Thursday, March 31, 2005

Weekend Update with Kevin Nealon, Chevy Chase, whoever

I have quite a bit to type out from my time with my parents. I’ve got some notes and also some phrases floating around in my head. I’ll be getting it out over the next couple of days. There’s a little bit of a flurry as I do the things that didn’t get done while I was away. That phenomenon is apparently the same whether one lives in the suburbs or the wilderness. However, there have been some doings here on the island.

First is that I had a job interview for a real grown-up job before I left on Saturday. The Funhouse is a sort-of hang-out learning center for the kids on the island. The after school program gets about 30-40 kids of all ages a day and the teen night program on the weekend gets anywhere from 8-150 kids in a night. There are some ground rules that emphasize respect but otherwise, it’s a place where kids can relax and explore their interests, even if those interests are just watching a movie or playing video games. A lot of money was put into its design and it’s cool in a way that both adults AND kids think is cool, not just in that way that adults think is cool but kids won’t have anything to do with. So, The Funhouse is looking for a part-time Development Director, which is basically the work that I’ve been doing for my dad grant-writing plus higher-stakes stuff like PR and planning events. If I had the job, I would be able to do that and wouldn’t have to do anything else, which is good because I’m struggling to pay the rent and my bookstore job, at least, is pissing me off. Also, this is the kind of job that I could put on a resume when I go back into the real world.

So, the interview went swimmingly. I was told that they were planning on interviewing some people from off-island (usually the kiss of death for a local’s chances) and that I would hear from them in about two weeks. When I got home yesterday, there was an email asking for me to come back for a second interview with several of the Board members. The catch is that at the end of the interview, the two women that were interviewing me said that they needed a two-year commitment for the time they would put into training the person for this job. As I entered the transitional part of my life, I realized that I needed to go out and experience the different ways that people live so that the next big choice I make is more likely to end up happy. I’m not ready to make a two-year commitment yet. So I went by today to tell Jeanne that I had to pull out of the race because the most I could promise her was 6 months. Surprisingly, she did not accept my declining the position was graceful regret. She said that she liked me so much that she would go back and talk to Nannette about whether they were willing to take that risk. I was impressed by her ability not to promise anything in saying that or to any way imply that I had the job if I wanted it. That’s savvy managing.

The other thing that happened is that I started my literature class. For two and a half hours today, I was entranced by the discussion of one poem by W.B. Yeats. Except for the first 15 minutes after the break, when some of the more mundane thoughts that I usually have (to do list, relationship stuff) had been brought back through socialization, I was only thinking about academic ideas. I loved it. I intend to write more about the class, as well, but since the purpose of the blog is to update the “folks at home,” I figured I’d give you a quick update on the day-to-day.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

I wonder what your basis for comparison is.

It's not fair!

My parents are coming today and it's rainy. That wouldn't be so bad if it had been raining all week. However, it has been absolutely freeking gorgeous up until I woke up this morning and now, when my mother's heart is already going to be bursting with sadness that her daughter has rejected the comfort that they worked so hard to provide for me in my childhood, now it's also going to be dark and dreary and there is no discounting the emotional effect of seeing a place for the first time in the rain.

So, I'm frantically cleaning the trailer in the hopes of lightening that burden on my mother just a little. I don't want her worried about me once she goes back home because I'm living in filth, too. My brother Daniel said not to stress too much because she's not going to like anything anyway. He said she said, "Well, it could be worse," when she came to see his apartment in Chicago and it's actually really nice.

This makes my mother sound like one of those harridans that has spent her life breaking down the self-esteem of her children in a bid to get attention for herself. Not true. She's about the best mom a person could hope to have. She spent her life giving us whatever we wanted once she had honestly helped us figure out whether or not we really wanted what we asked for. In every sense of the phrase, she just wants us to be happy. And we believe her.

That being said, my mother's most famous comment to me, said in a moment of frustration, was: "We taught you kids to think for yourselves and now we don't like what you think!" Being kids that had been taught thusly, we just laughed and went to hug her. Sometimes she just doesn't understand our choices. Thus the earlier comment to my brother about his apartment. She never holds her misunderstanding against us, though. It just pains her sometimes that our choices lead us to have to accept some discomfort and even pain to get to what will make us happy. She keeps that pain to herself mostly, but we know it's there and I try to alleviate it whenever I can without compromising my own happiness. If I compromised my own happiness too much to make her happy, I would actually make her sadder because, as I said before, the thing she wants most is for us to be happy. Get it? Got it? Good, now go to bed. :-)

So my fingers are bleachy and I'm struggling to sweep a floor that has damp footprints all over. Ack!

My parents are only staying one night, less than 24 hours. I'm a little sad about that because I want them to love it here as much as I do. I want to show them everything that I love. This place is going to have been so pivotal in my life, I want them to be able to reference it with me. However, they have been here before when I didn't live here and they didn't have a very good time. The food was bad and their room was right next to the bar after a wedding. Add this previous experience to my mother's forboding to the slight sadness they will feel with seeing the reality of the fact that their friend (me) lives somewhere far away and the sum is a short stay. They don't want to prolong the mixed emotions too long. The three of us are going to visit Vancouver for three days after going to Easter Sunday service at my church. Then, we'll just be able to enjoy each other.

So, they'll get off the ferry at 4:40 and I'll meet them there. We'll drive toward town and I'll make them pull over to look at the baby lambs if they're out. Then, we'll stop at Mindy's so Mom can see where I'm going to live. She'll be a little grossed out by the yard, but I'll show her the garden and the chickens (remind her of the farm fresh eggs) and then take her in the house, which is new and shiny, with a clean bathroom and kitchens. We'll chat up Mindy a little, then say good-bye because we'll meet up with her later for dinner and I want them to see Rhonda's before dark. So, we'll pass by The Exchange because it's closed and we'll see it Sunday on the way out. Then, we'll stop and, depending on their shoes, I'll show them the beds I've dug and manured and planted at Rhonda's. I'll talk exictedly about all the things she's accomplished with the help of the community, like the hinges on the gate that Zacharya the blacksmith made out of recycled metal for her and the garden cart that Jeff gave her that she fixed up with Zacharya's help. Then, we'll drive further up the road to see if she's home to give them a chance to talk and to let them see her neat-o little set-up. Then, we'll go to their hotel (I've already gone over to check that they will have the best room in the house), check in and it will soon be time for dinner. Jeff and Mindy will join us and it will be the best food on the island at the Inn at Ship Bay (we also have the best table reserved). In the morning, I'll let them see my trailer (it will at least be light out) and then we'll try the breakfast at the Callalloo, go over to the bookstore because Dad needs books to read while on vacation, then go to church at 12:30. All of the old ladies at church will tell Mom and Dad how good my voice is and other nice things. We'll sing my favorite Easter hymns and Mom and Dad will see how gorgeous my church is. Lunch will be at Rose's after church. Then, we'll drive out to the Exchange and wander around there for a little while. Dad will find something unexpected and be excited about it and Mom will just be kind of grossed out because it's basically a junkyard, but I'll try to talk about why I like it. After that, we'll probably catch the ferry out. I do hope they offer to go grocery shopping while they're here, though. I need some olive oil and that's pretty expensive. :-)

I'll let you know if everything goes as planned. I'm glad they're coming. I need some family right about now.

Friday, March 25, 2005

I will, then, be a toad.

During the second semester of my senior year in college, I got a radio show. Now, I hate college radio shows for the most part. I find that they are usually put on by a couple of frustrated guys and one punky chick who hate all mainstream music and only want to hear the newest, edgiest music on the scene. Since mainstream music tends to be mainstream because it contains heavy doses of rhythm patterns, harmonies and vocal timbres that are easy and even enjoyable to listen to, the opposite of mainstream music (i.e. college radio indie underground whatever) contains heavy doses of sounds that are hard to listen to. I'm convinced that although cute, (they tend to wear courderoys with big leather belts and no butts, my first "type") these boys are so caught up in being nonconformist that they don't actually consider musical value in their choices.

So, I got my own radio show. I had a blast filling out the application form, using phrases like, "target market" and "derivative style." They gave me a weekly morning spot. I played lots of showtunes, cabaret singers, ABBA, singer-songwriters, some country and the jazz that I was acquiring a taste for from my boyfriend at the time. I called the show "I will, then, be a toad," alluding to my favorite poem by Stephen Crane. Twice, someone called and told me that they liked my show. One of those times it was my father. He couldn't actually hear the show, since we were only broadcasting with 100 watts, but I would make tapes and send them to him so he called when he knew I would be in the studio. However, the other time was an honest to goodness stranger. So the prevailing sense that I was talking to thin air (we were strongly cautioned not to talk about this on-air to prevent it from becoming a self-fulfilling complaint) was relieved briefly. Very briefly.

I have been experiencing some of the same feelings of loneliness as I publish my thoughts out to the world in this blog. Although in simple numerical counts, I have gotten more feedback on this endeavor than my radio show, especially from strangers, I don't seem to get comments from people that I know are regular readers besides my best friend Susan and, again, my father. Let's take a moment and cheer both of them on for doing their jobs well. Woohoo! I'm not complaining or whining about the silence of everyone else. Really. We all do what we need to do. I'm very zen about that. However, I have taken matters into my own hands and established an invisible stat counter. It tells me all sorts of things about the people that visit. For instance, I know that in the last six hours, someone searched for me on Yahoo and someone else checked out my 100 Things About Me entry from Tunagirl's blog. Talk about Big Brother. This is so cool.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

It was just like dialogue written for a movie

After doing a little research, I have determined that I was suffering from an overabundance of the element earth, which made me melancholy. Leeches would never have worked anyway, since I was not suffering an overabundance of air to make me overly sanguine.

As much as I did not want to admit it, I was aware of the fact that two years ago last weekend Dennis told me that he wasn’t sure he wanted to be married to me anymore. I don’t like the idea of negative anniversaries, but the cause of my melancholy has become incontrovertible.

Last night, I was watching movie called Danny Deckchair while I was working on my quilt. Let me explain this quilt. When Dennis got his own apartment, it was with the explanation that he just wanted to see what life was like without me. I said that was fine (I even took him a housewarming present) but that life without me involved a lot more laundry. You see, I bought all of his clothes and when I finally found a pair of pants that he liked, I would buy another pair every time I went to Target. The same goes for underwear and shirts. He didn’t like shopping but was picky about his clothes and I loved shopping and wanted him to be happy. I also do not like to do frequent laundry. Personally, I own 45 pairs of the same type of underwear. So, when Dennis left, I kept a third of his clothing. When he announced that his move would be permanent, I used most of what I kept as leverage to get things that I needed, such as my computer files and some of my books that he mistakenly took. However, I kept the underwear. I bought all of it at The Gap because before I started buying it, his mother bought this gross polyester too-tight stuff from K-Mart. The Gap makes soft, all-cotton, well-fitted boxers with cutecute designs like lemons and monkeys. Dennis used to express such pleasure at finally being comfortable and not so sweaty. I was left with about 18 pairs, decided that some art had to come out of this dynamic of our relationship and so the idea for my quilt was born. I am using the silk left from my bridesmaid dresses and these great squares of cotton.

So, I was working with this quilt during this difficult weekend when this paragraph of what I would like to say to him popped into my head fully-formed. Later, I realized that it was at the moment in the movie when Danny tells his partner that the relationship started in their youth didn’t have a future and she agreed with tears. I try not to involve Dennis in the ups and downs of my recovery process because he has so often misused that privilege of emotional intimacy since he left. Usually, when my brain manifests words that I want to say to him, I work it over and over in my brain, trying to get it just right since I know he will not respond and give me a chance to explain myself. Often, I end up writing them in my journal and keeping it to myself. However, this was an emotional salve that was immediately ready. I said it quietly and calmly to his voicemail, although my hands and voice shook and it took some time to get it all out. There was no bitterness.

Hey Dennis, it’s Rebecca. It’s been two years since you told me you weren’t sure you wanted to be married to me anymore and I wonder if your life is better for it now. Mine is. I had always thought that I wouldn’t be able to live without you but I guess I can. It turns out that although I gave you the power to ruin my life, you actually couldn’t. [I can’t remember this next sentence but it had something to do with hoping things were getting better and going well for him.] I love you Dennis. Bye.

That was last night. All day, that sensation of being out of balance has been gone. I figure it was a good deal less painful than leeches and less annoying than eliminating root vegetables from my diet to reduce the amount of earth in my life.

Monday, March 21, 2005

I've got a big case of the blahs right now. I got a burst of errands run this morning before I even showered. Looked like shit. Realized that $8.00 is missing since Friday when I got paid. When one lives on $54 a week, 15% is a lot. The bookstore lady still hasn't gotten me a W-2 from last year. Just because she doesn't pay her taxes because her life is hard doesn't mean I'm not going to pay mine! It drives me crazy! Then, I showered and ate and had no desire to do anything. Laid down and stared at the wall for awhile. Just when I decided to fall asleep for a little bit, the neighbor began playing music and all I could hear was the bass. Bad enough when it is African-based music but worse when it's just bad hair metal bass lines. I've had a low-grade headache for days. Had to pull out of my almost-asleep state to turn on music of my own. Fell asleep for probably 20 minutes and then the phone rang. Now I'm up so I pop in a movie and sit down to work on my quilt. Turns out that the strip that I spent an hour seam-ripping was the wrong strip so I'll have to sew it back AND rip out the right seam. Caught in the despair of that, I got up and ate a failed cupcake (really - failed; I won't serve them to anyone) and read another chapter of my giant Neal Stephenson book. Some chapters are funny and delightful. Other chapters are huge political machination and rediculously detailed description of 18th century London in focus. Unfortunately, this was one of them. No help. Figured I'd see what the computer had to offer. Susan left a nice response, so that helped. Have felt trapped in that blogmire until now. Felt like there was no way to come out of it looking good. That's the day in a nutshell. Lots needs to be done. Not much is getting done. Head hurts. Motivation hiding. I think I'll try the quilt again. I have an Angel DVD that needs watching. Netflix: they just keep coming. It's fifth season, so has actually regained some of the witty dialogue that got me hooked into that world in the first place.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Someone find me a barber!

My humours are not balanced today. I'm not sure which one has built up but I do think leeches are going to have to be brought.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Top o' the Morning

All right, seriously. The St. Patrick's Day Parade went by just now. In three minutes. It began with a giant old truck playing Irish penny whistle music. In the back wear two middle-aged men wearing green plaid flannel shirts and various tweeds. Actually, everyone on the parade was wearing green plaid flannel shirts and various tweeds. One of the men wore a white pope's mitre with a green cross on it. There was also an old white-haired man in the truckbed in the place of honor, wearing a green tam with a giant pom-pom. He was carrying a shilaley and waving.

Since the number of people watching the parade equaled the number of people in the parade, waving became a very personal thing. I couldn't hide in a crowd, being too cool to wave back. To ignore their personal waves to me would have been a personal affront to community spirit. So, there I was smiling and waving to the parade.

After the big old farm truck came a clump of kids from the Salmonberry Preschool with their teachers. All of them were wearing ragtag bits of green in the form of homemade springy headbands with shamrocks, balloons and face painting. One woman wore a classic elementary school outfit with a white skirt with shamrocks and a goofy green top. She looked like Ms. Frizzle from the Magic Schoolbus. She was doing her own interpretation of RiverDance. There were also several dogs with green fabric tied around their collars. Leading the parade before the truck was a man with a big bear of a dog that might have had some Irish wolfhound mixed into it to deserve that honor.

Five fancy cars rounded out the parade. I don't know cars but one was an 80's sportscar, one was a classic 40's family car, one was a model-T looking truck and two other old convertibles, one with a sign proclaiming that it was carrying the parade master (who must have been the guy with the sequined green top hat) completed the roster.

Despite the community spirit nvolved in planning such a parade, the streets weren't closed so participants moved over for oncoming cars and the cars behind the parade just waited or found a side street to side step it. No one honked for them to get out of the way. It was no South Side Irish Parade (have fun this year Jennifer and Erika) but it's unexpectedness and simplicity will do for now.

Sense of place

They discovered they possess a sense of place. Everybody lives somewhere, of course, but not all places have that spiritual aura that we call "a sense of place." Only places that are inhospitable to ambition have that. We use that phrase only to describe locales that change slowly, that are remote, that are wedded to the old ways more than the new, where opportunities for fame and riches are few. Writers used to call such places stifling backwaters. Ambitious high school students dreamt of getting out. But to members of the educated class, so burdened with opportunities and demands on their time, the changeless places are oases of contentment.
-David Brooks, BOBOs in Paradise (221)

In this paragraph, the author is writing about Montana and its current popularity as a spiritual destination but it just as easily describes Orcas Island. The population here pretty much doubles in the summer as people come to actually inhabit their gigantic summer homes full of local art or to rent someone else's. It is also a popular retirement spot for wealthy people of all ages. A recent demographic study done was reported in the newspaper, stating that 70% of the population makes $80,000 a year passively (i.e. rental fees and investment income), while the other 30% makes an average of $18,000 a year total. Brooks writes, "These upscalers have built a part-time, affluent Montana atop the real Montana. Their spiritualized Montana feeds off the idea of Montana and the beauty of Montana while rarely touching the lower-middle-class grind of the actual state" (221). This is exactly the situation here. Every house that I've done landscaping for has been empty.

However, I was certainly brought here for the same reasons. The only difference between the "upscalers" and me is income. I have the same background, values, education and tastes that they do. I was also "so burdened with opportunities and demands on" my time before I came. I guess the other difference is that I gave up even the middling teaching income that I had in order to stay. I'm proud to call myself a local at this point and to contribute to the low end of the average.

Jeff is getting a new roommate and he was visiting yesterday with two of his friends. They all road-tripped up here from Olympia to bring some of his stuff. They made dinner last night, and so I was invited out to join them. When I got there after work, Herreld and Joe were preparing dinner and about half an hour into our conversation, Joe wandered into the living room and eventually fell asleep until we woke him for dinner. A little while after Joe disappeared, Ann climbed down the ladder from the bedroom upstairs. She had lines in her face from her nap. At dinner, we talked about this sleepy phenomena and it caused me to think about my own first experiences with the pace and the beauty of the island. I feel like I was asleep every 3 or 4 hours for 3 or 4 hour naps for the entire week that I visited and then the first week that I lived here. I really do believe that my body needed that time and rest to spew out the spiritual toxins that had been building up in me from the life I was living in the suburbs. This morning, Joe talked about what a beautiful view Jeff had out his breakfast nook window and I remember just sitting and staring at the ocean, unable to make even polite conversation while Jeff cooked me meals and cleaned up after me. I was like a convalescent. I even took a picture of that view through the window. I think one of the characters does this in the movie, Enchanted April, too and I remember that scene resonating with me when I watched it a few years ago.
Some of the locals resent the part-time residents. I'm not sure I do. They don't really interfere with my journey and I don't have the experience to know what the island was like before there were so many of them. Now, I don't like that some of the speculation that they can do because of their wealth limits land-owning opportunities for locals but in November we voted in a local government that really does seem to represent local interests rather than money interest. It's a neat example of democracy working in a small community. I think that might even out the balance of power. I figure that the part-time residents will have to see at some point that if all of the working-class artistic back-to-the-land types are forced out because they can't afford to stay, then the island will lose the charm that brought them there in the first place. I hope.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Transparent Eyeball

The Transcendentalists lived in a bourgeois culture that was intoxicated by the possibilities of technology and the “improvements,” to use a popular word of the era, that would come with progress. The steam engine, the railway, the factory, scientific management – all these things would eliminate distance, facilitate trade, and generate wealth. Man was on the verge of conquering nature, of redeeming the howling wilderness by making it productive. [ . . .]
[. . .] [O]ver time the transcendentalists concluded that while technology might bring material gain, it would also threaten nature and man’s spiritual connection to nature. [. . .] Machines, wealth and money, they believed, interceded between people and the experiences that really matter. The transcendentalists concluded that most of their fellow Americans worked too hard and too slavishly. They were able to calculate and measure but often did not take the time to sense and feel. Their middle-class neighbors were too concerned with their standard of living and not concerned enough with their reason for living.
The transcendentalists experienced their most vivid and profound experiences in the woods. [ . . .]
-David Brooks, Bobos in Paradise (71-72)

I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, and to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life.
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I've been thinking about the Transcendentalists.

For those of you that do not remember your American literature class, (ha ha) the Transcendentalists were a group of people in the mid-19th century that were a sub-set of the entire Romantic movement. Men like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau and Margaret Fuller (OK, she's not a man) led this movement by writing essays and holding meetings where they discussed spiritual things like the Oversoul, which is kind of like the Holy Spirit without its two buddies, and how to change the world. Thoreau's essay on that, "Civil Disobedience" guided both Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

I've been thinking about the Transcendentalists because I'm reading a book caled Bobos in Paradise and, not to sound repetitive, but it's a phenomenal book that I think everyone should read. Also, in having to describe what I'm doing with my life, I realized that I could compare myself to Thoreau. He spent time in retreat in a little hut on a pond called Walden. I'm spending time in retreat in a little trailer on an island called Orcas.

I wanted this blog entry to say something profound (what else is new?) but I haven't made any new conclusions. To have brought the subject out into the open to make it available to continue to think about will have to be enough.

Balm in Gilead

“Patty,” I whispered to the accompanist as the director went on to the next song, “Thank you.” This was followed with a facial expression on my part that was intended to communicate bewilderment and gratitude, with my eyes wide and then opened wider with a shrug and a self-effacing grin of triumph.

Triumph probably wasn’t totally appropriate. But the director had asked me to sing a solo over the entire choir with no warning and I managed to give a passable performance by the time I got to the end of the song. I had never even heard it before! They had never heard me by myself before! At least she didn’t ask me to stand in front and face them. Thank God for good diction. It can make even the shakiest notes sound OK and even a little deliberate. I should probably write a personal note to both Mrs. and Dr. Whitecotton, Lynne Payette, my high school voice teacher, my college voice teacher and Alan Wellman for insisting on good diction to the point that it has become habit.

“Rebecca, have you been looking at the solo in ‘Balm in Gilead’?”
“Not really. But I can.” Hopeful tone.
“Well, why don’t you try it tonight.”


I looked at the notes. Sometimes you can get lucky and the solo is just the melody sung by a single voice on top of fancy harmony. And, as I looked, this was indeed the case. However, this was a spiritual and at no point does the choir sing the melody so I wasn’t at all familiar with anything other than humming long notes. The soprano solo sings every verse! We’d been practicing the harmony and just ignoring the melody.

So, panic some more.

I looked at the notes again, trying to hear the intervals in my head, grateful that the rhythm was all quarter notes, half noted and only a few eighth notes. I can’t sight read anything faster than that no matter how determined I am. Then, eureka! The accompanist plays the melody on the piano under the harmony. I was saved. I would have something to lean on. I can mask a slight hesitation to hear my note and could also follow the rhythm played by the piano.

I wanted to focus on my tone and phrasing (which normally can’t exist before I learn the notes and rhythms) because when I was in college, I was selected for a solo in the Chapel Choir. I was a freshman and had auditioned after rehearsal for the director with a couple upperclassmen. Dr. Gehrenbeck didn’t announce his decision until the next week, so it was just as big a surprise as tonight. I was so nervous that, even though I knew the solo, (it WAS a verse above harmony that the whole choir had been practicing) I barely croaked it out. I only had that one chance to show all of these older kids my talent and I totally blew it. We didn’t practice again until the Christmas service and I had that terrible heavy dread feeling in my stomach because I knew that at any moment, the director was going to take it away from me and give it someone more reliable. I also knew that all of those older kids hated me for getting a solo that I didn’t deserve, either through talent or seniority. This story has a happy ending regarding the performance, but I don’t think I ever recovered from that first impression with my peers, as evidenced by tonight’s terror.

So, I was a little more comfortable because I knew the piano would be playing my part with me while the rest of the choir ooh-ed. Then, as the accompanist began playing and Catherine cued the basses, she then made a shushing motion to the accompanist and told her to “let them do it themselves.” She was testing our ability to hold tight, gospel harmony on the first time through for the evening when my solo was coming up! Panic doesn’t even begin to describe it. I had wasted precious moments of pre-sight-reading time relaxing into the idea that the accompanist would play with me. Now, I had to fix the pattern in my head, while other music was being sung around me and not miss my cue. Have you ever tried to think of a tune while another song was playing on the radio or tried to read while someone was talking loudly nearby? I could barely hang on to my sheet music I was shaking so hard.

Thank God not only for good diction but also for attentive piano players. I don’t know whether Patty looked over at me or whether the basses and tenors were struggling, but relief struck my soul when she began to play again in the middle of the second page. My part started at the top of page 3. Patty was a balm to heal my sin sick soul. After my first two tentative notes, she plunked away at my part, basically handing it to me on a platter. I stumbled my way through that first verse, doing a very good impersonation of myself at age 18. Then, I had a chorus to literally shake off the cringing posture I had sunken in to and to take a few deep breaths. Luckily, most of the solo is in the “d,” “e” and “f” part of the soprano range, which is where I can make my clearest, most bell-like tones. So, I flustered my way through the last two verses with pretty sounds, clear end consonants, and a portrayal of confidence through my shaking (that the high school girl who sits next to me said she could feel) that I learned in Forensics.

Then, I thanked Patty.

At the break and after rehearsal, probably 6 people told me that I did a nice job. This is a group that has been pretty stand-offish up to this point. In fact, I skipped last week and told Jeff at dinner tonight that I just wasn’t enjoying choir very much. As usual, I spoke too soon. I realize that I didn’t enjoy choir, partially, because people didn’t necessarily know that I could sing. (I guess some of my sense of self is wrapped up in that, too.) Because although my father always tells me that I’m the best one in whatever choir I’m in, I can’t actually be heard above anyone else. Catherine said I might have this solo for the concert, which would be very nice, but even if she gives it to one of the women with seniority, I feel better with the choir knowing what I’m contributing.

Humility is hard, especially when being acknowledged feels so good.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Making rent

Lawn care is silly. Seriously. It just grows back or gets messy again. I come from a family that grinds up the leaves in the fall with the riding lawn mower and considers it OK when we miss a patch one week or even two. It has happened that when people visit that sometimes a foot square patch will be 6 or 7 inches taller than its friends. No big deal. Nature that is not being cultivated for food should be left alone. That’s what I know.

So, I spent 5 hours today raking a giant affluent lawn. I was given some story about reducing the acidity of the lawn to kill something that looked like a pretty underlayer of green moss. I did not finish, nor was I expected to. But I was all by myself and it pretty much sucked. I did, however, get to ride the riding lawnmower, which is an actually skill that already possess from my childhood. We put a 17 cubic foot trailer on the back (isn’t 17 a prime number?) and I got to learn just how difficult it is to back up a trailer and put it in the place that you want it to go. At the end of the day, I just sat on the mower for a few minutes and let it shake my spine straight so now my hips don’t hurt. It’s the only good part of my day aside from earning $100 and getting to be outside in the beautiful weather.

I wish that I had done some complicated reading in the morning before I went so that I could have thought about it all day. Instead, I was bored and singing classic rock songs from the radio. “Dear Mr. Fantasy, sing us a tune, something that will make us all happy.” I believe that the next line involves the word, “snappy.” That was my day today. Making rent. However, I am reading a book that pretty much encapsulates the suburban life that I left behind and I’d much rather be living this life raking lawns than that life, where much of my happiness came from buying the right things.

I have a little sunburn on my face in the middle of March. Ha ha.

I’m going to attempt to make meatloaf tonight. The recipe in my cookbook calls for four different pounds of meat AND 12 strips of bacon. I think a pound of just plain old ground beef will have to do just fine. Wish me luck.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Nail it to the courthouse door

A few months ago, a friend of mine sent out an email entitled, "The Southern Freezer" to her friends and family. She has recently moved to Ringgold, Georgia and was amused by the types of food she found at the grocer store that she had not experienced in her Midwestern shopping history. In it she noted things like: okra, both cut and battered and just cut, turnip greens with and without turnip chunks, crowder peas, speackled butter beans and just plain butter beans. This sampling of small things was a good representation of her entire Southern experience.

I was looking at one of the community bulletin boards recently and realized that, like the Southern freezer, this bulletin board was a sampling of small things that were a good representation of the Pacific Northwest island experience. So, I figured that I'd share some of the postings, both mundane and ridiculous to get a different perspective of this world.

-A computer-designed flyer announcing, "Friends of Craig Zaffaroni - sign a get-well card for Craig and eat tamales. Food, drink and donations welcome." [All major medical procedures take place on the mainland so expense is incurred getting and staying there in addition to the procedures. This kind of fund-raising is pretty common.]
- "For Sale: Sold house, need to move: Bowflex, sofa, desk, White canopy full bedroom set, mission style queen waterbed set." All of these had prices attached and then the "tile art" was offered for $3,500.00.
- Hand-letter, color-copied flyer stating, "Odd jobs wanted" and the phone number. Elsewhere on the board is the same design and the same number stating, "House-cleaning, will do windows."
- A fancy flyer with the picture of a middle-aged woman with a dramatic streak of grey in her long dark hair with a kindly, natural face. It says, "Give the gift of possibilities and expect miracles in 2005, Feng Shui consultant, gift certificates available."
- Right next to this is a different flyer, with a different, less dramatic picture of the same woman. It advertises pet sitting and signs off as "Annie Allen, M.A." [Like her Master's Degree makes her more qualified to clean up your dog's messes.]
- General notice advertising, "Islands Massage."
- Quarter-sheet flyer with lots of small writing: "Wild Rose, Ltd.; Body and Energy Work; Life is energy - Energy becomes matter - Matter transforms into energy - Peace harmonizes this union in health; The Life matrixes are: the Physical, the whole human field of Feeling and Emotions, the Mind, the body's home in spirit: the Heart, the Auric rhythms and patterns; All that we are can synergize to health through the help of these peaceful modalities:" [This is followed by a list of services; my hand was getting tired so I didn't wirte them down.]
- Wedding dress for sale.
- Easy Rider Dolphin, kayak for sale with ink jet digital picture
- "Odd jobs needed. Ask for Marvy." Hand-written on notebook paper.
- Study the art of Middle Eastern Dance - Oddfellows Hall - Monday Nights
- On a professionally printed notecard: "Calendars from original art - call Salim - Sale!" No examples of the original art.
- Mei-Lan's Oriental Kitchen - Open weekend in February at the Oddfellows Hall
- "Professional dog grooming and cats too! Since 1966. Black Bowser Boutique. If your pet isn't becoming to you - he should be coming to us."
- For sale: couch (very nice & cushiony) $200 - Recliner $25 - 2 coffee tables - 1 book case - small futon frame - 1 desk - 1 file cabinet - 1 microwave (almost new) - lots of kitchen stuff
- Orcas High School Sailing Club - Lasagna Dinner Auction - John Clancy, auctioneer [local celebrity] and special music by the Olga Symphony
- Voice Play - Explore the power of your own voice through: toning and breath, voice play, gentle movement, energy flow
- Smith and Speed store hours [a local gardening shop]
- Printed with a dot-matrix printer with an image of a dove: "Aura readings and healings - The electromagnetic weavings around the body have many functions: the interconnections between the earth's magnetic field and the ionosphere, feeding into our charkas and nerve plexi, and on into our spinal column; being a microsphere for the eternal light; aligning the spine and spinning the disks into wholeness." Skip a line then, "A reading take 15-20. Fee: $15."
- Free firewood, you fell, cut and sell.
- Forrest Yoga Workshop [picture of two young women standing back to back and smiling] Saturday - Oddfellows - $10-20 suggested donation - Indulge yourself in this two and a half hour intensely satisfying yoga practice
- Think Hovercraft
- Love Is Here To Stay! A concert to benefit Lahari's Faith-In-Action Orcas Volunteer Caregivers - Saturday - Orcas Senior Center
- The Journey to Wild Divine - Mind Modulations: Buy from a local company! - - Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Technology: A Biofeedback Adventure for Body, Mind and Spirit [I have seen this ad in magazines, too, though. It's very slick and shows an Asian man in robes sitting cross-legged and smiling a welcome. Maybe it's a pyramid scheme for New Agers.]
- The Essential Body Works - Caroline J. Scott, LMP
- Toyota Tercel '84 $650
- The Somatic Orcasites proudly present "The Sea Gypsy Benefit Concert" [For tsunami relief; a goodly amount of people here winter in southeast Asia.]
- "Sofa for sale $300 OBO [overexposed picture of IKEA-looking couch] Tan - excellent condition - must see (not a great photo)"
- 7 new, unfinished, clear fir 6-panel doors. 96" high, 3 are 30" wide, 4 are 32" wide. Cost $250 each, Sell $100 each.
- For sale [digital ink jet printer picture of each item] Firewood $175 a cord, Kokotat Meridian Dry Suit $100 OBO, Bianchi Alfana road bike - make offer, Weight bench free. [During winter, when jobs are scarce, selling possessions becomes a very real way to make the rent.]
- For sale, Sears Kenmore Washer/Dryer combo, Barely used (vacation house) runs on 220 electricity
- "For sale, 4-drawer metal file cabinet - fine condition $45" Then, with little red hand-written letters smashed in space left by the computer formatting: "4 16" rims to fit Chevrolet $50"
- Free trailer. Ready to roll. You haul. Comes with fridge, stove and hot water heater.
- A beautifully color computer designed flyer proclaiming, "Family storytime with our new children's librarian!" [Since she is imported from off-island, it's obvious that the fancy computer skills belong to her.]

Well, there you have it. I tried to give a fairly accurate cross-section of an specific area so that the ratio of "for sale" to "mysticism for sale" would be true. Just another little slice of Orcas Island.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Blue Like Jazz

When I was home for Christmas, one of my father's best friends and his wife came over for the evening. I enjoy Wayne and Anne Gordon immensely so I stuck around. As they got up to leave at the end of the night, Wayne finished up a conversation by saying, "You know Gordon, that book is so good, you should give it to your kids for Christmas." I laughed and made a comment about how chintzy a book was for a Christmas present. Dad got pretty red in the face but covered it well.

Of course, it turns out that had already bought the book for all four of us and, probably to address my use of the word chintzy, put a $50 bill in each.

I was finishing up my epic fantasy series and had no time for it until last week. I know that I'm starting to sound like a media gadfly but I think this book is also worth your time. I was moved by it so deeply that I wrote the author a two page letter detailing the ways in which I was affected. And I didn't even know this guy.

Basically, Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller, is a collection of essays that detail the experiences of the author in his personal attempts to live in a way that feels right. It turns out that the way that feels right to him is a Christian spirituality. However, instead of this just being another right-wing, fundamentalist, how-to-live-the-Christian-lifestyle-so-that-other-people-will-approve-of-you book, I found Donald's communication to be honest and personal. It really is about trying to live in a way that has the least amount of emotional discomfort. His discovery of the different ways to do this - which is essentially a discovery of all the different ways to actually love people - is believable and accessible enough to make me want to try to do some of that on a deeper level than I am on autopilot right now.

Others have compared the book to Anne Lamott and I would agree with that assesment, but this resonated with me more. Certainly, it made me laugh but less in an entertained way and more in recognition of my own interpretation by someone else. At one point, he says going to the suburban church that he was attending was like going to church at The Gap. Tee Hee.

Read it.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Farm fresh

If anyone has an old digital camera that they have upgraded from that they want to loan to me, I’ve realized that I’d like one. My parents are coming out here at the end of the month and could easily transport it. Let me know.

I’ve recently realized that there are a lot of things and scenes that I would like to record both for you all in the home audience and for my own sense of history. Specifically, yesterday Rhonda gave me a dozen farm fresh eggs. They look so neat because half are brown and the other half is almost robin’s egg blue. Very picturesque with some of the chicken shit still clinging to them. (If I had a digi camera, I’d share but the cost of putting it on film and the time it would take to accumulate a whole roll of images is prohibitive.) We went out to the barn together and collected them. Only one hen was on her nest and squawked a little but she didn’t even bite. It’s weird how tentative and awe-struck I’ve been by wild animals out here. I’m used to squirrels and birds, but yesterday I went to talk to the lone cow at Lone Cow Farm and when she licked me, I jumped back. I should start carrying carrots in my pockets when I go out to the farm. Sheep are the most alien-looking animals that I’ve come across so far. Their eyes are crazy. Their pupils are lines like cats, but they cross the width of the eye, rather than the height. I’m fairly positive that masks an intelligence heretofore unimagined.

So, if you’ve got one laying around, I have any number of books with which to barter and then we all can have farm fresh images all the time. :-)

Owne Noone and the Marauder

God, how we get our fingers in each other’s clay. That’s friendship, each playing the potter to see what shapes we can make of the other.
-Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes

My friend Doug, I should say Douglas Cowie, has written a novel and I have read it. It’s called Owen Noone and The Marauder and I enjoyed it thoroughly. As the link would suggest, I recommend that you buy it and read it for yourself.

This is the first novel that has been written by a friend of mine and I find the experience slightly unsettling. I’ll probably have to read the book again so that I can concentrate on it a little more. I mean, what if someone asks me for an analysis because I have a degree in English literature and all I can come up with is, “I enjoyed it thoroughly.” I should be able to talk about the main character’s lack of a past and his resemblance to the narrator of The Great Gatsby. I should be able to talk about the significance of the wordplay in choosing the other character's name and whether or not that makes the story an allegory and use the word Dickensian while I do. I should be able to talk about the book as the new Great American Novel because the characters travel the country playing rock and roll and in the process figure out the meaning of it all, which is the quintessential genre with which to write the aforementioned GAN of our generation.

But, I can’t. Because I found myself searching for clues of the Doug I grew up with. He’ll hate me for that. He was the one our sophomore year who complained that we were taking simple coincidences from The Grapes of Wrath and imbuing them with all sorts of meaning that they couldn’t actually have. But, I couldn’t help myself. He mentions Danville, IL, where my dad was raised and the First National Bank building in Chicago, where my dad worked and I think we looked at on a Humanities field trip and one of the letters that was quoted in the text was dated on my birthday. Coincidences, but I wanted them to mean something. He’ll hate me for it. :-)

You see, when I think about my childhood, Doug was one of those rare kids that I always wanted to be around. More importantly, I always cared what Doug thought of me. If he thought a band was cool, I thought that band was cool. If he hated some other kid passionately for being a poser, I hated that kid, too. I met Doug in the third grade when he moved to Glen Ellyn from, I think, Canada. We were in Sunday School together and he was as smart as I was. Later, he proved himself to be smarter, even though I still won at Bible Hangman. Although we weren’t friends in the we-call-each-other-at-night-to-talk-and-hang-out-on-the-weekend kind of way, we were involved in many of the same clubs at school, stayed on at church functions through junior year and had lots of the same classes together. I think that during three out of the four years of high school, I found myself eating lunch with his group. One year, we were in Mr. Hendee’s room and another we were with Mr. Haake. I am fairly positive that I had a crush on him at some point, and I went to the turnabout dance with him at another, and goodness knows, his mother probably would have liked something romantic to happen between us, but it never did. We were just friends in that comfortable way that true friends have. Anne Shirley would call us kindred spirits and Doug would make a choking noise at that and then probably make fun of me for quoting Anne of Green Gables. It’s just that if he was in the room, I wanted to be in his group. Sitting on a bench with him, making fun of the world as it went by, was some of the best time I have ever spent in my life, or so it seems. It was a beautiful experience of youth when someone who seemed to see the world through the same lens that I did was just a part of my life. Our friendship didn’t take any effort. We didn’t have to call long distance or set up lunch dates or send little presents or apologize at the beginning of emails that it has been so long since we last wrote: the modern, adult friendship. We just enjoyed each other when the other was around.

So, read his book. It’s a good book, even if you don’t know him.

Monday, March 07, 2005

I had to wear tights and a black wool skirt!

Yesterday, we had a concert for the music education edowment fund for the schools here. I futzed all morning to do something with these layers that I'm growing out so that my hair looked half-way decent and formal, while still being out of my face so that I wouldn't be tempted to touch it. Visions of Dr. Whitecotton's pigeons that flew into the auditorium and crapped on the kids who maintained their formal poses was at the back of my head. (Dr. Whitecotton was my high school choir director.) It was a concert of all the island music groups and included the choral society, a jazz band, a community band and an island synfonium (sp?) as well as the middle school jazz band. Each group had 15 minutes and then we sang God Bless America with the community band and the audience. It was a neat little cross-section. Since they can't afford a band director, about 20 of the locals go to the school twice a week to work with whatever kids plays their instrument for one on one tutoring. So, the adult percussionist gives a private lesson to the two percussionists. The lady that plays the oboe practices with the girl that plays the oboe. How cool is that? Both that the adults are willing and that they live the type of lives where they can commit that type of time during the day. I love this community.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

I got my pencil . . . give me something to write on. (Van Halen)

I think I want to go to grad school.

There. I said it. I have made a definite statement of desire about my future. Kind of. I guess that prefacing the statement with, "I think," sort of makes it a little less definite. Oh well, baby steps.

I think I want to go to grad school because I need to bee surrounded by people that care about the "why" of life again. I want to take apart the things I know so that I understand the underlying structures. Like one of those David Macaulay books that show cutaways of castles with detail down to the rotting, diseased cow that is dropped into the passageway that has been blocked by those evil-looking trellises that clunk into place once the drawbridge has been breached.

My bachelor's degree is in English with a focus on literature and after teaching literature (mostly American) for 5 years, I am overwhelmed at the things that I did not learn in school. I did not learn the underlying structure of things. I did not learn anything about plot structure past the terminology of rising action, climax and the pronunciation of denouement. The complex relationship between conflict and resolution was left unenlightened. I did not learn about the technical aspect of characterization, such as hearing what other characters have to say. I did learn that Mr. Jaggers in Great Expectations cleaned his fingernails with a knife all the time because he must have felt dirty because of his job, but that's pretty simplistic. I did not learn how to read and understand poetry by reading slowly and taking it apart like a jigsaw puzzle. The best advice I got for reading poetry was when Mrs. Grisanzio told us to read it out loud. Good, but not enough. Once I became a teacher myself, I had to figure these things out for myself before I could begin to teach them successfully. And I am fascinated by them.

Of course, I will include the possibility that I wasn't paying attention when these things were taught or that I wasn't in class that day. (I knew a lot of legal ways to skip class. I do distinctly remember being told that I had missed the lesson on poetry explication and that I would just have to figure it out for myself.) Also, it's possible that I wasn't ready to learn those things; that those are the type of things that most people can't learn from a teacher but must just figure out for themselves if they have the aptitude. In fact, although I now include those lessons in my curriculum, I think that last explanation is probably most true. Which is why I think I want to go to grad school. I want an opportunity to devote time to figure out some of these deeper analytical techniques for myself.

That being said, I don't want to study literature. Graduate programs in English have their own subculture that doesn't really have anything to do with what I want, as far as I understand it. I'd rather study history or social justice. I want to apply my knowledge of and ability to analyze underlying structures to something more practical and direct. I want to change the world and understanding literature is just a step in that.

I also want to go back to grad school because I want to be part of an academic community again. I loved college and the struggle to wrap my brain around things that were beyond me. I loved recognizing ideas and art that I had never experienced before. I loved being able to debate without animosity. I can't do that here on the island because most people that debate are stoned while doing so, which is ultimately unfulfilling. Also, it's not a setting that is dedicated to abstract discussion. Everyone has an agenda or needs to be right. Plus, lots of the people here have a different kind of smart than the one I have. I want to be among people like me again.

I know that grad school will not be the perfect opposite of what's missing in my life. It will be full of people and people are flawed. People will be stoned and will argue from ego. Professors will want me to learn what they have to teach and not what direction their lesson sent me off to. But, I want to give it a try.

I've learned that life is full of reversals. We must go back before we go forward. I think that before I teach again, I will need to be a student.