Tuesday, September 27, 2011


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," 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


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.


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


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


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


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).


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!