Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Accounting

I do not like to run. I do not like strange places. I do, however, through some contrary alchemy, like running in strange places. Today I put on my new ear warmers and ran hesitantly through a run-down neighborhood in western North Carolina. The streets were the shifty kind, moving up and down and wiggling around when you weren't looking. There were no sidewalks. I ran up past the trailer park, away from the big black dog, down the hill that dumped you into the parking lot of Lowes. I got lost, then set myself straight. The mountains were hangdog and gentle; the sky was very blue.

At home, I have to trick myself into running. You'll only be out for a minute, I whisper. You can stop when you get to the end of the block, end of the park, end of the road. Running is uncomfortable and undignified and hard on the joints; it is not natural, like walking, or easy, like dancing. Yet, every time I go away, I take care to pack my running shoes. Sometimes they fill up half the tiny suitcase. Sometimes I take them in preference to other, more useful shoes, shoes that signal dignity or adulthood or anything other than "I run and I'm too cheap to be ashamed of lime green."

In 2008 I ran from one town to another in Connecticut. I ran down to the sea and back on a lonely road in Maine. I ran between strip malls in suburban L.A., under the eucalyptus trees in Palo Alto, up to the top of the hill in eastern Kansas, down the Colorado canyon, through the Ohio arboretum, past the early-morning drunks on the strict streets of that cinderblock Nevada town.

Sure, I could have walked. I would have been happier. I would have been considerably less out of breath. And, truthfully, I could have spared more of myself to observe, closely, the places in which I found myself. I might have cataloged more of the loveliness, more of the ugliness, simply more. According to journalist Paul Mowrer, “There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country. A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken at the right tempo. Even a bicycle goes too fast.”

Still, there is that peculiar junction of strangeness and sweat that is running in new country. With all due respect to Mowrer, sometimes I think that a place truly impresses itself upon you not when you're taking it at any particular tempo, but when it's taking you: slow up the rise, quick down the hill, steady on the flat. If you let a place tax you, let it settle in your joints, you carry it with you when you go.

So long, 2008, you knee-grinding SOB.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

BWV 772

She slew the dragon with her mighty sword, and there was much rejoicing! Except my life is not that interesting, and really I just learned the C Major prelude to the point where, if I were balancing an encyclopedia on my rendition, it wouldn't necessarily fall off and crush my toes leading to gangrene followed by a long and tortuous death.

Some observations:

1) Harmony is fun!

2) Yet, there remains something profoundly unsatisfying about the keyboard. It reminds me of listening to music that cries out for dancing, music with a propulsive beat and an irresistible melody, only you're strapped to a chair and all you can do is wave your index fingers from side to side. There you are, broken at the waist, arms broken at the elbow, every part of you divided from the whole. Your mouth does nothing. Your breath isn't even part of the equation. Strange.

3) It is easy to underestimate the pleasure of adding a really honky sixteen-foot pedal C to the final note.

4) Practice may make perfect (or close to). But practice also has its perils, most notably the danger of rising standards. One day you're perfectly happy with a piece that totters along behind you like a mangy, spavined sausage dog of advancing years, and the next day you want a greyhound. A greyhound that knows how to phrase. I suppose it's a hazard of life: wanting always better, faster, more.

Gotta watch that.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tasto Solo

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

From Here to Epiphany

Eureka moment of the day: Christmas is in DECEMBER! OK, OK, my epiphanies are lame. Next I'll be discovering shoes, or cheese on toast. Still, there's a distinction between knowing something and realizing it. Knowing is sitting on the couch drinking eggnog. Realizing is having the eggnog shot directly into your bloodstream via the huge needle in your ass.

I don't celebrate Christmas, except in a formulaic kind of way, but it's impossible not to notice its approach. The thing is a sasquatch. This year the shambling progress of tinsel and schmaltz has coincided with the onset of a particularly nasty winter. There's been ice, snow, water, and every gradation of precipitation between. I've lost track of when I last saw the sun. The house is old, under-insulated; my hands are a frozen bundle of bones.

To come clean, I've been kind of low-grade miserable for a while now, and the winter has only made it worse. I miss walking and vitamin D and socklessness. Like trees losing the camouflage of their leaves, some truths strip bare: I do not like my job. I do not like where I live. I am wasting [time, self, words]. I regret: acutely, chronically, painfully.

Of course, there's nothing for it but to slap some tinsel on a tree and keep going. Earlier Christians knew this, smart little suckers that they were, and plunked down in the middle of the darkest season a great big shiny bright star.

Merry Christmas, folks. Maybe I'll see you on the road.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Your Opinion, Please

You may or may not have noticed that I am fond of polls. (If you haven't, please check to make sure that all lobes of your brain are in their full upright and locked positions.) I like writing them. I like voting in them. I like reading the results (vote, damn it!). In college, I won two penny-ante gift certificates to a mediocre local restaurant by voting compulsively in the (dull as a comatose actuary) online poll sponsored by the college development office. Those two bagelwiches changed my life.

Seriously, though, there is something profoundly reassuring about polls. They dice the world into neat little bite-size pieces. They elucidate your options. They allow you the luxury of making a choice without the pain or inconvenience of its consequences. Polls are decision-making lite: all the taste, none of the calories.

So I couldn't help but pay attention when I spotted the poll on local musical talent in the Indy Star's online cultural section. Apparently, 23% of internet readers think Indy is a rock 'n roll city. 22% think the indie rock scene is the best. A mere 2% opt for folk music. Eight categories were listed in all. Classical music was not one of them.

Are you surprised?

*Yes
*No
*Get to the point


I wasn't surprised. The fact of the matter is that no one listens to classical music. At least, no one capable of using a mouse. The only people under 40 I ever see at classical music concerts these days are people who would rather be playing it.

Then there's the advertisement I saw on the back of a theater program this weekend. Sponsored by Citizen's Gas, it shows a spunky little girl in a hat posed beside the following text: Lady Macbeth. First Chair. Lucia di Lammermoor. Prima Donna. Painter. Poet. President. With the support of Citizen's Gas, in other words, this little girl could fulfill any artistic dream (I fail to see how natural gas facilitates one's operatic career, but perhaps this is dull-wittedness on my part.) Nowhere on the advertisement is there any mention of who will be watching or reading or listening or buying the output of our heroine.

Is it just me, or is something ugly underway here? No one reads anymore, but everyone writes. No one buys art, but everyone paints. No one buys tickets to the symphony, yet music schools churn out a thousand wanna-be french horn players every year.

Of course, I have two music degrees and a blog, so I'm not really in a position to condemn. Still, why isn't "audience member" included on that little girl's list of dreams? Who does she think is going to come see her sing or honk or emote or read or splatter paint on canvas? Are we so deep in the thrall of ourselves that we no longer value the arts -and arts they are- of reading, watching, listening, sitting still?

*Yes
*No
*I am all the audience I need
*I am my own Grandpa
*Maybe
*Wanna hear my bassoon solo?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Potlugubriosity

n. The singular sorrow of bringing something to a potluck that NO ONE EATS BUT YOU.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Day Out

The world has slackened again. Your day-to-day life is pulled so tight you don't recognize how thin, how threadbare you've become until vacation arrives and the whole of creation hollows like a sheet before snapping you into blue air.

You remember being tossed like this. You remember how many hands it took, the way the sun leaned in. It's what wells up in you when you have nothing to do and nowhere to be, when you leave a blank. Nature abhors a vacuum -so keeps an untidy house.

You remember this and other inconvenient things, and you let them stew. The air is turning colder; the sky is an iron bar. The Fed-Ex man delivers the wrong package. You sit a moment with the gift: someone else loosing their grip.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dates, Pomegranates, Plums

Dating is dead. Yes, we all knew this, but we didn't REALLY know it, because it hadn't yet been written up in the New York Times. Now it has. In an opinion piece called "The Demise of Dating," Charles Blow bemoans the skyrocketing percentage of folks of all races, genders, and educational attainment levels who claim to be "never daters:" that is, people who enter all relationships through the doggie door of hooking up.

According to Blow, "Under the old model, you dated a few times and, if you really liked the person, you might consider having sex. Under the new model, you hook up a few times and, if you really like the person, you might consider going on a date."

My interest is pretty academic at this point (marriage puts a distinct damper on dating) but it sounds to me like the "new model" is for chickenshits. Asking someone out is scary: hooking up is not. Hooking up puts physicality at the top of the bill; dating prioritizes non-physical compatibility. Physicality is easy. It's the non-physical stuff that's interesting.

I'm ascending toward high dudgeon when I recollect my single bona fide real-deal "date," a trip to the 2-dollar movie theater my freshman year in college with a senior I barely knew. The film was some wispy, chinless scion of the Bond dynasty, with lots of explosions and even more dirty jokes. My date laughed uproariously at every double entendre and kept trying to put his hand on my thigh.

Down with dating!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Moo: Jane Smiley

"There were many people on campus who wore rags, went barefoot, played the recorder in front of Old Capitol, handed out leaflets, and drove VW buses with slogans about sex painted on the sides, but Elaine had done them the favor of ignoring them."

p. 243: The recorder as hippie sex-addict accessory.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Project(ile Vomit)

So I'm embarking on a project. Projects are important: something to make you feel as if you're locomoting through life rather than merely drifting along. Unfortunately, I'm too chickenshit to attempt projects of actual utility (forming a musical group, penning a literary novel, composting) so I've been forced to fall back on useless projects (hammering out two insipid romance novels, Master's thesis).

Trouble is, I finished the second romance novel last week, and I'm tired of writing them. There's only so many synonyms for smolder, after all, and my characters have a distressing tendency to get it on.

No, I'm ready for something new. Something thorny, pointless, and Sisyphean. Yes, my friends, I'm ready for Bach.

Some exposition:

1) When my favorite college coffee shop/music store closed down my senior year, I bought a cup of coffee and the Urtext of Bach's Inventions and Sinfonia for keyboard, this latter purchase being the kind of talismanic gesture people make when very frightened or very hopeful, like spitting when you hear the devil's name.

2) As of Friday, there is a small 1970s Rodgers electronic organ with full pedalboard in my dining room. This is not my fault.

3) Although I am a musician, I am not a keyboard player. My keyboard experience is as follows:

a) Age 6. Six months of desultory study with embittered graduate student on electric keyboard above local music store. I did not practice. Repertoire: Go Tell Aunt Rhodie.

b) Age 17-18 About a year and a half of piano study, w. heavy emphasis on theory, with very talkative harpsichordist. I practiced indifferently. Repertoire: Bach Prelude in F Minor, learned laboriously over six months, still the only piece I can play.

c) Age 18-19. Played short chordal patterns on piano for sullen keyboard monitors in an attempt to pass Music Theory. Success! Repertoire: I vi IV V I.

d) Age 22. Realized I had better dispatch undergraduate keyboard requirement. Conned a friend into teaching me organ, and thereafter spent every lesson gossiping shamelessly about other organists. No actual learning accomplished. Profoundly suspicions of pedalboard. My friend never teaches again, later moves to Sweden. Repertoire: Snark.

e) Age 24-25. Lit on brilliant plan to take two semesters of basso continuo as best way to obtain Performer Diploma without doing any actual work, plus enable self to accompany small, inept students w. out. shelling out for accompanist. Success! However, still cannot actually play keyboard. Repertoire: accompaniment for Go Tell Aunt Rhodie.

All of which leads me inexorably to the first statement of the theme of the post, in which I announce my intention to learn all 12 Bach 2-part inventions on the electronic organ. Rules:

1) I have until December 31, 2009 to learn all 12 pieces, but I can start now.
2) I will use only the first manual. I will not use the pedalboard unless I accidentally step on it while climbing on and off the electronic organ.
3) I am allowed to abandon the project if I like. It's my party; I can cry if I want to.
4) By "learn" I mean be able to play smoothly without stopping, even if my tempo for all inventions remains along of the lines of "dirge." Playing Bach agonizingly slowly on the electronic organ is historically informed insofar as a really bad keyboard player in the time of Bach, who had access only to an electronic organ which had traveled from the 1970s in a time machine, would play Bach agonizingly slowly on the electronic organ. Take that, Donnington.
5) I will not spill water on the electronic organ.

Wish me luck! I will be posting updates periodically. On to invention number 1, the C Major, better known as easiest keyboard piece in the world. Can I sight read it? No.

Monday, December 8, 2008

E.B. White Said:

"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."

Damn straight.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

On Decoration

I'm staring at the poinsettia on the dining room table. It's a small poinsettia: moderately healthy, inordinately red, more than a little insouciant. It was thrust into my hands as I was leaving a staff Christmas party. Protesting seemed futile -who spurns a potted plant?- nor could I, in conscience, heave a living thing out of the car window at 60 miles an hour. And Lo, it came to Pass that on the Friday before the Second Sunday of Advent, I took the thing home and plunked it on the table.

It hulks, the poinsettia. It casts a malevolent red shadow longer than its five or six inches warrant. Crouched next to the plant is the ear of decorative corn that came in my CSA share and which I tried, and failed, to eat. Even though it is Advent, even though Christmas shimmers in the shadows like some blind, deep-water fish, the poinsettia and the ear of corn are (and will remain) the only encroachment of the Great Dark Army of Decoration into my house.

I am not a decorator. This is a bedrock kind of character trait, buried down deep with introversion and hot-headedness and sensitivity to noise. When I was growing up I refused to wear anything but buttonless, zipperless, of-a-piece clothes in solid colors, which caused my southern-belle grandmother to frown at her DAR membership card and grumble about elves.

I have lived a lifetime of white walls, bare windows, and furniture I dragged off the curb. It's not that I am especially clean or tidy or austere; rather, my decorationlessness springs from some soul-deep laziness, some profound disinclination to go the extra mile or the extra millimeter. I eat out of the pan so as not to have to wash dishes. I do not make the bed. When I walk, I cut unhesitatingly across greenswards and parking lots and flowerbeds, seeking always that sweetest, shortest line.

Most of the time, I am resigned to this particular facet of my personality. After all, a thousand poinsettias didn't save Martha Stewart from having to wear an ankle bracelet, and those of my neighbors who put up elaborate, ghostly displays in their yards for Halloween have to take them down now. IN THE SNOW.

Still, this morning as I traipsed past the Christmas tree sale at the big, old neighborhood church, I felt in my soul the barren pang of the Undecorated. It was a blazing, frozen morning. The men dragging Christmas trees out into the churchyard sported jaunty red noses and ostrich plumes of breath. Someone helped a young mother heave a tree onto the back of her truck; a hale, behatted young man marched off down the street with a six-footer tucked beneath his arm. Toward the middle of the yard, two wizened men threw branches onto a fire; the air filled with the mingled scents of pine and smoke.

What is missing in me, I thought, that I don't want this in my life? That I'm not frantically figuring out how to squish a Douglas fir into the back of my Plymouth Acclaim, that I neglect to make room in my heart for green, for glitter, for a tree-topper that flashes "Merry X-mas" like a disco ball drunk on peppermint schnapps?

Hunkered in the steeple's shadow, I wondered if I lacked something important. If I was born without some flourish, some essential grace of humanity, like a baby born without toenails. By then I was already cutting across the churchyard, hands in my pockets, the wind slapping my cheeks into bloom.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Salt Pig!

Oooo.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

64 Questions More Than You Wanted to Know

1. What's your name?
Anne with an e. WITH AN E, DAMN IT!

2. What is your favorite thing to wear?
Fuzzy slippers.

3. Last thing you ate?
Chocolate. Off of my fuzzy slippers.

4. One place you will NEVER eat?
Chuck E Cheese. There's not much more terrifying.

5. I say 'shotgun,' you say:
Cars are evil rattletraps.

6. Last person you hugged?
Myself.

7. Does anyone you know wanna date you?
Um. Do I know any polygamists? Hi polygamists!

8. Would you date anyone you met online?
Alex Ross. Hi Alex Ross!

9. Name something you like about your physical self:
My hands are pretty.

10. The last place you went out to dinner?
The Runcible Spoon. Mmmm. I had a black russian: pumpernickel w. roasted veggies, cheese, and special sauce, plus garlic mashed potatoes.

11. Who is your best friend?
Superlatives box you in.

12. What time of the day is it?
9:09 PM.

13. Who/What made you angry today?
Turn-signal abstainers. The turn signal is a beautiful thing.

14. Baseball or football?
Boring and boringer.

15. Ever gone skinny dipping?
Yes. And again.

16. Favorite type of food?
Cheese. Is this a rhetorical question?

17. Favorite holiday:
Thanksgiving. On the minus side: enforced gratitude. On the plus side: food.

18. Do you download music?
How do you work this computer thingy?

19. Do you care if your socks are dirty?
Yes.

20. Opinion of Chinese symbol tattoos?
Pain is bad.

21. Would you date the person who posted this?
Would I date John Green? Um. Well, he is pretty nerdy. Also married. Also kinda cute. I'm going to stop answering the question now.

22. Has anyone ever sung or played for you personally?
Yes. This is an unavoidable hazard of music school.

23. Do you love anyone?
Yes. Multiple folks.

24. Are colored contact lenses sexy?
No.

25. Have you ever bungee jumped?
Hell no, we won't go.

26. Have you ever gone white-water rafting?
What is this, purgatory?

27. Has anyone ten years older than you ever hit on you?
Yes. But not with very much conviction.

28. How many pets do you have?
The cuddliest pet of all: my imagination! (Oh God I need a kitten.)

29. Have you met a real redneck?
I live among them.

30. How is the weather right now?
Cold; flurries.

31. What are you listening to right now?
That zzzzhhhh the heater makes.

32. What is your current favorite song?
Eh? Song? Is that like a sonata?

33. What was the last movie you watched?
The Sex and the City Movie, in an attempt to cure pre-birthday depression. The movie sucked. I still felt old. Those girls do nothing but buy shoes.

34. Do you wear contacts?
Yes.

35. Where was the last place you went besides your house?
Work. Bleh.

36. What are you afraid of?
Heights. Airplanes. Worms. Vampires. Storms. Disease. Love. Scorpions. Elevators. Other people. Famine. The future. Safaris. What am I not afraid of?

37. How many piercings have you had?
Two.

38. What further piercings do you want?
None. Ignorance was bliss.

39. What's one thing you've learned this year?
Chocolate and bacon, combined, launch a no-holds-barred assault on sublimity.

40. What do you usually order from Starbucks?
No.

41. What Magazines are you reading?
The Atlantic. The New Yorker. Newsweek. Indianapolis Monthly. O: The Oprah Magazine. How is it that I manage to be both lowbrow AND snobby?

42. Have you ever fired a gun:
Do Nerf guns count?

43. Are you missing someone?
Yes.

44. Favorite TV show?
Freaks and Geeks!

45. Do you have an obsession with WoW?
What the heck is WoW? Wooing Ocelot Widows? Wonderful Orange Windows? Help me out here, folks.

46. Has anyone ever said you looked like a celeb?
No. Though an ex-boyfriend once told me I looked like the pre-pubescent girl peeking out of the woods in Braveheart right after her family gets slaughtered. I probably should have taken this as a sign.

47. Which celeb do you look like?
Gilbert Gottfried?

48. Who would you like to see right now?
See, like visuals only? See like talk? Too much wiggle room here. Also that should be "whom." Probably more indicative of my personality than my answers is the extent to which I've gone around tweaking the grammar of the questions.

49. Favorite movie of all time?
I'm not really a movie person. Possibly, despite all my pretensions to intellect, my favorite movie is "Elf."

50. Do you find yourself loved?
Yes.

51. Have you ever been caught doing something you weren't supposed to?
Yes.

52. Favorite smell?
Snow.

53. Butter, plain, or salted popcorn?
No. Popcorn is freakish. I might lick the salt off, though.

54. What's something that really bugs you?
People who don't recycle. People who drive SUVs. People who lie to scientists for cash. I have a whole list. Wait, where are you going?

55. Do you like Michael Jackson?
I have a third-grader named Michael Jackson whom I see. He is a very nice young man.

56. Taco Bell or Burger King?
Enough with the Sophie's choices!

57. What's your favorite perfume?
Anything that smells of vanilla. Or roses. Because I am lame and conventional. Also I always feel as if I am being emotionally manipulated when I smell perfume, and that makes me cranky.

58. Favorite baseball team?
So you take the boring little white ball and you stick it up your boring...

59. Ever call a 1-900 phone number?
No.

60. What's the longest time you've gone without sleep?
Possibly 20 hours? Sleep is a mistress with whom you don't trifle.

61. Last time you went bowling?
A year ago. I miss bowling.

62. Where is the weirdest place you have slept?
On the floor behind a small pipe organ.

63. Who was your last phone call.
Miyo. Hi Miyo! You don't read this blog, but hi anyway!

64. Last time you were at work?
4:05

65. What's the closest orange object to you?
The "Publish Post" button on my blog. Uh-oh.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Read it and Weep

I just heard an NPR commentary by author Ann Patchett (Bel Canto, The Patron Saint of Liars). I have a kind of schizoid fondness for Patchett; she repels me even as she pulls me in. Today's commentary I didn't mind. Patchett, in the course of speaking about a book-loving friend of hers, proposed a special category of books: "Books I Read for Men." These, she admitted, tended to be thorny, tortuous, and LONG.

AMEN! I wonder if each of us has, secreted somewhere in our hearts, a list of Books We've Read for Men (or Women). Below, an expurgated version of mine:

The Unbearable Lightness of Being
A Clockwork Orange
Still Life with Woodpecker
The Brothers Karamazov (ATTEMPT)
Shogun (most of it; unfairly thrust upon me when I was puking my guts out and couldn't lay hands on anything else)

Ugh! Feel free to pass along a few of the dragons you bearded in the name of love.

Still, I don't want to seem too negative. Reading is reading, whomever you do it for. And reading for love (or lust, or friendship) is a generous act, a way of sharing, if only for a few hours, your mental space with someone else. Besides, the Kundera wasn't all that bad.

Patchett asserts: "A friend with whom you can read -and reread- The Ambassadors cannot be replaced." Sure, I have people in my life who love me. But I find it sad -almost unspeakably so- that I have no one in my life at the moment who would read a book for me. Or better yet, with me.

Sniffle. I'm taking applications!