Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Piano/Composition Update

Welp, my poor musical life ground to a halt over the Thanksgiving holidays. I was able to access a piano on Thanksgiving Day, but didn't get to practice again until late Sunday night, after we got home from Myrtle Beach. So I wasn't expecting a particularly good practice yesterday.

Turns out it wasn't so bad. I'd learned three more of the Suzuki pieces by ear, and Deborah was happy about that. Apparently, playing by ear is easier for me than it is for a lot of people. I guess I knew that, since I've been playing things by ear since the age of 4. Dan thinks my play-by-ear ability may be partly because I'm so deaf and am used to concentrating really, really hard on hearing things. I don't know. I'm just glad I have the ability.

Yesterday's lesson went very well. I have all of Suzuki Volume 1 down pat, except for the final little song, which I learned last night after cleaning our "Christmas tree room," a.k.a. the dusty sunroom that we rarely enter. Now, these Suzuki pieces are what I call "kiddie pieces"--stuff like "Lightly Row" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb." The goal is to listen to the recording and be able to play the piece, note for note, yourself. It takes me about five minutes to learn a piece, since they're pretty basic--no weird chords, simple melody lines, etc. From there, my goal is to play them as beautifully as humanly possible. To view them as a suite, expressing a different "personality" in each little song. To interpret them. So that's kind of fun. I'm working on technique at the most basic level, from sustaining repeated notes, to making the right hand sing to the left-hand accompaniment (and vice-versa), to imparting "personality" to very basic, simple pieces. If I can make "Lightly Row" sing, imagine what I might do with a Beethoven sonata!

So, that's the concept. My Mozart Fantasie in D Minor is sounding better. It's a very satisfying piece. On the surface, it's not the most difficult piece in the world (though it does have its moments). Technically, parts of it are actually quite simple--on the surface. But when you get into the deeper structures, it becomes much more difficult. Of course, I love getting into the deeper structures. That's why the piece is so satisfying.

The Dett isn't happening yet. Lately, the focus has been on Suzuki and Mozart. We have group class on Friday, at which I'll play both. Hopefully, a graduation from Suzuki Volume 1 is just around the corner. Once I've moved on from that, I'll be able to devote more time to the Dett.

Scales have been giving me a problem. Apparently, I play too much with my fingers and not enough with my arm. My fingers look like little centipede legs furiously working their way down the keyboard, even though I'm not playing the scales particularly fast. When Deborah plays them, her fingers glide. Her scales are a stroke, a motion. Mine have all the grace of a three-legged race. She says to "play with my arm," but I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around the concept. I'm sure it's very simple ... and I fear this is one of those "bad habits" I've picked up after years of not studying piano seriously. But I'm not going to give up. One of these days, the graceful scales will happen. I just need to keep working at them.

Composition ... sigh. Poor composition and theory have seriously been on the back burner these past few weeks. It has been very frustrating because my mind is still spinning out musical ideas, but they keep getting squeezed out and stomped on by life's other little responsibilities. So I just keep feeding my mind a good diet of Bach so I can get those miraculous harmonic structures hard-wired into my psyche. Kind of like getting good grammar hard-wired in preparation for becoming a writer.

I'm (supposed to be) working on creating melodies. Melodies! Isn't it really sad that, just when I get to the point of writing MELODIES for my composition exercises, I suddenly become so busy that I can't seem to fit in five minutes of composition edgewise anywhere?

Is it possible that I'm scared to move on? That I'm subconsciously putting it off? Perish the thought. But it is certainly a thought worth considering. It wouldn't be the first time I've backed shyly away from something shining and grand. It's only melody-writing, but still ... for me, that is something shining and grand.

Tonight, I need to work on piano and my Precepts study. Somehow, somehow, I need to fit in composition. Oh geez, and it's poetry night, too. There go two hours of my piano/Precepts/composition time. Piano will take an hour, and Precepts three hours ...

So. According to my calculations, I can work on composition between midnight and 2 a.m. Or put it off (again) until tomorrow.

Phooey. I hate to calculate. But I love music theory. So hopefully I'll fit it in somehow.

Attention, Jonathan-Knowers

A Jonathan-Knower is a person who knows Jonathan. This would, I presume, include Jonathan himself (was it Socrates who said, "Know thyself"?), if he's taking time off from photographing Half-Life 2 screens and hangin' with Dick Cheney to read this enlightening blog.

Anyway, can someone please tell him to e-mail me? I sent a couple of e-mails to his earthlink address, but they keep bouncing back. Do you suppose he has me on his spam list?

Poetry Tonight!

My poetry group meets tonight. I love poetry group. We're going to be looking at some T.S. Eliot poems. He'll be the first dead poet we've studied in a while. I'm glad. I have a particular fondness for dead poets. That we're reading and learning from and internalizing their poetry is proof that they are, in a way, still very much alive.

Next week, we're supposed to bring holiday-themed poetry. If we don't read the following poem tonight, I'm going to bring it: "Jourey of the Magi," by T.S. Eliot. I wrote a paper on this poem in the eleventh grade. It's a really good poem. Take your time when you read it. Poetry isn't any good if you don't take your time.


(written in 1927)

'A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.'

And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

Well, Lookie Here!

Cuz Veronica went and edited herself another movie. It's for her senior project. Can you believe Cuz Veronica is already a senior in college? It seems like only yesterday she was ... a junior in college. They grow up so fast!

Monday, November 29, 2004

Downloading Music From His Head

I'm sorry that I missed this 60 Minutes special on child prodigy composer Jay "BlueJay" Greenberg. A google search came up with another interview, and a recording of his Overture to 9/11. Amazing. This kid is clearly a genius.

Thanks to Sherry for the 60 Minutes link!

Five (Count Em!) Stars!

Guess what! My book got five stars! And its amazon.com ranking jumped by about 200,000! Many, many thanks to my kind reviewer!

Speaking of books ... According to my "Profile" here on Blogger, I've written well over 50,000 words of bloggerel since I started this thing last July. My publisher's guidelines for "50 Hikes" said for me to write a 50,000-word manuscript. Ergo, I've written a book-length tome of bloggity thoughts in only four months. And all of those were written in bits and pieces, on coffee breaks.

From now on, I'm devoting one of my coffee breaks to my new novel and/or the piano essay. It's silly to think that I can blog 50,000+ words with hardly any effort, but can't motivate myself to finish a freakin' essay--much less a novel.

That's a-gonna change, starting today.

Unfortunately for my career as both a blogger and a novelist, I have lots of work-related catching up to do here in Cubicle Land today. So I must sign off for now.

Happy National Adoption Awareness Month, everyone!

Anybody Miss Me?

It's 7 a.m. and I'm waiting for my pants to dry so I can go to work in something other than a sweater and underwear. I'm back from Thanksgiving "holidays." Lots to blog about, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

A Mushy Thanksgiving Eve Ramble

Thanksgiving was never my favorite holiday. I'm not sure why ... I just never got into the Pilgrims/Indians story. The Pilgrims always looked so dorky with their big collars and shoe-buckle hats, and the Indians always looked so cool ... and I regretted that I was, in appearance at least, more like the dorky-looking Pilgrims than any cool pathfinding, scalping, at-one-with-nature Indian.

(Note: I'm being politically incorrect and saying "Indian" rather than "Native American" because (1) I don't like the term "Native American," since they were here before it ever became "America," and (2) when I was a kid, I learned about "the Pilgrims and the Indians," and that's the context in which I'm relating this little memory.)

Anyway, I don't have a lot of specific memories of Thanksgivings past, beyond the usual Pilgrim-and-Indian art projects at school. My Thanksgiving memories all kind of run together with the Christmas Day ones, since we had practically the same menu for both.

I DO remember the Thanksgiving when my parents decided the family was going to Arkansas for the holiday and I had to give up my concert ticket to see U2 on November 26, or something like that. But that's another story.

I do have a specific good memory, though, and I think that's because it was a particularly memorable Thanksgiving.

(Sorry, there is no exciting story to follow.)

It was in the early 80s, and my Ain't Elaina ("Ain't" is how we say "Aunt" in south Louisiana) and Uncle Bubber (yes, that's what we call my mom's little brother) invited our family to spend Thanksgiving with them.

So we piled into the car and headed to Denham Springs for a Thanksgiving meal. The thought of seeing this particular part of the family at Thanksgiving was rather odd; usually, we only saw them on Christmas Eve, at my grandmother's apartment, and maybe, maybe one other time during the year. It's not that we didn't like them, or that we lived too far away to visit ... we just never saw each other much, particularly in comparision to how often we saw the folks on my dad's side of the family, who lived in our town.

So anyway, we all gathered in the little kitchen at their house on Perkins in Denham Springs: Mr. Hugh, Mrs. Gwen, Nent, Mu, me, Mom-D (my grandmother), Uncle Bubber, Ain't Elaina, and Cousins Gil, J, and Judi, along with Judi's then-boyfriend Richard the Curly-Haired. At least I think that was his name. She ended up marrying someone else several years later, so it doesn't really matter to this story.

Ain't Elaina made a wonderful meal, and we all sat crowded around the table, laughing and being silly (Uncle Bubber is one of the silliest people I know, in a good way). Then Uncle Bubber got serious. He said we were going to go around the table and say what we were most thankful to God for. Everyone groaned. But we did it anyway, because Uncle Bubber was serious (he can be really serious, in addition to really silly).

So we went around. I said I was thankful for my family and got misty-eyed when I realized how truly thankful I was for them. I just got that cool gettin-with-the-holiday-spirit feeling and felt overwhelmed with gratitude that I had been adopted into a family of such kind, loving, and silly people. And I felt so thankful that we were all there, sitting at a single table, being alternately silly and serious.

I don't remember what everyone else was thankful for, except that either Gil or J was thankful to be alive because he'd recently been in a motorcycle accident.

See, I told you it wasn't an interesting memory. But I remember it nonetheless, perhaps because, for once in my myopic, self-centered early adolescence, I stepped out of my head and realized that I was surrounded by loving, caring, silly-serious people, and understood how truly blessed I was.

Of course, I would forget those things from time to time as I went through the Sturm und Drang of high school, college, relationships, and depression, but I'm remembering them more and more now that I'm growing older. And, having gone through the death of three beloved grandparents and two much-loved uncles in my short life, I am so happy to have so many loved ones who are still alive, and whose friendship and love I can still enjoy.

So go hug your mama. Or call her. Do something to let the folks that you love know how important and appreciated they are. And realize they won't be around forever, so remember to make the most of having them here now. I'm always having to remind myself to do that, too, so believe me, I'm not trying to preach or be Oprah or Dr. Phil or anything. In fact, we haven't had many meals like that one Thanksgiving meal with Uncle Bubber and Ain't Elaina's side of the family in a long, long time. There are spouses and children and grandchildren now, and the little ones wouldn't even know me if they saw me.

End of Mushy Thanksgiving Eve Ramble. Thanks for reading. Happy Thanksgiving Eve, y'all. And I was serious about hugging your mama. Hug your ain't and uncle too, if they're nearby.


I am so mad. Hoppin' mad. Fist-clenchin' mad.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I was having my big dizzy spells? Well, I went to the doctor and she referred me to an ENT. The appointment was supposed to be this morning.

Well, it's been very busy at work (the last-minute pre-holiday rush), and we're going to be travelling for part of Thanksgiving, so I decided I'd rather wait and reschedule the appointment for after the first of the year.

So I called yesterday morning around 7:45 or 8:00 and cancelled today's apointment. Of course, I politely apologized for cancelling at the last minute. Cancellation accomplished, I hung up the phone and went on with my work.

Well, today, I got an angry phone call from the office of the doctor who referred me, asking why I hadn't gone to my appointment.

"Um ... I called them early yesterday morning to cancel."

"Well, they didn't have it in their computer. You'd better call them and straighten it out."

So I called them and talked to "Lisa," explaining that I'd called the morning before to cancel. "Hmm," she replied, "We don't have record of that. I don't know WHO you must have talked to." She said that several times in the course of the conversation. I could tell she didn't believe that I had called. Then she said, rather bitchily, "Well, if you want to make another appointment, your DOCTOR has to refer you again."

If I'd attempted to reschedule yesterday when I called to cancel, they wouldn't have said that my doctor needed to re-refer me. They would have just rescheduled.

Grr. If I were being dishonest and had gotten "caught," that would be one thing. But the thing is, I did the responsible thing and cancelled the appointment in advance, and now it's being assumed that I'm lying because whoever took my phone call apparently failed to log the cancellation in the computer--whether it was her carelessness or a glitchy computer, I don't know.

I don't know why this is upsetting me so much. It's just like in 5th grade when Mrs. Woodbury accused me of cheating when I really wasn't cheating. No amount of crying or protesting my innocence could convince her. It didn't matter that I was just about the most goody-two-shoesy fifth-grader that ever existed.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm no saint, but it would be nice if people would give me the benefit of the doubt, particularly since my past behavior doesn't show me to be one of those people who cheat on stupid math tests or fail to cancel their appointments and then don't show up.

Grr, grr, grr.

P.S. I just talked to my primary care physician's nurse and she was very sweet and ensured me that they believe me. So at least someone does.

P.P.S. I'm so glad the holidays are almost here. I need a break.

P.M.S. I'm feeling a little hyper-sensitive today.

Feelin' Moony

You Are From the Moon

You can vibe with the steady rhythms of the Moon.

You're in touch with your emotions and intuition.

You possess a great, unmatched imagination - and an infinite memory.

Ultra-sensitive, you feel at home anywhere (or with anyone).

A total healer, you light the way in the dark for many.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Asheville Made the Top 5

The folks at findyourspot.com say I'd be happiest in Hot Springs, Arkansas; Natchitoches, Louisiana; Asheville, North Carolina; Eugene, Oregon; or Charleston, West Virginia.

I've spent a LOT of time in Hot Springs and Asheville, have been to Natchitoches many times, have driven through Charleston quite a few times, and have never been to Eugene.

I think I'll live in Asheville. For now, at least.

What's your ideal place to live in America?

I Wanted to Stay Home this Morning

I shouldn't say things like that. For all I know, the company could have layoffs tomorrow, and I could find myself without a job, then I'll only WISH I had the luxury to say things like, "I wanted to stay home this morning."

So, for the record. I'm thankful to be employed.

But I still wish I could have stayed home. See, I've started this novel and ideas are literally spilling out onto the page every time I get hold of a pen and open my journal. I feel a great need to write everything down because seeds of thoughts are raining down faster than I can write. And each "seed" has so much potential, so many layers to come. So I want to gather them all up, make sure they aren't whisked from my mind like dandelion floaties before they're recorded, and then plant them and let them take root and begin to grow.

I also feel like I'm in one of those game-show wind tunnels, where thousands of dollars are flying around and the contestant only has 30 seconds to grab as many bills as she can. The ideas are flying around like that.

I'm sure I have a million more metaphors and similes to describe what's going on in my purty blonde head, but I think you probably get the picture.

I'm also feeling curmudgeonly today. That's probably because I want to write fiction but instead I'm writing things like, "Click Start," and "Select an option from the drop-down list," and the ever-ubiquitous, "This page intentionally left blank."

Enough of me-me-me. Here's a cool interactive election map.

Also, did you hear that God's been kicked out of Thanksgiving in Maryland?

Monday, November 22, 2004

Exciting Things That Happened This Weekend

(in addition to Vox Balaenae, which I wrote about in my previous post.)

1. I started a (non-romance) novel! And wrote 26 pages! And outlined the first ten chapters in some detail! So now I have that delectable "On-The-Road-Again" feeling that I get whenever I'm working on something big.

2. I outlined the piano essay that's been forming in my head over the last several weeks!

3. I got to see Mrs. Gwen and Mr. Hugh on both Saturday and Sunday!

4. Hideaway discovered a new napping place (our old curtain, which we took down and folded up but haven't thrown away yet)!

5. We got some of our dreaded Christmas shopping over and done with!

6. The site 2blowhards.com linked to my "Romance-Writing Career that Wasn't" post!

7. Cousins Veronica and Stacey updated, as did Jonathan. O, miracle of miracles!

Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale)

Yesterday, we went to Judi Lampert’s faculty flute recital at UNCA. Now, I’m not a huge fan of the flute; without my hearing aid, I can’t hear it in its higher ranges, and with the hearing aid, the shrillness borders on—and sometimes surpasses—an experience of acute pain. I probably wouldn’t have gone (no offense to the flautists of the world), except that my piano teacher, Deborah Belcher, was going to be playing in the trio performance of American composer George Crumb’s Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale).

The concert was a performance of exclusively 20th-century music. Now, I don’t have a great deal of experience listening to such. LSU always had their Festival of Contemporary Music, and I attended many of the performances there when I lived in Baton Rouge. And I’ve seen a few symphony orchestras perform Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and Copland … but I've never really known enough about the music to get a good sense of it, or, I’m afraid, to develop a true appreciation for it. Add to that the fact that I know very few "classical music" listeners who seriously listen to compositions written after the 19th century (I have been guilty of that from time to time), and I haven’t exactly built an grand appreciation for the atonal styles and the weird rhythms found in much 20th-century music.

I do occasionally listen to recordings of 20th-century compositions on naxos.com. Sometimes I find a composer I really like, and other times, I’m left wishing that someone could explain to me why a certain piece is considered “music.” I really want to know. I just can’t figure it all out on my own.

Anyway, I’ve gotten off the subject. Back to Vox Balaenae.

Here is a description of the piece, in Crumb’s own words:

Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale), composed in 1971 for the New York Camerata, is scored for flute, cello and piano (all amplified in concert performance). The work was inspired by the singing of the humpback whale, a tape recording of which I had heard two or three years previously. Each of the three performers is required to wear a black half-mask (or visor-mask). The masks, by effacing the sense of human projection, are intended to represent, symbolically, the powerful impersonal forces of nature (i.e. nature dehumanized). I have also suggested that the work be performed under deep-blue stage lighting.

The form of Voice of the Whale is a simple three-part design, consisting of a prologue, a set of variations named after the geological eras, and an epilogue.

The opening Vocalise (marked in the score: "wildly fantastic, grotesque") is a kind of cadenza for the flutist, who simultaneously plays his instrument and sings into it. This combination of instrumental and vocal sound produces an eerie, surreal timbre, not unlike the sounds of the humpback whale. The conclusion of the cadenza is announced by a parody of the opening measures of Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra.

The Sea-Theme ("solemn, with calm majesty") is presented by the cello (in harmonics), accompanied by dark, fateful chords of strummed piano strings. The following sequence of variations begins with the haunting sea-gull cries of the Archezoic ("timeless, inchoate") and, gradually increasing in intensity, reaches a strident climax in the Cenozoic ("dramatic, with a feeling of destiny"). The emergence of man in the Cenozoic era is symbolized by a partial restatement of the Zarathustra reference.

The concluding Sea-Nocturne ("serene, pure, transfigured") is an elaboration of the Sea-Theme. The piece is couched in the "luminous" tonality of B major and there are shimmering sounds of antique cymbals (played alternately by the cellist and flutist). In composing the Sea-Nocturne I wanted to suggest "a larger rhythm of nature" and a sense of suspension in time. The concluding gesture of the work is a gradually dying series of repetitions of a 10-note figure. In concert performance, the last figure is to be played "in pantomime" (to suggest a diminuendo beyond the threshold of hearing!); for recorded performances, the figure is played as a "fade-out".

The only disappointment in yesterday’s performance was the blue spotlight (or lack thereof). I think there was a blue spotlight; the piano seemed to have a tinge of blue at certain angles, but that may have just been my imagination wanting to see the blue spotlight. The stage, with its vinyl, wooden-legged chairs, looked less like an undersea world and more like … well, a university’s auditorium stage. It didn’t help that the auditorium itself wasn’t particularly dark, so that took away from the intended mystique of the performance.

That said (and I did say that it was the only disappointment, for me at least), the performance rocked. Well, perhaps “rocked” isn’t the right word. It swam. It breathed. It sang. It hummed. It captured the essence, as far as I could tell (with my admitted ignorance regarding atonal music), of the composition. In addition, the artists held my attention for the entire performance. Now, I’m a good listener and I love music concerts, but like most people (I believe), I occasionally find my mind wandering somewhere toward the end of the second movement, and then in the middle of the third movement during a concert. Didn’t happen this time. Yes, it was interesting to watch, certainly, but it was the effect of the performance that held my attention.

And if it had that effect on me, then that means they made it accessible. Now, I HATE to use the word "accessible" because it's often synonymous with "dumbed-down." But I don't mean it in that sense. Perhaps the word I am looking for is "listenable." (?) The music certainly wasn't "dumbed down" or "soft," but at the same time it was very ac ... ac ... accessible.

Now, for the performers. They wore, in accordance with the composer’s instructions, black half-masks. Deborah looked especially “so cute!” (to use my husband’s term), with her glasses worn over the mask.

Judi Lampert started with the Vocalise (the flute “kind of cadenza”), and her singing into the flute did indeed call to mind the eerie but beautiful sound of the humpback whale. It was so “odd” (to use Dan’s term again) so see a flute being played, but not to hear “flute sounds” coming out of it. It was even more fascinating to hear whale sounds coming out of it. Very intriguing.

Next, Frances Duff played the cello Sea Theme. Once again, there was the experience of an instrument not making its expected sound. She ran the bow across the strings, but instead of producing the rich tenor voice of a cello, it made high, longing noises … the sounds of sea-gulls calling. Wow. I stared at her bow with a combination of consternation and wonder--the way you’d want to stare at an especially grotesque but strangely beautiful insect.

And then there was Deborah, moving from the piano keys, to the innards of the piano, where she ran a glass rod over the strings to create an “in the depths of the ocean” effect, or lodged a paper clip or chisel in the strings to produce non-piano sounds when she struck the keys. It was amazing to watch. She kept busy, sitting and playing in her graceful style, then standing to produce some strange sound from the inside of the grand. I was so proud of her.

The final section, “Sea Nocturne (…for the end of time), was absolutely beautiful and dreamy. The medium-sized audience pretty much went wild when it was over (if a medium-sized audience can go wild). OK, so we didn’t go wild. But we clapped for a long time and the trio had to come out for a second bow. I heard several appreciative hoots.

Was it a good performance? I think so, but, since I have no previous knowledge of experience to which to compare it, I can't say for sure. I found this snippet from a panel discussion with George Crumb at Penn in 2001:

Prof. Narmour, making reference to Beethoven's distance and disinterest from pieces that he had composed earlier in his career, asked Prof. Crumb if a composition composed some thirty years ago maintained any relevance for him as the composer. Crumb's reply was that "with each different group of performers [the Vox Balanae] is reborn" and thus will always maintain a newness that is perhaps obscured by the date of composition. The downside, according to Crumb, is that the music is ever "vulnerable to less than convincing performances."

In my less-than-informed opinion, Judi Lampert, Frances Duff, and Deborah Belcher definitely gave a convincing performance. The music may be vulnerable, but these artists didn't let it down. They didn't let us, the audience, down, either.

Afterward, Deborah said that they had never played the Crumb together so well. The three artists definitely “clicked” up there. No one artist outshone the other, and they just seemed like mouthpieces for the whale- and ocean-like effects that Crumb wanted to produce in his composition.

So maybe the masks had the effect they were intended to have, too.

If anyone is interested, here are the pieces that comprised the concert. The guitar parts were played by Roger Allen Cope.

Histoire du Tango (Bordel 1900) by Astor Piazolla (1921-1992)

Soliloquy by Bertil Van Boer (b. 1924)

Pie’ce by Jacques Ibert (1890-1962)

Assobio a Ja’to (The Jet Whistle) by Heitor Villa Lobos (1881-1945)

Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) for three masked players by George Crumb (b. 1954)

Sonatina by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968)

Also (and again, if anyone is interested), here is more information on Vox Balaenae, including the recommended placement of the instruments on the stage and some instances of how the actual music is written on the page.

When I got home last night, I practiced piano for two delicious hours.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Of Interest to My WNC Friends

To those of you who are in western North Carolina, this performance of a work by composer George Crumb should be a good show:

(from an e-mail from my piano teacher, Deborah)

Join us for a really unique, beautiful entertaining concert of the sort rarely seen in Asheville: Judi Lampert, flautist of Asheville Symphony & UNCA is presenting her faculty recital with guests Frances Duff, cello; Roger Cope, guitar; & me (that's Deborah Belcher, for any of you receiving this second generation) piano; in a program of sparkling & listenable 20th century music. The piece I'm playing in is for all electric flute, cello, & piano plus crotales, chisel, paper clip, glass rod, & blue spotlight. Now that I've got your attention, please know that it's a beautiful, evocative piece! Hope you can join us on Sunday. November 21, 4 p. m. in UNCA's Lipinsky Hall -Reception in the Lobby after the music!

Suggested donation ($5 adults) benefits UNCA Music Scholarship Fund.
It ought to be a good concert. I've never heard/seen Crumb's music performed live, so I'm looking forward to it.

Unfortunately I had to miss the Asheville Symphony performance this time around, which is probably ending right about now. Sadness. Next time.

Friday, November 19, 2004

A Navel-Gaze on Writing

Note: I didn't have time for my myopic morning pages this morning, so I'm writing them now.

If someone had asked me what my hobbies were when I was 16, I would have responded with something like, “piano, volleyball, listening to Sting, and writing novels.” Really.

For many years, probably half my life, it seems I’ve always had a book project in progress. Of the many I’ve started, I’ve finished three: a cheesy 240-page teen love story titled “Forever One” when I was 14, a 350-page Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test-type of hippie Yellowstoned adventure story titled “Gypsy’s Caravan” when I was 20, and 50 Hikes in Louisiana (buy now!) in my 30s.

When I was a teenager, I always had a book going. Actually, I always had three or four books, not to mention the short stories, poetry, and music that I was always working on. I carried a big yellow Esprit bag full of notebooks and staff paper. Usually, I’d lug a good 8 or 10 notebooks around with me everywhere. You never know when an idea might hit, or you might find four or five minutes of free time while waiting for class to start. I’d whip out a notebook and start working on Chapter 4, or crafting the transition from one scene to another.

I haven’t gone back to read those notebooks, but I think I still have them, somewhere in my three huge boxes of notebooks in the closet. I remember some of the stories: “Too Old to Live, To Young to Die,” about a 17-year-old whose friend tries to commit suicide; a Bridge-to-Terabithia-like story about a brother and sister who live on the River Road and invent an imaginary kingdom in the space between the levee and the Mississippi River; a series of Emerson-type essays, one of which started, “This is the time to live, the time to dream, for Heaven is the reality beyond imagination!” Complete with exclamation point. Hee hee.

And the poems. So many poems, mostly bad teenagerish poems, random collections of words that always included words like “ultimate” and “intense” and phrases like “clinging to the brink of childhood” and "hollow notes of minor chords." I imagined that they had some deep meaning that I couldn’t immediately see when I wrote them.

Though I did win a school poetry contest in 10th or 11th grade with a poem called “Of Winter Waves and Summer Snow,” which was heavily influenced by my discovery of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience.

I was going to be a Great Novelist and a Great Poet (in addition, of course, to a Concert Pianist and Great Composer). But I quit writing poetry after penning a particularly bad poem about the piano, that began this way:

Master, grin your evil, sickly grin
Care not for me
For I have only given you my soul …
Mock my sacrifice.

Hee hee. I was an intense child. And a very unhappy one at times. Ol' George the Piano and I have definitely had our battles.

Is it bad that I still have and pursue dreams of being a Great Novelist and a Great Composer? I don't dream of the fame ... I just dream of being able to spend hours upon hours working on my art, and not being bothered by the day-to-day aspects of cleanliness, eating, sleeping, etc. And the sense of ... pride? ... that I get when I know I've created something beautiful or meaningful. To this day, I find such joy, pleasure, and even pride in things like playing "Logan's Song" (one of my songs I've written) or listening to a tape of myself playing the hard-earned Chopin Nocturne in B-flat minor. Or reading over an essay I'm writing and seeing a phrase that really "does it" for me. The joy of the effort is an end in itself. The resulting accomplishment--the "work of art"-- is just lagniappe.

I still write all the time. And the reason I’m writing about this now, today, is because …

I’ve started a new book. Remember the allegory I was writing about a few weeks ago? Well, it’s that one. Don’t want to talk about it too much, but I’m very excited about it. And it seems that every day, between the Precepts class, the Teaching Company’s philosophy class on the commute, and the books I’m reading, I get new ideas and new tools for expressing things. It’s hard to explain. But I am anxious to get up early tomorrow and devote my Saturday morning (as usual) to writing.

I have several other writing projects going on, as well. It’s just very difficult to pursue them when I have a pesky 8-hour-a-day job and an even peskier 2-hour-a-day commute. Not to mention my piano practice time, which I'm not about to give up.

In the past, my writing aspirations were quashed by Depression. Major, serious, life-altering Depression. No matter how many creative ideas you have, or how well you can write, it’s difficult to write when (1) your brain is pudding and you can't think in complete sentences, much less write in them, and (2) you can’t stop fantasizing about The Final Overdose or The Mississippi River Bridge Jump or The Wrist Slit.

I don’t think about those things anymore, thank God … although, since I know those experiences intimately, I can write about them with some honesty. And they will definitely be a part of my allegory (which I doubt will remain an allegory … but that’s what it is for now).

There are other writing projects that I want to continue and resume. For the last five years, I’ve worked on and off on a series of short stories about people who live in a nursing home. And there are several other stories that have lots of promise if I'd just work on them. Plus, I have a couple of essays that are 90% finished and just need a few more hours of work before they’re ready to send off into the world.

I just really, really wish I could take a couple of weeks off of work and find myself a retreat of some kind where I have hours in which to think and write, and where all my basic non-writing needs—food, shelter, a grand piano, etc.—are met. I want to make the most of my stable life for the next year and a half before the next hiking adventure.

Life is good. There is definitely a sense of possibility in the air today here in Cubicle Land. Definitely a good sense of promise. I feel like my sun is finally rising.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Blogging Style?

You Are a Pundit Blogger!

Your blog is smart, insightful, and always a quality read.

Truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few

The Romance-Writing Career that Wasn't

Monday night, Dan and I went to the monthly Fiction Talks meeting of aspiring writers living in western North Carolina. The speaker was a fellow who had recently begun a career in the world of writing romance novels. He gave us all sorts of advice on how to start our own romance-writing careers. He also showed us a couple of "bookshorts" his company had produced for a couple of romance authors. The "bookshort" was a kind of five-minute commercial for the book, something you could send to a publisher or a potential agent on an easily viewable DVD.

Not a bad idea--the DVD, I mean. A pretty darn good idea, in fact. I was impressed; the "bookshort" was a sort of "book video" (like a music video for a song). You can see an example of his work here. Just scroll to the bottom of the page and click the link.

Now, about romance novels ... they (whoever "they" are) say that aspiring writers generally choose one of two types of writing careers in order to support their more "literary" (and generally less lucrative) writing habits: technical writing or paperback romance writing. Two very different beasts, indeed.

Since I'm decidedly more of a mushy emotional person than a clear-minded and logical technical person, I decided I would write romance novels, so I bought a bunch of paperbacks and Xeroxed pages and pages of romance publishers' guidelines (this was pre-Internet) before heading to Gulf Shores for several days of solitary reading, note-taking, and the like. (I'd never read romance novels ... so I figured I should learn what I was getting into, as well as learn from those who were successful at it.)

Unfortunately, I didn't like the first book. At all. Didn't like the second one, either. The third one, about a medieval knight who goes forward in time to the 20th century and learns how to act and dress by reading GQ magazine, was so badly written that I didn't know if I should laugh or cry. The fourth one, a Danielle Steele, was easily the best of the bunch ... but, honestly, it didn't do a whole lot for me either. Maybe I am a snob, but after two days, I found myself at the local used book store, desperately searching the shelves for a good Thomas Hardy or Jane Austen novel.

But I didn't get one. Back to the condo and my romance-reading project.

By the time I'd read 10 or 12 paperback romances, I realized that I was not going to be able to write romance novels. I just didn't like the genre. I'm not against sex in books, if it's performed by complex and interesting characters in equally complex and interesting situations (like Mellors and Lady Chatterley). But 21st-century paperback Harlequin-type romance? And the plots were so formulaic, and the conversations and descriptions laden with cliches. I just couldn't do it. More power to those who can write these books for a living and enjoy it. I'm sticking to my cushy tech-writing day job and the creative-writing-whenever-I-can-squeeze-it-in lifestyle for now. No "paperback writer" career for me.

Even though, according to Monday night's speaker, who was clearly a very intelligent and nice man, I could make three times what I'm making if I wrote romance novels.

Hmmm .... maybe I can get ideas for characters' names from Cousin Drew's blog ...

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Grindstone

My poor nose has been at it all day. Wrote a dozen pages of documentation, edited some pages, and exchanged lots of work-related e-mails, not to mention sitting in on a 1.5-hour meeting and spending an hour on scheduling for the next three months.

And we have company tonight. Somehow, I'm magically going to squeeze in a 1-hour workout, make mostly-veggie spaghetti, practice piano for an hour, do an hour of music theory and catch up on Precepts (2 hours worth, at least, of studying) before class tomorrow night. All before 11:00 tonight. Because if I go to sleep after 11:00, there's no way I'll wake up for 5:00 tomorrow.

No wonder I'm exhausted. Vacation time! (I wish. I wish.)

Time to head home.

A Navel-Gaze on Snobbishness

Here's one of the most common things that friends and acquaintances tell me after knowing me for a few months:

"You seemed like such a snob when I met you."

Of course, they're quick to add that they no longer think I'm a snob, "now that I know you."

It's kind of frustrating. Snobbishness isn't a part of my nature, but I'm often mistaken for a snob and even accused of snobbishness. Why?

Here's why:

1. I appear to ignore people, when the truth is, I don't know they're talking to me (due to my hearing loss).

2. I'm one of those people who get really focused on what I'm doing. That, compared with the hearing loss, gives an impression of aloofness and an attitude of "what I'm doing is so much more important than you." (I don't have this attitude ... unless what I'm doing really IS more important.) :-)

3. I love classical music and will talk nonstop about it if I get the chance. I've been accused of musical snobbishness. I can't help it if I think that Bach and Mozart and Beethoven are far greater than today's popular country music or hip-hop. They just ARE. And, in my thinking, if someone doesn't appreciate Bach or the other "greats," it's likely because (1) they haven't been properly introduced to them, and/or (2) they've really never listened to them, or learned to listen to them. Many people seem prejudiced against classical music without even giving it a fair chance.

4. I love "serious" literature and have little patience for books that I find blatantly formulaic and emotionally manipulative. Same goes for movies (and music, come to think of it). Formulaic is OK, but if it's something is so formulaic that I find myself musing about "acts" and "scenes" and predicting what's going to happen next rather than just enjoying the book or movie ... then my enjoyment is greatly lessened. I also don't like it when movies and books try to beat you over the head with obvious metaphors. Sometimes subtlety is everything. Hackneyed symbolism and metaphors that scream, "LOOK AT ME!" are just insulting.

Note: My enjoyment factor can be increased (balanced out) if the main character (in a movie) is Harrison Ford.

5. I am an introvert and, nine times out of ten, will choose to hang out with my notebook or my piano rather than looking for people to visit and places to go with them.

6. I find small talk infinitely boring and avoid small-talk situations like the plague. If I do find myself in such a situation, I tend to space out against my will. Then ... I guess I really am ignoring people then. But not on purpose.

There are plenty of other reasons that people have thought I was a snob. But usually the main reason is the way I seem to ignore people when I'm not really hearing them.

Soooo ... the moral of this story is this: the next time you get irritated with someone who seems to be ignoring you for no reason whatsoever ... remind yourself that they may be (1) hard of hearing, or (2) very focused on their own internal television or their work and unaware that you're talking to them.

And don't write people off just because they love Mozart or Tolstoy and have little patience for most pop stuff. You never know--you just might learn something from them. And they could probably learn some things from you, too.

Usually, people will realize that I'm not such a snob because I don't have an attitude of superiority. If I do have an attitude, it's definitely more on the "inferiority" end. I'm pretty much a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get kind of person. Even though I'm not particularly sociable or talkative.

Can you tell my feelings have been hurt today? I'm feeling a little sorry for myself. I'll get over it. Maybe I'll make up some fart and booger jokes, just to make myself laugh and shake myself out of this Mistaken-Snob-Induced funk.


Several little things to tell the world today.

1. Here's the link to Cousin Shorty's blog. For her latest entry, she announces that, according to the Temperament Sorter I mentioned several days ago, she is an "Idealist," which means she is an iNtuitive Feeler (NF) at her core.

Well, I coulda told her that. She's the same thing as me, only more extraverted.

Only thing is, on her "mood" for the day that she posted this information, she wrote that she was "crushed." Crushed? Is it because she has my same core personality as me, her old and out-of-date Cousin Lanky? Say it isn't so!

2. My "commercial" for 50 Hikes in Louisiana apparently worked, and that wasn't even my intention! While there were "Only 4 left in stock!" yesterday at amazon.com, there are today "Only 3 left in stock!" Many, many thanks to the kind soul who purchased it.

So ... anyone wanna make the number shrink to "Only 2 left in stock!"? It's a great present for the Louisiana outdoor-lover in your life!

3. There are a few musical events going on this weekend. If you're in western North Carolina, I encourage you to check them out. I'm hoping to check them out myself.

Saturday, November 20

Asheville Symphony

Rachel Holland, soprano, & Asheville Symphony Orchestra, Timothy Hankewich, conductor

Program: Masterworks 3: Wagner: Parsifal: Prelude; Strauss: [4] Letzte Lieder; & Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 5 in D, Op. 107 (Reformation)

Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, Civic Center, Asheville 8:00 p.m.

Pre-concert lecture with Timothy Hankewich, conductor, in Civic Center Banquet Hall, at 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, November 21

UNCA Music & UNCA Cultural & Special Events

Judi Lampert, flute, & Deborah Belcher*, piano, with Roger Cope, guitar (Brevard College), & Frances Duff, cello (Asheville SO)

Program: Music from the US, Italy, Brazil, & France

Lipinsky Auditorium, UNCA, Asheville. 4:00 p.m.

*Deborah Belcher is my wonderful piano teacher. She's going to be playing something by George Crumb.

More Boy Scout News ... This Time Not So Good

From the Associated Press, Nov. 16, 2004

CHICAGO - The Pentagon has agreed to warn military bases worldwide not to directly sponsor Boy Scout troops, partially resolving claims that the government has engaged in religious discrimination by supporting a group that requires members to believe in God.

Click here to read more.

Nocona Makes It To Canada

From Nocona's journal ... again, I spent my blogging time transcribing it, so I'm going to post it here as well as on her Trailjournals pages. It's really making me anxious to get started on another long-distance hiking adventure!!



Manning Park, British Columbia

Miles Hiked Today: 21

I woke in the darkness of the tent to the sound of snow falling hard on the fly. A stab of fear hit me, and I poked Eagle. "Hey, it's snowing! Wake up!"

"So? What do you want me to do about it?"

Good question.

He went back to sleep. I tapped on the fly. The sound of snow sliding off the roof encouraged me to rise and check it out. It was 3 a.m.

The wind had calmed completely. I stepped outside, hearing both K-Too and Dirty snoring loudly a few feet away, and found that there was only a dusting of snow. I brushed it off the tent and crawled back inside to the safety of my down bag.

I lay awake for another half hour, listening to the snow falling. If it weren't for our two companions, I would've been really scared. But knowing we weren't alone helped immensely.

I put myself to sleep by planning out escape routes off the mountain ... just in case. It made me feel better.

When we woke at dawn and stepped into the muffled world where the firs all wore nice thick white coats, you couldn't tell that a new inch of snow had fallen except by looking at our tent's roof.

As often happens when a new day dawns, I felt fresh and keen for the day's adventure.

Was this our border day?

My boots and water tube had both frozen solid INSIDE the tent. We think it was near 20* F outside and 30* inside last night. I wore three layers--even on my hands--this morning. Would be finally make it to Canada?

Funny. Here we are, a day's jaunt from the end, and yet we STILL have no guarantees.

The day's adventure began when the sunrise alpenglow lit up the gigantic 2000-foot rock wall behind our camp. This was El Capitan's more rough-hewn cousin. Snow graced the thousand ledges on the wall and the glow turned it a soft pink color. AMAZING!

I forced my battery-weakened frozen camera to life. These were special scenes to get on film. How lucky we were to see this!

When we began hiking I felt much calmer. The sky looked grey, but a line of clear sky sat on the far western horizon. Now, the productivity of each step was noted. Even though we often waded through deep drifts, I knew we only had a few more miles. Each step was, literally, a step closer to Canada.

Looming ahead of us was the 7100-foot high stretch of trail--the highest PCT in all of Washington that we'd worried about for months. It was our big obstacle. Surmount that ridge and Canada is yours!

I trudged carefully, but quickly, through the powder. There were austere, wicked-looking mountains behind us. Some of the drifts in front of us were knee- and thigh-deep. Most of K-Too's steps had disappeared in drifting snow during the 30 minutes that he preceded us. Yet, the PCT was still easy to follow ahead of us, leading us onward.

Just another few miles now ...

Around a bend, I paused. Before me was the high ridge, the last obstacle. K-Too and Dirty were both ahead of us now and hadn't turned back ... yet.

The ridge didn't look any different than the one we'd just passed. Just a bit higher. Blue sky was appearing overhead. A brisk wind blew in my face, but I couldn't help but feel a smile forming. We were going to make it!

Still, we had at least another hour of hard work in front of us before we were "home free." I'm very impressed with how strong we've been. Hiking 20 miles through snow is no easy feat, but we all seemed unfazed. Tired, but strong. Our endurance and strength is so important to have now.

The ridge was a hand climb, and the snow was deep and crusty. We broke through with each step, or we carefully watched the ground and stepped in the others' footholes. I'd been dreading this section for weeks. Its moniker on the map is "The Devil Backbone." But it turned out to offer only two small steep and exposed sections about 10 feet across. Our footing remained good and soon the silence was broken as we realized, "it's all down from here, baby!" Yippee!

The adrenaline could be turned off now. The risk-taker part of me could go back to sleep for awhile.

Eagle and I chatted happily all the way down off the ridge. We stopped just before Hopkins Pass to eat a quick lunch in the sun. My bite valve was still frozen solid.

The snow petered out. It had collected on the trees in a very pretty fasion, but the trail reverted back to dirt and stone.

Soon we passed by Castle Pass and knew that only 4 more miles of PCT remained. Chatting happily, we covered this distance in just over one hour.

Both of us kept straining ahead at very viewpoint, looking for a sign of the border. You can actually see the US-Canada border, because it is demarked by a 50-foot wide clearcut. I must say, it's the first clearcut that I've ever been happy to see.

We walked out on a switchback and saw several avalanche chutes on the mountainside across the shallow valley. Is that is? No. Is that?


An unmistakable line of treeless land cut a straight line (at the "invisible" 49th parallel) up the mountain. It was unmistakeable.

Eagle let out a loud WOOP, which was answered from below by K-Too. NOW we knew we'd make it!

A few minutes walk led us to the famous Monument 78 and the PCT marker denoting the northern terminus of this 2,650-mile trail.

We were a very happy lot of hikers. Very happy. I think all the bad weather we'd gone through and all the worrying made reaching the border all that more sweet for us.

It really is a very cool moment and something best shared with other thru-hikers. It's especially neat that K-Too is here, since I met him at Hauser Creek on our first full day. Debbie and I were taking a break under the big oaks while Weathercarrot and Bald Eagle played AT Shelter Tennis. Of all those people we met on the first day, only K-Too is here with us at the border.

We took a bunch of photos, including one of the chicken smoking a celebratory cigar and sipping on a Budweiser. I broke out the Crown Royal and the Border Rock.

The Border Rock came from the US-Mexico fenceline at the southern terminus, and I've carried it all this way. I have two rocks, which I may have mentioned. One I picked up in 2000 and the other I picked up this year. Now, one of them rests on the ground in front of the northern terminus. The other I will carry until I complete the entire PCT. Funny how it worked out that way ... two years, two rocks, two "finishes."

When we had gawked and laughed and enjoyed the border to our fill, we turned north again. Only 8 miles stood between us and Manning Park Lodge, where we planned to get a hot meal and a warm, dry room.

I stole glances backward at every chance. I still can't believe we're in Canada and about to run out of trail so that we cannot go northward any longer. Ahead are lower forested hills. We've left the high ridges. One more climb of a thousand feet and then we drop down, down, down to Manning.

The forest was peaceful and bedecked in a coat of snow. I went back to studying animal tracks, in particular, a set of canine prints that might have belonged to a wolf.

We chatted giddily for an hour. Then, we both began to feel the deep fatigue of the last two days settling in on us. We were running out of steam and adrenaline. So tired.

At dark, we broke out of the woods and were immediately aware that the road we had to walk for a half mile to the lodge was not a road in the US. We were indeed in a different country, as indicated by the 50 km speed limit and different striping.

The lodge was a beautiful sight. We walked directly up to the restaurant where K-Too and Dirty had already been seated at a table next to a fireplace. The waitstaff gave us a big cheerful welcome and congratulations. Our waitress was super excited and told me she was seriously planning to thru-hike the PCT next year, and I was the first woman thru-hiker she'd met. Another lady, who was just a diner, came up to tell me that "I've never met such important people" in a very serious demeanor.

All the attention, which I'd normally hate, was welcome tonight. This one time it was nice to have a pat on the back. We were all a bit in shock, for as I've said, we didn't take it for granted that we'd make it. I know I didn't! There is so much that can go wrong. We estimate that only 60-70 thru-hikers made it all the way, and I'd venture to guess that only a dozen or so legs walked every step of the PCT from Mexico to Canada.

Which leads me to our only remaining concerns. One, we are worried about the 5 hikers behind us: Nellie Bly, Captain Bly, Scrambler, Movie, and ChacoMan. I hope and pray they are safe and able to make the border. The weather has settled into the ongoing rain/snow pattern again, and I fear that the locals were wrong in telling us that the snow will melt off this year.

Secondly, Eagle and I have over 300 miles of PCT remaining to hike. We plan to begin tackling it in the next few days. I don't know if the weather will hold for even that. We can only give it our best shot, like everything else.

So here we are, in this posh and beautiful lodge. All of us are in shock--feeling relieved, elated and yes, even a bit sad that it's coming to a close.

I'm glad that I don't have to worry about the weather or get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow.


Congratulations, Nocona and Bald Eagle!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Cousin Shorty Has a Blog

Finally, another Baxleian blogger. Only I haven't gotten her perm itchin' to post a link on this blog. I'll post it iffen she lets me.

Headin' home. Have a lovely Tuesday evening. Don't forget to give your spouse (if you have one) a great big smoocheroony. If no spouse is available, a cat makes for a fine substitute.

The Finer Things in Life

If I could make commercials, I would make commercials for the following products:

1. The Teaching Company

2. Naxos.com

3. Burt's Bees

4. Community Coffee

5. Cooking Light magazine

6. Panacea

7. Bengal Roach Spray

8. 50 Hikes in Louisiana (hee hee hee hee hee! Written by Yours Truly! Only 4 left in stock at amazon.com! Buy now!)

9. Cottonwood Books in Baton Rouge, LA

10. Bach's Mass in B Minor (Is that a product? Yes, it is a product of genius! I think I'll listen to it now!)

(Yes, it is a slow day at work today.)

The Importance of Having a Good Daddy

When I was sick last week and feeling lousy, Dan brought me coffee. Then, without asking if I was hungry, he heated up and buttered a leftover biscuit from the previous night's dinner. He put it on a little dessert plate and brought downstairs to me because I was too dizzy to walk.

Coffee and a hot, buttered leftover biscuit. That is such a "Mr. Hugh" thing to make (Mr. Hugh is my dad). And it's such a "Mr. Hugh" thing to take these simple little things to a loved one who is feeling sick.

Whenever Dan does "Mr. Hugh" things--particularly those sweet little, simple things like I just described--it merely reinforces my belief that I married a good man.

It actually reinforces my belief that I married one of the two best men in the world.

Mrs. Gwen (my mom) got the other one.

(Awwwwww .... )

Nocona's Penultimate Day on the Trail

Nocona has finished her Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) hike, and I'm nearly finished my volunteer job of transcribing her hiking journals. I really enjoyed the one I typed this morning, written the day before they finished their 2,650-mile hike from Mexico to Canada. It's a long entry, though, and typing it overflowed into my blogging time. Since I think it's a good read, I'll post it here as well as on her site at Trailjournals. Nocona's a 33-year-old woman who thru-hiked the PCT this year with her husband, Bald Eagle. Dan and I hope to be out there, doing the same thing, in 2006. Enjoy!



Location: Just Below Woody Pass

Miles Hiked Today: 20.2

I could not get to sleep last night. First, my bad left foot was aching terribly. Then, I got really hungry and had to get up and eat. When I finally laid back down to sleep, I was still wide awake when I heard the most terrible noise. Our windows were cracked, and not far away, I distinctly heard a terrible drawn-out scream. It sounded like a low-pitched woman's scream followed by several groans.

I froze, wide-eyed. Then, scrambled to sit up and look out the window. All was still again. I stared out and listened for a long time, but never heard anything else. Was it a cougar? Someone having a bad dream with their hotel windows open?

Needless to say it took a long time for me to get to sleep after that eerie noise. So, I woke up feeling grumpy and irritable.

Our ride was waiting in the semi-darkness in front of the store as planned. We big goodbye to the cozy Mazama community and hoped we wouldn't see it again for a long, long time.

Sunrise from on top of the mountains was awesome. The snow level was at 5,000 feet and, by the time we reached Hart's Pass, it was 4-6 inches deep. Pure white fluffy powder.

Admittedly, I was very nervous about hiking on the ridge. What would we find up there? I'd picked out a lower alternate route, but none of the others wanted to go down to the valley unless we were forced to retreat by deep snow, weather, or the inability to see the trail.

Climbing up out of Hart's Pass was simply amazing. It was the most lovely winter wonderland I've ever seen. Being on Katahdin in November of '98 was special, but here we had the same crystalline world but with mountains--high mountains--in every direction. Not to mention, we were headed into the backcountry and faced 40 remote miles. No, this was not comparable to climbing Katahdin in the snow.

As the snow got deeper, and as I began to peel off layers and the real work began, I started having serious doubts. We were moving at half our normal pace, but doing twice the work. The snow was fine, dry powder and akin to walking through a foot of loose fine beach sand. In places, our steps held, and I stepped up and down into them. But the footing was not firm. My knees began to ache and my legs grew fatigued--and we'd only come 2 miles. I told Eagle that I thought we should turn back and drop down into the valley and out of the snow.

"But K-Too and Dirty are ahead of us, and they'll be really worried if we don't show up later."

He was right, so we hiked on with plans to at least make it to Holman Pass, 10 miles away, where another trail would take us off the PCT ridge and into the valley.

I put my head down and hiked. When I paused and looked up, the clouds had sunk into the valley, and a panorama of high peaks shown white as far as I could see above the cloud layer.

Suddenly, a sun beam reached down and shown upon the PCT and the snowy white world. I have to say, despite all my worries and concerns about our chances of making it to the border, the beauty of the scene took my breath away. The snow glittered as if a billion diamonds carpeted the ground. Dark purple clouds backed the jagged North Cascades ... the there we were walking on top of the mountains. I felt suddenly incredibly lucky.

We saw things today that few thru-hikers, or anyone else for that matter, ever see on the PCT. The clouds drifting through the valley and the sun played off each other throughout the day. I felt blessed to be there to see it, yet I still felt on edge. Even though we had plenty of extra food, a good map, decent gear and a forecast for 2 days of clear weather, I felt nervous. Native Texans don't know snow. I eased my mind by remembering that K-Too grew up in upstate New York and had lived in northern Illinois and western Massachusetts. He knew snow. He'd tell us if it was unsafe.

At 11 a.m., we caught up to Dirty and K-Too. They seemed relaxed and content to keep moving.

Soon after, we all reached Windy Pass where there was a privately owned yurt (like a ski cabin). The yurt was hidden down a side trail. K-Too and Dirty went down to look at it, but I wanted to keep moving. I thought we'd never make the planned 20 miles.

Then, my mind was put at ease. We climbed through deep snow up to a ridge (climbing in snown is really difficult, but descending is actually easier than on dirt) (I was the only one with high gaiters: the others had ankle gaiters or nothing). On the other side of this ridge, we could see a long way ahead ... and it was much, much lighter! I was so happy and relieved.

Bald Eagle didn't care--he was absolutely loving hiking through the snow. It didn't seem to make his legs more tired.

Finally, we were moving along at a good pace. Coyote tracks were laid in front of us for 3 miles of trail. It appeared that 3 of them had walked the PCT last night. Deer, rabbit, and bobcat tracks were among those that I could identify in the snow. Again, this aspect of being out in the snow--the ability to see exactly where and roughly when animals passed by--it my favorite part of snow travel.

I only wished we had snow shoes!

Nearly 8 miles of trail were completely snow-free on either side of Holman Pass. The snowline was higher here, or there simply hadn't been as much precipitation in this area. I hoped it would continue that way.

The only other fresh hiker tracks we saw in this section were at the 4-trail-junction on Holman Pass. They were a day old and just passing over and headed back into the western river valley. No one had been hiking the PCT in the last few days.

Our next job was to climb back up to 6,700 feet to the ridge where we'd look for a campsite.

We topped out at Rock Pass. The weather was looking bad all of a sudden. This wasn't supposed to happen. Dark blue clouds rode low on our horizon, and the wind picked up and began to blast our eyes and face with pellets of ice. I cinched down my hood and bent my head low so that I could only see straight down.

Eagle stayed with me for the descent off the pass into a huge cirque. The snow had collected here. Many soccer-ball-sized snowballs had rolled off the slope, which showed how avalanche-prone this bowl was in the winter. I thought, no wonder there are no trees growing here. This is not a place you could safely hike or ski in the midst of winter.

Remarkably, we never had a second of doubt about the location of the PCT. It stood out, even in two-foot-deep drifts as a smooth ribbon of meandering snow amongst bumpier snow. This was the main reason we did not consider bailing off the ridge into the Pasayten River valley.

I spent a tremendous amount of energy in the last five miles. The snow was deep and had melted a bit from the warm sun of earlier in the day. The trail climbed a thousand feet up to Woody Pass. It was getting dark, and I was hoping that Dirty and K-Too would appear around a bend before we had to don headlamps.

Sure enough! We found them setting up camp in a small flat just below the pass. I was very relieved that the day was over.

K-Too helped us kick out a square in the snow where we put up our tent. THe cold was settling on us quickly.

Eagle sat out in the snow cooking dinner. I felt sorry for him. I also felt bad for K-Too and Dirty, who both have single-wall tarp tents.

The good news is that we DID hike 20 MILES! And we only have 4 miles to the high point of Washington. All we have to do is walk those 4 miles in snow--if we can make it to that 7,120-foot summit, we should be home free to the border.

The bad news is that it has begun to snow, and the sky is bruised and ugly-looking. What happened to our forecast?

Monday, November 15, 2004

Piano Report

Piano today was good, despite the spottiness of my practicing last week. My manic mood didn't bode well for playing the Mozart Fantasie, but that was OK because we spent most of the lesson on technique (this blasted hyper-stressed thumb), figuring out scheduling for the next few weeks, and discussing the wall I've seem to have hit with the Mozart.

TECHNIQUE: I'm actually going to buy smiley face stickers and stick them on the back of Thumb so I'll remember not to tense her up when I type and play piano. I hope I can find frowny-face stickers, actually, since Thumb is very unhappy that I'm always stiffening her up when all the poor girl wants to do is relax and fit in with all the other fingers. Even though Thumb isn't technically a finger. But if I look at my fingers while typing and see my poor, stiffened-up Thumb looking sad, then I might be more likely to relax her a bit.

(Yes, Thumb is a girl. At least Right Thumb is. All the left-hand fingers (and thumb) are boys because ... well, because they typically play tenor and bass and their "voices" are deeper than those of the soprano/alto right hand fingers (and thumb). My apologies if I offend the gender-sensitive.)

I'm also playing piano with pencil erasers at home. That's because I try to make my poor fingers (and two thumbs) do all the work and don't give my arm the bulk of the work. By holding pencils in each hand and striking the notes with the erasers, I get the sense of playing with the force of my arm/elbow without working the fingers (or two thumbs) at all. Then, when I switch to playing without the pencil erasers, I find that I've transferred some of the energy and effort into my arm and my fingers (and two thumbs) are free to relax and just play.

Sounds weird, but I think it's helping me. For the first time in months, Deborah didn't say a word about my fingers doing all the work when I played my scales. But I forgot to tell her about the erasers. Next time.

I love piano.

SCHEDULING: Deborah was very nice about saying I need to work on a schedule where I'm playing more. It's been sad lately. I've just been so busy with non-piano stuff. Hoping to get some good practice sessions in between now and my next lesson.

I love piano.

MOZART: We worked on the Mozart for the last fifteen minutes of the lesson. I feel as if I'm overanalyzing my own playing, and I told her this. "It seems like it should be so easy, but I'm working so hard ... I think I'm taking the piece, or myself, too seriously. I'm being too perfectionistic when I don't need to be."

Much to my relief, she said, "No, it's not easy. It's not supposed to be easy." And she approves of perfectionism, at least to a certain degree. :-)

So I can continue to perfectionize with abandon. Sort of. She didn't say that, but at least I'll know I'm not "beating a dead horse" by playing the first eleven measures over and over and over again because it didn't quite sound right the first 40 times.

We ran out of time and didn't work on the Dett. That's OK. I'm still getting to know it ... still learning the notes. So next time we'll focus on it more.

I love piano.


Guess what! My mommy is coming to visit soon! My daddy is, too!

Only in Louisiana!

Is it just my perception, or does my beloved home state of Louisiana primarily make the news for weird things like this?

Beavers make dam out of stolen money

Manic Monday

I'm feeling manic today. I'm not sure why. But my poor brain is just tearing from one thing to another and I feel like I could go outside and run five miles right now. (I probably couldn't really do that ... I just feel like I could.)

Thing is, I know exactly what I need to do in order to be able to focus. I need to pack up and go to Beanstreets or Malaprops and write. Write, write, write. I feel like the words and ideas are all jumbled together in my brain like a crowd of people in a stalled elevator. It's stuffy and the prisoners are cranky and tired and starting to smell funny. They need to get out.

It's not like I haven't written lately or anything. Saturday morning I cranked out eight or ten pages, yesterday I wrote quite a bit, and this morning I squeezed in five pages before going to work.

Some of the writing has been on scheduling (how do I fit in more time for music theory? when am I going to find time to practice between now and tomorrow? Should I start waking up at 4:30 instead of 5:00, just so I can fit everything in?). Most of my writing, however, has been on ideas ... creative ideas. Story ideas. This is GOOD. It means God or someone has squeaked some neural WD-40 into my brain grooves. Or laced my Afrin with fairy dust. Something's happening. I took lots of notes on the music/Dett essay that's been forming, and I did a great deal of thinking about the allegory I'm working on. Or at least one of the chapters in it. It's a start. I'm ready to start outlining the essay. Just need to find time to do it.

Piano is in 45 minutes ... that means I can listen to the Kyrie Eleison of Bach's Mass in B minor four times between now and when I leave for my piano lesson. Of course, I'm multi-tasking as always ... believe it or not, I'm also going to get about three pages of software documentation written at the same time. Funny how I can be so productive at work AND listen to Bach all day AND be a blogger. Ah, the Art of Effective Multi-Tasking.

It's Piano Day! Hooray! Hooray!

A Boy Scout Gnu

(Note: "Gnu" is my own personal and silly way of writing the singular form of "news.")

Here's a nice story about a Boy Scout troop in Alabama. They built home wheelchair ramps for senior citizens in their community.

"If they can't do it and they can't afford to pay someone to do it, it's good that we can help them out," said Andrew Lowman, 15.

"And you get a good feeling after you finish it," said Weston Brown, 15.
It gave me a good feeling to read the article. With all the hue and cry about how close-minded and bigoted the Boy Scouts are, it's nice to see something positive on them.

Thanks to Sherry for the link.

Happy Birthday, Jack!

Today is the birthday of Sam Waterston, a.k.a. "Jack McCoy" on Law and Order.

Sam Waterston was born in 1940 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which makes him a big 64-year-old today. Of course, he'd still be 64, no matter where he was born. Anyway, Dan and I love Jack. He is one of our favorite imaginary people. Lots of other people love Jack, too. Someone out there in Internet Land even created a page devoted to him, The Raised Eyebrow.

I'm not the fan club type. I joined the John Denver fan club once, and he died tragically a month later. So I don't want to join any more fan clubs.

If I weren't superstitious, I would join the Jay Nordlinger fan club. Or the Robert Greenberg fan club. Or start one. Or two. If I weren't superstitious.

Whoo boy, it's Monday. Still waking up, even though I've been up since 5:00. I had a good weekend and want to bore my readers with a play-by-play, so I'll definitely write mo' later.

Saturday, November 13, 2004


My American Heritage Dictionary is getting old. It has torn pages and smudges and dog-eared corners and mold growing in the creases.

In other words, it looks, feels, and smells like the much-loved 14-year-old tome that it is.

So anyway, I was looking up "Rubicon" this morning. As I flipped through the pages, I commented to Dan, "You know something? I could use a new ... D-I-C-T-I-O-N-A-R-Y."

I spelled it out because I didn't want the book to hear that I was thinking about replacing it with a newer, perkier version. Didn't want to hurt its feelings.

OK, so I have a bad habit of anthropomorphizing things.

Then, with acute horror, I realized this: if any inanimate object in the room had any chance at all of actually understanding what I'd "spelled out," it was ... the dictionary.

So a little while later, I started to look up a word that started with an "a." When I opened the dictionary to the "a" section, the first word I saw was "apologize."

Weird, huh?

Know what else is weird? There's a big thread on the usefulness of grad school on another blog I read. And, in a conversation this morning, the girl I was talking to brought up the subject of Oxford. Then said that she was reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.

Merge, merge, merge, merge, merge.

(You have to read some of my previous posts to see what I mean about the merging going on ... it's all about C.S. Lewis, Oxford, and grad school.)

Friday, November 12, 2004

Music Update du Jour

It's been a while since I've imposed a music update on everyone, so here it is.

First of all, today is MUSIC THEORY day! After a bit of a sabbatical from doing four-part harmony-writing exercises, I think I'm ready to start them again. In the meantime, we've been doing secondary dominants and figured bass reading. Most of my work this week (on the days I wasn't sick) revolved around:

(1) playing Bach chorales by just looking at the figured bass arrangements (this involved some improvising);

(2) trying my hand at writing arrangements based on the figured bass;

(3) playing hymns out of the good ol' Baptist Hymnal and analyzing as I play; and

(4) jus' makin' stuff up.

The hymn-playing and "just' makin' stuff up" exercises were more for ear-training than anything else. You know, just to get it into my head what it sounds like if you go from a I to a V/V to a V7 and then back to a I.

Funny ... Dan came into the Inner Sanctum one evening and asked, "What are you playing? I love it!"

And I was just messing around with secondary dominants. How cool is that?

It's all very, very basic, but I never claimed to be an expert. And I seem to be moving along, even though the plateaus are plentiful.

PIANO is going well. I think. I miss my Chopin Nocturne; I "graduated" from it, but it's like I'm a recent high school graduate who loved high school and doesn't want to accept the fact that she's graduated. So, in the midst of practicing my other pieces, I'm working on memorizing the Chopin. It's such a beautiful piece; I'd love to have it in my head so that I can play it whenever I want to, and not just when I have the crutch of the sheet music.

Oh, I forgot to mention a good experience I had regarding the piano. We had company last Sunday, a couple from South Carolina (actually the wife was from Vietnam) and I played the Chopin for them. When I finished, the wife actually wiped tears from her eyes. Yes, folks, it's that beautiful. And I'm not bragging about my pianistic abilities. Yes, I can play the piece relatively well, but the piece itself is that beautiful.

When I first started back at piano, it was because I wanted to learn that Chopin Nocturne in B-flat minor. Now I'm finished with it and am moving on. I feel like I've left high school behind. Literally. The Dett piece I'm working on is one that I started to learn my senior year of college. And the Chopin Ballade that I'm going to begin once the Dett is "up and running" is probably more difficult than most of what I learned in college piano courses.

The question, "Why am I doing this?" often comes back to me. Why am I spending hours every day working at this? What's the goal? Does there have to be a goal beyond the merely selfish--the sheer joy of playing well and hearing myself make beautiful music? It's not like I have any desire to become a concert pianist.

When I finished playing the Chopin for our guests this weekend, the husband said he was impressed and "how did you learn to play like that?!", and Dan said, "Well, she definitely pays her dues." I do put in the time. And when I do get to play for an audience, small as it may be, it does feel good to "move" people with music. Makes me feel like I've shared a deep part of myself.

So maybe that's part of the goal.

And maybe this is the end of my music update. :)

G-mail Invites Still Available

I have three left. E-mail me at infpeace at gmail dot com if you'd like a gmail account.

I Miss Dr. Greenberg

I did it. I went and listened to every Teaching Company/Robert Greenberg lecture series offered by my local library. And the library had quite a few: How to Listen To and Understand Great Music, How to Listen To and Understand Opera, Symphonies of Beethoven, The Symphony, and Bach and the High Baroque.

Actually, "Bach and the High Baroque" is mine. The library just couldn't order it fast enough, so I ordered it myself.

So I'm out of Greenberg lecture tapes and am very sad about this. My commute to and from work every day has been greatly enriched by Dr. Greenberg. Some of the information in these lectures has been review for me, since I took quite a few music classes in college. But a lot of it was new. And it's good to hear someone (Dr. Greenberg) get even more excited about classical music than I do.

I've already requested that the library buy more Greenberg lectures. Until then, I'm listening to a 50-lecture series, The Great Ideas of Philosophy, by Professor Daniel N. Robinson of Oxford University. They're pretty good. The professor says "do you see" whenever he makes a point, states it like a declarative sentence even though it's in the interrogative form. It's endearing. Here are some examples: "Plato could have been sitting there, taking notes, do you see." "Euripides was ahead of his time, do you see." Stuff like that. (These aren't exact quotes ... just riffraff I pulled out of my head for use as examples.)

Oxford has been merging in my head a lot lately, too. Probably because I've been reading so much of C.S. Lewis, who was an Oxford don. And I had a fruit-and-cheese plate at a restaurant the other day. That's significant because when I was at Oxford in the summer of '91, I would hang out at The Eagle and Child and order a fruit-and-cheese plate because the food at the college was so bad. And I'd just sit there at the pub of the Inklings and relish in the fact that, several decades before, C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien may have sat in the exact spot where I was seated. I was pretty miserable that summer at Oxford, but I enjoyed haunting The Eagle and Child and imagining the ghosts.

So anyway, now you know why fruit-and-cheese plates, The Eagle and Child, and Lewis and Tolkien are forever linked in my mind.

I also enjoyed the Mozart Bicentennial Loan Exhibition that was ongoing at the Bodleian that year (1991). The coolest part was seeing Mozart's handwritten music to the A-minor sonata that I had been learning the year before. I just about fell to my knees.

I DID fall to my knees at the grave of Shakespeare. But that's another story.

Anyway, I hope to have more Robert Greenberg lecture tapes soon. 'Cause he seems like a very nice, smart man, and I miss him dearly.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The More I Learn ...

... about music theory, the more utterly amazed I am by Beethoven.

It's enough to make you feel like a tiny little beetle or ant or snail or other insignificant-seeming creature, incidentally creeping and groping along the borders of the great and terrifying light of genius.

OK, so maybe I'm romanticizing and waxing faux-eloquent. But Beethoven's music really does floor me. I'm on the floor right now. Or at least my butt-filled chair is.

The Werther's Lady

Have you noticed that every office in America seems to have a Werther's Lady? You know her; she's the nice older lady who always keeps a bowl of "Werther's Originals" candies on her desk, a bowl from which all co-workers are invited to freely partake. As a result, I would wager that a great percentage of the America's cubicle workers, at this very moment, have butterscotch-coffee-caramel breath and brownish teeth.

Our Werther's Lady's name is Sarah. The Werther's Lady at Dan's office is named Gloria. At my dad's office, it's alternately Shirley and Hugh. OK, so maybe it's not always a lady. But there seems to be a veritable army of nice ladies pushing Werther's candies throughout the Cubicle Lands of America. Has anyone else noticed this? It's kind of creepy.

But it's also good. Werther's Originals are dee-lish. When my teeth fall out at age 40, Werther's will likely be a major culprit.

I was going to link to the Werther's official page, but I found this page instead, obviously created by someone who has a LOT of time on their hands.

I was wondering ... what would the plural of "Werther's" be? Werther'ses? Wertherses? Werthers'? Tout les Werther? Wertherii? Something to ponder next time I'm in the mood for deep thought.

Too Weird

Remember how I wrote (in my previous post) that things seem to be "merging" in my life and pointing toward thoughts of grad school (and of possibly returning to it)?

Well, here's another merge. Shortly after I posted, I found a link to this essay by Mark Bauerlein of Emory University on another blog. Here's a snippet:

Yet while the lack of conservative minds on college campuses is increasingly indisputable, the question remains: Why?

The obvious answer, at least in the humanities and social sciences, is that academics shun conservative values and traditions, so their curricula and hiring practices discourage non-leftists from pursuing academic careers. What allows them to do that, while at the same time they deny it, is that the bias takes a subtle form. Although I've met several conservative intellectuals in the last year who would love an academic post but have given up after years of trying, outright blackballing is rare. The disparate outcome emerges through an indirect filtering process that runs from graduate school to tenure and beyond.
Now, I don't think of myself as a "conservative mind," and I certainly wasn't one when I was in grad school in the early to mid-90's. At the same time, I never did fit the "leftist" mode of thinking that was so predominant among the humanities faculty (and many of my fellow grad students). So I ended up being one of those bright young intellectual-types that were "filtered out" in what Bauerlein calls the "filtering process" that begins in graduate school (see my previous post for more on that).

Very interesting essay. But now I must turn away from the interesting and return to the mundane hydra of software documentation. I've already chopped off seven heads and nearly 20 have grown back.

Blogging Elsewhere

Hi, Strangers! I've been blogging with my friend Anh over at Then a Gentle Whisper . Check it out!