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.