Friday, April 29, 2005

A Summer of ..., and a Recording Session

Deborah has asked if I want to work on a "special topic" this summer in piano. Basically, I can focus on any genre, composer, time period, or whatever, that I want for the six or eight lessons I'll have this summer (if Thumb allows it).

There are so many things I'd love to work on. I could have a Sebastian Summer and work on nothing but Bach, maybe a Prelude and Fugue since I have yet to ever play one of those.

Or I could have a Schumann Summer. I have never seriously played anything by Schumann, and I love him. Whenever I hear Schumann, I think weird thoughts like, "Yeah, man. Play it, brother." I like Schumann.

I could have a Chopin Summer and get all of his Opus 9 nocturnes in my repertoire. I can play No. 1, would need to relearn No. 2 (which I learned years ago), and would have to learn No. 3. Only thing is, I'm not all that crazy about No. 3. But it's something to think about.

I could have a Sonata Summer and start working on a Beethoven Sonata. I've only played one in my life (Op. 10, No. 1 in C minor) and would love to play another one. I don't know if I'm good enough to play the famous "Pathetique" ... but boy, I'd love to play it someday.

I had theory/composition today, and Vance and I decided that we're only going to meet a couple of times this summer. Meanwhile, I'm really looking forward to reviewing, absorbing, and using all of the concepts I've learned in theory/comp this year.

Tomorrow I'm going to make a CD of some songs I wrote 100 years ago. They're not all that wonderful, but they're mine, and I've never recorded them, beyond taping them on a boombox set up next to George. So hopefully, by Monday, I'll have a nice little CD of pretty piano music. Almost all of the songs have words, but no one is singing on the CD, so listeners will just have to use their imaginations. If the recordings come out pretty good, I'll post a song or two on the blog.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Good Morning!

This little fellow, a tiger spicebush swallowtail caterpillar, bid the Hubster good morning one day on Hubster's little walk from Ohio to the California coast.

Update: Are there any lepidopterists reading this blog? If so, I'd appreciate it if you'd share your expertise. Hubster was told that this was a tiger swallowtail caterpillar. I looked it up on the internet and it appears to be a spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) rather than a tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). The tiger swallowtail is brown, and then green, and is not nearly as cute, as you can see here.

Spicebush larvae start out green; they look a little bit like I've always imagined Gollum to look. Before they pupate, however, they turn the bright yellow/orange color that you see in the picture above. These little fellows' range comprises most of the eastern U.S., and they prefer spicebush and sassafras as their host plants.

For you nature lovers, here is a neat site that has pictures and info regarding the life cycle of Papilio troilus.

The Butterfly Gardening and Conservation site is really interesting, particularly if, unlike Cousin Stacey, you have a fondness for insects. Stein's Virtual Insectary is pretty cool, too.

P.S. To Sparrow: You are to be thanked for all this research I just did. It all started because I wanted to find out if the false eyespots were really on the caterpillar's butt. They're not. :)

Thursday, April 28, 2005


I practiced piano today. Thumb only aches mildly--nothing like the pain I've had for the past month or more. Now, keep in mind, I've averaged between zero and twenty minutes of practice per day for a couple of weeks--pathetic. But that's shows how bad Thumb has felt (though my crazy schedule and job-related fatigue didn't help).

So here's what happened at my practice today:

1. I played the contrary-motion scales perfectly. Purr. Fect. Lee. No mistakes. I thought I was imagining things, or had just had a lucky scale, so I played them again. And again. No mistakes. They sounded as smooth and felt as comfortable as my regular scales. Weird.

2. I played the contrary-motion arpeggios even better. I played them twice as fast. Perfect. Hands flying over the keys, hitting the correct notes every time. Hmph. I watched my hands as if I were watching someone else's hands. Were my hands really playing that? I guess they were.

3. I had such an intensive 30-minute practice on the Dett that I forgot that Thumb was supposed to hurt. I forgot, also, that I'm supposed to be frustrated at not having "finished" the Dett by now (thanks to Thumb).

So what do you think happened? At the end of my 30-minute practice, I thought to myself, "OK, no metronome. Just play this thing through, and see how it sounds." So I played it through, and at a nice pace--not quite the allegro ma non troppo that it's supposed to be, but still a nice pace. And it sounded good. Not perfect, but good. Better yet, it felt natural. This is a big deal. Plus, I had a strange, unfamiliar sensation that I haven't had in some time when at the piano ... I think it's called "enjoying myself." Imagine that!

4. I played the Mozart next. Again, practicing has been minimal for weeks. Played it through and it sounded quite good, except that the runs were a little rusty. No biggie. I practiced each run for a few minutes, and the next time I played it through, they sounded fine.

5. I dug out the Chopin nocturne that I love so much. Got into it. Played the trill sections and they felt natural. In all the times I've played this nocturne, the trills never felt quite right. This time the trills just happened. They felt right, and with no sense of "making an effort" on my part. Thinking it might have just been dumb luck, I played the piece again, trills and all. Beautiful.

In short, I had the best practice I've had in months. I played better than I have in months. I realize that my perceptions may be muddied for whatever reason, so maybe I didn't necessarily play better. But I felt better while playing. I enjoyed it. I had fun. And that, friends, is what it's all about.

So, to explain the title of this post, I'm attributing this amazing piano practice to one of four possible causes:

EENIE: The Hubster cast a magical piano excellento! spell on me last night while I was sleeping.

MEENIE: I'm revving up for a bipolar high.

MINE: The poltergeist who switched brains and a thumb with me last month decided to switch everything back. I didn't notice the switch because I was too busy writhing in pain in the dentist's chair. If this is the case, I'll have to inform the dentist that he has a poltergeist living at his office. Hmm, I knew there was something wrong about that place...

NEE: All those knocking-my-head-against-a-wall practices of the past few months have sunk in, and I've finally reached a "breakthrough."

MO: The vise of unbelievable tension in which job-related stress has held me is finally starting to loosen. My last day of work is two weeks from today. I had a good interview at the school, and I now have two freelance-writing assignments on my plate, both of which will be fun to write. I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Both Thumb and Brain are happy about all of this, so they've decided to start being nice to me again.

Which do you think it is?

Interview/Coronation Day

Today is a combination interview/coronation day. Yes, I'm being crowned. Read on.


The interview went well. They're not looking for an English lit teacher, though. They're looking for someone to do a handful of different things: teach WRITING (expository/freshman comp type stuff, but also creative writing!!!), work in the LIBRARY (if I were a librarian ...), and teach the S.A.T. PREP COURSE.

I can do that. It's just as much up my alley as English lit would be.

Next week: I meet with the school's personnel committee. Yee-hi.

The crown was a good old exercise in pain management (or lack thereof). They didn't deaden my gums. It was very, very painful. I didn't cry, but I was on the verge of it. I hate, hate, hate, hate going to the dentist.

I'm rather loopy from pain meds, so I'm not sure if I can drive myself to work today. Probably best not to do that. For now, I'm just going to rest. It's not even 11:00 a.m., and it's been a long day already.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Too Much Fun

In my never-ending quest to find entertaining, educational time-wasters to occupy my last eleven days on the job, I visited NRO's The Corner, where Jonah Goldberg has proven himself a veritable aficionado of time-waster websites. (Yes, I had to look up aficionado on before posting this.)

A couple that he's posted lately are Place the State (a U.S. geography puzzle game) and Find the European Capitals. The European game is all in German, so I'm not sure what they're telling me when I confuse Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Probably something containing the term "stupid American."

Fun games. Now, go play.

I am the Fox

You are the fox.

Saint Exupery's 'The Little Prince' Quiz.
brought to you by Quizilla

Adoption Birthday Poem: Where I'm From

I'm not a poet, but I thought I'd do the "Where I'm From" poetry exercise/meme, which I first saw at Pratie Place. Basically, you use the template found here to write a poem using George Ella Lyons's poem, "Where I'm From," as a model. For some reason, the link to Lyons's poem includes something called "Louisiana Voices," bits and pieces of the poem written by women from Louisiana. Below is my attempt at using my own Louisiana voice in this exercise. It really was fun to write; try it yourself.

Why did I write this? I wrote it to celebrate my adoption "birthday." I was born on February 18, but I wasn't adopted until April 27, thirty-five years ago today.

WHERE I'M FROM, by Waterfall

I am from coffee grounds,
from Fisher-Price little people and bleached clam-shell driveways.
I am from the slant-roofed playroom,
the green carpet and the brown braided rug,
littered with toys and tiny shoes.
I am from the pair of hickories in the back yard,
thick, woody roots intertwining,
killed by blight one summer after we moved on.

I’m from braided bread wrappers and
stewed chicken served on TV trays at Christmas.
I am from Baxley and Gamble,
Didier, Gilbert and Barlow.

I am from the sound of his whistling,
And the sound of her singing Jesus-songs as she rocked me to sleep.
I am from the clean-plate club,
and milkshakes at Burger Chef after the dentist,
and nectar snowballs on steamy summer afternoons.

I am from Bible Discoverers and weekly verses,
sultry summer mornings in line for Bible school,
and baptism in a tennis dress, before a dressed-up congregation,
one bright Sunday morning when I was six.

I am from the river’s edge and flooded streets after rain.
I’m from the grassy green levee,
dotted with fire-ant hills and smelling of fresh cow-pies.
I am from Plaquemine, half-devoured
by the hungry Mississippi,
five buried blocks now scattered beneath her muck.

I am from filé gumbo and jambalaya,
Community coffee and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
I am from Mardi Gras costumes, with
fallen sequins replaced in a pinch with the hot-glue gun.
I am from black-watch plaid jumpers and navy-blue shoes
bought at Tic-Toc, or Duffy’s, on a Wednesday afternoon.

I am from the tiny attic with wall-posters,
school papers, and construction-paper art—
memories now shipped, some of them, to Carolina,
or stored for safekeeping in the cabinet below the television,
in yellowing albums with pages grown sticky with age.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Will I Ever Outgrow This?

This morning I woke up and thought to myself, "Hm, it's April 26. That's the birthday of someone I know. Someone I know really well. Who could it be?" Then I didn't think about it anymore.

So just now on Planet Zeb, "Union of the Snake" by Duran Duran comes on. And I think to myself, "Ohh. That's it. It's Roger's birthday."

So that's the person I "know" whose birthday is today: Roger Taylor. Roger Taylor, of course, is the drummer for Duran Duran. I don't think I've celebrated his birthday since, oh, 1984 or so. But apparently the date will forever be stored away in my bottomless brain.

Country Roads Article

The Louisiana Hiking Club is featured in this month's issue of Country Roads, a regional magazine based out of Baton Rouge. We started the club seven years ago, and it's stronger than ever. So cool that we Louisianians, despite our state's lack of mountainous terrain, are able to find fellow hikers and backpackers--and trails!--nearby.

Looks like Country Roads has its own blog, too!

Piano Mastery at Project Gutenberg

Bart from The Well-Tempered Blog tells us that Piano Mastery: Talks with Master Pianists and Teachers by Harriette Brower, is now available for download at Project Gutenberg. First published in the early 20th century, it features chats that reveal the thoughts, insights and advice of some of the greatest pianists of that time. Many of the names are now forgotten by most, though there are a few memorable ones, such as Paderewski, von Bulow, and Busoni.

Should make for interesting reading throughout my last twelve days of work ...


I've been "tagged" by the lovely sparrow to answer some questions.

Here's the scoop on how to play: I pick 5 occupations out of the list below and post my answers. Then I tag 3 other people to post their answers on their blog. If I tag you, and you don't want to be a part of this, then that is okay. Just let me know and I'll tag someone else.

The "questions": If I could be a scientist...If I could be a farmer...If I could be a musician...If I could be a doctor...If I could be a painter...If I could be a gardener...If I could be a missionary...If I could be a chef...If I could be an architect...If I could be a linguist...If I could be a psychologist...If I could be a librarian...If I could be an athlete...If I could be a lawyer...If I could be an inn-keeper...If I could be a professor...If I could be a writer...If I could be a llama-rider...If I could be a bonnie pirate...If I could be an astronaut...If I could be a world famous blogger...If I could be a justice on any one court in the world...If I could be married to any current famous political figure...

If I could be a missionary ... When I was younger, I dreamed of someday becoming a "missionary bard." Basically, I would walk around the country (the world?) with a guitar, singing and telling stories about Jesus. Or, if I didn't walk, I would travel in an off-white Ford Econoline van. Really. Seeing as I'm not so good at the guitar and I can't sing to save my life, I think I would be an advocate for adoption, working with young, pregnant girls, encouraging them to put their babies up for adoption by loving families, and counseling them before and after. I imagine being either in a big city or a very rural area in the U.S. Do missionaries do that?

If I could be a musician ... heh. Remember my missionary bard dream? Well, I think it would be so fun to be a traveling pianist/educator. I would have an off-white Ford Econoline van, a big 'un, and travel all over the country with a grand piano that I'd have to tune whenever I got into town. Once I got into town, I'd go to different schools, or perform at arts centers for kids, or just set up in a parking lot. I'd introduce kids (and adults) to the wonderful world of classical music, and jazz, and play music for them. Somehow I'd love to try my hand(s) at lighting the fire of interest in them for the great composers and great music, before they learn not to love it.

If I could be a librarian ... I would be a children's librarian, hands down, but I'd also drive the bookmobile into poor neighborhoods. I would have an off-white Ford Econoline van filled with library books, and I would go to schools and read to the kids, introducing them to the wonderful world of books. They would call me "The Book Lady." Or "The Van Lady." And they'd love me so much that they'd beg their parents to take them to the library so they could read check out some books and read.

If I could be a lawyer ... blech. I could never be Jack on Law and Order. I couldn't assist in sentencing people to death. I would probably be a defense attorney ... but at the same time, I couldn't, in good conscience, fight for a weak sentence for someone who murders people. It might be nice to be the lawyer who comes in when people's parents have died, and helps to get everything in order. Lawyering as a profession never appealed to me, and I guess I know why. But at least I'd make enough money at it to afford an off-white Ford Econoline van and pursue my missionary bard/musician/librarian dreams!

My dream car (minus the ladder and the shiny white exterior)

If I could be a farmer ... I'd look so cute in overalls and a straw hat! :) Seriously, I'd be a missionary farmer. We met some missionary farmers this past weekend, and they live in Brazil, on a mission of some sort, and they teach students about farming and gardening. The students then go back to their villages--or to other villages--to teach others about farming. Imagine how much of a positive influence those teachers have on numerous villages throughout Brazil. While I imagine having a positive influence on people with my writing, there are so many places in the world that need more concrete help, like learning to farm, that just a few words on a page can provide. So that's what I'd do. If I could be a farmer.

Thanks, sparrow, for tagging me. This was fun! So now it's my turn to tag folks, and I'm tagging Scrabble-player extraordinaire Tina at Corner Chair, INFJ/INFP expert Lora at Black Currant Jam , and poet Violet at promptings.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Week 4 Practicing Pact: Suggested Challenges?

Log your practice minutes for week for in the comments for this post.

Want to stick with the 5x/week practice challenge? Or does someone have something more creative? How about 5 days and/or 150 minutes a week--which would equate to five 30-minute practices a week?

While you're thinking about it, check out these Thoughts on Memorizing by Ruth Slenczynska of Southern Illinois University. It's geared towards pianists at the intermediate to advanced levels, but even non-pianists and beginning pianists may find it of value.

Practicing Pact, Week 3 Totals

Many apologies to you hard-working practicers; I have failed at being my usual cheerleading self. Thumb has really brought down my spirits of late. So I was glad to see that so many of you still posted your minutes and are practicing more than enough to make up for my lack of it! ;-)

First place for this past week was Hilda, who logged 265 minutes of practicing Satie and Telemann on the oboe.
In second place is the Little Princess, who practiced six days this week, totally 180 minutes on the piano.
And in third is Pei Yun (165 minutes), who continues to learn Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave, and Marcello’s Sonata in g minor.

Kim in ON, you were sooo close to getting "third place," and Sparrow, you weren't too far behind her!

Two people (Hilda and Little Princess) met the 5x/week challenge by practicing six days the week. The rest of us were close, but no cigar.

Great job, y’all!

Um, I Was Like, You Know, Interviewed. Tee hee!

Listen to me! Tee hee! But please try to ignore the copious likes, ums, you knows, and giggles! Waterfall talks about wilderness survival in Alabama, thru-hiking the Appalachian, like, Trail, and um, writing about Louisiana trails, and stuff like that, you know.

(and Waterfall notes that, after a year and a half of living in North Carolina, she's acquired more of a southern accent than she ever had in Louisiana ...)

(note to self: "times" is not pronounced "toms.")

It was a fun interview, though. And it turned out pretty good. Go have a listen.

Big Fat

"Girl, you're just like me. God gave you the gifts, and Lord, was He generous!" -- Big fat fitting-room woman as she patted my butt and broke into raucous laughter. I was fourteen, and I wanted to sink into the floor of the school-uniform fitting room that afternoon.

"Waterfall has horse-thighs." -- Dumb boy on the school bus when I was in high school.

"Hey you. Go on a diet." -- Some dumb boy at the beach, 1986.

"You're fat, but at least you have a good personality and a pretty face." -- Dumb boy at summer camp

"You girls are SO FAT. It's disgusting!" -- Volleyball coach, 10th grade or so

"I hate myself I hate myself I hate myself I hate my big fat self ..." -- Typical journal entry from when I was a teenager.

"It's OK, Waterfall." My mom stood in the parking lot of Goudeau's Health Club in Baton Rouge. I sat in the passenger's seat, crying. "Don't be so self-conscious. No one's going to laugh at you. No one's even going to notice you."

I looked up at my mom. She wore short spandex leggings and gym shorts with a t-shirt. Had she no shame? I wouldn't be caught dead in short spandex leggings.

As we entered the all-women’s health club a few minutes later, I blushed violently with embarrassment. This gym was full of attractive, tan, muscular women in spandex. I was the opposite: pasty white, overweight, wearing long shorts with an oversize t-shirt and ... well, I did have a pretty face, even if I was fat (according to the dumb boy at camp). But I wasn't ready for this. My mom introduced me to her trainer (had she no shame? a trainer?!), then went to warm up on the treadmil. I hid in the locker room until she was ready to leave.

A couple of self-loathing years later, Dr. VH encouraged me to join a gym. So I swallowed my stubborn, self-conscious pride and shuffled reluctantly back into Goudeau's. I made an appointment with a trainer. I cried as I filled out my weight-loss goals on their sign-up sheet. Someone showed me how to work the treadmill.

I fought tears as I started the machine up and began walking. Was anyone noticing how jiggly my legs were? How pallid they looked, how seemingly fluorescent in the room's harsh light? I would never know. I didn't look at anyone. I simply entered my weight into the machine, covering the numbers as they appeared on the electronic display.

I walked, slowly at first. My face was purple, not with exertion, but with embarrassment. I sped up a bit. I forgot to be self-conscious as I watched the treadmill display closely. It switched from "total miles" to "calories burned" to "miles per hour" and back again. Each time "calories burned" appeared, the number had increased. Apparently, I was burning calories. Imagine that.

When I finished the half-hour, I had burned about 125 calories. I stared at the display in disbelief. One hundred and twenty-five calories! Just like that! That was at least half of breakfast, probably more. One hundred and twenty-five calories, gone! I felt more accomplished at that moment than I'd ever felt on the Weight Watchers diet, the bulimia diet, the anorexia diet, the nothing-but-bread-and-water diet, the starve-myself-and-walk-all-day diet, the grapefruit diet, or the diet-pill diet.

That first delicious taste of losing weight via exercise was all I needed. A week later, I looked into one of the health club's ubiquitous wall-length mirrors, and I didn't seem quite so disgustingly fat anymore. Amazing how our perceptions can change so quickly. A few days later (after treadmilling every day), I met with the trainer, learned to use the weight machines, and started my first-ever exercise plan. It about killed me to do five sit-ups, but it was a start. Before long, I could do more. I later discovered Stairmaster and step aerobics. Exercise became a priority. And with a new concern for my health, I started eating the way I'd learned to eat on Weight Watchers, several years before.

After a year, I'd given most of my old clothes to charity. I'd shrunk down to a size four. Really.

"I didn't realize you were so petite!" -- My dad, doing a double take when I wore a new, size-four outfit.

"Wow, and all that time, I thought you were just big boned!" -- A friend, seeing me for the first time after I'd lost weight.

Thanks to an exercise routine and decent eating habits, I've stayed at a good weight for nearly fifteen years now. Even though I've gained a few pounds since marriage in 2003, I was small enough to start with that those pounds didn't push me over the line to being "overweight." And, happily, I don't get devastated at every little bit of weight gain, the way I would have as a teenager. At the same time, I don't want to blithely "not mind" every little bit of weight gain ... only to wake up at age 40, weighing 20, 30, 40, or 50 pounds more than I do now.

When I mention that I'm "cutting back on junk food" or "trying to work out more" because I want to lose the few pounds I've gained, I get dirty, suspicious looks from women who are larger than me. "You don't need to lose weight," they say dismissively.

No, I don't need to lose weight. But I like where I am, and I don't want to go back to where I was. It still haunts me, even though low self-esteem, insecurity, and cruel adolescent peers aren't problems anymore. I still see myself as "a fat person who lost weight"--not as the trim, petite person that others see. I identify more with the overweight women who give me those dirty looks than with the slim, trim twentysomethings at the gym. I know what it's like to be stuck in a fat, out-of-shape body. I hated it, and I don't want to go back there.

So the Hubster has decided he wants to lose weight. I dragged him out of bed at 5:45 this morning, and we went to the gym. There were several men and women there, some older, some younger, who are overweight or obese. I know they're new because I haven't seen them there before. They are just starting their exercise routines, here at 6:00 a.m. on a Monday morning. They focus closely on their own workout, not looking around at anyone. Are they hoping that the rest of us aren't watching them? Are they wondering if we're laughing? Some of them aren't wondering. Some of them probably are.

For those who are wondering, I want to tell them it's okay, that half the healthy people in here used to be fat (even if that's not true). I want to tell them I know how hard it is simply to set foot in a health club the first time when you have a lot of weight to lose. I want them to be inspired by those first few calories burned, as I was in 1991. I want to watch and celebrate with them as they go through the same thrilling process of losing weight and/or firming up that I did.

So yeah, I'll guess I'll be watching them, in an off-handed sort of way. But I won't be laughing at them. Nobody will. We're all too absorbed in our own workouts. And if we do notice, we don't think, "Look at that big, fat person, all jiggly on the treadmill." We really do think, "Yay! Someone else has decided to get in shape. More power to them."

More power to you, Hubster. And to anyone else who's decided to turn over a new leaf, health-wise, this spring.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Dumb, Dumb, Dumb Thumb

[This post is mainly for practicing pact people.]

Thumb is still complaining every time I try to play George. I can get 15 minutes of practice, tops, before it starts whining. Grr. I hardly played all week because I thought resting it might help. Hoping to see an osteopath or chiropractor this week.

So I have an excuse. What's yours? No excuses? OK, go post your practice minutes for the week. Just click the link beneath the piano keys in my sidebar. :)

Friday, April 22, 2005

Loopy, Happy Thoughts

I feel really happy today. It’s kind of grey outside, a bit humid, ready to rain. I got to work early and took a half-hour break around 9:00 to sit at my little two-person booth at the Mediterranean Café down the street and write. Lately it seems like the words are just pouring out of my pen. They don’t seem to be building to anything in particular, but that’s okay.

I think I know what’s going on. The binds are loosening. Now that the last day of work is nearing, I’m feeling more relaxed. More relieved. All these frozen, bottled-up words, thoughts, ideas, and stories are starting to thaw. I didn’t realize how stuck and motionless they were until they started squirming in my brain a few days ago. Now they’re starting to leak out of my pen, out of my fingers on the keyboard, and things are coming out weird, in pseudo-poetic half-lines, mixed metaphors, and made-up words. Half-conscious. Uncertain. Like squinty-eyed moviegoers coming out into the theater lobby after a long movie has ended.

So many beginnings of things have turned out stillborn in the last year and a half. I’ll start an essay, or a story, or a song or novel. And then the weekend is over, and I’m back at work, and all of that creative activity and motion slows and hardens, as if it’s just been drowned in a smooth, white lake of Elmer’s Glue. It stays that way through the week, through the business day and the tiring commute; even the hour or so of “free time” between dinner and bed, when I practice scales, arpeggios, or bits and pieces of Mozart or Dett, isn't so productive. What results, creatively, is a week of nothing—of robotic slow-forward movement, of mentally telling off my co-workers when frustrated, of trying not to fall asleep in my cold cubicle as I write bland, dry instructions for the software as it is expected to work once the bugs are fixed.

When the weekend comes around again, I try—sometimes successfully, sometimes not—to revive those promising beginnings of the previous weekend, to squeeze some life out of those first paragraphs and harmonic sketches before Monday morning creeps back in its quiet, sinister, punctual way. Sometimes it works—usually at the price of not seeing my husband all weekend, or neglecting the house and laundry—but only sometimes. Other weekends, I don’t worry about the writing and music projects I started the week before, and I just set off on a new trail. Again, the promise—a turn of phrase, a harmonic progression that just leaves me wondering at its beauty, a metaphor—and again, the halting stop of Sunday evening sleepiness and Monday morning work.

I don’t know where life is going to take me after I leave this job. I don’t even have health insurance in the works (something I need to check on, and soon!). I hope to get a teaching job; that would preclude my having to seek “permanent employment” this summer, as well as require that I brush up on the wonderful world of literature and education. I do need to make a bit of money, though. I’ve already contacted newspapers and local magazines, most of which have expressed an interest in paying me beans for freelance work. I’m also going to put signs all over creation, offering to do editing, proofreading, and tutoring in English for a small fee. The idea of this excites me. I like the concept of working for two hours on a for-pay project, then taking another two hours to write or work on music—the truly valuable activities. No boss. No cubicle. No you-have-to-be-here-from-8-to-5 requirements. No more.

I’ve led a life like this before, a freelance life without regular work. Usually, I’m broke. But I get to write. And I get to work on music. The money always comes through, somehow, and it will this time.

If I do get that teaching job, then I’ll have nine months of a paycheck, and then a summer of hiking waiting for the Hubster and me at the end of spring semester ’06. That, too, will a new adventure, full of life and promise—and material for making up more stuff with pen, paper, and piano.

Life is good. Things are going to work out, even if they don’t work out the way I envision them to. I just know they will.

Shakespeare Portrait Revealed as Fake

Historians have disagreed about the origins of The Flower Portrait, which bears the inscription 1609.

Now National Portrait Gallery experts in London confirm it is a fake which dates back to the early 19th century.

Read more about it on the BBC News site.

Speaking of Shakespeare, don't forget to celebrate his birthday tomorrow!

Dogwoods are in Bloom

(Taken on an evening walk around Lake Junaluska)

"After all, I don't see why I am always asking for private, individual, selfish miracles when every year there are miracles like white dogwood." ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Ding Ding! Songbird is the Lucky Winner!

Folks, my blog reached the 10,000-visits mark today. According to Sitemeter, visitor #10,000 came via a link from Songbird's blog.

Congratulations, Songbird! You win a prize! You can have a signed copy of America, One Step at a Time by the Hubster (an account of his walk across America), or a signed copy of 50 Hikes in Louisiana: Walks, Hikes, and Backpacks in the Bayou State, by Yours Truly. (My feelings won't be hurt if you pick the Hubster's book ... I can't imagine that a Louisiana hiking guide would be of any use to anyone who is not in the vicinity of Louisiana!).

So, take your pick! Congratulations, you lucky thing!

The Grand Show

"The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls." --John Muir, born April 21, 1838

No, I Will Not Be the Next Falz

Upon learning of my interview for an English lit-teaching position, my friend Jan asked, "So, are you gonna be the next Falz?"

"Falz" is what we called Dr. Falzarano. Dr. Falzarano was a rather arrogant, Milton-loving intellectual-type, a newly minted Ph.D. from up north (Massachusetts, I think), whose first post-Ph.D. job was teaching English literature to a bunch of snotty college-prep kids in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I don't know how he landed himself in Louisiana, of all places. Was he unable to find a university teaching job? Did he have some benevolent goal of molding young teenage brains to appreciate the wonders of literature? Was he simply curious about the south (another planet if you're from New England), and so decided to seek employment there for a few culturally experimental years?

I don't know. All I know is that, for his first year of teaching in Baton Rouge, he was blessed--or perhaps cursed--with our eleventh-grade Honors English class.

We were a nice enough group, I guess. We weren't cruel, and most of us weren't outwardly arrogant, but we were aware of our intellectual superiority in the school. Many of us were in honors math classes as well, and practically all of us were already taking AP courses in some subject or another. And this was at Episcopal--the best school in the city, and among the best in the south. Our graduates went to ivy league schools, or to the top-tier schools of the south: Tulane. Emory. Vanderbilt. We were no dummies.

We weren't college kids, either, though. When Falz, who apparently had not taken any courses in education while in grad school, passed out a college-style syllabus, I proceeded to stuff it into my locker and forget about it (along with all of the other first-day handouts we got in our classes). When he failed to write the assignments on the board (which was every day, since we had a syllabus), we failed to do the assigned readings. When he gave us pop quizzes (which was often), we moaned, complained, and usually failed them, too. When he asked the quiz question, "What kind of bird did the ancient mariner wear around his neck?" we answered everything from "parrot" to "Wild Turkey 101."

What did the Ancient Mariner wear around his neck?

A fine parrot-head necklace?

Or a bottle of whiskey?

Or something else?

Poor Falz. I think he tried to teach our high-school class using the same method he'd used to teach college kids--syllabus, readings, and lectures--and most of us simply did not respond. Discipline? Maybe he'd never had to deal with that. The kids not reading the assignments? Not a problem on the college level. Angry parents? Who deals with angry parents in college? (But parents can get really angry when they're shelling out big bucks for a college-prep education ...)

Some days class went well, but some days it didn't go so smoothly for poor Falz. We weren't the most disciplined Honors English class. We laughed a lot, though--too much, probably, and usually at the wrong times. I'll never forget how, to his chagrin, we all got the giggles as we read "The Hollow Men" in class. The bleaker the poem got, the more amusing we found it, and with each couple of read-aloud lines, we exploded into a new round of uncontrollable laughter. To this day, I can't help but giggle when I read, "Here we go round the prickly pear." Eliot was ruined for us. And in Falz's English class, of all places. He was not amused.

Falz really wasn't so bad, though. He did have a sense of humor. And a few students actually liked his classes, this English-nerd blogger being one of them. When he assigned us to write about one poem or another, he'd meet with me separately to assign a much harder or longer poem to write about. And I ate it all up. That's what a nerd I was. When he told us that he carried a copy of "Ode on a Grecian Urn" with him everywhere he went, we all laughed, but I thought, "Hm ... that might actually be cool." Yes, Falz would have been a great proponent of "Poem in your Pocket Day."

It was in Falz's class that I was struck by the lightning bolt of William Blake's genius. And it was in his class, writing a paper on "Ode: Intimations of Immortality," that I first fell in love with the poetry of William Wordsworth. It was in that class that I read, for the first time, the Tintern Abbey poem--which would become my favorite in all of English literature. And Falz introduced me to the magic of Keats, to "Ode on a Grecian Urn" and "To Autumn" and all the rest. So, even though the class was typically a battle of wills between teacher and students, I liked it all right.

I'm not sure how long Falz taught at Episcopal. I don't think he was there more than a few years. I don't know where he is now, or if he gave up on teaching high school. I shudder to think that he became a technical writer. Let's hope he didn't!

So, to answer Jan's question ... No, I don't think I'll be the next Falz. Hopefully, at 35, I'm a wee bit older and wiser (if not more educated) than he was in his just-out-of-grad-school twenties. And hopefully, my students (if I get the job) will have a little bit lot more patience with me than we did with Falz.

I do have a bit of the spirit of Falz in me, though. I'm a poetry nerd. Big time. I carry poems around with me everywhere. I do love Milton. And I have some sort of strange notion that I can knock an appreciation of literature into the minds and hearts of a few high school kids. Even if it means wearing parrot necklaces and letting kids laugh at prickly-pear poetry.

We'll see. But I have to get the job first.

Poem in Your Pocket Day

Sherry at Semicolon tells us that today is "Poem in Your Pocket Day" in New York City.

My Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume II, wouldn't fit in my pocket, so I carried it in a backpack instead. Along with lots of other random odds and ends that I apparently couldn't leave home without.

I've been reading a lot of Gerard Manley Hopkins of late. I read this one, "Spring," this morning at breakfast.

Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush

The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?

A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,

Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,

Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,

Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Interview II

This guy was reprimanded for (jokingly) suggesting that students have a "Get Naked Day" in his class.

Note to self: Do not suggest "Get Naked Day" as possible lesson plan during job interview next week.

Interview in 185.71 hours

I have a job interview next week. Terrors! Terrors!

It’s for a job teaching English lit at a private Christian school in town. Yee-ha! Yippee! and Terrors, too!

Whatever shall I wear?

The New Pope on Music

Alex Ross has a brief post on what our Catholic brothers and sisters can expect from the new Pope in terms of musical policy. Read about it here.

What If?

“If you could pick one part of your body to have plastic surgery on, which part would you pick?”

My brother asked me that question. We were both in our twenties, and my brother, never particularly happy with himself, enjoyed these flights-of-fancy games beginning with “if.”

I thought about it. One part of my body. Hmm. Maybe my butt? Thighs? Maybe a boob reduction? I might have wanted those things five years before. But, although I’d spent my teen years hating my overweight body, I’d finally started cardio and weight training at 21 and, after a year, had whipped my body into shape. The too-big parts had gotten smaller, and the too-flabby parts had firmed up nicely. I wasn’t about to change what I’d worked so hard to achieve.

How about my face? Nah. I wasn’t about to win any beauty contests, but I hadn’t been beaten by the proverbial “ugly stick,” either. My face was good enough. And, on the few occasions that I actually wore a little makeup, I could actually look pretty.

How about my bowlegs? My pigeon-toes? No. Other people seemed bothered by them more than I did. They weren’t perfect, but they were me.

“I don’t think I’d change anything,” I finally said.

“Really? You wouldn’t get your chin fixed?” he shot back innocently.

My chin? While reviewing my body’s possible candidates for change, I’d never once considered my chin. I’d never imagined that my chin was a problem. Thank you, dear brother, for pointing that out.

“Why my chin?” I asked.

“Because it’s so small. It gives you that moonpie face.”

It wasn’t the first time he’d called me “moonpie face.” And I thought it had lost its round, roly-poly aspect when I’d lost all the weight and cheekbones had magically appeared.

Ah, big brothers never cease to be big brothers.

Last night at poetry, we played at some of my brother’s “if” games. “If I could heal your deafness just by touching you,” Tom said, “would you want me to do that?”

I thought about it for a half-second.

“No,” I said.

“You wouldn’t?” I think everyone was a little surprised.

“I don’t think so.” In a weird way, I think that my ability to play the piano with my own special brand of sensitivity is partly due to my deafness. I can’t hear 100% of everything, so I play with what I have. My imagination comes into play when I strike the high notes that all sound alike to me. I play to my own weird sense of half-hearing, and it somehow sounds beautiful on the outside, to the “hearing” people who listen to me.

I continued the conversation, “But you know, if you could heal my depression with the touch of your hand, I might go for that ... but I don’t know. If I hadn’t spent so much of my life dealing with depression, my writing and music may never have happened the way they did.” So I guess I’ll keep the depression, burden that it is.

What if his question had been, “What if I could heal your depression by giving you a magic pill?” Then, my truthful answer would have been, “No thank you. I already have those magic pills, at least for when the depression becomes unbearable.”

The hearing, the depression, and my other conditions and traits that are considered “imperfections,” have made life harder in their own ways. But they are also what make me me. And, maybe more importantly, they’re partly responsible for my ability to sympathize, or empathize, with people. The fact that my own insecurities and craziness have caused me to do stupid and sometimes bad things in the past, has, in a very real way, made me better able to love people who don’t seem so lovable. I can laugh at my own problems, but I feel a connection, a kinship, with people who have to take Prozac, or who have had nervous breakdowns, or who stuggle with weight, or who are hateful and bitter, or who have to ask you to repeat yourself five times because they can’t hear you. If I hadn’t dealt with these types of things myself, I don’t think I would have the same genuine sympathy that I have for others now.

And what if we’re meant to have the handicaps we have? What if these imperfections really do have a purpose? One guy in our poetry group might say they do, and that they’re related to karma, reincarnation, and learning from our past lives. Others (but probably no one from the poetry group) would say that our imperfections and handicaps are not necessarily “meant to be,” but are are a result of our sin.

Whatever they are, they are what they are. The “what if” games are fun, but I wonder … where do we draw the line on what we’ll allow technology to change in and on our bodies? Is it OK only when an imperfection or handicap becomes life-threatening? After all, an abortion is considered acceptable by many if the life of the mother is threatened. Gastric bypass surgery has saved lives of the morbidly obese. My magic pills snatch me from the jaws of self-injury or even death whenever the depression gets really, really bad. Doctors fix hearts and lungs all the time, and it’s a good thing.

With today’s medical technology, many of the “if” games aren’t such flights of fancy anymore. And they’ll become more and more grimly--or wonderfully--real in the future. What might seem like “messing with God’s plan” today will be the most accepted thing in the world in fifty years. Just as artificial means of birth control, which in their own way, are “messing with God’s plan,” are normal, accepted, and encouraged today.

It’s the same old argument about new things. Many were polarized, then wearied, by it during the Terri Schiavo saga last month. And I'm wearied of it right now. I had great plans for a meaningful little essay today, but it’s turned into the same-old, same-old treadmill of a circular argument.

What if ...

If I could move these thoughts into a different direction, would I like my conclusions? If I could read lots of books on science and theology, would I have a better idea of what I’m trying to get at? If I would quit blogging for now, would I be able to get the draft of this system administrator’s guide edited and off my desk before lunch?

I know the answer to at least one of those questions.

Back to work!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Are You the Master of Your Brain?

Take the color test and find out.

The Beatles Invasion of 1985

I was born in early 1970, around the time that Beatles officially disbanded. My parents don’t remember the Beatles breaking up. My dad doesn’t even remember Apollo 13 (the real one, not the movie); I guess they were preoccupied, since they had a three-year-old in the house and were in the process of adopting a newborn daughter (me).

My teenage birthmom loved the Beatles, though. She even named me “Michelle” for the Lennon/McCartney song. Perhaps, she thought, I’d hear it when I was older and somehow know that she’d sung it to me before she gave me up for adoption.

But it was not to be. I grew up with a moma who didn’t dance and a daddy who didn’t rock ‘n’ roll. OK, so my mom claimed to enjoy dancing, but it’s not like it was something they ever did. They played Rook and tennis. They liked to bowl. They were active in church. And they listened to WQXY, the “beautiful music” station that piped elevator music into doctors’ offices and old people’s cars all across south Louisiana. On vacations, when WQXY wasn’t available, we listened to 8-tracks of The Carpenters and John Denver.

If rock music existed at all in the 1970’s, I wasn’t aware of it.

I didn’t like WQXY’s “beautiful music.” My musical preferences tended toward the that of The Sound of Music, Oklahoma, South Pacific, and Fiddler on the Roof. I also loved Bing Crosby (my dad’s favorite) and the hymns I heard at the Baptist church. I was also a huge fan of the great Phillip Willis.

Who? Phillip Willis, of course. He was a skinny, bespectacled Baptist evangelist who directed the music for revivals at our church every year or so. Over time (at my urging), my poor dad bought all of his religious-music 8-tracks. (Yup … most kids clamored for Star Wars action figures and roller skates. I wanted Phillip Willis 8-tracks.)

So, while the rest of the family watched TV, or went outdoors, or did other normal family things, I would sit alone in our den, 70s-era headphones like small bowls on either side of my 7-year-old head, listening for hours and hours to 8-tracks and albums of Broadway, Bing, John Denver, The Carpenters, and Phillip Willis.

That, friends, is the sad story of my musical upbringing. To this day, I love all that Broadway stuff, and John Denver, and The Carpenters, and Bing, and I still know all the words to all the songs on all the Phillip Willis 8-tracks. And I congratulate myself for never liking the “beautiful music” of WQXY.

Somehow, I missed out on all of the other music that was going on in the 70s. The only songs I remember are “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” which were the two 45s that we owned. Another “rain” song I liked was “Slip Slidin’ in the Rain.” It would play when I rode in Other People’s Cars. I had an image of the singer, a man, out in Plaquemine’s flooded streets after a heavy south-Louisiana downpour, slipping and sliding. Just like we kids did. It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I realized it was actually “Slip Slidin’ Away.” And it wasn’t about playing in the flooded streets of Plaquemine, after all. But it was a nice image. It still comes back to me when I hear that song.

But that was all I knew about 70s music in the 70s. Disco? Never heard of it. Pink Floyd? I thought “Pink” was some graffiti artist-hoodlum in Baton Rouge. Kenny Rogers? His music played in Other People’s Cars, but it was country music, and we did not listen to country music. The Beatles? Nope. Never heard of them. Not once.

Okay, maybe once. We got a little scholastic-type magazine at our elementary school, and one issue compared the Beatles to the Bee-Gees. The article’s Beatles picture was circa-1964, and they looked awfully formal (though smiling) and clean-cut.

The Bee-Gees, on the other hand, had long hair, beards, and big necklaces. They were cool.

Everyone in the third grade agreed that the Bee-Gees were much cooler than the Beatles.

It was in 1980, when John Lennon was shot, that I first became aware that the Beatles had really been a famous band. Lennon’s death wasn’t a big deal in my world, since I'd never heard of him. But his name became known to me then. As I understood, he'd been the lead singer of some old band. I didn't know who the other Beatles were, other than "John Lennon's back-up band."

In 1981, I got a clock radio for Christmas. My dad tuned my new clock radio to 100.7, WQXY, so I could listen to “beautiful music” before going to bed at night. After he left the room, I fiddled with the tuner a bit until I found WFMF, the Top-40 station. Thus was my real introduction to pop music, or rock & roll, or whatever it was that everyone else in my sixth-grade class was listening to.

Shortly after I got my clock radio, some guy named Paul McCartney, along with Stevie Wonder, came out with the song, “Ebony and Ivory.” I remember seeing the video and thinking of McCartney, “He’s cute but kind of old-looking.” I had no clue that he’d been a Beatle, a member of "John Lennon's back-up band," as I'd understood it. For all I knew, “Ebony and Ivory” was McCartney’s first and greatest hit. For all I knew, he was a one-hit wonder. I liked him, though, because he played the piano and had a nice voice. He had a nice smile, too, even if he was old.

Fast-forward to 1985. I’d gone through a number of pop-music phases by then, from Rick Springfield to Duran Duran. And at fifteen, I was burned out on pop music. Ah yes, the appeal of “Top-40 hits” had been short lived for me, and I felt that the newest songs left much to be desired. Besides, I’d recently discovered the music of some really old guy named Mozart, so I wasn’t even listening to the pop stations much anymore.

But I hadn’t quit listening to WFMF altogether. One evening, I’d gone to the store for my mom. (Funny how, once I got my driver’s license, I became the unofficial courier for the family.) As I drove home, I turned on the radio to WFMF, and a slow song had just started. My eyes widened as I listened. I was hearing the best song I’d ever heard played on WFMF. Finally, I thought, some band has come out with something worth listening to. Maybe pop music wasn’t dead after all. What was this song? It tore at my heartstrings, it made me want to sing or cry, it made me sway in the driver's seat in time to the music. This was what I called “beautiful music.” I didn’t know who was singing this new song, but I knew it was going to be a hit.

I raced home. I screeched into the driveway, jumped out of the car and, forgetting the groceries, sprinted into the house to call WFMF (I had the number memorized because I liked trying to be win prizes).

“WFMF,” answered the DJ after the third ring.



“That new song—the slow one you just played—what’s it called?”

“Um … I haven’t played any new slow songs in the last hour.”

“But you just played it!” I insisted.

“How did it go?”

“You know,” I said, frustrated. “At the end, it kind of went ‘naaa naa naa …’”

“Oh. Um … Kid, that’s not a new song. It’s called ‘Hey Jude.’”

“Yeah, but who sings it? It’s really good!”

The DJ was laughing at me. He finally said, “The Beatles.”

“Oh.” I hung up. I didn’t know much about the Beatles, but I knew enough to know I’d just embarrassed myself.

So the next day, I went to the library and checked out the big blue album and the big red album. I listened to both album sets a couple of times in a row, re-playing the songs I liked the best, thinking, "Oh, I've heard that song. I love that song. That's by the Beatles?" Most of the songs were new to me, though. But I was amazed at how much I loved them. I felt like I'd just unearthed some sort of buried treasure. The sheer pleasure of discovery wasn't marred by the fact that I was discovering something that everyone else already knew about.

A few days later, I bought some blank cassette tapes and remained very quiet as I listened and taped the big blue album and the big red album onto cassettes. I got one of those newfangled Walkmans that everyone was buying. And for the next couple of years, I listened to a lot of Beatles. Almost nothing but Beatles. It became a sort of addiction. An obsession. A Beatles invasion in my brain. When I listened to these tapes in public, with friends, I was shocked that they knew all the words. When did they learn this stuff? Why had I remained in the dark all these years? I knew all the words, too, but I'd only learned them within the past few months, after addictive non-stop listening, alone, into the late hours of the night.

I wondered how I’d managed to go all fifteen years of my life without an awareness of these amazing, happy, dark, engaging, wonderful songs. I fell in love with a circa-1969 George Harrison, more than I’d ever been in love with Rick Springfield or Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon (those boringly modern old flames). And I finally heard the song “Michelle,” though I wouldn’t know until my late 20s that I’d been named for it.

They were a happy discovery for me, these Beatle fellows. As an added bonus, they helped this shy, insecure, life-under-a-rock teenager "fit in,” too. I could now participate in “Who’s your favorite Beatle” discussions, and swore that you could tell a lot about a person once you knew which Beatle they preferred. I could argue over which was better, their early music or their mature music. I could ponder over which songs were really “Lennon” and which were really “McCartney” (though I liked the “Harrison” songs the best). I could sound like I’d known all about the Beatles all along. In addition, the 60’s nostalgia that overtook me at the time enabled me to wax eloquent about how totally awesome cool the ‘60s were, dude man.

My Beatlemania lasted for several years, and it still flares up every now and then. In my 20s, I dated a man who’d had a similar experience, only his Beatlemania had taken hold in the mid-70s. Mr. Right, a.k.a. The Hubster, turned out to be a guy who loves old country music and Lynyrd Skynyrd more than anything else.

But we do have the Beatles in common. Even though the Hubster “discovered” them nearly two decades before I did. Even though I still unearth the occasional “find” that the rest of the world has known about for longer than I’ve been alive. It’s still good. And it’s just as alive for me—albeit in a different way—as it was for my birthmom when she named me Michelle back in 1970.

The Hubster and I keep our 60-CD player on random mode when we’re working around the house. Every now and then, between Lynyrd Skynyrd, Hank Williams, Bach, Mozart, and Lyle Lovett, I’ll hear the beginning strains of “Here Comes the Sun,” “Paperback Writer,” or even “Hey Jude.” When I do, I’ll stop whatever I’m doing, just for a second, to take a brief, nostalgic journey back in time, back 20 long years to 1985—that magical and life-changing year that the Beatles finally--and however tardily--descended into my unsuspecting world.

And that, kiddies, is my story of the Beatles Invasion of 1985. Maybe next time I'll tell you about how I discovered the Grateful Dead in 1989. Or how I came upon this funny new show, "The Simpsons," last year. The world is never boring when there are so many new things to discover! ;-)

P.S. Yes, I live under a rock. But it's kind of nice here, don't you think? Thanks for visiting!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Practicing Pact, Week 3

Y'all know what to do. Enter your practice time (in minutes) for each day in the comments for this opst. I challege us all to work in 30 minutes a day this week. Can we do it? Most of us can easily practice for 30 minutes, but are we up to five practices sessions this week? Some of us managed that last week, but most of us didn't.

Let's do it. Have fun practicing!

(To any new people--anyone can post their practice minutes here. This isn't a contest, it's just a way for us busy folks to help motivate ourselves to make learning a musical instrument more of a priority. So, if you'd like to post your minutes, feel free. Just say what instrument you're learning, and tell us a little bit about what your practicing.)

Stupid Old Thumb

I went to piano today. We had a shorter-than-usual lesson. My thumb is throbbing. Good thing I have health insurance for three more weeks.

Poor Thumb. Poor me.

This. Really. Truly. Sucks.

Happy Birthday to Robert Greenberg

I went to the Classical Composers database this morning to see if any of my favorite composers had a birthday today, and who should I find in today's listing, but Robert Greenberg.

He's the guy who lectures on music for the Teaching Company. He's also a composer, but I think he's probably more well known to us general-public types as a teacher and lecturer. His How to Listen To and Understand Great Music is a highly accessible set of 48 lectures on the history of western music. Most recently, I've been enjoying his "Great Masters" series, my favorite of which (so far) is the set on Robert and Clara Schumann--Their Lives and Music.

Here is info about Greenberg as a composer from the BesenArts website:

Greenberg has composed over forty-five works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles. Recent performances of his works have taken place in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy and The Netherlands, where his Child's Play for String Quartet was performed at the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam.

Greenberg has received numerous honors, including three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and three Meet-The-Composer Grants. Recent commissions have been received from the Koussevitzky Foundation in the Library of Congress, the Alexander String Quartet, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the Strata Ensemble, pianist Robert Helps, and the XTET ensemble. Greenberg is a board member and an artistic director of COMPOSERS, INC., a composers' collective/production organization based in San Francisco. His music is published by Fallen Leaf Press and CPP/Belwin, and is recorded on the Innova label.

I've never heard any of his music. All I know is that he's a great lecturer. And I hope he has a very happy birthday.

Been Practicing? Week 2 Totals

Some of us have.

Here are the Practicing Pact results for Week 2. Some of you seem to have dropped out (or just haven't logged your practice time), so if you need to add minutes for the past week (April 11-17), go ahead and add them here and I'll adjust the totals.

So far, this weeks participants were pianists Waterfall, Dulciana, Sparrow, Kim in ON, and Little Princess; double-bassist Pei Yun; and oboist Hilda.

Big congratulations go, once again, to Pei Yun, who had the most minutes (380)for Week 2. Dulciana came in second with 207 minutes at the piano, and Hilda was third with 190 minutes on the oboe. Everyone else is close behind, and we all logged at least two hours this week.

Dulciana, who put in five days working on Beethoven's Pathetique sonata among other things, wins the "most-days-practiced" recognition. The rest of us (except for thumb-injured me) practiced four days a week.

Not bad for busy people whose lives have a way of getting in the way of music!

Last week, we had Em, Joe, and John S. entering their minutes. What happened to y'all, huh? :-)

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Drastic Measures, and Composition News

Well, folks, it's been a pretty nice weekend here in western North Carolina: good weather, good friends, and lots and lots of exploring with music theory and composition. Alas, dear friends, one thing has marred the loveliness of this weekend:

I dusted off the scale and stepped on it. And I somehow seem to have gained 12 pounds in the last year.

It's time for drastic measures. Enough whining about the sedentary nature of my job. Enough of blaming my inertia and fatigue on depression. Enough of never finding time for exercise. Enough, enough, enough.

Twelve pounds. That's more than 10% of my body weight. Even though I'm not fat, and even though I'm still in my "weight range," twelve pounds more than my "normal weight" is not good news. The pounds must go bye-bye.

Starting today. This minute. Now.


Ah, yes, I was talking about the good weekend. Weather was great, but I didn't go hiking because I had plans to meet some friends for ... I can't say what for, because, for me, it involved crafting a surprise Mothers Day present for Mrs. Gwen.

I spent most of yesterday working on music composition, though. Here are some things I worked on:

"I Look Into My Glass," which is a song based on the Thomas Hardy poem
'Lovely Derivative Schmaltz," which is my attempt to make something better out of a melody I wrote when I was 14
"Awful Tune: Augmented Sixths" and "Awful Tune: Piano Arrangement I," from the workbook

I got a lot done. Of course, when I play through everything, it's really just a few measures, but still, they are measures that would never have been written if I hadn't taken a nice, big chunk of a Saturday to do them.

So life is good. I'm going to exercise a lot today. Twelve pounds, start packing your bags!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Comments & a CD

Comments: My commenting hero is Jeanette. She answers every comment that is made to her blog. I try, but I don't always manage to do so. I love getting comments, though, so I'm going to try harder to respond to them. If you are taking time to comment, dear readers, then I may as well take time to respond. That's my opinion of things, anyway. :)

So I've responded to all of the comments for the last few days. Nothing exciting or brilliant--just my way of saying thanks for dropping by, and for leaving a note.

CD: I think I mentioned this in a previous post, but it's gotten buried in the blogging extravaganza I seem to have been having over the last few weeks. Anyway, Forrest Covington, a blogging composer and fellow North Carolina-dweller, has finally seen the release of Masterworks of the New Era: Volume Five, which includes his composition, Anagoge. I just ordered my copy. Don't forget to order yours.

It's a-gonna be a good Saturday.

Friday, April 15, 2005

A Navel-Gaze on My Bad-Personhood

If I had one of those Typepad category things, this post would be filed under "navel-gazing." If you're looking for poetry or music posts, just scroll down a bit and you'll find 'em. But this particular post is an unabashed navel gaze.

I am feeling like a bad person today.

For one thing, I'm tired and cranky, and I was supposed to go with my sister to pick out bridesmaids dresses (she's getting married in July). I have a pounding headache (despite aspirin), and I just feel yucky. So I called and cancelled. I know she was really looking forward to this, so now I feel so overwhelmed with guilt about cancelling. I'm half-tempted to call back and say I can go. I'm thinking, "Self, how can you be so ... selfish?

But then, I think to myself, "Self, you shouldn't call her back. Self, you nearly fell asleep at a red light a little while ago. You need to get home and get some rest, Self. You definitely don't need to go to Talbots and try on straight dresses that would have fit you a year ago but won't fit now, thanks to the cubicle-dwelling, figure-widening lifestyle you've led for the past year and a half." So Mu and I are going bridesmaids-dress-shopping next week instead. By then I should be in a better state of mind.

I even took a "me day" yesterday. What's what this fatigue and crankitude today?

For another thing, music theory class did not go well. I guess there's a first time for everything. And today was it. We went over some of the Neapolitan exercises, and I was looking at what I'd done a couple of days ago and wondering what I'd been smoking when I'd done the exercises. I'd done stupid things. Like giving the soprano a range of three whole notes in a four-measure exercise. Or not resolving the seventh of the chord downward. Or having the tenor and the alto being half-a-keyboard apart. What's with that? I know better than to do these things.

And I felt like I was wasting Vance's time, having him look over them. Finally, I said, "Look. Let me take these home and re-do them. I guess I was just having an off-day when I did them. Heck, I think I'm still having an off-day."

He agreed that I seemed a little "off." (Hm, was it the fact that I kept confusing sharps with flats? See what I mean? My blonditude really came through today.) He didn't seem to mind (he really is wonderful), but still, I felt like the whole theory lesson was a waste of time for both of us. I'm unhappy about that--not just because I don't like to waste precious time, but because I love music theory and I really look forward to meeting with Vance each week. The less-than-wonderful lesson was kind of a letdown.

We didn't even get around to doing my Awful Tunes. It was probably better that way. Maybe when I work on them over the next few days, hopefully with a more focused mindset, I'll be able to catch any dumb mistakes I made the first time around.

Assignment for next week: A couple more Awful Tunes, plus studying more actual pieces and how different concepts are used in them. And he said I didn't need to, but I think Im going to rewrite those exercises that we went over today.

There is just so much to learn in music theory. I'm excited about it, but at the same time it is overwhelming. Kind of like having a giant chocolate cake in front of me for the eatin', but wondering how I'll ever be able to down the whole thing.

How 'bout another simile? I guess, like everything else, this theory situation is just like thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail: Step by step. Day by day. One step at a time, and I'll get there eventually. Wherever "there" is.

"Slow me down, Lord."

God's Grandeur

And now, for one of my favorite poems in the whole wide world.

God's Grandeur
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Find more great Hopkins poetry here.

Sharing the Warmth of Music Theory

I had a really good day yesterday. There was nothing special about it; I didn’t sleep in, and I didn’t really do anything out of the ordinary. Just relaxed and had what some of us call a “Me Day.” We need those every now and then.

Yesterday morning, I spent a good three hours at my favorite coffee shop, Panacea, where I did some journaling and worked on music theory. It was so nice to sit and write; it felt good just to write without a time limit (no hurrying so I can get to work on time), and just let my mind wander and watch.

Music theory was mostly a review. We’ve covered a lot of concepts in the last few months, but my schedule hasn’t allowed me time to really let those concepts “sink in.” I understood them well enough to do the exercises in the book, but that didn’t mean I’d learned them well enough to apply them.

So, I went through the book yesterday, went all the way back to secondary dominants up to pedal point and modulation, and reviewed. I studied the concepts side-by-side with Music for Analysis, which shows how different composers have applied the concepts I’ve been learning.

Those few hours were time well-spent. I noted, on paper, how different composers achieved resolution of things in different compositions. In the textbook, you learn that an augmented six resolves to the dominant. It was interesting to see how composers would resolve to the dominant, but would do it in roundabout and interesting ways.

Then, after taking lots and lots of notes on my observations, I went home and played some of the examples to get the different approaches into “my mind’s ear.” Played things really slowly, and, to see how something affected the "color" of the music, would substitute different things within the music (What if I replaced this Italian sixth with a German one? What if I made it something other than an augmented sixth? What if I used a diminished seventh instead of a dominant seventh?).

Finally, it was time for Awful Tune exercises. The textbook has these little exercises where a melody line is provided and the assignment is to “harmonize and write a piano arrangement for the following melody.” Typically (and I think on purpose), the melodies are awful-sounding, with all kinds of unexpected accidentals (sharps and flats). So, after I’ve worked out some basic harmonies and go to Finale Notepad to enter the music, I give them titles like, “Awful Tune VI: Borrowed Chords Exercise,” or “Awful Tune II: German Sixths Exercise.”

And do you know what? Maybe it’s because I get used to the awful tunes (or probably it's the purpose of the exercise!), but once I’ve harmonized them, they make more sense and don’t sound so awful. And once I’ve written a piano arrangement, they actually sound pretty good (to my ears). So much that I think about expanding on some of them and writing something called, “Suite: Awful Textbook-Tunes.”

Poor “Adagio Thing” didn’t get a lot of work. The more I learn about music theory, the more I realize that “Adagio Thing” has a lot of growing ahead of it. But it’s still there, keeping the back burner warm.

I’m very, very happy because Music Theory is today. I’m so glad that I was able to devote a whole day to it in preparation for today’s “class.” With this “class,” we’ll have completed the “Harmony in Common Practice” chunk of the textbook.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to move on to “Post Common-Practice Harmony” just yet. Part of me would like to spend the summer letting all of the “Common Practice” concepts sink in so that they’re as familiar to me as the rules of English grammar and punctuation.

And by “letting them sink in,” I mean studying, listening, analyzing, and, most importantly, composing.

Life is good.

Unfinished Business

Violet has pointed us to her story, Unfinished Business, about a girl's experience with piano competitions. Very nicely written, and most of us who have been in piano competitions can probably identify with her main character, Nicola.

Violet is also a poet and regularly post her poetry on her blog, promptings.

Thanks for sharing your story, Violet!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Practicing Pact, Week 2

[I'm just re-publishing this post because it had gotten so far down in the blog. Don't forget to post your minutes!]

Practicing Pact Participants:

Please enter your practice hours for the week of Monday, April 11 through Sunday, April 17 in the comments section of this post.

New people are welcome, and this isn't limited to just pianists. So feel free to join us. Come back and visit soon--I'll be posting totals from last week, as well as sharing some thoughts (and welcoming comments) on the subject of childhood piano-practicing anxiety.

Read more about the Practicing Pact here and here.

Zero Day

On the trail, we called it a "zero day." In real life, we call it a "day off."

So that's what I'm taking today.

I'm going to spend it basking in the light and warmth of music theory.

I'm such a dork. I'm such a dork. I'm suck a dork.

Piano Anxiety at Divertimenti

Dulciana at Divertimenti has taught piano for twelve years. She offers her and offers her thoughts on piano anxiety, which she writes in response to my Piano Anxiety post of a few days ago. In it, she writes about those spring concerts that piano students always have.

I actually looked forward to the spring concerts (I do have an inner show-off). If I were a piano teacher, I'd probably follow tradition, more or less. But I also like the idea of offering, maybe in addition to the "dress-up" recital, less formal opportunities to perform (nursing homes, etc.). I worked at a nursing home for a couple of years and would play piano on my breaks, everything from Chopin to Scott Joplin to good Southern-Baptist-style renditions of hymns. They loved it. And it was great because there really wasn't any pressure to "perform." I was just having fun. And so were they.

Go read Dulciana's post. It's good, and offers food for thought as well.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Another Oboe Blogger

I thought Patty was the one and only blogging oboist, but I was wrong.

Hilda is an amateur oboist in New York who first picked up the oboe last December. I've only read a little bit of her blog so far, but I've already found some posts I really like. Like the one where she says:

I feel as though the dam that was holding back my creativity finally burst and now I'm filled with all this positive energy and at the same time a great sense of peace.There is some fear also. Fear that even after giving this my all I will never make it to the level that I want. But you know what, that's a gamble I'm willing to take (Wow, I'm even accepting risk! Who am I?). There is no way for me to know how far I can go unless I give it my all. I have a feeling I won't be disappointed. Besides I know that in this case I will be able to appreciate my personal odyssey regardless of where I end up.

And this:

So I've decided to try to chronicle my journey [through the blog]. About how an inner city girl picks up the most sublime instrument at an age when she should have already found her thing in life. Watch how I slowly but surely become part of a new world. A world I always thought was closed to me. And how I put together the other pieces in my life to accommodate this new love.Should be a fun, life-long trip.

Her (very touching) story about finally finding her true instrument, the oboe, is here.

Interesting Piano-Teaching Jobs

This woman has taught the likes of Tom Cruise and Holly Hunter:
To train an actor for an on-screen piano-playing role is considerably different than actually teaching piano. "You have to teach the basics, how to count," she says, "but then most of the time is given to making them look like they're pros."
This guy teaches wirelessly.

via The Well-Tempered Blog.

J-Hat Cleaning Frenzies for a P-Brain

I mentioned yesterday that Marla’s Blog Types aggregator is now up and running. I’ve talked about Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality types here and here in the past.

I’ve found it helpful to study personality types (my main source was
Please Understand Me, which has been superseded by Please Understand Me II). It's helped me to understand, in a very real sense, that, just because I’m interested or something, or just because I crave certain environments, it doesn’t mean that everyone feels that way. Or, most importantly, it doesn't necessarily mean that they should feel that way.

My personality type is INFP, which means Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Perceiving (as opposted to Extraverted, Sensing, Thinking, and Judging). The following little essay will make more sense to you if you're familiar with MBTI (but hopefully you'll enjoy it anyway, even if you know nothing about MBTI).

I’m going to tell you about my J-hat today. It’s my Judging hat. In MBTI terminology, Judging does not mean “judgmental”; it simply means that you tend to want to act on things in your environment. You want to finish tasks, to cut out all of the unnecessaries, to meet the deadline. We Perceivers ("P-brains”) do not make such demands on ourselves. We don’t particularly like making decisions or taking strong stands … because you never know when more information may come in and change our perceptions of things. It’s important to be capable using both J and P approaches to life—to keep your options open, but also to complete tasks.

I wear my J-hat at work. I am a strong P-brain, so the J-hat doesn’t fit me very well. Still, I jam it over my P-brain the moment I enter Cubicle Land. I take it off the moment I step out. It’s the hat that enables me to meet deadlines, to organize my time and my work, to get things done in record time. It’s the hat that has been responsible, at a number of jobs, for my reputation as a conscientious, organized, dependable person. (Ha! HA!)

I wear the J-hat each afternoon for a few minutes as I plan meals for the next week. I have to plan meals. If I don’t, I’ll forget to go to the grocery store. The meal plans help me to make grocery lists. Without a grocery list, I’ll get to the store and have no clue what to buy (other than ice cream and wine). Or I’ll forget why I came. Or I’ll start out to the store, but will end up at Lowe’s or Hallmark or on the Blue Ridge Parkway instead. And then the Hubster and I will have to spend yet another week eating canned soup and crackers for dinner.

My J-hat also the hat that I force over my P-brain once or twice a year when the house becomes a health and/or fire hazard. To tell the truth, clutter and dirt do not bother me (just ask my mom). There are just so many things I’d rather do. And cleaning always seems to undo itself. Why is that? If I clean on Saturday, well, the house is just going to be messy again by the time Wednesday rolls around. So why bother?

But like I said, there are times when the clutter gets to be too much, even for me. There comes a time in every slob’s life when the quaint mold garden in the tub just needs to go. Last Saturday was such a day for me.

Why did I try to cram all of the tasks into a single weekend? you ask.

It’s because I hate to clean. Hate it.

I know it makes more sense to “do a little bit every day,” but I can’t bring myself to do it. If I’m going to clean, then I may as well go all-out. If I’m going to clean the bathroom, well, I just may as well throw in the kitchen, the bedroom, the office, the Inner Sanctum, the fridge, and the nasty floor underneath the oven. I guess my P-brain hates to leave anything out.

This past Saturday morning, before I even crawled out of bed, I jammed my J-hat on. I made a list of all the stuff I needed to do. The first two hours of the day were spent at the coffee shop, writing (I can’t neglect my P-brain writing!). The rest of the day was devoted to the Cleaning Frenzy. That’s what I call it: a Cleaning Frenzy. It occurs once or twice a year and involves playing loud rock and pop music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s while and I attack the house with a dust rag the way a starving man might attack a plate of fried chicken. No rhyme. No reason. I dash from bathroom to kitchen to bedroom, throwing stuff away, dusting, cleaning windows, scrubbing, and whatever else is necessary. No corner goes unscrubbed, and no stray speck of dust goes unvacuumed.

(Because I burn so many calories running back and forth, I also refer to this activity as “cleanercize.”)

Cleaning Frenzy days typically include a trip to K-Mart for the purchase of (1) more cleaning supplies; (2) Diet Cokes (these, along with pizza, are the preferred Cleaning Frenzy fuel); and (3) organizing supplies such as little containers, a spice rack holder, or whatever else I can use to make life a bit easier; and (4) labels.

Uh-oh. When I start with the labels, then you know I’ve truly gone mad in my Cleaning Frenzy. The J-hat has begun to smoke. Last time I had a Cleaning Frenzy, I bought little sticky stars and stuck one star on the top of each spice container. Then I took a Sharpie and labeled each star with the first letter of the spice. Spices beginning with the letters A through F had a blue star. G through M had a silver star. And so on. It’s actually made it easier to find stuff.

I once had all of my books arranged in Dewey Decimal order. With labels on the bookcases, like at a bookstore. And, of course, the fiction section was in alphabetical order.

If you didn’t know me better, you’d think I was one of those anal-retentive neat freaks who can’t stand to have things out of order.

In other words, you’d think I was an extreme J-brain. Truth is, all of these overly-organized things were done during the brief periods of my life when I’ve forced the J-hat on. (Though I must admit, Cleaning Frenzies are kind of fun, in a sick sort of way.)

If I didn’t wear that ill-fitting J-hat every now and then, I’d have my own little science laboratory growing in the bathtub (not to mention the fridge). You would need to be a pro-football player to make it through our house without tripping over the many obstacles in your way. The stacks of papers and junk mail would grow to untold heights. Our garbage can would resemble that of that great and honorable heroine of mine, Sara Cynthia Sylvia Stout!

And if I didn’t make crazy to-do lists for myself, then I would end up spending all of my time reading, writing, playing piano, and looking at flowers and birds (which is a wonderful thing to do … but I would starve to death because I would keep forgetting to eat). (I once had my dinner ready, but then misplaced it. Looked all over the house. Couldn’t find my dinner. Finally, a few hours later, I found it on top of a bookshelf because I’d stopped on the way to the table to look something up in a Norton Anthology.)

So I must jam on my J-hat and overcompensate for my P-brain.

What amuses me to no end (and would make my mom die of laughter) is that there are a few people in my life have only known me during my J-hat moments. These people think I’m a neat freak! They think I’m obsessed with organization! Crazy about cleanliness! In love with labeling! As far as they’re concerned, I’m as J as J can be.

But you, dear readers, know me better than that.

And just to make sure you do, I’ll make a true confession: despite the Cleaning Frenzy of the past weekend, I couldn’t bear to get rid of the mold garden in the tub.

Maybe next year.

Blogging Elsewhere

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