Sunday, June 28, 2009

rose-tinted

As I was walking home tonight from having an excellent conversation with a friend, I saw three people standing on the corner and squinting and pointing in my vicinity. I thought maybe they needed some directions, and so I paused and looked at one of the men. He did a double take and said to me, "Aw, it's all right, love, we were just admiring your beauty." I thanked him and laughed, and the girl in the group turned to me and said, "Do you have a boyfriend?" I laughed again and said no, and the first man told me (but not in a creepy way) that his friends were trying to hook him up and asked my name. As they seemed friendly and harmless I shook his hand and introduced myself, and asked them if they needed any directions. The second man in the group told me that he had simply been trying to get them to look at the twilit sky through his blue sunglasses, and offered them to me. I looked and admired the deep indigo, handed the glasses back, crossed the street and went home.
It was a surprisingly relaxed ending to an overall annoying weekend: it's been Pride here in Chicago, and I've been feeling irritable and left out because I had to work the entire time. I write on here so often about how goddamn happy I am, but that level of up tends to lead to the occasional day or two of feeling down and grouchy and generally much less happy. It's inevitable; it would be almost impossible for me to keep up this feeling of joy all the time, and so I accept my down days and wait patiently for them to pass so that I can feel sparkly again. This weekend was particularly rough, though, because I could tell I was headed for a downswing and I was also just so jealous of all of my friends, drinking in the streets and flogging each other on parade floats and dressing up in outrageous costumes.
I'm proud of my current ability to wait out these downswings of mood. When you know that it will pass, it's so much easier to prevent yourself from extending the depression into something that will hurt you for longer. Recognizing the roots of my discontent defuses it and makes it into just a phase to wait through. And so I take time to myself, write angsty journal rants, dress up in cute clothes for the hell of it, make myself smell the flowers at work and just generally accept that life is full of nights that make you want to scream and punch something but that those nights are just that: nights. They pass. And then I look at the dusky sky through a stranger's glasses and laugh my way home to bake a strawberry rhubarb pie to share with my friends.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

obligatory, perhaps

Michael Jackson made a relatively minimal impact on my life, but I've always felt sad about what fame and fortune did to him and his music. I'm in no way writing a tribute, but this is a lovely cover from (who else?) Amanda Palmer. If you're lazy, the music starts right around the two-minute mark.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

pride

It seems totally bizarre to me now, but I didn't consciously know a single gay person until I went to Interlochen in the summer of 2000 and found myself positively surrounded by queer folk. (Dear lord, the Indigo Girls came and I thought there was going to be a riot. I can't imagine being there during an Ani concert.) Or rather, there were gay people around me but I didn't recognize it until years later; the student body president, the angsty trumpet player, my co-worker at Dairy Queen that I had a huge crush on (the last two went to prom together! ha), are all happily out now. I've always had terrible gaydar. I wonder if they knew at the time, or if they were all as clueless as I was--I didn't have more than an inkling until I was about twenty, and I didn't come out more formally until I was almost twenty-two, which is astonishing given the lay of the land now. But I am a perennial late bloomer, running several years behind the rest of the world in most areas of life, so I guess I shouldn't be so shocked. I get there eventually, at least.

I say all the time that life moves in cycles, but it still amuses me to observe it. The seasons, my modes of transportation, and my productivity all spin in these giant circles that end up transcribing my life in the ways they intersect. It also works for somewhat smaller (but not really any less important) things, like the gendering of my clothing (either by choice or force, due to Chicago weather), how much cooking/reading/texting I do, and the frequency with which I crave chocolate. One of the circles I've been thinking about recently is the demographic of my friends. Not the long term ones (those are pretty stable), but the new-ish ones, the people who I actually see and hang out with on a somewhat regular basis. One of the most noticeable cycles for me is the one between queer and straight; it just always seems like either my queer friends are a visible, present part of my life, or they dwindle until they are few and far between.

My last queer cycle was about four years ago, and since then the numbers had been dropping steadily. But now, rather suddenly, I appear to be in the midst of another upswing; even at work, the queer insomniacs are running the show in the shop lately. What's really interesting this time around is that actually seems to make a lot of difference for how I go about life. To be clear, I love my straight friends dearly, but god it's nice to not be the one queer person in the room sometimes. It's good to hang out in queer spaces, talk about gender from a queer perspective, talk about sex without having to be the dyke "expert" to temper all the straight advice being thrown around. (For the record, I mostly adore educating straight men about leather bars and alternative sexualities and sex toys, but sometimes it's nice to be able to assume that at least some of that is common knowledge. I'm generalizing, but that kind of knowledge often seems to be much more prevalent in the average queer outing than the average straight one.) But more than that I just find that things are so much richer when I fit into more communities, and for a while there I didn't feel very immersed in queer life. I missed it.

Now I can have movie night with my straight girl friends on Friday and go to a 1920's drag ball on Tuesday, maybe spend an evening at a gay bar or a queer dance party (no, I didn't dance) in between my generally super straight orchestra rehearsals. It sounds like such a small thing, but it helps me keep track of all the parts of who I am. I love my straight friends, but I love my queer identity just as much.

hot summer nights

So I'm deeply in voice-love with Amanda Palmer, to the point that I follow her on twitter despite (because of?) the fact that she updates a million times a day. Seriously, I check and there will be like fifteen updates from her, pictures and links and funny things she's doing that day. (Ninja party in the park? Check. Drawing all over herself and making a fan video for Regina Spektor? Also check.) The amusement outweighs the possible annoyance enough that I haven't done anything about it, plus it makes me feel better about my own twitter-ness.

A few weeks ago, on a Friday night, she and her gazillion very enthusiastic fans came up with something that they christened LOFNOTC: Losers of Friday Night at Home On Their Computers. Their motto is "Don't stand up for what's right, stay in for what's wrong." They have t-shirts with this hand-drawn picture (the back says, I believe, "That's Amanda Fucking Palmer to you"), and every Friday night my twitter gets spammed out of the water.




Last week there were a million picture updates, through which Ms. Palmer transformed herself from a hot lady in a bathrobe to an extremely made-up person in a hat. (Check out the eyebrows.) Sometimes the internet makes me laugh.




Monday, June 22, 2009

sleepless in chicago

It's 12:42 and I'm not particularly sleepy, but I have a confession to make. (Another one? Always.) I don't really mind my insomnia anymore. I've had problems sleeping all my life; my second-earliest memory is of trying to fall asleep (was I three? four?) and being unable to, staring at my orange crystal nightlight until I finally drifted off. When I was a kid I spent so many nights going crazy in my dark room, trying to fall asleep so I could wake up and be at school at 7:45 the next morning. My father (generally a fairly reasonable person) for unknown reasons refused to let me stay up past 10:30, and so when I was younger and shared a room with my sister I spent years reading under the covers with a flashlight because I was fully aware that sleep was impossible. That claustrophobic stuffy space is still strong in my memory. When I got a little older I'd tack a blanket over my door (I was always paranoid of being found out, because my parents were weirdly strict about bedtime) and stay up far into the night reading with my lamp turned low.

There's something particularly terrible about not being able to sleep when you want to. The more you desire rest, the less likely it is that you'll achieve it and the more likely it is that you will be up until five thinking about how badly you don't want to be awake anymore. I've spent too many nights of my life laying in bed, wide-eyed and restless, trying to relax a brain that just won't shut up for long enough to shut off. My lovers have always been easy sleepers, which has only made it worse; being trapped in a dark room, trying not to wake somebody else, can be a special type of hell on bad nights.

But now, I live alone and I gleefully stay up all night doing whatever I want. I've come to terms with the fact that six hours of sleep (five on the low end, seven on the high) is perfectly acceptable to my body, and I choose to use my time semi-wisely instead of pretending that I'll fall asleep like a normal person. Most of my best writing is done after 11 PM, and I've been baking late-night cookies as the weather gets warmer. I read. I catch up on email, pet my cats, do dishes, listen to music. This time is my favorite part of the day, other than maybe the half hour I spend hitting the snooze button before I get up six hours later.

Speaking of which... Time to give sleep a chance.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

in a sense we're all winning

Incidentally, here's one of the poems that was read at the Naked Girls Reading last month. I love the last lines.

Steps
Frank O'Hara

How funny you are today New York
like Ginger Rogers in Swingtime
and St. Bridget's steeple leaning a little to the left

here I have just jumped out of a bed full of V-days
(I got tired of D-days) and blue you there still
accepts me foolish and free
all I want is a room up there
and you in it
and even the traffic halt so thick is a way
for people to rub up against each other
and when their surgical appliances lock
they stay together
for the rest of the day (what a day)
I go by to check a slide and I say
that painting's not so blue

where's Lana Turner
she's out eating
and Garbo's backstage at the Met
everyone's taking their coat off
so they can show a rib-cage to the rib-watchers
and the park's full of dancers with their tights and shoes
in little bags
who are often mistaken for worker-outers at the West Side Y
why not
the Pittsburgh Pirates shout because they won
and in a sense we're all winning
we're alive

the apartment was vacated by a gay couple
who moved to the country for fun
they moved a day too soon
even the stabbings are helping the population explosion
though in the wrong country
and all those liars have left the UN
the Seagram Building's no longer rivalled in interest
not that we need liquor (we just like it)

and the little box is out on the sidewalk
next to the delicatessen
so the old man can sit on it and drink beer
and get knocked off it by his wife later in the day
while the sun is still shining

oh god it's wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much

Friday, June 19, 2009

you say potato

One of the best pieces of food writing I ever read was by MFK Fisher, a food writer (of sorts, anyway) from the 1930's and 1940's, on the joys of a beloved dish: mashed potatoes with ketchup. You might say yuck, but the way she described it--the preparation, the buildup to the first bite, the smell and texture and taste of the food--made it a complete experience for me. It was almost better because she claimed to have only eaten the dish once after years of anticipation, a sort of mashed potato martyrdom that made her vivid recall even more fascinating. It made this somewhat childlike food somewhat transgressive, and therefore more appealing.
And so, in the spirit of MFK Fisher, I have a confession: I adore frozen french fries. With store-bought ranch dressing. I don't eat them that often, but every few months I'll spend a few days eating french fries for dinner, which seems almost like blasphemy in light of how frequently I cook "real" food normally. But they are my comfort food of choice, only recently replacing Amy's Soy Mac'n'Cheeze; they are the food I come back to when I am tired and can't face the thought of chopping anything and it takes me a while to even get up to preheat the stove, the food I want when I'm sick or hungover or just grumpy. So what if they're bad for me? So is heavy cream. I love the crisp outer shell that gives in to the soft grainy interior, the sweet tang of the dressing, the bite of the black pepper and salt I cover them with. Potatoes have long been one of my favorite foods, and frozen french fries (in a mass-produced, unethically grown and processed, and full of extra ingredients sort of way) epitomize what I love about them. For me, potatoes are about texture, warmth, fullness. Comfort.
(I also once compared potatoes to calculus, and I was totally serious. The warm fuzzy feeling I get when eating well-prepared potatoes is very similar to the satisfaction I felt working through a derivative in my high school calculus class.)
I'm in the middle of French Fry Week right now, and I've been getting fancy. Today was a long day at work; I was out too late and too debaucherously last night, and then I spent my afternoon making four bridesmaids bouquets, one corsage, and about a million table centerpieces. When I got home, my feet hurt and my brain was numb, so after a sufficient amount of time decompressing, I got up the energy to turn the oven on. I tossed my Ore Ida Extra Crispy Crinkle Cuts with olive oil, salt, and pepper before baking them, and then I tossed them again with feta cheese (!), and then I ate them with cheap peppercorn ranch. (Next time I'll add basil, and maybe garlic power.) They were fabulous.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

the declining years of the long war

The only self-help book I think I’ve ever read was The Ethical Slut. Which, yes, is a book about polyamory (for the record, something I have pretty much sucked at in practice), but also has some truly excellent advice on personal relationships with other people and with yourself if you can get past the rather cheesy overall tone of the writing. Since I read it four years ago, I’ve loaned my copy out to countless people, straight and queer, single and in relationships, interested in polyamory and absolutely not interested at all; in truth, I think everybody should read the chapters on jealousy. Even if I have not been good at what the book is about, I have vastly improved my connection to and understanding of myself and that’s pretty impressive.

I’m not in a relationship right now, so polyamory (at least in that format) is more or less a moot point. But somehow, in this free space that I’ve created for myself, I think I’m finally starting to get it, or at least some of it. One of the things that I read and held close to my heart–but did not really understand, I would say–from TES was that you can let relationships and interactions reach their own level, whatever that level may be, and you don’t have to impose any of your own ideas about what that should entail onto the situation. I really, really liked this idea conceptually, but I never was able to fully put it into practice until recently. And you know what? It feels amazing. I’m not perfect and my vision of what this is like is idealistic, but even the extent to which I’ve been able to explore this has been absolutely enlightening.

If you and I hang out, there are so many possibilities: we might bake cookies, or talk through our last or current relationships, or make out, or cry, or anything. And while that is maybe not all that new (all of those things could have happened before, too), the way I’m approaching it is completely different. I seem to be letting go of my internal hierarchies, for one thing; each of these activities is more or less equally appealing. Sometimes baking cookies together might be a deeper experience than crying or even sleeping together, although I’ll admit it’s generally a little easier to feel closer through sex than through chocolate chips. But because I’m taking each activity and each person as a unique interaction, something to be savored and explored with relatively few preconceived expectations, I am able to be fully present, fully engaged. I feel like even with people I barely know I’m on a whole different level, and with people I already know well our relationships have deepened and become infinitely richer. (Do you feel this? Or is it just me? I wonder about this a lot.) It’s about paying more attention to right now instead of just worrying about what might happen next. Even when I’m by myself, it applies; I’ve stayed home alone more nights than not this week, reading and cooking and writing, and I have been just happier than I would ever have anticipated. Even the overheard conversations I peer into as I travel the city are more beautiful. I walk around grinning like an idiot most of the time.

I don’t really believe in fate per se, but I do believe in things generally working out. Some of the worst things that have ever happened to me have had the best results, and I feel like that has to mean something. Right now I’m ecstatically happy, full to bursting and feeling more alive than I ever have before, and a few months ago I was sad and downtrodden and on the verge of giving up. The same thing that I’ve long applied to my overall life, the idea that the journey is part of the process, is now what I’m trying to put into better practice in my daily interactions; no matter what we wind up doing, we can enjoy the company and form new connections between us and where we end up is so beside the point. We will reach our level. There’s no rush.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

veganification

Lately it may seem that there have been more important things on my mind than food, things like naked ladies and beanie babies and dazzling personal revelations. And in some ways, that would be true. But in other ways, it would also be pertinent to note that in the past week alone I have tried two new cookie recipes, which I naturally have managed to completely give away as of this afternoon, and I tried another the week before that. While I'll admit that other food in my life has taken a bit of a backseat, cookies have been on a veritable upswing.

I've been experimenting lately with vegan cookies, due partly to a friend's dietary habits but also because I like to surprise people with food. One way of doing this is by messing around with the flavors: "Have a lentil scone! A sweet tomato dessert topping! A black olive muffin!" Another way of doing this is by adhering to some sort of dietary restriction, like being gluten-free or allergic to soy. Making vegan baked goods that don't taste like crap will, in my experience, gain you a lot of raised eyebrows and verbal or physical high fives. The especially nice part of this is that good vegan cookies are not incredibly hard to pull off; there are lots of great recipes out there, and in fact my favorite ever chocolate chip cookie recipe is vegan. But it's always nice to show people it can be done and that vegans aren't just complete weirdos that eat grass.

This first recipe was for Red Hot Mamas, an excellent cookie name if ever there was one. That recipe actually covered both of my "surprise!" food strategies, because they are spicy vegan chocolate chocolate chip cookies. Oh yes. Those cookies powered a number of people through a queer dance party and a decent amount of beer.

The second recipe was not vegan but also contained something of a surprise ingredient, although it was admittedly not as surprising as cayenne pepper. These chocolate chip pecan oatmeal cookies are pretty awesome on their own, but the nutmeg and orange zest give them an especially nice little zing. I carried and dropped off bags of these cookies all over the place on Saturday as I embarked on a rather epic walk to Roscoe Village, five miles away.

The final batch was both more and less exciting than I was anticipating. I went to Rose-Anne's on Sunday and she served me these amazing cookies that had the texture of cornmeal muffin tops; it might sound weird, but you have to believe me when I say that it's absolutely awesome. Awesome enough that I wrote down the recipe in my notebook while everybody else made small talk, and immediately set out to make a vegan version when I got home. The disappointing part of this experiment was that the switch to vegan (or maybe just my baking skills) changed the texture that had drawn me in, but it was of little matter in the long run because people apparently LOVED these cookies. I got rid of a batch and a half (forty-two cookies, all told) in about a day, and I only ate maybe five of those myself. Regardless of my textural disappointment, I think that has to be considered a success.

So here's the (heavily annotated) original recipe, and my vegan modifications are in parentheses next to the things I changed. I don't remember where the original came from, which makes me a shitty citationer, but maybe Rose-Anne will chip in on that one? Anyway.

(Vegan) Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies

Ingredients:
-3 cups whole wheat or white wheat flour (For me, all whole wheat was maybe a little heavy. I did half and half on my second batch and preferred it. But I suspect R-A used white whole wheat, and hers were delicious and light.)
-1 1/2 cups lightly packed brown sugar
-3/4 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp baking soda
-2 large eggs (or about half a banana. I bet applesauce or oil would work too and might change the texture, but I got a lot of complimentary comments about the banana.)
-1/2 cup buttermilk (Or use 1/2 cup dairy or almond milk and 1/2 tbs lemon juice that you've mixed together and let sit for fifteen minutes. A handy trick indeed for those who do not commonly just have buttermilk sitting around.)
-1 tbs dark molasses
-1 1/2 tsp vanilla (I just had to invest in a larger vanilla bottle because I ran through TWO last week in a rather abortive effort to make vegan strawberry shortcake. Huh.)
-1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted or vegan butter, melted
-1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
-3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (I ran out of walnuts before my last half batch, and the resulting cookies were predictably equally enjoyable with only chocolate chips involved.)

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Put a silpat or parchment paper on a baking sheet. (I love my knockoff silpat from the grocery store!) In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt together, and then stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts. In a medium bowl, mix the eggs (banana), (butter)(almond) milk, molasses, and vanilla. Whisk in the melted butter. Make a well in the dry bowl, pour in the wet and stir until mixed. Make into medium-sized balls and place a few inches apart on the baking sheet. (My sheet fit twelve; they don't spread incredibly, but they do spread a bit.) (Also, if you let the dough sit for a few minutes, it will be far easier to handle. It lets things dissolve together more, I think.) Bake for about fifteen minutes, until they appear dry and golden brown but are still soft. Cool on a baking rack. Impress your friends with your vegan cookies.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Oda a la Bella Desnuda

Yesterday was a seriously good day. There were bike rides, gelato (espresso! ummm) in the sunshine, good books, and, yes, naked women. I spent most of my evening at Naked Girls Reading, a new monthly event hosted by Michelle L'Amour at her studio in the west loop. Other nights have involved things like bedtime stories and naked Guitar Hero, but last night's theme was poetry. I wasn't exactly sure what I was getting into, although the website is pretty clear as to what the concept behind the evenings is: naked girls, reading things. But even so, I wondered. Would they really be naked? Like, fully naked? (Answer: yes.) And more importantly, what kind of poetry would be read?

Poetry is pretty much the ultimate undervalued art, especially in the United States. We seem, as a culture, to care so little for the grace of a handful of words on a page, for the cadence of those words coming off the tongue. I'm sheltered, what with all the creative writing majors in my life, but when I talk to "normal" people about poetry they often become awkward and turn away. It makes me sad; there's so much more beauty in the world than most of us see.

And really, that seemed to be the point of the evening, much more than nudity or wine or burlesque. When I arrived at the studio, slightly nervous but also pretty excited, I was greeted by a bunch of people standing around sipping wine, which is pretty normal except that half of them were gorgeous women wearing negligees. We settled in and waited for the reading to start. It began with said lovely ladies walking behind a screen (pointless except as a prop, as we could see them reflected in the window behind them) and removing their clothing, leaving on their high heels as they stepped out in their altogethers. They settled onto the couch (divan? settee?) and then things got serious. Mimi First gave the introduction, reading excerpts from great writers about the art of reading aloud. She noted (interestingly, given the setting) that more than other art forms reading aloud is not about the body of the performer but that of the audience; the point was to make us gasp, to move us, to reach us through the medium of words alone.

This serious opening set the tone for the evening. Make no mistake, these naked girls are passionate about poetry. Instead of using the evening to air risque verse--well, there were a few dirty limericks--we heard poetry by Frank O'Hara and Pablo Neruda. Somebody read a poem by Sharon Olds that was not this poem, the only one of hers I'd previously seen. Dierdre Doll lectured at length about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, reading their poems together and exploring their interconnectivity; Plath and Hughes both wrote poems titled "Rabbit Catcher", with his being a response to hers, and both are excellent. Aside from the high-minded poetry being read, I was impressed by how intense the readings were. As each poem reached its climax the reader would lean forward, voice intensifying, and the energy was palpable. The nudity was almost more of an afterthought, an incidental hook that was used to bring people in so that they could be exposed to powerful words.

Of course other things happened too, most notably an interview with Dave Kapell, the inventor of magnetic poetry. He was interviewed sitting on the couch between two naked ladies, talking about the genesis of the cultural phenomenon (he stuck magnets on the backs of words while he was attempting to write song lyrics) and the positive things that have come from those little magnetized word bits. They're used in therapy with noncommunicative patients, and he received an email from an eighty-something woman who told him that she wrote her first poem using magpo and discovered a whole new part of herself and now writes poetry on her own. In honor of this and magnetic poetry and poetry in general, each table had a magnetic poetry stand where we wrote poems that were judged by the Naked Girls, and thanks to the artistic stylings of Anna and Ellie my table won. Our prize? Writing sticker poetry on Mina M├ęchante's lovely bare back. Just call my life complete.



Friday, June 12, 2009

until that moment all the words are lies

Sometimes I don't understand poetry or prose when I first read it. I think, "Oh, that's nice," move on and forget as soon as the page is turned, and the book sits on my shelf for years until I pull it out again and it suddenly speaks to me. Right now it's Dorothy Allison's turn. I've loved her prose for years, her essays and short stories (Trash has to be one of my favorite books ever) and the one novel I've read so far, but when I bought her book of poetry, The Women Who Hate Me, in a used book store in Santa Cruz about four years ago it was like a missed connection. Her brutal honesty and acknowledgement of the dirty hard parts of herself were there, but I didn't quite get them. And now? I do. And she's amazing, of course. I'm so glad I'm finally in the headspace where that is clear to me.

from we all nourish truth with our tongues

In the dirt country where I was born
the words that named me were so terrible
no one would speak them
so always just over my head
a silent language damned me.

I learned then that what no one would say
was the thing about which nothing could be done.
If they would not say Lesbian
I could not say pride.
If they would not say Queer
I could not say courage.
If they would not name me
Bastard, worthless, stupid, whore
I could not grab onto my own spoken language,
my love for my kind, myself.

I learned there is only one language
and it either speaks truly or lies.
But sometimes it must go on a long time
before the whole truth comes out
and until that moment all the words
are lies. Still I tell you
there is only one language.

What I am saying is the words
are growing in my mouth.
All the names of god will be spoken,
all the hidden secret things made known.
We will root in dirt our mothers watered
sing songs, tell stories echoed in their mouths.

Then with no walls around us, you and I
will speak of truth to each other,
the soil that grows the vegetable
as deeply as the flower that never
touches the soil.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

"I now declare you perverted for the evening."

Look, I wrote something! A review of Holly Hughes' Preaching to the Perverted, plus a performance by my excellent friend Mugsie. And while you're there, check out the rest of Anna's posts; she's generally much funnier than I am.

"Back when I was a babydyke and still in the "everything queer is automatically awesome" stage, I bought my then-girlfriend a copy of Holly Hughes' Clit Notes: A Sapphic Sampler, which is a collection of the lesbian performance artist's early work. Other than that I enjoyed it, all I remember is thinking that The Well of Horniness was one of the best play titles I'd ever heard; most of the draw of the book in general came from its titles, really. "Clit?" I thought. "Count me in!""

Sunday, June 07, 2009

applause

There are many, many fabulous things about being a somewhat professional musician, things which I am trying to appreciate more as I move farther away from my previously chosen career. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, indeed. One of those things, one of my very favorites, is when a fresh perspective on an overplayed piece makes me see it in a new light and recognize it for the art it is. My best example of this occured in 2006 when Emmanual Villhaume spent an entire three-hour Civic rehearsal on Ravel's "Bolero", a piece mainly known for being the background music for a presumably steamy sex scene in the the movie "10". Usually seen as a fluff piece by professional musicians, we had spent almost zero rehearsal time on it up until that point, but our extremely enthusiastic french guest conductor deconstructed it and made us all realize that, yes, it's also a legitimate piece of classical music. (This experience was also notable because Villhaume rehearsed the Ravel ad nauseum while barely touching on an entire Mozart symphony, leading to an adrenaline-filled performance due to my recurring thought "I have no idea what his tempo is going to be! We only played this once!")
Now, I've had that moment with the Dvorak symphony I was writing about earlier this week. During our rehearsal yesterday with our guest conductor (the ever-inspiring and dedicated Mark Elder), he took the piece apart and showed us more of the structure and passion than we had seen before, leading to an intense and detail-oriented rehearsal style that is all too often missing from professional life. He reminded us that Dvorak was a peasant all of his life, and that we needed to remember that when we played his enthusiastic and dramatic music. As we worked through the third movement (based on Dvorak's ideas for an opera based on, of all things, Longfellow's "Hiawatha") Elder stopped us and said "You know, you'd be playing this much better if you hadn't heard it before." And he was totally right. I love being proved wrong sometimes.

Friday, June 05, 2009

i saw stars

So I had yet another one of those major, insane personal breakthrough moments the other night night that I seem to be having all the time lately (seriously, you all must be getting tired of this) but which never fail to just shake the hell out of me anyway. I was bouncing around the internet before going to bed when I noticed that both of my most recent exes had basically declared whiplash love on the internet during the course of the day. One had written a gorgeous poetic rambling convoluted insane blog about the new loves in their life, and the other had declared what seemed to me to be a somewhat complicated facebook status change, which sounds less dramatic but isn’t really. Both, in their perfect over-and-understated ways, blew me away, not with anger or sorrow or jealousy but with total joy. No matter how insanely or irritatingly or sadly these stories might end up, in that moment these online revelations seemed perfect in their own ways for these two people. I don't know much about the situations but in that moment from where I was looking from it seemed like the universe had dealt out completely satisfactory hands to two people who I had loved, still loved in different ways, and I wished them nothing but happiness. It was a pretty beautiful moment, feeling so good for other people when by society’s rights I should probably be feeling hurt and rejected.

So I got out my journal to write about it, because I didn’t know who else I could share with right then. And I wrote these words: “They are in love, and I’m finding a self I love alone, and we’re all so happy, where we are, even if just for tonight.” Sure, the new loves might not stay forever, the facebook status might change again, I might get grumpy and irritable next week, but that night? I chose to believe that, at least regarding love, we were all on top of the world.

I wrote more, details of my amazement and amusement and glee, shallow questions and insightful thoughts. And then, out of nowhere, I had one of the deepest personal moments I can ever remember having, and because I have apparently decided to be painfully and ridiculously honest about so much of my life I’m going to write about it here. It’s true, not just lip service: I am learning to love myself, by myself. Sometimes I feel like I’m being a little foolishly stubborn about my desire not to date right now, but really I know this is exactly what I need to do. My relationships fail in part because I do not love myself enough, because I don’t let myself see the qualities I have that I would love, and so I end up losing my sense of self while I search for a better one. But now, alone, I’m finally starting to see my better (and worse) qualities and I am so overcome by them that I am falling in love with myself, bit by bit. It seemed so trite, but the realization that I’m acting like somebody who is in love made such perfect sense that I knew I was right. All I could do was sit back to bask in the glow of all that self-love.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

groggy time-killing nothingness

I will not lie: I am exhausted right now. I slept maybe four hours last night, after yet another damn personal epiphany moment hyped me up and prompted me to call Erica at 1:15 here and talk for forty-five minutes. Then I took some melatonin and an allergy pill, woke up groggy, went to work and took another allergy pill despite the fact that they supposedly last 24 hours (I was sneezing! Uncontrollably!) and shortly afterwards realized that my fuzziness was due not to the melatonin but to the single dose of allergy medicine. I spent the day in a haze. And now I'm sitting still so I'm tired, too tired to read or write intelligently, but not ready for bed yet.
And so, after all of that: 20 honest things about me, courtesy of my friend Kate. It's felt a little intense on here lately, so I'll try to keep it light.

1) I spent two summers in Poland but I can't speak Polish except for swear words, beer names, and pizza ingredients. Oh, and how to say "I'm sorry" after I use the swear words.
2) One of my favorite foods used to be toast. I ate it for snacks, not just breakfast.
3) I have an entire cabinet shelf dedicated to spices, and another to oils and vinegars. Also tea.
4) I also recently geeked out over buying a tart pan, and I own pie weights. I didn't even know what pie weights were until a few months ago.
5) I bought my second cat based partially on the fact that she looks like she could be related to my first cat. I mean, she was also a sweetie, but the fur color was a selling point.
6) My parents almost named me Nell after my great-grandmother, but opted out because my father claimed it was a "lesbian name." I showed them!
7) I used to have three differently colored pencils in my viola case, and I would choose which pencil I used at a rehearsal based on how I was feeling. Purple was sad, blue was neutral, and neon pink was happy.
8) I frequently bake cookies and then give all of them away. I usually only eat a tester and maybe one more, unless they are not claimed by others and I'm forced to eat them or throw them away.
9) I love films that are so bad that they transcend and become art. Examples: Wet Hot American Summer and Wild Things.
10) Sometimes at work, I pull leaves off of flowers while I'm making arrangements and stick them in my pockets instead of leaving them on a table or the floor. Sometimes at the end of the day I'll find handfuls of wadded-up leaves in my pockets.
11) I have no real objection to actions that create good stories, as long as I don't get hurt. I also have no problem telling said embarrassing stories about myself.
12) Example of 11: I once flushed my own underwear down a toilet at a girlfriend's house while incredibly drunk. They ended up being fished out of a clogged drain by her landlord six months later.
13) I really hate updating programs on my computer. I'm happy with how things work now, thanks.
14) I never take pictures of myself. Because of this, almost all of the pictures of myself that I own were taken while hiking, so I'm dirty and usually dressed funnily. I'd kind of like to fix that but I'm not sure how.
15) I somewhat compulsively re-read books sometimes. I also used to (I'm talking elementary school here) have a mental list of books that I read once a year, every year. The only one I remember now is "Swiss Family Robinson", which seems fairly inexplicable now.
16) I always want people to look at my bookshelves when they visit my apartment.
17) I almost never ever watch television now, but maybe seven or eight years ago I had a weird fascination with Everybody Loves Raymond when I was living at home one summer. Gah.
18) Every summer I get tons of comments on how muscular my arms are, but really I just have hardly any body fat due to high metabolism. I feel slightly guilty for looking like I do any sort of exercise when I actually don't.
19) I also chose my second cat's name to match the name of the first cat. Don't Skip and Rita sound like a couple from the 40's or something?
20) I frequently write blogs and can't post them right away because I can't think of a good title. Which is SO IRRITATING.
Ugh, I'm done. Time for bed.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

get off the internet

I was introduced to someone the other night, someone I'd never to my knowledge met before, and he looked me in the eye and said "Oh, I used to follow you on twitter." (Of course I twitter. Look at how much I write on here. Do you think I'd be able to resist something that allows me to theoretically tell people what I'm doing from my phone? No.) This pretty much annihilated any small talk I'd been about to make. I had no idea how to respond. This stranger was admitting that he'd randomly followed me via an online device where I, when I'm bored at work, text in messages about getting hurt by cacti or the growing habits of tulips. It was weirdly embarrassing, even though he was the one who started things off awkwardly, because I've been thinking a lot about my online presence lately.
Facebook, okcupid, twitter, gmail, statcounter, this blog... My words, my ideas, and sometimes my face or my name are all over the internet. Generally I think this is an okay or maybe even a good thing, but sometimes I wonder: is twitter enriching my life in any way whatsoever? Other than allowing me to spend my boring work time thinking up short phrases about phallic plants or laughing about my boss calling me butch after using a hammer? (Really?) Probably not. Instead, it sometimes gives me a creepy clairvoyance about other people's lives that I try hard to pretend doesn't exist and gives me yet another addictive tendancy to try and avoid. Fun.
So twitter not so much, but facebook? My blog? I worry about letting these public forums overtake the private forum of my journal, which would either mean I'm sharing waaaaaay too much or holding too much inside. But in the end I think that, even though it feels antisocial to spend more time than I should online, some of these interactions serve a purpose. I live alone, but connection is important to me. Even if writing things on the internet sometimes feels like screaming into a void, at least somewhere out there a friend or a random stranger might read what I've written and laugh or think or feel irritated or something. A facebook chat might reveal new layers of a friendship that would be harder to reach in a face-to-face conversation. A gchat might make me cry. All of these things have happened. And I think, really, that can't be too bad.

Monday, June 01, 2009

time and tide

I spent most of yesterday in bed, sick with what I'm assuming was food poisoning. In the last thirty-six hours or so, I've eaten half a can of soup, some grapes, and a little snack pack of wheat thins, most of that courtesy of Peter after I texted him that I was maybe too weak to walk to the store and could he maybe bring me some soup and 7-Up? But apparently that tiny amount of food was enough to put my ailing body back on track, and so now I'm drinking coffee and feeling surprisingly non-horrible. In a little while, I'll eat some oatmeal and head off to work.
Last night, after the half-can of soup, I had to go to a rehearsal. I asked to be relieved from playing duties (I was too weak, really, to move my arms that much), so I sat and watched the rehearsal from my seat, score in hand and ready to mark my part with any changes. We're playing Dvorak's New World Symphony right now, one of the pieces he wrote when he visited America near the end of his life. This piece has history for me, and as it turns out for a lot of people; many of us adored it when we were nascent musicians, and now we all seem to be somewhat less impressed with it. This symphony was actually one of the first pieces I ever really connected with, while watching the Flagstaff Symphony when I was maybe thirteen. I remember listening to the fourth movement (loud and bombastic, energetic harmonies) and being just incredibly amped up afterwards, on fire and in love. I wanted nothing more than to play that music, to be part of the machine making it. I spent the next year or two listening to an old crappy cassette tape over and over on my old walkman; I used to listen to it while I delivered newspapers when I was a freshman in high school. Dorky.
But now, fifteen years or so later, I'm finally playing it. And yeah, I don't like it as much as I did. Dvorak seems to be like that, for whatever reason. I don't think he's a bad composer, but he appealed much more to my younger self than he does to my current self. Now I criticize the occasional clumsy harmonic change or the somewhat overdone drama, and feel guiltily like I'm abandoning something from my youth. I guess time and musical tastes inevitably move on, so I'm just trying to do my memory justice and work up a heartbeat for those dramatic moments, of which there are many. It seems a fitting way, somehow, to end this season.