. We went around the neighborhood selling Girl Scout cookies for a good part of the afternoon, and then tonight we worked on a project she has for school next week. It's been a good, low-key day. Hoping tomorrow will be similar: quality time with my kid, my guitar, and my piano. And my, er, voice.

I haven't mentioned that I've had a problem with coughing for the past seven months. I finally went to the doctor, and antibiotics and steroids haven't helped, so the next step is to go to an ENT so he can put a scope down my throat to figure out what is wrong. The throat problem has definitely had an effect on my voice, so I'm hoping the ENT can diagnose the problem and get me a cure. Until then, I think that learning to sing will continue to be a particularly frustrating uphill battle.

The end. Time to go to sleep and dream of more music tomorrow!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Getting There

Today I got a little emotional at my voice lesson. I have some chest congestion going on and my voice wasn't up to par, but that wasn't the problem.

The problem was that I felt hopeless. Hopeless that I would ever be able to sing in a voice that didn't make people cringe.

That's my big fear. That my voice is going to make people cringe or roll their eyes or shake their heads and smirk. That I'm that bad. That even after years of voice lessons, I'll still be awful.

So after a half-hour of exercises and working on a song, I asked my voice teacher, "So, do you think I have any hope?" I meant to make it sound like something of a joke, but I guess I was too invested in the answer to be flippant about it. Before he could say anything, the tears came, and I was cursing myself when he finally spoke.

He said I have a beautiful voice, but that I've spent my entire life singing with tight, closed vocal cords. My entire life. That's forty-something years of something I'm having to un-learn. And on the few occasions lately where I've managed to relax and really sing out, he said, my voice is lovely. Only thing is, it's very hard for me to relax my vocal cords! Not only do I carry my stress in my neck/jaw, but I have all kinds of self-consciousness going on every time I open my mouth to sing. So, even if I wasn't stressed before, I get stressed.

Maybe I need wine before each lesson. Or a three-mile run.

Or I just need to learn to relax and let my love for singing erase the self-consciousness. It's something I'm having to learn, like a baby has to learn to walk or talk.

I'm so glad I'm doing this--taking voice lessons. I want this so badly. I've wanted it for a long time. And I think that's part of why I get emotional, too. There's the hopelessness that I'll never get there, but there is also the joy that comes with taking these first few steps, steps I've been afraid to take since I was a teenager.

I think I'll get there. There are probably be a few more teary-eyed sessions in store for me (and my hapless voice teacher), but I think I'll get there.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Runs

Folks, how the mighty have fallen. I was once a buff forty-something, and now I'm getting flabbier by the day. I've had so much trouble motivating myself to exercise. This is partly because I've gotten out of the habit after a year of not being able to walk/run without pain, but I've also gotten lazy.

L-A-Z-Y.

So, in an attempt to guilt myself into exercising more, I'm going to post my workouts here periodically. Most of them will include some degree of running, so I'm calling these updates "The Runs." Ha ha.

So, here goes.

The Runs, January 7 - 14

Saturday, January 7: Walk/Run - 30 min, 2.25 mi.
Sunday, January 8: Walk/Run - 31 min, 2.1 mi.
Friday, January 13: Walk/Run - 31 min, 2.41 mi.
Sunday, January 14: Walk/Run - 40 min, 3.2 mi.

As you can see, I can manage to work out on the weekends. The problem is during the week, when I'm sitting on my butt at work all day plus I don't exercise. The best time for me to exercise is early, as in 5:00 a.m. It's been so hard for me to motivate myself to get up that early, even if I manage to get to bed early. I need to get back into the habit. Let's see if I can do that tomorrow.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Voice Lessons, Or Lessons in Humility

I've never been a singer.

I've always loved to sing (who doesn't?), but I've never sung loud enough for people to hear, save for a few (mostly drunken) occasions. I never want to make people cringe at my off-key gusto. I don't do karaoke. I've always known I couldn't sing, and for some reason I couldn't bear the thought of other people hearing me, laughing at me, ridiculing me, or even just pitying me.

How did I know I couldn't sing? I think my brother was the first to break the news to me. He was in high school chorus, and I think it was partly his job as big brother to destroy any sense of confidence I might have about anything (and he did), so he told me my voice was horrible. And then in youth choir, not one but two adults told me I couldn't sing. One kind of rolled her eyes when I said I was tired of being the piano accompanist and wanted to sing. The other came right out and said it: "You can't carry a tune in a bucket."

Now, the eye roll may have been disbelief that someone who so clearly loved piano wouldn't want to play piano. Maybe it wasn't about my voice at all. And the woman who said I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket? I don't know. I want to make an excuse for her, too, but I can't think of why any adult would say such a thing to a 14-year-old, unless they really meant it.

I've always been self-conscious about my singing voice. When I was writing music in my teens and twenties, I always wrote words, but I never sang them unless I was alone. When I'm in the car with other people, I don't sing along to the radio—even though that's all I do when I'm in the car alone. If I do sing in front of someone, I purposely make myself sound worse than I am, I guess so the eye roll and the cringing will be in response to that, and not in response to ... my actually trying. My real voice.

I first wanted to take voice lessons as a teenager—the one who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. Of course I never did take lessons. The idea was preposterous, really. And presumptuous. And I know I wouldn't have lasted a single lesson.

In college, I played with the idea of lessons but decided against it. In the music building (where, being a music minor, I spent a lot of my time), I could hear the voice lessons going on from the main hallway. And I cringed plenty at the shrieks that came from the lesson rooms and the practice rooms. I rolled my eyes a lot. (Which wasn't nice, I know.) And I wasn't about to put myself in a position where people were going to cringe and roll their eyes at me.

Back then, I had a fear of being bad at something. If I'd signed up for voice lessons, they wouldn't have lasted because I couldn't bear to be less than perfect. I know I never would have allowed myself to sing loud enough for anyone to hear me from the hallway. The thought of their cringing and laughing would have stopped me cold. And at I probably would have burst into tears of self-loathing at that first lesson and wanted to kill myself. (I was kind of messed up back then. I pray that my daughter never has to go to that dark place where I spent so much of my teens and twenties.)

Since then, I've thought about voice lessons numerous times over the years. I do love to sing, and I love music. I love to play songs on the piano and sing them, whether they were written by me or someone else. I hate that I can't truly enjoy that experience—even when I'm all alone—because my inner critic constantly tells me how awful I am.

At a Girl Scout camping trip last fall, I ended up leading the songs because the volunteer song leaders all got sick or just didn't show up. I "sucked it up" as they say, and did what had to be done, because ... really, who ever heard of a campfire without songs? Much to my surprise, I realized I liked leading songs. I liked being the one up there, leading this group and that group in a round. No one cringed or laughed (to my face, at least), and everyone appeared to have a good time.

After that weekend, I knew it was time: After 30 years of wishing, it was time to find a teacher and learn to sing. I wanted to be good at song-leading—to have a nice, loud, on-key voice that people could follow. And I wanted it for myself: I wanted to be able to fully enjoy singing, inner critic be damned.

So I signed up with a local teacher and took lessons with her for about a month. She assured me that I could carry a tune, which was news to me and a huge boost to my confidence. At the same time, I didn't want someone to tell me how good I was; I wanted to know how bad I was so I could start improving. As it happened, that teacher didn't work out due to scheduling conflicts, and I found someone else. Yesterday was my first real lesson with him, following a free trial lesson to see if we got along. (We did.)

Oh, wow. The guy teaches out of his house in the country, which is a blessing to me because I don't have to worry about people cringing on the other side of the door. And he has me sing loud. Middle age has rendered me much less self-conscious than I've ever been, but I still don't know if I could sing that loud if there were people on the other side of the door.

That first lesson was a lesson in humility, and I'm sure it will be the first of many. At one point, my voice cracked on a loud, high note and his chickens in the backyard started squawking in response. Later, he had me sing (loud) notes and hold them as long as I could. On several notes toward the end, my tired voice was cracking all over the place. If was awful. He said not to worry, that the goal now isn't to sound beautiful but to get volume. I accepted that and kept singing, but my goodness ... it was not pretty. Ten years ago, there would have been tears. And then last night, I practiced holding a long note (loud again), and my sweet, concerned seven-year-old came running into the room, asking if I was hurt.

Fortunately, I'm at an age where I can genuinely laugh at myself and move on. And that's just what I did.

But still ... with piano, I'm good and I know I'm good, even though I always have more to learn from people who are better. With guitar, I'm not good yet, but I'm musical enough that I'm picking it up pretty quickly. With voice? I'm bad. Horrible. And the whole idea of me taking voice lessons—someone as awful as me—is bringing up some of the latent self-hatred that I thought had left me forever. That self-hatred was once a monster that ravaged me and occasionally tried to kill me, and now it's more of an annoying mosquito bite ... but it's still annoying and it still tries to demand my attention. So I'm dealing with that.

I know have a long way to go, but I'm glad I finally decided to do this. It's scary, but I think that's because it's important to me. If it weren't important, I wouldn't be having all these feelings.

I'm going to keep at this thing until one day, probably a long time from now, I open my mouth and a beautiful sound comes out. And when it does, I'll be the happiest 89-year-old that ever was.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Songs I Can Play on Guitar


So, I got a guitar for Christmas, and I'm learning to play. I'm a novice but have learned a few songs already, now that I know a few chords.

This blog post is where I'm going to keep a list of songs that I can play/sing on my new guitar. I started keeping lists a couple of weeks ago elsewhere, and now I have half a dozen nearly identical lists on scraps of papers around the house. And I've misplaced most of them.

Since I can't misplace the blog, I'm putting the list here.

As you can see, I'm well on my way to folk-singer/campfire-guitarist stardom.

Amazing Grace
Blowin' in the Wind
Hobo's Lullaby
Home on the Range
Kum Ba Ya
Night Rider's Lament
Puff the Magic Dragon
Rhinestone Cowboy
Ripple
Rock My Soul
Say Why (a song from Girl Scout Camp)
Speed of the Sound of Loneliness
This Land Is Your Land
Today (John Denver)
You Are My Sunshine

I'll be updating this list as I learn more songs. I'm currently not booking shows. ;-)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Trying This Again


If I vow to post every workout I do on this blog, will it motivate me to get my once-buff self back into shape? We'll see! Today was a walk/jog on the treadmill--30 minutes, including warm-up and cool-down. The back of my left knee hurts. Keeping my fingers crossed that it won't hurt tomorrow.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Reasonable?

My New Year's resolution this year was a little different from that of previous years. Of course I want to get into better shape, read more, write more, hike more, be a better wife and mom, etc. But this year I've decided that it's time for me to get back in touch with my musical self. I forget that I'm musical. I really do. I think, "I'm just a normal person who likes music." But the truth is, I have some natural talent. And I love to make music. I can't help but think that it's wrong somehow for me not to be involved with music in some way.

In my efforts to rediscover my musical soul in 2017, I'm taking some steps I've never taken before. I'm studying with two music teachers, 30 minutes a week (for a total of an hour a week) ... and neither of them are piano teachers. I'm expanding my horizons this year. I still love piano and play it every day, but I'm exploring other areas of music that, until recently, I've never explored.

I started taking voice lessons a month or so ago. I was delighted to learn that I can carry a tune. I always sounded okay to myself, but I figured my singing was cringe-inducing to anyone who listened. (Of course, no one ever listened, because I've rarely sung in front of another person, even in the car.) I have zero confidence in my voice, and that makes it worse--even if I sound good, I sing in barely more than a whisper. It's awful because I love to sing ... in the car, alone, where no one will roll their eyes or grimace.

I also met with a guitar teacher yesterday, seeing as I have a brand-new acoustic guitar, a Christmas present from Dan. I was more nervous about the first guitar lesson than I was about the first voice lesson, oddly enough. It went well--I think the teacher and I are going to get along well. He's a Bach nerd, too, and I learned quite a bit in just that first trial lesson.

I've titled this post "Reasonable?" because I don't know how reasonable it is for a mom who works full-time and is a Girl Scout leader (Girl Scouts requires at least two hours of volunteer work per week, and usually more) to take on lessons in both voice and guitar. Financially, it's about $200 a month, and money is tight. Time-wise, it's an hour of lessons, plus 40 to 60 minutes a day of practice. That's a lot of time. Do I have that kind of time? Will I burn out before spring gets here?

I didn't mention piano, but I want to keep playing piano for a steady 30 minutes a day. So that's another three or four hours a week of music.

I think of a couple of semesters where I've taking writing classes with the Great Smokies Writing Program. Those classes were two or three hours long--much more per week than I'll spend in music lessons--and I typically put in at least an 40-60 minutes a day of work, on average. So I don't think this will be all that different, at least as a time commitment.

Of course, I still need to write, even if I'm not pressuring myself to work on a major project.

But regarding music, there is the big question: Why study voice? Why study guitar?

I'm still trying to figure that out, and I'll write more on that later. My immediate, gut answer is that "I want to sing and play guitar with the same confidence and ease that I feel when I play the piano." (That might be a tall order, since I've played the piano for more than 40 years.) Another is, "I just want to make music, and I'm tired of piano being my only means of doing that well."

THose are the gut answers. I'll explore this question a little more later ... when I have time.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Looking Back on 2016

2016. Most people agree that it was an awful year. It's true that a lot of celebrities died. We are a culture that worships celebrity, and it can be devastating when our gods pass away. I felt sadness over the loss of the 80s icons I loved, particularly Prince and George Michael. They didn't mean much to me personally (though they did at one time), but the sadness came when considering how "my era" is drifting further into the past. Not much anyone can do about it, but it made me sad.

So, on that happy note, I'm going to pick up a tradition I've had on this blog, on and off, for years: a year in review. The questions below are questions I've answered most years. The last time I answered these was when I looked back on 2014, so I'm going to include short versions of those answers here, along with my husband's answers to

1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?
2014: I got a job that I love, and we moved into a house that we love. (Dan's answer: "I think the single best thing that happened to you this year was getting your meds straightened out.") 
2016: I'm still at that job, we're still in that house, and I have managed to stay off meds for two years now. (The meds in question were Prozac, Depakote (for bipolar disorder, which turned out to be a false diagnosis), and Ritalin (to treat the ADD that was a side effect of the Depakote).

As far as the single best thing that happened in 2016 ... I think it has to be that Dan and I are still married. Seriously. Without going into details, I'll just say that we've had a difficult few years. 2016 was a year of arguments and compromises and decisions and tears and frustrations. Some of the frustrations are still there, but we're in a much better place than we were even three months ago. We both took steps toward trying to make things better, and those steps worked, for the most part. I think it's because we both wanted this to work, for Anne's sake if nothing else. And it's starting to work again.

2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?
2014: Medication issues.
2016: Marriage problems.
  
3. What was an unexpected joy this past year?
2014: Loving our new house, Anne's new school, and my new job.
2016: Girl Scouts. I decided this past summer to be a Girl Scout leader, specifically for the Daisies (Kindergarten and first grade). I did it for two main reasons: (1) I wanted my daughter to stay in Girl Scouts, and she was losing interest after just one year; and (2) I was grabbing at straws to have something in common with my husband, and he was already involved in Anne's troop. I didn't think I would like being a leader; I'm extremely introverted, and I've never considered myself a "kid person." So I was probably more surprised than anyone when I took to Girl Scouts like a fish to water. I love being a Daisy leader; I love my Daisies, I love planning things for them, and I love playing a positive role in their lives. The experience has also made me less wary of social situations, at least with the troop and their parents. I look forward to every meeting I have with them.
  
4. What was an unexpected obstacle?
2014: I was writing a novel, and hit major walls after the relatively easy process of writing the first draft.
2016: Physical injury/pain. I've always been able to run, or jump, or do just about any kind of exercise or activity that I wanted. This year, thanks to a knee injury that turns into a hip/groin injury, I've hardly gone a day without pain. (And the pain-free days are only because I've gobbled up a lot of ibuprofen.) It has been very frustrating not to be able to exercise. I particularly miss running. I've been to an orthopedist, a chiropractor, and physical therapy. While they've been able to help with the pain (particularly the PT), no one's been able to diagnose the source of the pain. So it keeps coming back, and I keep having to treat it.

5. Pick three words to describe this past year (or to describe yourself this past year).
2014: Insecure. Afraid. Frustrated.
2016: Confident. Loving. Happy. (Despite the lows of this year, I've been very happy with who I've become, with my role as a mom, and with my professional life. Having suffered from depression and insecurity for so much of my life, I'm really enjoying the feeling of confidence that comes with getting older and more sure of who I am.)

6. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe your year—don’t ask them; guess based on how you think your spouse sees you.
2014: Dedicated. Busy. Distracted.
2016: Confident. Angry (at times). Devoted (to my daughter).

7. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe their past year—again, without asking.
2014: Improved over 2013! (Hubster had kind of a crappy 2013. Things got better for him on all fronts this year.)
2016: Stressful. Busy. Focused (on work).

8. What was the best book you read this year?
2014: I read quite a few books on writing, along with a bunch of trashy novels. And then, in November, I re-read Pride and Prejudice. And that was the best book I read this year.
2016: I read a book called Story Physics that offered quite a bit of insight about writing--which is saying something, because I've read a lot of books on writing in my lifetime. Another good one was J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy. It wasn't a big year of reading for me, and I read very little fiction--unusual for me, I know.

9. With whom were your most valuable relationships?
2014: My daughter and my husband.
2016: Same, although Girl Scouts has brought me a few new friendships that I value highly.

10. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year?
2014: I am no longer on medication. I also have extremely curly hair, which I didn't have last January. The curls are completely natural. My hair just decided last spring that it was going to be curly. I couldn't do a thing about it.
2016: Good news! My hair is long and wavy and pretty now! As far as my biggest personal change ... hmm. I am a lot flabbier, thanks to my knee/hip injury. :( I'm also dedicated to staying married, which is a change from a year ago.

11. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?
2014: I am learning to stop blaming my shortcomings on conditions found in the DSM-V. It's very difficult to differentiate what is "mental illness" and what is simply laziness or lack of confidence . . . but I'm learning to do that. Or trying to.
2016: I had some wonderful therapy sessions this year with a therapist who has since moved on. With his help, I learned to let myself be vulnerable in my marriage again. I have also become much more comfortable with people--I am still an introvert, but I've learned to enjoy social situations.

12. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?
2014: Oh, me. I could write a book on that ...
2016: I've adopted what I could call "Closer to Fine" spirituality, from the Indigo Girls song, circa 1990. I no longer torture myself with struggle, and I think that's good.

13. In what way(s) did you grow physically?
2014: I gained five pounds! Yay! (I needed to gain five pounds!)
2016: I sure don't need to gain five pounds anymore! I don't weigh a whole lot more (though I've probably gained two or three pounds), but I'm not muscular anymore. I don't like that. I'm seeing a doctor on Wednesday for a lingering sinus infection, and I may talk to him about what exercises I can do that won't put me out of commission for the next week and a half.

14. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?
2014: Scout is becoming more mature, and that's being reflected in our relationship with each other. I love being able to have conversations with her, and I feel like our relationship is a totally different animal now than it was a year ago. I also improved my relationship with the Hubster. Due to a number of factors, we managed to spend more time together this year than we typically have in the past.
2016: Mending things with Dan. Even closer to Anne--we have "deep conversations" all the time, and I love it. Also, as I mentioned above, I've made some new friendships through Girl Scouts and hope to see those grow in the year to come.

15. What was the most enjoyable part of your work (both professionally and at home)?
2014: Learning new things! Working with great people! Being in Asheville! Having an income!
2016: My co-workers! I work with a great group of smart, funny people who make me laugh every single day. I also love the work I do; I feel like I'm helping to make a difference in the world, and that goes a long way. At home, I wrote eleven chapters of a novel and had a great time doing it. All of that came to a halt in the fall when Girl Scouts started.

16. What was the most challenging part of your work (both professionally and at home)?
2014: Starting my job and having it be incredibly hard to learn because my medication was making me so stupid. It was unbelievable how much easier life became after I stopped taking the Depakote.
2016: Professionally ... hmm. I guess it's that our team grew from three to five, and for a while we had four people crammed into a relatively small office. While I love my co-workers, I don't love feeling like a sardine and felt almost claustrophobic each day. That was a challenge. My responsibilities also changed a bit, and that adjustment has had its challenges (though I'm happy with it overall). Personally? Having to lay my novel-in-progress aside. It's a decision I made, but it wasn't an easy decision.

17. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?
2014: Oversleeping. But I think I might have a sleep disorder of some kind (my new Fitbit tells me I average about 2.5 hours a night of sleep, even though I'm in bed for 8-9 hours per night), so maybe my answer next year will be different.
2016: Facebook. I hate to say it, but definitely Facebook.

18. What was the best way you used your time this past year?
2014: One-on-one time with Hubster, and one-on-one time with Scout.
2016: A combination of camping with my family and being a Girl Scout leader. Definitely both great uses of my time.

19. What was biggest thing you learned this past year?
2014: My kid and my husband are more important than my writing dreams.
2016: I'm good with kids.

20. Create a phrase or statement that describes this past year for you.
2014: Struggling for/against contentment? (That doesn't seem to make sense, but it does make sense. Trust me.)
2016: Landed. I feel like I've landed. I feel at peace and hopeful for the new year.