Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: Woah

I halfway wish I were sitting down to peck out one of those nothing-doing Christmas letters, those reassuring missives in which KatieSophiaJennessica had another fabulous year in Middle School, we installed granite countertops, and the dog passed on.  I like these letters.  They allow me the comfortable illusion that time, though an inevitable murderer, will at least kill you softly, a la '70s pop rock.

But actually, for me this year, sh*t went down.  Oddly, sh*t went down even as I succumbed to the lassitude-edged panic of knowing YOU'RE NOT ACCOMPLISHING ENOUGH and LIFE IS GETTING AWAY.  Which is what makes reviewng all the sh*it that actually went down so WEIRD.  But here goes.

  • 2011 was the first full year of my thirties, with all the attendant freaking-out-about-mortality that decade entails. Some serious family stuff came up (more contemplation of mortality).  OH MY GOD WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE AND I JUST WASTED THAT HOUR WATCHING MASTERPIECE MYSTERY. Right.  All of that.  Still going.
  • I read this life-changing article.  I'm not prone to life-changing articles.  The number of other life-changing articles I've read in my lifetime is zero.  Yet, it somehow had never occurred to me that having multiple careers could be a legitimate life choice rather than a symptom personal failure & indecision or a waystation on the road to my capital C Calling.  The relief of embracing what I actually do (many careers!  few dollars!) instead of beating myself up for failing to find a Vocation  was...incredible.  Thank you, NYT.
  • I started getting paid, on occasion, to write.  And thus I achieved, at last, the holy grail of making piddly amounts of money off of each of my three college majors (up with indecision!)  Also I no longer have any hobbies & am taking suggestions (no knitting or crafts or anything in which I risk attaching parts of myself to other parts).
  • I bought a house.  Goodbye, life savings. 
  • The house came infested with fleas.  Hello, psychosis.
  • With my friends, I won a national chamber music competition, which startled the heck out of everyone involved but was actually enormously gratifying considering I play an instrument no one takes seriously.  Also, everything is now more complicated than it was before.
  • I changed speech therapy jobs, marking the first time I've voluntarily left one job and taken another.  I don't regret it.
  • I started leading music workshops on a regular basis, which reaffirmed how much I adore teaching and how much I suck at conducting.  (All in all, 2011 was a year for trying stuff I had no business trying, which is I guess what your thirties are for.)
  • I started a book club.  This is actually the thing I'm proudest of for the entire year, because, unlike some of the rest of this stuff, it was not an accident, and in addition it involved things I've historically shied away from, like social maneuvering and cleaning house.  I've wanted to be part of a book club for donkeys years, but I was always waiting for book club to pursue me, a la Prince Charming.  Finally this year (see thirties, MORTALITY) I got tired of waiting and, with a little bit of help, made it happen.  Prince Charming still AWOL, though at this point my husband would be pretty pissed if he showed.

Adios, 2011. What a crazy ride.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Books!

Several centuries ago, books were precious.   Not so much anymore, when you can sift through the bargain bin and come up with enough tomes to bury a moderately-sized elephant (also you will learn to knit, and how to talk to God, and that you are crap at sudoku.)  With an overwhelming array of choices, what's a modern lady reader to do?

Give thanks she was not born during the storied precious-books time, for one (too much birthing and prayerfulness; not enough reading).  And: harangue her friends and acquaintances into providing book recommendations.   Say, the 5 most engrossing books you read in 2011.

I'll kick off.  In no particular order, mind you.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (Tom Franklin).  A page-turning, yet invidiously slow-moving, mystery(-ish) novel set in the deep South.  Decades ago, lonely Larry Ott went on a date with a girl who never came home.  Now, another girl in his tiny Mississippi town has gone missing.  Suspense!  Chickens!  Kudzu!  Writing that, for a mystery(-ish) novel, is a whole lot better than it needs to be.

The Women (TC Boyle).  Frank Lloyd Wright's tangled tale of a life, read backwards.  Women; architecture; fire; more of the Great-Man-&-his-acolytes thing Boyle explored so satisfyingly in his Kinsey bionovel The Inner Circle (which, to be honest, was the better & more cohesive of the two books, but I read it in 2010 so no dice!)  Boyle is always engrossing, and if his accretion of detail doesn't quite hang together, it makes for smoky, engulfing read.

The Phantom Tollbooth (Norman Juster).  I read this as a child and loathed it, I think primarily for its coyness and the fact that its narrative was employed in the service of its text, rather than the other way around.  It felt cheap.  Decades later I find it antic, brief, and fun- which just goes to prove, I suppose, the power of a re-read.

The Brutal Telling (Louise Penny).  I read a lot of genre fiction this year, as I tend to do when things in my non-reading life are moving and shaking.  Penny's novels, like the best mysteries, ask more questions than simply: whodunnit?  They're all good reads, and I downed them all in 2011 (jag, anyone?), but this one, in particular, speaks to the power of words.

Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke).  People had been recommending this sucker to me for years.  YEARS!  I ignored them.  Which was stupid.  The book was awesome.  Mea Culpa.  That is all.

I Am Here

Stupefaction?  Asheville, NC

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

First Snow

Far from home, but I'll take it, just the same.  (Can I imagine myself refusing?  It would be churlish, and impossible.  A heady incentive toward yes.)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Passing the Duck

Encouragement is an odd old duck.  If you need it, you're pretty much by definition not where you want to be -which is, if you think about it, kind of discouraging.  On the flip side, it's nice to be recognized as doing something not entirely inimical to the betterment of humankind.  Not too many people are out there exhorting bloody dictators, after all.

A handful more are out there exhorting fellow bloggers, and Marci, over at The Midlife Second Wife, is one of them.  Marci writes cleanly and feelingly about new beginnings and old recipes, and she believes, without reservation, in encouragement.  Recently, she bestowed on me the Liebster Award, a badge of the keep-on-trucking variety for blogs with fewer than 250 followers.  It even comes with a badge:
 
I regarded the badge, upon receipt, with deep suspicion.  I'm a minimalist: no necklaces, no bracelets, no makeup, no belts, no scarves, no rings, no pictures, no vests, no tights, no postcards, no scrapbooks, no crafts, no knick knacks, no fruitcake, no Christmas tree, no Mahler, no David Foster Wallace, no stuff cluttering up my sidebars. I like bare white walls and a single bed, maybe some sun.

The award, on the other hand, pleased me.  Often, blogging feels like tossing birdseed into the grand canyon.  There aren't any birds in there, so what's the point?  Occasionally you get a comment or two, but in the main just you're out there throwing handfuls of yourself into the void.  You keep going, because there's a whole lot more to blogging than having an audience, but every so often it's nice to be told you're feeding someone or something.

The Liebster, like a zombie bite, is self-replicating: you're supposed to pass it along.  I find, though, that I don't wish to encourage.  Encouragement is not minimal.  It's ornamental, a commentary on an existing arc, a rah-rah from the sidelines of a game that's already underway.

No, what I want to do is jump start.  Take something dead or dying and give it some juice.  I've bemoaned before in this space how few of my friends blog.  I want to know your business, folks!

But I have not yet begun to bemoan my assorted friends who used to blog and, sometime between 2009 and the present, have fallen off the wagon.  Back in the saddle(s), people!  Or I'll launch more mixed metaphors at you.

1.  In Time of Daffodils.  Janey is wry and sharp and red-headed and insufficiently prolific!  I always look forward to setting my eye to her telescope.

2.  Belle Melange.  Noa is a close observer of beauty.  She's both analytical and lyrical, which is my preferred combination!  

3.  The Intrepid Soprano.  Jaya gives us well-chosen snippets of...just about everything.

4.  Delicious Bytes.  Tess is a world-touring concert soprano who has been neglecting her fun food blog!

5.  Je ne sais pas.  I don't know why Molly's not posting more, either!  I love a multi-career girl in Paris.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Terms

I've seen nine deer since I arrived.  They've ranged in size from a stolid buck with the profile of a smart car to a shivering wisp of a doe, the deer huddling in groups of two, three four.  The human bustle of my hometown has ebbed as the holiday approaches, and the deer have surged to replace them, buff and sinewy and as not nearly as scared as they ought to be.  On my walks, one darts in front of me, hooves clattering. Another eyes me disdainfully, flares its nostrils, strolls away.  I raise one hand to my heart.

It was the deer my father was after when he bought the house.  Never mind the bedrooms or the built-ins; forget the outdated kitchen, the nouveau 1970s master bath.  Look, instead, out the window: the long spill of green two blocks long, the secret flickering forms.  In the intervening years the green has grown up and the deer have multiplied.  We're watching them now, his words skittering, my hand on my heart in my throat.

Friday, December 23, 2011

I Am Here

Home.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Favor of the Month

Wouldn't it be lovely if, at the end of every month, someone handed you a party favor?  Thanks for visiting March- have an umbrella!  Surrender to September- with chocolate!   A little packaging, a trinket or two, and even February would start to look like a good idea.

Alas, reality triumphs.  Which is to say that you made it through twelve whole months of Aphaeresis, and all you get is this lousy favorites list.  Suckers!

Here's what I most enjoyed spewing in 2011:

New York State of Mind
All the People that on Earth Do Dwell
Singin' in the Rain
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
Eight Six Seven Five Three Oh Nine

Take it away, friends.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Yes?

So this year, I accidentally became a music critic.  It was definitely not something I set out to do.  No one grows up dreaming of hunching over her laptop at 6:00 AM trying to translate whatever-the-heck-it-was she scribbled on a notebook in the dark into comprehensible copy.  You don't wake up one day and think, "for my next act, I'm going to earn piddly amounts of money being judgy."

But I've had a policy, for a while now, of saying yes.  (I've ignored that policy recently, too, but that's another story.)  There's a lot of self-help literature directed toward folks who don't know how to say no, but that's not my problem.  No I've got covered.  No, too hard.  No, too scary.  Nah, I'll just stay right here, thanks.

Not surprisingly, my affinity for no got me....nowhere. So, at some point in my early twenties, I started scolding myself into yes.  Yes, I'll schlep to the party.  Yeah, OK, here's my number.  Yes, fine, I'll give it a shot.

Yes is not infallible.  I've attended lousy parties, been on lousy dates, played some lousy concerts, and ended up helping more people move house than I really would have preferred.  But yes has also made life a little more interesting.

Yes, I'll try my hand at music criticism, despite a lack of anything resembling qualifications.  And do you know what?   It turns out to be fun.   I'm naturally judgy (sigh).  I like to write, especially when someone tells me what to write about.   I know some stuff about music.  Since I've started, I've even been enjoying concerts more.  Two hours of music gets...boring.  Two hours of trying to translate what you're hearing into words?  Much more interesting.

But here's what I don't like and didn't suspect -though should have suspected- would happen.  Artists are using my quotes.  "Harmonia Mundi just tweeted you," my husband informed me this morning.  I'm on this soloist's website, that ensemble's blog.   I'm plastered across the world wide web saying stuff it took me five minutes to write.

I've been trying to dissect why it makes me so uncomfortable.  Lord knows I have enough press quotes strewn across my personal page.  My ensemble quotes numerous critics and we've got the full text of several reviews available for download.  I get it.  It's just...scary.

I suppose it's kind of like becoming a parent.  Suddenly you realize your own parents were regular people who didn't know what the heck they were doing.  Doctors are human.  Critics are plain old folks.  The world is not safe.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eat Your Heart Out, Martha

Yes, friends, you see before you a poorly-shot, poorly-lit, bona fide CRAFT.  As in, I made it.  Yes, me, Anne, the bare-walled, knick-kncack-averse, no-Christmas-tree, Michael's-fleeing, anti-scrapbooking Home Economics dropout!

Admire my amazing centerpiece!  It's got every quality I think is right and mete in a craft, which is to say the following:
  • Took three minutes to make.
  • Constructed entirely from free sh*t I found in the yard.
  • Tools required: hands.
  • No lurking in the storage closet during the off-season
  • Hopefully not poisonous?
Yeah, baby.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Annals of Illness

You'd think opening up a cough drop would be an activity profoundly undeserving of a write-up, but that was before the folks at Halls got involved.  On the wrapper of my current specimen, strewn like mines across a field of logos, I discovered the following:
  • Tough is your middle name.
  • Flex your "can do" muscle.
  • Impress yourself today.
  • Don't waste a precious minute.
  • Elicit a few "wows" today.
I pop another cough drop -because, hey, they're tasty- and discover:
  • Put your game face on.
  • You can do it and you know it.
  • Take charge and mean it.
  • Get through it.
First up, I find all of this a little bit preachy.  If I'd wanted to cough in church, I could have wedged my hacking, phlegmy, bronchially-afflicted, disruptively loud rear into a pew.  All I want from my cough drops is a little bit of...quiet.

But really, more than irritating,  the aphorisms are interesting.  Here, in series of cough-drop one liners, is the American attitude to illness and death writ large.  We hate to be sick, we hate to admit weakness, and our stance on death is something along the lines of "HELL NO, WE WON'T GO."

Many of us, myself included, have a substantial financial incentive not to take sick days.  If I don't go in, I don't get paid....So why the heck wouldn't I inflict my irritable, barely functional self upon my workplace?  I've seen internal PR campaigns against taking sick days, yearly bonuses if you make it through without taking yours, lump sum payments for unused days upon retirement.

And it's more than finances.  "Get through it," "tough is your middle name," push through the pain, no pain, no gain- these are cultural touchstones, signifiers of the pioneer heritage we are so fond, as a nation, of conjuring.  Indisposition? Staying put?  Tea-drinking? That stuff is for the British!

Though tea might beat this lousy cough drop.

Monday, December 5, 2011

I Am Here

Or rather, was.  With no camera and no internet access.  Milwaukee, WI.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Yes

I've been thinking, as I do from time to time, about want.  As in desire, but also as in dearth, because they're more intertwined then we care, most of the time, to admit.

Friday I finished a whole book about want, Caron McCuller's The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.  I thought it was going to be about the capital S South, and it was, sort of, but it was really about the state, the trap, of wanting. 

See, it's tricky.  There's an inherent hollowness to want, a kickback of unfulfillment.  If you want something easy, something you can identify and something that's within your reach, you get it.  I want to go for a walk.  Why, there's the door!

But in order truly to want, to writhe in a sate of unsatisfied longing like McCullers' sad sacks, there has to be a catch.  You can't quite tell what you want, perhaps.  Or you're mistaken about it.  Or there's something preventing you from getting it.  All those very tawdry, very human drivers of narratives sweeping and small,  printed and real.

The appeased wants, the dull, compact satisfactions, seldom make it into print.  Here's one for you anyway.
  • Large sweet potato, microwaved, mashed.
  • Bulgarian feta, crumbled
  • Capers
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Fork

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I Am Here

Asheville, NC.  I have seriously missed a kajillion of these.  But never mind!  Back on the horse of heredom!  Happy Thanksgiving, y'all.

Monday, November 21, 2011

After 8

I've been walking more at night.

Partly, it's out of necessity.  It gets dark MIGHTY EARLY on this here East Coast.  Like 5:00 PM early.  Like if I didn't work in the schools I wouldn't see the light of day on weekdays early.  It's pretty egregious, and it means that, by the time I get home and finish practicing, the sky has been tarred and feathered.

Partly, it's that I now live in a neighborhood where walking at night is not majorly idiotic. My previous neighborhood was lovely and rambling, with brick streets and run-down Victorians, but it was also...hopping! Walk down the street and watch the drug bust!  Dodge the deal going down on the corner!  Inform passers by that you are not a prostitute!  I once stepped out the front door with a bag of trash and then immediately stepped back inside, trash be damned, as three cop cars converged on a man across the street.

My new neighborhood is less exciting.  The rustlings in the underbrush are squirrels.  The folks on the corner are discussing remodeling.  The individuals who pee on things are dogs. 


And finally, there's this.  One of my favorite food bloggers mentioned recently how much she loved what she described as the magic hour after it gets dark but before people close their curtains.  I find that I love it, too.  Up with nosiness!   There's such pure pleasure in spying, in prying, in glimpsing, through half-covered windows, life loping along.

Photo: inkity.com

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Shameless Self-Promotion

Well, it's come to this.  I've kept an anonymous blog for Lo, these four years, but today I'm outing myself in the service of Art.  Or something. 

Not that you don't already know who I am.  MOM.

Basically, my early music group needs travel funds to take advantage of our recent AWESOME competition win.  If you like music and are able to help, please consider donating to our Kickstarter campaign.  Every little bit helps.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Marathon

There's a rhythm to the morning jog.

Yes, there are the daily alterations, the small signs of the earth doing its thing.  Slowly, the trees turn red, surrender their leaves. The sun slips lower.  People start carting bigger mugs of coffee, scraping their cars.

But by and large, it's the same.  I have my route.  Out the door, down to the CVS, South on Brook, right, past the school, another right, right again.  After the last right comes the tired dad waiting for the school bus with his autistic son.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I see the same large, middle-aged African American man huffing past me in the opposite direction near the CVS.  We raise our hands, nod.

Same old, same old.  Until this morning, when my route was taken over by 17,000 idiots in spandex.

I say "idiot" because, really, what else would you have to be to want to run 26 miles without stopping?  I actually don't even know if 26 miles is the correct distance, because my brain shuts down after about 12.  And really, if it were wise, said brain would refuse to contemplate any distance greater than six, which is the mileage at which I begin wheezing and praying for death.

If you need to wear something called a "camelback" to accomplish your goal, is it really a goal worth meeting?

Halfway along my route, I slowed to a walk.  There's nothing like a surging tide of people running a distance you classify as "too long" for a car trip to make you understand that lurching through 2.5 miles is....lame.  I slouched low and tried to pretend I had already run my own marathon, earlier, in private, and was now moseying back home.

And it was worth a mosey: The neighborhood was out in force, kids to grandparents to overexcited dogs.  A red truck backed up to the "road closed" sign and unloaded five camp chairs, a beige couch, and a coffee table.  Extension cords were snaked from windows into the street, where Lady Gaga battled with oldies.  Folks at a station at the end of the block were holding out beer in plastic cups for the runners to grab as they passed.   (Who drinks beer during a marathon?  Young men and old people.   Go figure.)

It was colder than it had been.  The trees were caught midway through bursting, half their leaves scattered on the ground.  The last stragglers from the half marathon were stumbling past mile marker nine, their faces red, their bodies heaving.  The sirens came suddenly, then the police escort, then the pace car.  Finally, impossibly fleet, the man at the head of the pack.  I've never seen anyone run so fast.  I never will again.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bed of Roses

My eyes were glued shut.

It's a familiar feeling.  You know if from nightmares, long, tangled dreams in which you stumble from one room to another, unable to see the horrors pursuing you.  You know it from slasher films, in which the heroine awakens in an abandoned hotel, manacled and blind.  You know it from first grade, when you came down with pinkeye.

Oh yes, my friends.  I suppose it's one of the perks of working with preschoolers.  Cuteness and hugs and good, old-fashioned conjunctivitis. 

But it sure isn't fun.  My eyes itch, for starters.   The whites are a bright, candy-striper pink, as if my twin windows to the soul suddenly decided to go around delivering shelter magazines to the hospitalized.  I sport, in addition to vampire eyes, dry, pasty skin; bedhead; the hangdog look of the uncomfortable; ratty clothes; and a voice like a chain-smoking Barry Manilow.

I am monstrous.

I'm afraid to go outside, for fear of being burned at the stake or excommunicated or stripped of my charge card or however it is the masses show fear these days.   I have it on the highest authority (WEB MD) that I am not supposed to return to work or preschool (they haven't cottoned to the fact that my work IS preschool) until I stop looking like a slavering zombie (WEB MD) because pinkeye is contagious.

As in Hot Zone, Andromeda Strain, 28 Days Later, Contagion, CONTAGIOUS.

If I come up with enough movie titles, do you think I can overlook the fact that I have to hang around the house for the next few days looking like something the cat was afraid to drag in because it looked so sad and awful?

Outbreak.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hypermile

I've been trying to slow down.

Literally, to slow down.  I aim for below the speed limit.  I try not to accelerate rapidly.  I coast toward stop signs and red lights, my foot hovering over the brake until the last possible second. Fellow drivers make delighted gesticulations and try to get very close to the rear end of my car, as if to soak up my aura of peace.

Or something.  See, I work as an itinerant SLP.  This means I drive around a lot during the work day.  I receive healthy hourly compensation, even while driving, but I don't get reimbursed for mileage or gas.  Therefore, I have an obvious incentive to drive in a style which prioritizes fuel efficiency over speed.  Yes, it makes everyone else on the road crazy, but is it really logical for me to burn my own dollars to make it to the next site a couple of minutes faster?

Only it's really, really, really hard.  God, it's hard.  To tool along in the slow lane, to lurch, tortoise-like from my starting position: these things require constant -and stern- self-monitoring.  I have to stand over myself like a particularly exacting nanny barking "slow down!  Slow down!  Slow down!"

Ambling, strolling, languishing, lolling: my skills in these areas, if I ever had any, have atrophied.  In music, too, it's tough to slow down: every time I hear a recording of myself, my first thought is that I took it too fast.  I walk quickly.   I book it to work.   I wolf down my food.  I hop out of bed in the morning and whip through my to-do lists as fast as I can.  I even fall asleep quickly, slipping into unconsciousness within ninety seconds of hitting the pillow.

To pull up on my own reins, as I've been struggling to do in the car, is profoundly uncomfortable.  It feels like stuffing my throat full of cotton balls, or bathing in mayonnaise.  It's like slathering myself in caramel and yanking it off, like drowning in jello.  It's probably worth it, but if feels so dreadful it's difficult to tell.

Only occasionally does the world hiccup, loosen.  I ease off the gas and the trees flame up, red and orange, quaking in the barest breeze.  The radio crooner takes a breath and the horns blaze forth and the fuckyousfuckyous fly and there I am, drifting toward stillness.

Monday, October 31, 2011

It's Drizzling Men

Yeah, so, men.

They're everywhere.   Until they're not.

Or so goes the premise of The Atlantic's latest cover article on singledom, marriage, and males.   Here's the teaser:
"Recent years have seen an explosion of male joblessness and a steep decline in men’s life prospects that have disrupted the “romantic market” in ways that narrow a marriage-minded woman’s options: increasingly, her choice is between deadbeats (whose numbers are rising) and playboys (whose power is growing)."
The article, by Kate Bollick, posits that, at long last, the age of men is over.  It's women's skills and women's abilities that are ascendent in our post-industrial age.  Which sounds great, until you get to college and realize the cross-eyed, philosophizing dude with the fedora is pretty much all you have.  According to Bollick:

"...as women have climbed ever higher, men have been falling behind. We’ve arrived at the top of the staircase, finally ready to start our lives, only to discover a cavernous room at the tail end of a party, most of the men gone already, some having never shown up—and those who remain are leering by the cheese table, or are, you know, the ones you don’t want to go out with."
At least there's cheese in this scenario.

Of course, the trouble with generalities is that they don't behave very well in the specific.  When you really get them pinned down, really get them chloroformed and strapped to the table, they squirm away.  For example: in 2011, all of my single female friends have finally, inexplicably, fallen in love with perfect men.

I'm suspicious.  I'm always suspicious.  But perfection, in particular, makes my nose twitch.  No man is perfect.

But is every man a creep?

Because this is the other thesis I was handed this month, by a man, natch, with whom I was playing a gig.  "All men are creeps," he asserted.  I told him I knew many men who were not, in fact, creeps.  "They're trying really hard," he said.

It's a profoundly discomfiting thought: that each of the various men I know, and trust, has a rotten underside, like an apple gone soft.  My husband, my friends' husbands, my relatives, my colleagues.  What if all of them are leering by the cheese table?

Well, there'd still be cheese. 

I suspect though, that all of this -all the male gazing- is glitz.  It's shinier and more sparkly then the truth, which is that men are, like, you know, people.  Snore.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

LOL(L)

I'll be frank: October kicked my ass.

Starting with the run-up, those last few days of September, there's been not a single day during which I did not work at one job or another or sometimes all three.  Eighteen of those days I spent on the road.  I gave six concerts of three complete programs, taught a masterclass, attended innumerable rehearsals, boarded four airplanes, drove 700 miles, practiced, endured two photo shoots, wrote two concert reviews, and logged 91 speech therapy hours.  Oh, and I did bridesmaid duty somewhere in there, too.

Finally, today, I staggered out the other end.  It's my first day off in well over a month.  I've lost four pounds.  I've got a cold, a gargantuan sleep deficit, and a lengthy to-do list.  First, though: lolling.

There's nothing sweeter than the loll.  I don't mean exhausted stupor.  That's what comes first, immediately after you return from imitating a decapitated chicken.  Nor do I mean the kind of entrenched idling that comes after days of inadequate employment, the sloth you have to be careful, if you're unemployed or retired, not to fall prey to.

No, I mean the conscious, deliberate nothing you do when you carve out time -with precision- to do nothing.   I mean sitting in the sun wondering what you're going to do next.  I mean standing at the edge of your mind and watching, like a fisherman, to see what swims up.  I mean kicking back.  Skimming.  Lawn chair, windowseat, or stoop?  That is the question.  And it's urgent.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I Am Here

Charlottesville, VA.  This is a bagel store.  I have been attempting to subsist entirely on bagels.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I Am Here

Eau Claire, WI.  I have been remiss in posting these.  Probably because the location I am more accurately inhabiting at the moment is insanity.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

BEEP

I've got all sorts of well-oiled defenses against losing, but I hadn't bothered to erect any against winning, because, you know...you win.

Winning, though, is harder than I'd have suspected.  I've gotten all of this gunk stirred up: fear, feelings of fraudulence, feeling like I'm not a good enough musician or a good enough person, morally, to deserve this.  Plus some nigling worry that I'll be punished for this, that good things must be balanced with bad.

I'm trying to let all of this disintegrate, drift.

It's tough. Being confused about winning is one of those unacceptable grievances, like having more money than you know what to do with, or being pissed when your high school crush gets married.  I keep repeating: Why not me? Sometimes it works.

In the meantime, I'm doing hearing screenings.  Days and days of hearing screenings.  Hundreds and hundreds of tiny children with impossible names whom I must coerce into raising their hands when they hear a series of next-to-inaudible beeps.  The four-year-olds get it.  The three-year-olds sit stupefied, frozen in place, waving their hands in the air,  clutching at their headphones, blinking and quivering like drunken rabbits.

Yesterday, I'd had enough.

"OK,"  I said.  "We're not going to raise our hands anymore."

The three-year-olds blinked.

"When I say 'beep', you say 'beep.'"

"Beep," said the three-year-olds.

"No," I said.  "Listen. Beep."

"Beeebeepeeep." They shifted in their chairs.

"Beep."

"BEEP," the three-year-olds said with more authority.

"Beep. Beep."

"BEEP!" they shrieked.

We did that for a while until all of us felt better.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bring

Lately, when the phone rings, I rush to get it.  It could be my husband, carping about how the grocery list is out of order.  It could be my boss, who calls at odd hours of the night.  But maybe, just maybe, it will be a number I don't recognize.  I'll pick up the phone and say "hello."

"Hello...is this Anne?" the voice on the other end of the line will ask.  And then, just barely possibly, "Congratulations."

Instead, it's my mother: "You left your camera here."  It's my dentist: "Your husband has an appointment."  It's our contractor, wanting his check.

But I keep running for it.   I hop off the exercise machine.  I scrabble frantically beneath the couch cushions.  I haul myself out of bed and dodge an awkwardly placed pile of shoes trying to stop the bring bring bring.   My chamber group, which learned in July that we were in the finals of a national competition, has spent the last 2.5 months waiting to learn our fate.

On Thursday, I stumbled downstairs.  I thought: "Husband.  Groceries."  The unknown number flashed across the screen.  I picked up the phone.

Congratulations.

I've felt, ever since...strange.

It's taken me awhile to figure out why.  I've won my share of stuff, in life.  Probably more than my share of stuff.   I've won essay contests and poetry contests and fiction contests and scholarships and grants, mostly when I was young, but on into my twenties as well.   Winning always felt good, but it was a superficial kind of good, especially if I'd worked hard -as I often worked hard- to win.

Turns out there's a difference between winning as a goal and winning as a byproduct.  Between winning for something you've deliberately crafted as a vehicle for winning, and winning for something you do because you love to do it.

It turns out to be a powerful distinction.  This particular chamber group has its share of the business of being human, but it is, in my life, something I'm unmitigatedly thankful for.  It's good music-making with good friends.  I work hard at it, and I believe it in.

It turns out I can't say that for very many things.   Usually, in my world, it's one or the other.  I work hard at speech therapy, but I don't always believe in it.  I believe in writing, but I often let it slide.   Throughout my life, probably out of some combination of self-protectiveness and perversity, I've tended to work hard at things I don't believe in and half-ass things I do.

I work hard it, and I believe in it.

It's radically simple and unbelievably complex, and it makes me feel, more than good, more than anything else, vulnerable.

On the other hand, it's nice to have someone else believe in it, too.  Look for our debut CD, to be recorded and released by a major label.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In shape

OK, yeah, we all know we need to write every day.  If we want to write well, or really to write at all..  Butt in the chair, the maxim goes, and it's a good one.  But how many of us allow life, with its pesky divagations and diversions and many delightful iterations of online Scrabble, to get in the way.

My hand would be raised high about now if I weren't, you know, typing.

It's not so much the dailiness that's the problem.  I do stuff daily.  The easy stuff: eating and sleeping.  But also stuff that is, for some folks, harder: exercising and practicing.  Unless I am vomiting or febrile, I exercise.  Unless I am vomiting or febrile or spending the whole day on an airplane, I practice.  I also give myself Christmas Day and Thanksgiving off (from practicing, not exercising), and, every year, it feels weird.

That's really the secret: I NEED to practice.  I NEED to exercise.  There are no ifs, as there are in writing.  If you want to write well,  you need to do it every day.   Practicing and exercising come not with ifs, but with or elses.   Exercise, or else feel like a constipated squirrel.   Practice, or else torpedo the performing career.

Writing, with its measly ifs, often goes by the wayside.  There have been periods when I've written five days a week and actually blocked out time to do so, but even that level of commitment has come and gone. I haven't needed to write.

Lately, though, I've wanted to.

Want is a different animal.  A more docile animal, with fewer teeth and softer fur.  This summer, I let writing slide -really slide.  May and June were taken up with when-careers-collide insanity, and July and August were devoted to a to-the-death battle with fleas (DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE).  I was busy, so writing was what I dropped.  But I found I missed it.  It was hard to take so much in and never put anything out.

I want to write daily.  It doesn't mean I have to, or need to, or else.  It just means I like it.  I like how, when I write daily, I write faster and more fluidly. I like how the sentences come more easily, as if I've enlarged my verbal lungs.  I like the feeling of having written, the butterfly-fluttering of words under my skin.  Every day, I want to write.

We'll see how long this lasts.  I predict until October-the-month-of-CRAZY-MONSTER.  Ah well.

Monday, September 19, 2011

21

The kind of long-form journalism at which the New York Times excels is increasingly rare in these days of Huffington Posts and 140-character tweets.  All the more reason to savor it: here's a terrific article on the challenges individuals with autism face as they leave the public school system and transition into adulthood.

It's a tough and not particularly well-charted road: endless energy has been to developing school-based and home-based interventions for children, to pushing for the inclusion of kids with autism, to remediate communication skills, social skills, behavior, etc.

School, though, is a controlled environment.  Adulthood is a free-for-all.  We owe each child and free and appropriate public education, but what do we owe disabled adults?  At 21, all taxpayer-funded interventions abruptly cease.  It's like a twisted version of your first trip to a bar, with independence as your hangover.

But even if we were to fund services for adults with autism, what's the best thing for these individuals?  How much energy should we devote toward helping them function like neurotypical adults, versus searching out a niche in which they can be comfortable, fulfilled and cared-for versions of who they are? 

My husband's employer employs an elderly autistic man part-time.  He has a routine and a place to be, a specific set of tasks to accomplish and topics he likes to talk about.  No one expects him to move outside of his comfort zone; he, and the people around him, have arranged a partnership in which he, in all his atypicality, fits.  (I should note that my husband's workplace is not-for-profit.  Profit-making and disability don't tend to make congenial bedfellows.) 

When do you stop rehabilitating and start accommodating?  It's a tough question.  But we'll have to ask it- and ask it again- as our bumper crop of autistic little ones starts growing up.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

ZOMG!

I'M WRITING IN THE COFFEE SHOP AND IT IS SUCH A CLICHE I CAN'T STAND IT!!  No, but seriously.  I've just finished the research and pre-writing for an upcoming freelance assignment.  I'm nursing a house coffee, my third refill, and I've irritated my fellow patrons by snaking my charger between their armchairs.  I'm living the dream, folks.

The thing is, it really is the dream.  Or one of those dreams.  Writing in a coffee shop is one of those projections of yourself you throw, in childhood, up against the wall of the unknown future.  I will scribble poetry on the backs of cocktail napkins.  I will breeze past the doorman at my New York City apartment.  I'll spend my summers in a Paris garret doing...whatever it is you do in garrets.  (At top speed.  With maximum panache.)

Of course, the Devil is in the details.  There are only so many cups of coffee you can drink before you get the shakes.  The money I make writing barely covers my yearly car insurance bill.  I have more jobs than I do readers.

Still, it's nice to step back and realize: hey, this is it.  We so frequently, and so thoroughly, fail our childhood selves.  We defer our dreams, or drop them, sidestep them, transmute them.  And for the most part, this is good.  Children have a flattened understanding of the adult world, a two-dimensional grasp of the topography of tradeoffs, compromises, complexities.  As a child, you want to be a ballerina.  As an adult, you know ballet dancers make $20,000 a year and are broken down has-beens at 30.

When you do realize a childhood dream, it's often by accident.  One day you look up for your coffee and realize, with a jolt, that in the process of minding your own business you've wandered into a present you recognize, dimly, as an imagined future.  Here you are, writing.  For pay.  In a coffee shop.

It's a small benediction, your lips brushing the forehead of your former self.  A solace, something to console yourself with when you realize you've just spent half your incoming salary on a latte.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Selig Sind




When I was eighteen, absurdly, I sang the Brahms Requiem.

I was fresh out of high school, paddling through my first long, confusing semester at college.  I wasn't giving much thought to death.   I was taking Russian history, moral philosophy, music history, music theory, private lessons, choir, and, in an ill-advised attempt to meet nerdy boys, beginning chess.

It was a scattershot array of classes, as if I'd fanned through the course catalog and dropped, from the palm of my free hand, a smattering of pins.  In fact, my course selection, like my dorm selection, like my selection of that first troublesome boyfriend, had been agonizing, a sweaty marathon run over many days and nights.  That the ultimate result of my labors resembled nothing so much as random variation was characteristic, if frustrating.

Much ado about nothing.

It's what I thought about the Requiem, too.  It's what most of us thought.  We were eighteen, nineteen, twenty-two at most, a hodgepodge of majors and minors.  Some of us had lost someone significant, but most of us had only glimpsed loss through the lens of fiction, stared at it moving there, under the scrim of words, like a strange, single-celled organism caught beneath the microscope.  We were there to sing, yes, but also to flirt, to mingle, to speculate on who we were and who we would become.  Doctors, lawyers, artists, activists, musicians, movers and shakers.

Dead wasn't on our list.

Of course, it should have been.  It was the only thing any of knew with any certainty we would be. Though we didn't really know it, not in our bones, not in any way we could feel.  Death entered our mouths and sat on our tongues before reemerging, whole, undigested, with perfect vowels.  Tod, wo ist dein stachel, we sang, and laughed.  The words were lumpen, amusing.

On the night of the concert we put on the most attractive black and white clothes we could dredge from our closets.  We giggled.  We strode out onstage in front of our fellow students and the busloads of old folks from the home and plowed, joyfully, through the requiem.  Finally, something we knew!  Out of all the confusing new somethings required of us during our first year away from home, here, at last, was something we had actually rehearsed.

Death, where is thy sting?

I'd sing it differently now.  More fearfully.  All flesh is grass, meaning you will die, meaning I will die, meaning my parents have grown old and my teachers are dying and  I've boarded that long, slow train of loss.   I suspect, too, that I'd sing it still differently if I were forty, or  fifty, or seventy.  Maybe Brahms's masterpiece isn't finished, really finished, until you've sung it again, and again, and again, like dye bleeding through layers of cloth.

As absurd as it is to sing about death at eighteen, at least you've gotten it in your ear.  You've learned the way death stands and sits and swells, the rhythms of it, the way it buzzes against the bones of your skull.   You won't remember until you need to, until you hear Brahms on the radio and realize your loss isn't singular and new but plural and very, very passe.

Requiems, after all, aren't for the dead.  They're for the choir.  For anyone who sings together, lives, grows up.  Selig sind die Toten: Blessed are the Dead.  It's the rest of us who remain onstage, mouths wide.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Minority Report

I'm back in the inner city schools this year.

Accordingly, things have changed.  Gone are the beginning-of-the-year swag bags from the PTA.  (Gone, for that matter, is the PTA.)  Gone are the disability advocates, the helicopter parents, the fully-functional technological equipment.  Instead, I'm back to the familiar business of...triage.  Children without shoes.  Families without electricity.  Disconnected phones.   My daddy's gonna shoot you.  Mommy's asleep.  We haven't had a working printer since February.

It should be shocking, but unfortunately it isn't: I spent the first three years of my SLP working life in an inner city system in another state, and poverty is poverty is poverty.  It actually -appallingly- feels comfortable: a return to business as usual.  It's amazing (amazingly horrible) what you can become inured to over time.

But one thing is different, this time around.  Inner city systems tend to serve students who are predominately African American.  In Indianapolis, smack in the middle of one of the whitest states in the country, a majority of the teachers and other school employees were white.  In Richmond, out of 160 preschool staff, I'm one of only 5 or 6 white members. 

It's been interesting, watching myself react to being one of a few.  I've become suddenly, acutely aware of all of the mostly white environments I've been inhabiting unthinkingly, without any sense of the privilege that attaches to being part of the majority.  Now, in the minority, I feel conspicuous, instantly recognizable, unable to blend in or fly under the radar.   Today, a woman who got a glancing look at me from 100 feet away during introductions was able to pick me out of a crowd, probably because I can be IDed with a simple three-word description: "that white girl."'

It's no wonder that the only folks who believe we live in a post-racial society are white. 

Certainly none of them teach in the inner city schools.  Segregation is alive and well, folks.  We just pretend it's not.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Friendly

I do have friends.  Really I do.  Or, I used to.

The girl at the coffee shop hands me my espresso and I wander over to the table by the window and sit down.   Alone.  Again.  It's the raw hour of 9:00 AM.  There are Couples, families with kids, pairs of women gossiping.  I set my purse on the seat across from me.  It looks kind of like another human being if I squint.  And remove my contacts.  And have two margaritas, a whiskey sour, PBR, and a benadryl.

Surely, at some point, someone liked to hang out with me?  Other than my husband, who averred that he would hang out with me forever in front of God?  My coworkers and I talk desultorily about their children.  My students hand me money at the end of our conversations. The old women at church like to talk about old women at church stuff, and while it's true that I am eighty years old in my heart, I can't contribute much to discussions of sciatica, liturgy, or death.

Where, exactly, are you supposed to find friends during the adult stage of your life?  You can troll for spouses on the Internet without shame, but there's some stigma attached to friendlessness, some whiff of moral decay.  It's tough to admit to, like unemployment or venereal disease.  You may be able to spin whole Hollywood franchises off of the search for Mister Right, but even those painfully single heroines of whatever-movie-I'm-watching-on-the-airplane boast posses of bubbly gal pals.

I've been in Richmond a year.  I have zero friends.  I'm not so bad, I promise!  I tell jokes.  I laugh.  I listen.  I am ambulatory!   I can formulate complete sentences!  I don't want very much.  A couple of happy hours!  Some walking!  Coffee!  Maybe a book club or two....

I feel sad and desperate and shameful, like a closeted gay man in the 1920s.  Of course, if I were a closeted gay man in the 1920s, I could mosey on down to the club and meet some fellows for drinks.  As it stands, I've stooped to browsing the "strictly platonic" listings on Craigslist (wherein, incidentally, there seems to be alarming confusion as to the meaning of the word "platonic."  It's not the Platonic ideal, folks.   Back it up).

Sigh.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Seasonal Allergies

I don't mind it when my peas touch my corn, but I sure as heck take (ineffectual) umbrage when summer gets tangled up with September. It's supposed to be fall, dang it!  Or, if not fall, that sweet gasp immediately before fall, the moment midair when you know, though don't yet feel beyond a  prickling of the skin behind your ears, that shortly you'll be on your way down.

Instead, the birds are chirping away like they're having a karaoke party and I'm wearing shorts.  SHORTS.  The indignity.

I'm reminded, quite vividly, of picking up a glass of what I thought was water when I was a child and taking a sip.  It was milk.  I spewed white everywhere, not because I dislike milk (I love milk) but because the mismatch, the distance between my expectations and the substance that slopped over my tongue, was terrifying.

Maybe the lesson here is to have no expectations.  To feel at home nowhere.  To come to the world with the blank, peaceful mind of the yogi or the zombie or the inordinately inebriated.

I prefer to remain curmudgeonly.  Avast, summer!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

It's My First Time

Yeah, It's been a while since I've used that line.  It's probably been a while for you, too.  Yet those were the words I uttered - actually tongued, aloud!- this morning as I rested my elbows on a reception desk deep in the bowels of a strip mall on the edge of town.

It's my first time.   I spoke the words with no irony and a twist of trepidation.  The grandmotherly woman behind the desk squeaked as if I'd goosed her.

"Oh!  How fabulous!  It's fabulous.  Isn't it fabulous?"  This to the woman who'd come in behind me, already removing her shoes.

"It's fabulous," the woman confirmed. She bounced up and down on her toes, adjusted a pair of shorts smaller than any I'd seen on any adult woman, ever.

"OK," I said, "Great."

I wasn't gunning for fabulous.  I was gunning for tolerable, or maybe non-lethal.  I was at the Bikram yoga studio, prepping for my first class.

Oh, sure, I practice yoga.  If practice means whiz through a 20-minute video on your computer while thinking about what to have for dinner and occasionally checking your Twitter feed during upward-facing dog.   But I'm not a serious yogi, and  I'd never done, or much wanted to do, Bikram yoga, which involves spending 90 minutes flailing semi-nude in 104 degree heat amongst flexible and odiferous strangers.

Yet, here I was, clutching my towel.

It was the gift certificate's fault.  Nothing gets my cheap little heart beating faster than the prospect of losing out on free stuff, and a while back some misguided soul had gifted me with expirable Bikram.  A lot of expirable Bikram.  Good for a year, gifted a year ago.  It was strip or be stripped.

I stripped.  I lay back.   I closed my eyes and thought of England -which, among other virtues, boasts a climate substantially cooler than the interior of the Bikram yoga room.  I did some other things I don't want to talk about, having yet to work through their ramifications for my dignity.

I didn't find Bikram horrendous.  Nor did I find it particularly revelatory.   It was what it was, and I will probably go again, if only because I continue to labor under the crushing psychological weight of additional expirable Bikram.  But it won't be as important, because it won't be my first time.

It's my first time.

The real revelation I took from Bikram today was just how God-awfully long you can go without speaking those words.  As we age, as we work ourselves into the more or less comfortable ruts of our lives, there are fewer and fewer instances in which we require of ourselves the leap -and it is a leap- of doing something we come to naked.  When's the last time you did something with which you had no experience, something you weren't even sure you wanted to do, but nevertheless, were up for trying? 

There comes a point at which we've made many of our leaps.  We're married, most of us; we have careers and kids and hobbies and homes and tastes.  Nevertheless, I think it needs to be done: stepping, even if ever so briefly, out of line, opening the door, opening our mouths.

Hey, yes, It's my first time.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Damages

So Irene's been and gone.  She was poorly named, to my mind.  Irene is someone's great aunt, a stooped, sweet old woman who plays makes bad cookies and plays the organ when the regular organist takes vacation.  Alternatively, she's a California baby boomer lawyer, smoking her medical marijuana after a long day spent prosecuting the deviant.  Perhaps, just perhaps, she's a waitress at a diner in the Rust Belt.

What she's not is a hurricane.  Zorg is a hurricane.  Wizwallop.  Ixminy.  It's possible I have a new career ahead of me as a dubber of hurricanes.  Codswalloper!  Ning.

But nobody asked me, and in any case, Irene has passed, if slightly more violently than we anticipated.  The winds blew for longer, and stronger, than the weather service had guessed, and 80% of the city lost power.  We clung to ours, but nevertheless, Irene's going to cost us: $550 for two days of lost work (and counting) on my end,  $325 for tree branch removal, plus several hours of picking up sticks and hauling branches.

Of course, it could have been worse.  There's a sycamore through the middle of our neighbor's house, bisecting it neatly, like a knife cleaving a cow's heart in middle school science.  You can see the boxes in their attic, festooned with insulation from what used to be their walls.  You can see where the rain came into the house, and the nothing where the chimney used to be.

Even for the neighbors, it could have been worse.  Their house will be condemned, but they have insurance, and all of them are alive, saved, evidently, by their preteen daughter's devotion to the downstairs television set and iCarly.

The incontrovertible truth is that "it," whatever it is could, always, always, be worse.  That's what one of my social media friends was trying to get at, I think, when he complained about the endless hurricane coverage.  Come on, he railed, what about all the people dying in Afghanistan, the Sudan, Syria?

He's right, of course. My irritation at being out hundreds of dollars pales in comparison to losing a home, which pales in comparison to starvation.  There's a long ladder of misfortune, and we can always drop a rung or two.

That's the trouble with being human, though: We name things.  We personalize our hurricanes and we remain, for better or for worse, deeply attentive to the squalls and breezes of our own lives.   We're limited, we humans.  We're small.  Irene can take us, even as we baptize her: an old, bent woman, the spitting, gusting image of ourselves.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Hunker

Hurricane, here.  Well, really just a tropical storm in Richmond. Meaning we're just outside the range of Irene's full wrath, but we can still hear her rattling our windows.  She's a snake of a rattler.

And so we hunker down.  We drag our lawn furniture indoors, take down our tiki torches (why did we buy these?!), and stock up on batteries.  We pray our power keeps flowing, so that we never have to confront the disturbing prospect of no Internetz, no microwave, no milk.   We get a little stir crazy, debate a run to the store, to the coffee shop, anywhere.  Then we look outside and stay home.

It's peaceful, hunkering, but it's also, at least in this day in age, frenetic.  I imagine our grandparents holed up in snow storms, in thunder, in raging wind.  The rain would have come like chloroform, blurring the edges, smothering the senses, until the only thing you could see, could feel, was you.  Your own heartbeat, your own breath, your own body hunkered it its skin.

Now, of course, we have radar.  We have weather radio and television and twitter.  Since I woke up, I've been glued to all of these simultaneously.  I've been tracking the garish progress of the storm, the increasingly agitated twittering of weather nerds, all the preparations and perturbations taking place in our wide, wet world. 

It's an improvement, of course.  You've got more info, more facts, you are better equipped.  And, unless you happen to be the poor schmuck chosen to stand in the blinding rain clutching a microphone to your chest, you are safer.

But you are also -doubly- inundated.  Flooded with the wet weals of the storm, flooded with the surge of more, better, faster information.  It's wonderful.  It's overwhelming.  Which is why, in a minute, I think I'll close up my computer and listen to the rain.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Nothing Doing

I don't really want to go into the specifics online, but suffice it to say that, for this week and the following two weeks, I am effectively being paid $44 an hour to sit on my ass.

It sounds like a good thing, really it does.  Who wouldn't want to park themselves in front of a computer in a comfy chair and watch the dollars pile up?  Making money for doing nothing: isn't that the ultimate dream?

You'd think so, but then you'd actually do it.   You'd start off OK in hour one.  By hour two, you'd be cross-eyed.  By hour four, you'd be  cross-eyed, hunchbacked, and raving.  By hour seven, you'd be filling in small red dots every five minutes on the minute mark, just to feel as if you'd accomplished something.  

It crosses my mind that work, though a lot of... work, is also somehow essential.   Even once we've retired, we need to feel productive; we need to feel as if we're contributing something; we need to feel engaged.  I've been going on and on about how Americans work too much, but there's such a thing, it turns out, as working too little.

I would sign off with "back to work," but it looks like I won't be getting there anytime soon. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Comma

In August, in my hometown, the world holds its breath.  Summer session is kaput.   Fall semester hasn't geared up. The streets are empty but sultry with it, beckoning you deep into the warm black to catch the last of the fireflies, the dribble of the creek, the microscopic erosion of stone after stone.

There's no one much around, in August.  You're down to a handful, the people you grew up with or threw up with, the folks you love and the folks you hate with a hate so comfortable it's the back of love's hand.  There's a spareness to August.   But an expansive spareness, a luxurious certainty that soon -very soon, even now gathering itself just beyond the horizon of your consciousness- will come the storm of Moving Day, the black and terrible thunder of Escalades and Hummers barreling the wrong way down one-way streets.

But not yet.  Not just yet.

It's the not yets that define this particular part of the year.  August, with its not-quites, it's almost-theres.  You may feel it even if you don't live here: the year pivoting on its fulcrum, the days folding themselves into smaller and smaller squares.  If you do live here, you can't help but feel it, and you can't help but feel, too, the secret sweetness of it, like honey deep in its combs.
 
But not right now, see, not at the moment.

I walk a lot, whenever I come home.   It's common sense.  From one side of town to the other is an hour on foot, so why go any faster?  Why bother to get your car out, only to miss the simmer of walking, the low heat, the secret pathways, the limping old woods?   There's never much to see: a mother and her son waiting for the bus, one loose dog, the road, like old thread, giving out.   Even the grafitti is quiet: a few tags, a delicate wall of flame, the words, in blue paint: I'm still here.

I wish I could the same for myself.  The truth is I don't live here anymore.  The truth is I can't live here anymore.  The truth is that here is, in any case, sorely, irrevocably changed.  Just a minute, though.  Sixty seconds, eighty: I'm still, here. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Black at the End of the Tunnel

When does an affliction become a way of life?  We've had fleas for 8 weeks now.  They've been fairly infrequent for the last 2 weeks, but nevertheless they are a daily office, appearing without fail in ones and twos and threes, lunging for us with every fiber of their tiny bodies.

My husband tried to engage my sympathies:  "Think about it.  There's the flea, just born, going about its business.  It's hungry!  It sees food!  It leaps!  Then, all of a sudden, pain and death  I mean, how wold you feel?"

I am unmoved.  I enjoy every thrashing of their tiny drowning bodies.  I'm tired, heartily, excruciatingly tired, of the vigilance, the white knee socks, the liturgy of vacuuming.  Nevertheless, three exterminator visits and eight weeks later, I've become...if not numb, then inured.  We've stumped the exterminator, who persists in telling me the fleas should already be dead.  I'm out of ideas, too.   I don't really have anything on my agenda except endurance.

There was definitely a grieving period.   A full-on, seven stages process.   I lived in denial.  I bargained with a God I don't believe in.   I got pissed.  I mourned my former lifestyle (bare feet!  Actually enjoying my home!  Unpacking! Having people over!  Mornings without vacuuming!  Yoga!  A sense of safety!).  I've come out the other end now: I can still feel the ache of my former life, the carefree, flea-free person that I was, but my life is what it is, and there's not much to be done but live it.

It occurs to me that I'm experiencing, on an infinitely smaller scale, what I've seen caregivers and parents and folks who are ill go through after receiving a diagnosis.  Autism, paraplegia, Parkinson's, aphasia, MS, dementia: you rage, you mourn, you wail, you keen.  You recalibrate your expectations, watch the world you believed in -goals, entitlements, priorities- crumple and fall away.  Then you get on with it, the whole dirty business of living.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

128

My grandmother used to greet me by asking how much I weighed.  "I like a trim figure," she's say.  "How much do you weigh?"

I'd lie, of course.  Perversity, like the camera, adds ten pounds.

"One thirty-five," I'd venture.  "One thirty-two."  Or, once, daringly, "one forty."  Just to see the skin crumple around her eyes, her lipsticked mouth turn in on itself.  She wore too-bright lipstick, corals and roses.  Her eyes, small sharp and formerly brown, looked as if they'd been dipped in sugar.

"I can't see," she'd fret.  "Do you go to a lot of parties?"

"I never go to parties."  Like her, I used the same lines over and over, but I would try, every time, to twist them, find a way to make them sharper.  "No one invites me."

"I can't see," she'd repeat, folding and unfolding her hands.

This was, by and large, our only coversation. We repeated it, with subtle alterations, throughout the last years of my grandmother's life.  It was our chaconne, our theme and variations.  We fell into the conversation so naturally, so unpremeditatedly, that it was almost as if, walking along, we'd started to hum an old hymn tune or the ABCs.

It was cruel of me to lie.  I recognize that now and I recognized it then.  I did it anyway.  I was skinny enough, but I wished my body were different.  I went to parties, but I wanted to be invited to more.  I was not as pretty or as popular as my grandmother wanted me to be, but neither was I as gallumphing and dour as I claimed.  I was somewhere in the middle: just one more young woman slogging through the slow years of youth.

I was cruel, but I didn't care.  If she would just be stop asking what I looked like, I reasoned, I could return to my dogged cultivation of the belief that what you looked like didn't count.  And I wanted, desperately, to believe that what you looked like didn't count.

I took to wearing baggy pants and thermal t-shirts.  My grandmother's nurse took to applying her lipstick; she couldn't make out her own mouth in the mirror.  On nice days, my grandmother sat on the porch and had her nails done and I searched for the most shocking, most awful thing I could say about myself, the thing that would be so large, so round and dreadful, it would sit in her open mouth like an apple in the mouth of a pig, shut her up.

"Do boys ask you out?"

"No."  A lie, but not much of one.  It was only the sad or scary boys, and I didn't want any of them.

"Do you have a lot of friends?

"I don't have any friends."  A bigger lie, with a nice, raw edge.

My mother told me that my grandmother grew up with money and maids, but that her father, who owned orange grove after orange grove in Florida, had lost everything when the stock market crashed.   My grandmother was nineteen.  She'd had cooks, but now she had nothing.  Her father died.  They lost the house.  My grandmother went to work as a nurse.   She didn't like nursing.  She wanted to study English, get married, throw parties.   She did eventually marry, but her husband divorced her, so she had to go back to work.  She didn't go quietly.  She didn't forgive anyone, for anything, ever.

I told her my true weight, once, shortly before she died.  It was in a fit of remorse.   She was lying there semi-conscious, dessicated in her bed, her lips nude and cracked and her hair ragged.  She hadn't been to the hairdresser in weeks; someone had clipped her nails down close to the nail beds.  I told her I loved her, which was another lie, but only just.  Then I told her, silently, the three numbers I saw every morning on the scale.

After she retired from nursing, my grandmother threw parties.  Gourmet, dressed-up, best-china parties to which she invited all her friends, other southern widows (by this time, my grandmother was putting it about that her husband had died) who threw gourmet, dressed-up, best-china parties.  That's how I like to think of her, when I think of her.  Deep into those evenings, champagne or sherry, every woman sloe-eyed, with a tidy waist.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dog Daze

There's languor in summer.  Yes, it's true that my summer has been, and continues to be, a whirlwind of upheaval, travel, toil, and insects.  I feel it anyway: the slow air, the overripe sun, the chubbiness of the days.  I'm not sure, after all, that one can can scrub summer of its summeriness.  Even when you work through it, try to shrug past it, it gets its grubby fingers on you, leaves a trail.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Skin Deep


I did a couple of shocking things this week.  One of them involved climbing a mountain, getting stark naked at the top, and hopping around like a lunatic.  The other involved enjoying superficial breakfast conversation with strangers.
The preceding may or may not be true .  But in any case, it’s #2 that’s most out of character.  Superficial conversation is just that: superficial, and we all know that beauty is more than skin deep, that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, that surfaces are deceiving, and on, and on.
Deep conversation is what you’re supposed to enjoy.  It’s what you yearn for as a nerdy high school student, what you savor in French movies, what’s supposed to draw you into Serious Relationships of the Soul.  And who the heck wants to talk to random nobodies when you could be sharing Deep Thoughts with the folks who already enliven or irritate you?
To which I say:  How’s the weather? 
We are who we are, but we also change.  At thirty, I am evidently both more likely to perpetrate mild criminal mischief and more likely to enjoy talking to your grandmother at length about her plans to visit the national sled dog museum.  In an odd way, the combination makes sense to me.   You shuck off the fear, keep your shoes on, hop.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Golden Heart


As a child, I was always drawn to those corners of the globe you cannot conceive of.  And I mean conceive literally: you can’t birth the places, can’t push them pink and distinct and squalling into your imagination.  You can’t people them, can’t detail the fauna or the flora, can’t do more than block in the vague outlines of an alien topography: Here there be…. nothing.
It’s seductive, that nothingness.  It’s the underside of your tongue, the backs of your knees, the space between your liver and your lungs.  It’s all the secrets you keep from yourself, the furthest assay into your darkest places.
Alaska was one of those corners, for me.  I’d trace the outlines on the globe.  I’d review certain facts.  There was more coastline than anywhere else in the world.  Its islands stole past the international dateline, wrapping around until today turned into tomorrow.  There were peaks and cold and long, white stretches of nowhere.  I imagined myself driving there, hopping into a car and cruising up the long, cold backbone of Canada until I spilled over into naught.
In real life, I boarded a plane.  I ate bad peanuts, drank tomato juice chilled to the temperature of cold feet. The cabin was close and stale and Canada stayed sunk in clouds.  Past midnight, I arrived.  It was hard to imagine but easy to walk into, the city of nothing, everything alight with sun.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I Am Here

Fairbanks, AK

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Silver Lining

That's a nice phrase, silver lining.  Except, of course, when you're instructed to go hunting for it under the cloaks of suckiness swathing your life.

Nevertheless, I've informed myself, sternly, that I will seek out the shiny stuff and huff it until I'm silver in the face!  Or something.  To wit: here are the good things about sinking your life savings into a house containing a raging and seemingly ineradicable (we are one month and three exterminator visits in) flea infestation:

1) No house I've ever lived in has been this clean.  Seriously.  There is no dust.  Anywhere.  My dust allergy has gone into remission.  I go to bed every night on freshly laundered sheets.   No crumbs between the couch cushions, no spiderwebs, no gunk on the floor.   I'd eat off that floor.  Except that, you know, it's been doused in insecticide.

2) I can eat anything I want!  When I remember to eat!  So far, I've consumed an entire jar of JIF creamy peanut butter, forty-seven lattes, toast, and a whole lot of ice cream.  All of this due to a bracing new fitness regimen comprising 60-90 minutes of daily vacuuming, followed by several hours of standing and staring at my feet.  Vacuuming is hard.  It is no wonder our grandmothers were thinner than we are.

3) I'm getting out of the house.  A lot.  This is probably the silveriest of the silver linings.  I'm an inveterate homebody, and it's frequently been difficult to pry me away from my books and my tea and my comforts of home to face the wider world.  Not so now!  Since the battle was joined, I've been seized with irresistible urges to go on walks, frequent coffee shops, go out to eat, help other people move house.   I've toured the botanic gardens, the art museum, Colonial Williamsburg, the beach, historic churches, the club district, the capital, the moon....  Okay, not the moon.  But I've been out and about.  Which is a big change, for me.   I'm not really getting any work done, but I've seen some very pretty flowers.

4)  If this ever, ever, ever ends, I will be pretty damn happy.  And I will make myself a very, very, very large, very very silvery gin and tonic.  Here's hoping.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Hemorrhagic

Bleeding money right now, not only because we keep paying through the nose for ineffectual flea exterminations, but because I've taken to spending all my waking hours at coffee shops in an attempt to escape the constant, crazy-making vigilance that is my home life.  I literally spent an hour and a half today staring at my feet before wresting myself away and hieing myself to the local joint.

Would everyone in my position be made this insane?  I kinda doubt it.  Every day, amongst our six billion souls, there are probably thousands skipping blithely down their flea-infested, larvae-ridden stairs.  My husband, he of the temperament of eternal sunshine, is nonplussed.  But I am seriously deranged.

Want to lose weight?  Try constant nervous nausea!  Want to keep a clean house?  Try vacuuming obsessively for two hours a day!  The good news is that I've finally shed the last of the Christmas cookie weight.  The bad news is that I'm a ragged, hollow shell of myself. 

My rational brain has some perspective.  It could be worse; many folks have bigger problems; this isn't the end of the world, etc.  My reptile brain is informing me in no uncertain terms that I need to quit my job, quit my marriage, move back to Indiana and live with my parents or possibly shoot myself because I AM UNDER THREAT.

There's really no talking to the reptile brain.  We are who we are, at some basic level, and some of us are firmly convinced we are subject to predation.  How do you speak to the portion of yourself that does not deal in words?

Please send smiting thoughts my way. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

DIE

Struggling a little bit right now.  The house we bought turns out to be top to bottom infested with fleas,  (thanks, previous owners), and our efforts to eradicate them have so far been largely unsuccessful.  I am basically reduced to covering my entire body in white spandex and spending hours staring at my feet.  I have also discovered the pleasure of watching something small and alive thrash and then drown in a bowl of dishwashing liquid, which does not particularly reassure me as to my basic humanity.

[Die.  DIE.  Die.]

We've been in the new house two weeks, though I've been away for much of that time.   I haven't unpacked a thing, but have instead given myself over entirely to  plotting the demise of arthropods.  I'm starting to hate the house, which is not really a good way to commence owning it, and I'm unable to snatch more than a couple of hours of sleep.

All of which is totally crazy-making.  Maybe I will go live with the fellow under the bridge for a while.

Friday, July 8, 2011

I Am Here

Cullowhee, NC

Thursday, June 30, 2011

If It Ain't Baroque

There are a kajamillion people on this earth.  But only four of them play early music. 

That's what it seems like, anyhow, from my POV inside the bubble.  Gather a bunch of early musicians together in one place, and even though they flew in from hither and yon, I'm guarranteed to know them, know someone who slept with them, or have fifteen mutual Facebook "friends."

It's both constricting and comforting, in the way small things often are. Small town, small time, small beer.

OK, that last one is just low alcohol beer.  Which is neither comforting or constricting, but you get my drift, probably because you are a savvy consumer of large beer.

When things are small, too, they're automatically more personal.  In early music, this means you hire and get hired pretty much entirely on the basis of who you know and how you are known.  It's a baroque process, no pun intended, smacking of nothing so much as the machinations of the Chicago mob.  You know a guy who knows a guy, etc.

 Furthermore, it's not just your ability people are hiring: it's you. Your personality, the complete package of who you are, plays a significant role in what and how much work you get.  Are you a squealer?  Do you take direction?  Do you liven up stakeouts and drive-by shootings?  Do you own a van big enough to schlep a harpsichord?

This is in stark contrast to my other career field, in which you could be a dead body with a license and that license would get you hired.  It's also in fairly stark contrast to the classical music world at large, in which, to audition for an orchestra, you play hidden behind a screen.

I'm not sure, all in all, which is more sane.  Is work just work?  Or should work encompass the whole of you, every smallest part?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I Am Here

Oberlin, OH

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Imposter!

Nothing makes you feel quite so much as if you were perpetrating a grand and encompassing deception as buying your first house.  Above is the window seat of mine.  And honestly, I cannot believe they let me sign my name to a contract for this sucker.  I am a MINOR!  I am in need of ADULT SUPERVISION!  Never mind that I am THIRTY!

It's a threadbare question, but when, exactly, does one start feeling like an adult?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Globe Road

I'm up in the mountains for a few days.  Not that you can see them, skulking behind their veil of rain.  It's shotgun wedding rain, sudden, knock-you-up, tie-you-down rain, barreling up behind you in no time flat.  It's the kind of rain that makes you run.  From the woods to the car.  From the car to the house.  And, early in the morning, trying to get three or four miles in before the rain comes.

Which is how I found Globe Road.  It hares off the highway halfway down the mountain.  It's unprepossessing, narrow as a driveway, and marked with one worn, white-painted arrow.

Globe, it says.  8.  Eight.  Not bothering to append the miles.

I've never been to Globe.  I do remember poring over one, as a child, trailing my fingers along the pauples of the Himalayas, the stubble of the Andes.  I was fascinated by the recesses, the odd corners, the never-mentioned peninsulas and forgotten plateaus.

I do not know what Globe is like, but I do know the pavement gives out before you get there.   It was 7:00 AM.  I ran down the gravel slope until the gravel turned to dirt and the curve was one more curve than I had the courage to round.  The clouds quickened.  The mountains secreted themselves.  It grew to be time to run back, as it always grows to be time, from every Globe in the world.