Saturday, January 29, 2011

More or Less

I spent exactly a year and a half working five days a week as a speech therapist.   It was a poor fit. I would come home exhausted and still have to practice my instrument.  I would have to use "sick" time to gig, or else fly back from wherever-it-was and drive directly from the airport to work.   To top it off, I actually made less money than I currently do working three days a week, such being the lot of the young urban public school employee.

I weaseled my way down to the Elysian fields of part-time as soon as I got my certification and haven't looked back.  Part-time is rockin.' I have the space to grow and actually enjoy my music career, and I don't feel like throttling small children and/or stabbing myself repeatedly in the ear at the end of every week.  I like my life better, which has the slightly perverse effect of making me me a better therapist.

I've been reflecting on this because I've been thinking about dosage.  Morphine in small doses brings relief from pain; a large dose can kill you.  One glass of wine protects your heart; three glasses poison it. A mystery novel is exciting; a murder is terrifying.  Stroll vs. schlep.   Treat vs. binge.  One evening with the person you love vs. welding yourselves to the couch and watching 8 hours a day of reality TV programming.

A little is good; a lot is not.  Only, in America, we seldom admit it.  More ice cream.  More headroom.  More therapy.  More!

I wonder if it's because more is easy.  "More" is one of the first words I teach the very small and the very delayed.  There's a sign to go with it, the gathered fingertips of each hand reaching out to kiss one another.  And "more" is functional: kids are so easily motivated to ask for more.  More bubbles!  More crackers!  Moremoremoremoremore!

If there's a sign for less, I don't know it. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

I Am Here

Chicago, IL

Monday, January 17, 2011

Slouching Toward Nosiness

So the award for best book title ever, in my opinion, goes to Joan Didion for We Tell Ourselves Stories to Live.  Didion's title is tops because it is both mellifluous (listen to the rhythm of it, breath triplet triplet stab) and true: stories are the stuff of us, what fuels us through the long months and deaths and generations, what keeps us running (our mouths).

So why don't we tell more of them?  And I don't mean manufacture, mind you.  There are plenty of prefab stories available for consumption on your television set, but they are, in general, assembly line productions, designed and crafted specifically to get you to drop some cash.  No, I mean not-for-profit stories, stories made from natural materials, organic stories, stories that are still alive.

I mean you, people.   I want you to blog.

Aren't there enough bloggers in the world, you ask?  Aren't there enough people who think they have something to say?  Well, yes.  But most of them are fourteen years old and have attention spans the size of peas.  You, on the other hand, are lovely, literate folk who appreciate cheese, and I wanna poke my nose into your narratives.

I hear, on cue, the collective whine: It takes effort!  It takes time!  I am very busy and important!  To which I say, is there anything more important that living?  And if, as the best title ever indicates, we tell ourselves stories to live, the clear implication is that, without stories, we're dead.  So get telling!  It's lonely out here. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Big Work

So the business section is not my section.

I come to it late, after the news and the arts section and the book review and the travel section and the style section and the magazine, but before the sports section and the monumentally soporific mutual fund report.  Money may not be the root of all evil, but it is the root of all articles in the business section, and that tends to make me feel like the dirty, grubbing, income addict that I am.

But hey, we've all got to figure out how to acquire our cheese, and, short of dumpster diving or marrying Wisconsin dairy heirs, that means moolah. And now do you amass said moolah?  Ideally, according to middle-class dictates, you find a career.

I want to point out here that a career is not a job. A job is a money-making widget.  You insert object A, your effort, into a machine, and extract object B, your cash.  A career is more complicated.  It's a building.  You enter it, wander around in there, find the elevator, and, theoretically glide to the top in an glorious swoosh of fulfillment.

The other thing about a career, I've discovered, is that, in the manner of The Highlander or the more zealous of our monotheists, THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE.  Sure, you can change careers, but try to have more than one at the same time and watch people start to look at you funny.  Lots of people have two "jobs."  But careers?  Might as well move to rural Utah and start acquiring extra wives.

I know this because I have two careers.  I work half-time as a licensed speech-language-pathologist.  I work the other, much less organized, half of my time as a freelance musician.  The musicians think the speech therapy is a "day job."  The speech therapists think the music is a "hobby." It's tough, sometimes, to be the only one who takes myself seriously in both fields.

Which is why I tore out this article, the first time I've so defaced my morning paper in nearly a decade. And I tore it FROM THE BUSINESS SECTION.  It's a red letter day, folks.

The article's headline is "I'm Making a Living from My Hobbies," but the dude in question clarifies that his seven income streams (sculpture, woodworking, stonemasonry, gardening, photography, writing, politics) are more properly termed avocations, or callings.  Frank Hyman pursues all the activities that he loves, adjusting the extent to which he relies on each for income in a complex, decades-long algorithm.  He does what he loves and gets paid for it, that classic holy grail, but he takes into account that folks might not be willing to pay him enough for any one thing to constitute a living wage.

Here's Frank:

"Also be aware of the “90 percent rule.” That means that for “glamorous” professions like sports, art, entertainment and, yes, writing, about 90 percent of the people who try to make a living that way never make a red cent. About 9 percent might make some money in their field, and 1 percent or less are able to make some kind of living, and probably not a glamorous one."

Frank aspires, not to be in that 1%, but to be in that 9%.  And that's a goal I think is relatively sane, at least compared to the aspirations of the write-or-die crowd currently working at Starbucks.

Moreover, the multiplicity is freeing.   I've tried to figure out "what I want to do" for years.  But what if what I want to do is whole lot of things, and what if I don't want to do each of them at a primo top-notch self-supporting level?  What if it's OK to do do a whole bunch of stuff at a slower pace that's engaging and pleasurable and nets me, piece by piece, an adequate pile of cheese?

I don't like to use the word "inspiration," but two careers is now seeming pretty paltry.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In Bloom

And really, what's better than blossoming in the middle of winter?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Girls Just Wanna Have None

There's something about January that begs for abstemiousness.  You've just eaten thirty-five fruitcakes and a life-sized candy elf, for instance, or you've blown your life savings on 1,357 posters of Jar Jar Binks.  Whatever your particular brand of overindulgence, you're likely to wake up one day in the new year bloated, achy, and with that particular feeling in the pit of your stomach that means it's time to retrench.

Retrench!  I kind of enjoy it.  I'm a cycles person- I like to work really hard and then loll, or run really far and then inhale food.  Oscillating back and forth between two extremes helps us savor every cranny of our lives, and also ensures that we don't get really boared and try to figure out how to get to Timbuktu and what the heck is going on there.  (Probably much the same kind of human stuff that's going on here.)   At this point, we've pretty much whittled the abstemious part of our year down to January (come Valentine's Day, it's back on the chocolate horse), so I try to take full advantage of our collective self-disgust while I can.

Retrench!  I've focused on TV this year, because I streamed an awful lot of online episodes of vaguely soothing junk over the holiday break.  Plus the NYT just came out with an article stating that average TV viewing time in the USA has just edged up to 34 hours per person per week.  34 hours a week, people!  That's very nearly a full-time job!  I find this stupefying: even at my lolling winter break worst, I got up to maybe 12.   An average week was more like 5.   Which still seems like A LOT, if you think about what I could have done with that time (more practicing, more writing, or, let's be honest, more staring into space).   And remember, 34 hours is the average, meaning there are folks out there who are counterweighting what I've discovered to be my relatively anemic TV viewing habits.  Red-blooded American I am not.

Retrench!  For this, the first week of 2011, I am watching no TV.  Zero-zippo-zilch.  I am also decreasing the number of times I pour entire spoonfuls of salt onto my food, the amount of chocolate I eat, the minutes I waste depressing the "refresh" button on my email browser like an unfortunate lab rat, and the number of blogs I read about other people's food.  TV's the only thing I'm going cold turkey on, but I'm savoring a general philosophy of contraction.

Of course, where we contract, we must also expand.  Up so far this week: novel reading, scribbling, crossword puzzle-doing, radio listening, tidying.  Unfortunately not practicing or thinking great thoughts.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How Lovely

So NPR and Dilbert, by some strange synchronicity, both did New Year's Day features on making resolutions for other people.  Unless there really is a vast left-wing conspiracy, this means someone at both institutions independently had to stop and think, hey,  enough with the navel gazing/tepid attempts at self-improvement/magical thinking hoo hoo: Let's get real!

After all, who knows more about fixing other people than.. other people?  NPR featured diverse economists ordering around Ben Bernanke, whereas Dilbert featured Dogbert ordering around the universe.   Nevertheless, the implication -that we are better able to order the lives of the people around us than they are-is the same.

And I'll buy it.  I have infinite wisdom to dispense regarding everyone else's prospective 2011s.  Yes, you should get a job.  No, you shouldn't dump him.  Yes, quit smoking.  No, Fox News is not news.  Drink more tea.  Read more books.  Walk more.   Be kind to one another.

That last I stole from a flight attendant who announced it over the loudspeaker at the close of a bumpy Continental Expressjet flight to I-Can't-Remember.  It's good advice, but I always wondered whether the flight attendant really believed that, by speaking the words, he could cause kindness to flower in our peanut-addled, sky-sozzled hearts.  How much power do words have?

As much as we give them, I suppose, which is to say part way through February.

In contrast to the New Year's resolutions I will henceforth be making on your behalf, my own New Year's resolutions tend to be forgettable.  I know this because I've forgotten them.  I dimly recall resolving something sometime, though I'm also fairly sure there was a decade in which I decided I was perfect as I was and the fulsome loveliness that was me could only be tarnished by sorry stabs at self-betterment.  (I later resolved to stop papering over insecurity with arrogance.)

In sum, this year will be different.  This year, I'm taking a page from the playbook of our liberal media conglomerate and resolving profligately for everyone who is not me.  For myself, I reserve only one resolution.  It is a small one, neatly made, fitting nicely in the palm of one hand.  It is to dwell.

Not live, not hurry, not love, not loll. No seizing or shaking or grabbing by the horns.  Just dwelling.  But slowly, surely.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2010: (Most of) a Year in Gratitude

  • 12.31.10: Jigsaw puzzles
  • 12.30.10: Appalachia w. country turned up loud
  • 12.29.10: Snow in the graveyard
  • 12.28.10: Downhome; Belgian ale
  • 12.27.10: IU basketball
  • 12.26.10: Snow, hard, elsewhere
  • 12.25.10: Gifting
  • 12.24.10: Bread
  • 12.23.10: Tromping
  • 12.22.10: Sky
  • 12.21.10: Red wine.
  • 12.20.10: Jazzbo's Rolling Gumbo
  • 12.19.10: Stephen Colbert
  • 12.18.10: Board games
  • 12.17.10: Serendipity at the bookshelf
  • 12.16.10: Cocoa
  • 12.15.10: Gnocchi
  • 12.14.10: Capers. All kinds.
  • 12.13.10: Snow day # 1
  • 12.12.10: Caroling in fancy hats
  • 12.11.10: Snooze
  • 12.10.10: Bad TV
  • 12.9.10: Fried hominy
  • 12.8.10: Traveler mug
  • 12.7.10: I made something happen!
  • 12.6.10: Plum Street
  • 12.5.10: Carols
  • 12.4.10: Walking in the dark
  • 12.3.10: Scones
  • 12.2.10: Books
  • 12.1.10: Quiet
  • 11.30.10: Thirty years
  • 11.29.10: Sun
  • 11.28.10: Church coffee
  • 11.27.10: This American Life
  • 11.26.10: Pancakes
  • 11.25.10: Thanksgiving
  • 11.24.10: Welcome Center
  • 11.23.10: Almost there
  • 11.22.10: Stay on target...
  • 11.21.10: Music in the mountains
  • 11.20.10: Virginia Museum of Fine Art
  • 11.19.10: Late fall; windows wide
  • 11.18.10: Union Station
  • 11.17.10: Travel mug
  • 11.16.10: Safe driving
  • 11.15.10: Blankets
  • 11.14.10: Voice
  • 11.13.10: Plumbers
  • 11.12.10: Sitting
  • 11.11.10: I got out early
  • 11.10.10: Downward dog
  • 11.9.10: Whiskey; hominy; sleep
  • 11.8.10: Clear skies
  • 11.7.10: Waiting; butternut squash bread; Near West Side
  • 11.6.10: Feast
  • 11.5.10: Nice people
  • 11.4.10: Gifts
  • 11.3.10: Organizational moxie
  • 11.2.10: Democracy. Even if the crazies did win.
  • 11.1.10: Reassurance
  • 10.31.10: Law & Order never dies!
  • 10.30.10: Aleve
  • 10.29.10: Pumpkin pancakes
  • 10.28.10: Walled gardens
  • 10.27.10: Someone knows what to do with you and it is you
  • 10.26.10: The weatherman is back
  • 10.25.10: Alone in the office
  • 10.24.10: Vocal cords
  • 10.23.10: Scheming + tea
  • 10.22.10: Neighborhood coffee joints
  • 10.21.10: Slowdowns
  • 10.20.10: Byways
  • 10.19.10: Woodford Reserve
  • 10.18.10: Those low ponds beside the track
  • 10.17.10: Ambien
  • 10.16.10: Salami
  • 10.15.10: NYC
  • 10.14.10: Train!
  • 10.13.10: Windows
  • 10.12.10: Kindness
  • 10.11.10: Tears
  • 10.10.10: 10.10.10!
  • 10.9.10: Waffles with butter and honey
  • 10.8.10: Walk in the sun
  • 10.7.10: Thursday
  • 10.6.10: Sleep
  • 10.5.10: Clouds
  • 10.4.10: Early to bed
  • 10.3.10: Cuteness
  • 10.2.10: History; running
  • 10.1.10: Night in
  • 9.30.10: Staring out the window
  • 9.29.10: Red wine's legs
  • 9.28.10: Scabs
  • 9.27.10: Rain
  • 9.26.10: Gail Godwin
  • 9.25.10: Free tickets
  • 9.24.10: Friends who live here, of all places.
  • 9.23.10: British supsense novels
  • 9.22.10: Concerned parents
  • 9.21.10: Reprieve
  • 9.20.10: Open windows
  • 9.19.10: Matzoh ball soup
  • 9.18.10: Mild illness-cum-excuse to hide out
  • 9.17.10: Live theater
  • 9.16.10: Waking up slow
  • 9.15.10: WEEKEND!!! (sort of)
  • 9.14.10: Snatched time
  • 9.13.10: My house is mine again
  • 9.12.10: Brunch
  • 9.11.10: Avocado tempura
  • 9.10.10: Nap
  • 9.9.10: In the mood for scrubbing
  • 9.8.10: Wine on Wednesday
  • 9.7.10: Extra time
  • 9.6.10: The absence of kittens
  • 9.5.10: Taco shack w. sweet tea
  • 9.4.10: Kittens sleeping
  • 9.3.10: Southern gentlemen
  • 9.2.10: Morning
  • 9.1.10: Woodford reserve
  • 8.31.10: Eggplant
  • 8.30.10: Country roads
  • 8.29.10: Pooped
  • 8.28.10: 8:00 PM stroll
  • 8.27.10: Friends who bake
  • 8.26.10: Lazy day
  • 8.25.10: Leftover pizza w. pancetta
  • 8.24.10: That wasn't so bad
  • 8.23.10: Fear
  • 8.22.10: Walking home
  • 8.21.10: Byrd Theater
  • 8.20.10: Stolen fruit
  • 8.19.10: The Splendid Table
  • 8.18.10: New student
  • 8.17.10: More cheese!
  • 8.16.10: I remembered everyone's birthday
  • 8.15.10: Flying Squirrels turnaround, bottom of the ninth
  • 8.14.10: Weariness
  • 8.13.10: There are worse things
  • 8.12.10: Blog
  • 8.11.10: Peaches & grape nuts
  • 8.10.10: Bravery
  • 8.9.10: Fresh figs from the market
  • 8.8.10: Hulu in bed
  • 8.7.10: Care packages
  • 8.6.10: Porch
  • 8.5.10: Off the hook
  • 8.4.10: After dinner stroll
  • 8.3.10: Heirloom tomatoes
  • 8.2.10: I am a (short-lived) productivity badass
  • 8.1.10: Welcome basket
  • 7.31.10: Azalea Garden Center
  • 7.30.10: Heirloom tomato
  • 7.29.10: Housewarming munchies
  • 7.28.10: Green tea
  • 7.27.10: Charleston, WV
  • 7.26.10: Sleep
  • 7.25.10: Delay
  • 7.24.10: Collapse
  • 7.23.10: Merry Maids
  • 7.22.10: It's done
  • 7.21.10: Family
  • 7.20.10: Hana
  • 7.19.10: We sold the W/D
  • 7.18.10: Seizing the moment
  • 7.17.10: Pimms
  • 7.16.10: Early coffee
  • 7.15.10: Could have been worse
  • 7.14.10: That flute is mine!
  • 7.13.10: Wineberries
  • 7.12.10: Stolen egg
  • 7.11.10: Hooky
  • 7.10.10: Sunset
  • 7.9.10: Caffeination station
  • 7.8.10: Companions on the road
  • 7.7.10: Kiloversary
  • 7.6.10: Step Circuit
  • 7.5.10: Oatcake
  • 7.4.10: Charcoal; beauty
  • 7.3.10: I was finally in the parade
  • 7.2.10: Daisy eggs
  • 7.1.10: Evening stroll
  • 6.30.10: Biscotti
  • 6.29.10: Gift baskets!
  • 6.28.10: Grilled corn w. lime, salt, and chile
  • 6.27.10: Hymns
  • 6.26.10: Summertime
  • 6.25.10: That song
  • 6.24.10: Practice makes, if not perfect, better
  • 6.23.10: Former colleagues
  • 6.22.10: Internet
  • 6.21.10: Grad school buddies
  • 6.20.10: Dad
  • 6.19.10: Late evening stroll
  • 6.18.10: Homemade pretzels @ the farmer's market
  • 6.17.10: Tam Lin
  • 6.16.10: Bad TV
  • 6.15.10: Watching, inch by inch, the storm come in
  • 6.14.10: Aerobics
  • 6.13.10: Golden dessert wine
  • 6.12.10: Aloft; shafts of cloud
  • 6.11.10: Walnut chipotle soup
  • 6.10.10: Excellent credit
  • 6.9.10: Gut feeling
  • 6.8.10: Lightning bugs
  • 6.7.10: Friendly strangers
  • 6.6.10: Someone else prepped the kohlrabi
  • 6.5.10: Mulberry bush
  • 6.4.10: Rooftop dining; skyline views
  • 6.3.10: Uncertain sky
  • 6.2.10: Sudden shower
  • 6.1.10: Brainlessness
  • 5.31.10: Pizza and beer
  • 5.30.10: Ann Arbor
  • 5.29.10: Faking it
  • 5.28.10: Injera
  • 5.27.10: El
  • 5.26.10: Purcell; mango
  • 5.25.10: An Equal Music
  • 5.24.10: Flexible work hours
  • 5.23.10: English muffin
  • 5.22.10: Blank calendar
  • 5.21.10: Light rain
  • 5.20.10: Not bowling w. 3-year-olds
  • 5.19.10: Bowling w. 3-year-olds
  • 5.18.10: Friday Night Lights
  • 5.17.10: Up and down the gentle hills
  • 5.16.10: An excellent host
  • 5.15.10: Date night
  • 5.14.10: Sycamore fluff clotting the air
  • 5.13.10: Rural Indiana Mexican
  • 5.12.10: Packing
  • 5.11.10: Parks and Recreation
  • 5.10.10: Guac; pineapple; back roads
  • 5.9.10: The Perilous Gard
  • 5.8.10: Dragging my feet
  • 5.7.10: Blackberry pie
  • 5.6.10: Mild storms
  • 5.5.10: Early to bed
  • 5.4.10: That smell in the air
  • 5.3.10: French doors
  • 5.2.10: Friends
  • 5.1.10: Campell Falls, WV
  • 4.30.10: Country Roads
  • 4.29.10: Ginger wasabi truffle
  • 4.28:10: Lily of the valley
  • 4.27.10: Pulled pork
  • 4.26.10: Connections
  • 4.25.10: Send in the Clowns
  • 4.24.10: Sudden rush of rain
  • 4.23.10: Hiding under the blankets
  • 4.22.10: Chocolate fountain; Dad
  • 4.21.10: Turrets
  • 4.20.10: Pine nuts
  • 4.19.10: Coffee cake
  • 4.18.10: BWV 106
  • 4.17.10: Udon
  • 4.16.10: Stretching
  • 4.15.10: Country
  • 4.14.10: Absences
  • 4.13.10: Leftover pizza
  • 4.12.10: A bit of a lie in
  • 4.11.10: Will Shortz. I love you, Will Shortz!
  • 4.10.10: Acquaintances
  • 4.9.10: Retention pond
  • 4.8.10: That serendipitous sandwich
  • 4.7.10: Decaf coffee: counterintuitive, captivating
  • 4.6.10: Back on the horse
  • 4.5.10: Window screens
  • 4.4.10: Hometown
  • 4.3.10: 6:00 AM on the road
  • 4.2.10: Easy gig; derring-do
  • 4.1.10: Fools
  • 3.31.10: Recipes
  • 3.30.10: Dishwashers
  • 3.29.10: Purring
  • 3.28.10: Mango lassi, yellow car
  • 3.27.10: Librarians
  • 3.26.10: Homemade potato chips

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Roundup is a weed killer.

Hopefully my blog, even if it is less than enlightening, is not lethal.

Lethal or not, I've been revisiting what I've written this past year-ish.  In part, it's to see where I've been, geographically and otherwise.  In part, it's for the pleasure of taking whole entries and squashing them into single sentences.

In any case, here's a smattering of what went down in 2010-ish.  Of everything I wrote, these were the truest.

In Which I Sing
In Which I Discover Amtrak
I Miss Dead People
In Which I Fail to Read
I Which I Continue to Waste Energy Craving Things Which Cannot Be
In Which I Figure Out How to Work the Camera and Immediately Start Mediating Visual Experience Verbally