April 30, 2009

30 days

Today is the last day of my 30-day letter project. I have not yet written the last letter, but I've had it in mind for awhile. As with most endings, it feels bittersweet. I'll be glad not to have that moment, late in the evening, when I'm drinking a cup of tea on the couch after 12 hours of work only to suddenly realize OH CRAP MY LETTER. But I'll miss it too, the feeling of driving toward something, the feeling of satisfaction at having completed yet another letter, yet another envelope, yet another day.

Did the exercise meet my expectations? I can say it didn't end up being anything like what I was picturing. I imagined writing wildly about anything at all, with little heed to the addressee, and then slapping that sheet of inked paper into an envelope and calling it a letter. Only once or twice did I do that, and even then it was not what I expected. What the project turned into was exactly as it sounds: thirty days of letters, letters which involved "how are you?" and "here is what I've been up to." I wrote to at least 13 different people, many of them more than once. At least three of them are people I have never had that sort of conversation with; two of them are people I haven't seen in ages; two of them are people I've never met in real life. Some of the letters were written with no intention of being sent, and remain collected in an envelope that will never hit a mailbox.

I regret not keeping track of who got what for each day of the project, and I regret not soliciting writing prompts from those who requested letters. Occasionally I got requests anyway, and did not always follow them. That's OK. I wrote to everyone who had requested a letter before April 1. Those who requested them once I was mid-project will have to get a 'normal' letter from me instead. That's OK, too. Letters written outside of April will probably be more interesting and less exhausted by the process.

In thirty days, there were three days in which I did not write letters: one of those days was Easter, when I was driving on dirt roads in Utah; one of them was a day I worked late and then went out with friends; one of them was two days ago, when I worked all day and then came home with the mother of all migraines. Giving myself space to be sick, to be with friends, and to be completely in the place my body inhabited all seemed like very strong reasons to let the project go for a moment. In all three instances I made up the letter on a subsequent day.

Out of all those which were sent, I copied and kept only two of them, both of them letters I knew I would want to refer back to later, if only to reassure myself. Part of the intention of the project was to let that writing go. In my opinion, that's the compelling thing about letters: you write something that may or may not be good, and you send it into the world and never see it again.

Was it worth it? I've sat down to write nearly every day in April. I look at my days now in terms of what I'd like to write about, what will make a good story. This is the way I used to see the world every day, back in college when something would seize me so emphatically that I would pause in the midst of walking from one class to another so that I could jot it down. The mindset itself--that writing is not scary, often mundane, hard, and satisfying--is what I set out for, though I didn't know it. So yes, I got what I wanted: the return of the writer's mind.

Some letters in return, though, dear readers, wouldn't hurt.

I went to my grandmother, your great-great-grandmother, and asked her to write a letter. She was my mother's mother. Your father's mother's mother's mother. I hardly knew her. I didn't have any interest in knowing her. I have no need for the past, I thought, like a child. I did not consider that the past might have a need for me.

What kind of letter? my grandmother asked.

I told her to write whatever she wanted to write.

You want a letter from me? she asked.

I told her yes.

Oh, God bless you, she said.

The letter she gave me was sixty-seven pages long. It was the story of her life. She made my request into her own. Listen to me. I learned so much. She sang in her youth. She had been to America as a girl. I never knew that. She had fallen in love so many times that she began to suspect she was not falling in love at all, but doing something much more ordinary. I learned that she never learned to swim, and for that reason she always loved rivers and lakes. She asked her father, my great-grandfather, your great-great-great-grandfather, to buy her a dove. Instead he bought her a silk scarf. So she thought of the scarf as a dove. She even convinced herself that it contained flight, but did not fly, because it did not want to show anyone what it really was. That was how much she loved her father.

The letter was destroyed, but its final paragraph is inside of me.

She wrote, I wish I could be a girl again, with the chance to live my life again. I have suffered so much more than I needed to. And the joys I have felt have not always been joyous. I could have lived differently. When I was your age, my grandfather bought me a ruby bracelet. It was too big for me and would slide up and down my arm. It was almost a necklace. He later told me that he had asked the jeweler to make it that way. Its size was supposed to be a symbol of his love. More rubies, more love. But I could not wear it comfortably. I could not wear it at all. So here is the point of everything I have been trying to say. If I were to give a bracelet to you, now, I would measure your wrist twice.

With love,

Your grandmother


from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

April 29, 2009

april 29

age 24: I ran the Fayetteville 10K race with a sign pinned to my back that read "Today is my birthday!" People who passed me wished me a good day or asked me how old I was. All my friends were out of town, at least for the morning; Katie came back later and took me to Sylvan Beach, the old amusement park in Canastota where you could ride dark house rides and play old midway games like Fascination. And we took a photobooth photo which still hangs on my office wall.

age 5: I received my first bike: pink frame, white tires, white streamers erupting from the handlebars. I called it Pink Lightning. In a photo taken that day I am beaming as I ride it through the hallway of our Baltimore rowhome. A year later I learned to ride without training wheels in the cul-de-sac of the trailer park where we briefly lived. (Yes, really). Who can forget that moment when the wobbles suddenly, like magic, turn to balance? A moment of triumph that we get just once in our lives, that we never unlearn.

age 25: on a trip to Buffalo to visit my old-fashioned pen-pal (who turned boyfriend that weekend); on my birthday we sat on the pier overlooking Lake Ontario and ate hot dogs and ice cream. Afterwards we hiked through the woods to eternal flame falls, though he kept the flame itself a surprise. I thought we were just on a nice hike. it was a sweet, simple day.

30 days until my birthday. I have my free ticket to Disneyland, and a plane ticket, and plans to see my sister, along with Cristina at her home in Santa Barbara. And MICKEY MOUSE, of course. I plan on eating popsicles for breakfast. And wearing a crown all day.

April 28, 2009

anniversary

Who would sit through a plot as preposterous as ours,
married after years apart? Chance meetings may work
early in stories, but at operas, darling, in Texas?
A bachelor pilot, I fled Laredo for the weekend,
stopping at the opera from boredom, music I least expected.
Of all the zoos and honky-tonks south of Dallas,
who would believe I would find you there on the stairs,

Madame Butterfly about to start? When you moved
four years before, I lost all hope of dying happy,
dogfighting my way through pilot training, reckless,
in terror only when I saw the man beside you.
I had pictured him rich and splendid in my mind
a thousand times, thinking you married with babies
somewhere in Tahiti, Spain, the south of France.

When I saw the lucky devil I hated—only your date,
but I didn't know—he stopped gloating, watching you wave,
turned old and bitter like the crone in Shangri La.
Destiny happens only in plays and cheap movies—
but here, here on my desk is your photo, decades later,
and I hear sounds from another room of our house,
and when I rise amazed and follow, you are there.

Anniversary, Walt McDonald

letter #27

dear dad,

the only reason I'm wasting a perfectly good letter on you is because it's late in the month and i've run out of people to write to, and of things to say. I'm writing to you now because you don't care about and don't deserve to hear the details of my everyday life. isn't that backwards? it doesn't matter to you that I need a haircut, or that it's cold and raining here in Portland, or that I bought a new opening night dress. those are things that matter to Mom, though, just for the record. you don't care about the hard weekend I had, or that I'm taking Cookie to a horse show soon, or that I'll have to miss the first softball game of the season. you don't know the last person I fell in love with, or how long I've lived in my apartment, or where I plan to go from here.

the thing is, none of that bothers me. it bothered me my whole life until I had the opportunity to meet you; or, more specifically, until you had the opportunity to meet me, to undo all the wrongs you committed over twenty five years, to make something right. and instead you told my sister that I should email you, and handed over your email address. do you know how that disgusts me? did you really think I would? shouldn't you have leapt at the opportunity? grandmom and granddad sure did.

here is the thing about all of it. I pity you now, because you will never know what you've missed by not knowing me; you'll never know how I turned out smart and happy and successful, how I make friends, how independent I am, how brave. you'll never know how terrifying and wonderful it was to move across the country, or buy a horse, or work at the opera. you have nothing to do with any of it, by choice. so you get nothing. what a pity for you, to be left with nothing. meanwhile steve was teaching me to catch softballs in the front yard; he was taking me to horse farms, and buying me my first grown-up bike, and telling me not to drink too much at the beach, at a time when I shouldn't have been drinking at all. so you are an idiot, because of what you could have had, but lost. and I pity you. I pity that in nearly twenty eight years I have inherited so little from you: just snippets of your family (your parents, two of your children, your siblings), and the color of your eyes. I pity you that loss, but you deserve less.

April 26, 2009

and

during the orchestra break, our conductor came over and kissed me on the cheek. "you're my girl!" he said, holding my shoulders. PHEW.

music librarian hell

In yesterday's rehearsal we discovered that the banda parts from the opera's opening scene were, in many places, missing. It was something the conductor and I had been concerned was a possibility. These are parts originally written for an offstage band, frequently played from the pit instead (because rarely is a second, backstage orchestra very high on the financial priority list). Often they come as a separate set of parts, which the librarian has to embed into the music, but sometimes the publisher takes it upon itself to include these parts in the pit parts, "in mancanza della banda" (in absence of offstage band). This was the case with our parts for Rigoletto, which are freshly purchased and on loan from New York City Opera. In this case it's difficult to know what you're getting, because the score continues to show the banda in a reduction, which doesn't tell you what instrument is playing at any given time. We discovered yesterday that there's an entire 32 bar section which lacks anything but a bass line and one lone clarinet player. There's supposed to be a full band playing.

For the record, this is one of my worst nightmares.

In addition, there were sections where chords were missing their inner notes, and sections where inexplicably no tuba part was written. Much of the missing music could be culled from previous sections of the music, but 17 bars of it occurred nowhere else in the score and had to be arranged by hand. Our rehearsal yesterday ended at 1; we began again tonight at 7. With the exception of roughly 60 minutes of staging rehearsal and 6 hours of sleep, I spent every moment in between rehearsals rewriting and arranging new parts in time for tonight's rehearsal.

Things ingested in this process:
3 creme eggs (one large, two small)
1 foot of Bubble Tape (I considered trying to put all 6 feet in my mouth at once, just for a diversion)
McDonald's cheeseburger and fries
two bowls of oatmeal
9 cups of coffee

Tonight (just moments ago) we reached the banda and before I had a chance to make a joke about saying benedictions, our assistant conductor caught my eye from the front of the room and made the sign of the cross. "Here we go!" the conductor called, smiling as I bit my nail.

We made it through without a hitch. A librarian miracle!

I have to say a word about Sibelius here. Thankfully we installed it last week, though I hadn't had a chance to try it out at all. This was the software's trial by fire. It's a testament to Sibelius's ease of use that I created banda parts from scratch in 24 hours without having ever worked on the system before. I had a couple of mishaps -- problems I would most likely never have encountered if I had had the luxury of time and a clear head in which to teach myself, like accidentally erasing half my woodwind parts because I was working in part mode instead of score mode and I erased a bunch of measures, forgetting that they were all interlinked. But once I got the basic keyboard shortcuts and navigation, I was pretty set. Obviously I just scratched the surface of what the software can do, but I have to say it really saved my butt.

And now I'll spend the rest of rehearsal quietly trying not to fall asleep. I worked 14 hours MORE than I expected to work since yesterday at 8 AM, and I'm pooped.

p.s. I've been meaning to write at length about what exactly it is a music librarian does. #1: bite nails in rehearsal.

letter #25

dear Rigoletto banda parts from hell,

[expletive deleted][expletive deleted][expletive deleted], seriously, [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted].

suck it,
jess

April 25, 2009

laugh-in

Last night in staging rehearsal, Cristina caught my eye from the stage management table, and then in one swift hand motion donned a fake mustache and did a little dance. No one else noticed. I was standing on 'stage' listening to our director give notes, and tried so hard to stifle a laugh that I teared up. I still had the giggles when we ran the scene again, and during that run our baritone, Jose, crossed as usual to in front of the platform where two of us are lounging, but this time as he did he made a ridiculous face and wagged his butt at us. So basically I spent the entire rehearsal having an internal laugh attack as I tried desperately to keep a serious face. I love my job.

Today is the first orchestra reading. We haven't seen the full orchestra since Fidelio in October, and I am truly thrilled to have them back. I'd forgotten how utterly exciting it is to have 60 people playing in this room. And the introduction to Rigoletto is such exciting, sinister music. Little by little the players are asking me about my role as a super. "You dirty slut!" our flutist said, jokingly, when she asked what role I was playing.
"Wait until I'm downstairs in the pit in a nightgown," I said.

April 24, 2009

make someone's day

on my drive to work, about two miles from the office, the road becomes tree-lined, each tree pressing close to the street. this morning, a line of trees each had a sign:

WILL
YOU
GO
TO
PROM
WITH
ME
ABBY
?

I hope she said yes.

April 23, 2009

palabra jot!

This morning one of my friends posted a link to the video clip of the Star-Spangled Banner that used to be played as the networks were signing off for the night. It immediately reminded me of a tiny TV show I used to watch when I was a child, one where the main character, a little green bug, would fall asleep to the TV at the end of the show. The program was about writing, and at the end of each episode was a blurb about how to join "The Club."

I couldn't remember the name of the program -- only that it was on PBS, it had a bug, and something was called The Club. Ah, internet. You never fail me. Who needs more information than that?



I joined The Club as a child. I wanted to be a writer even when I was very young. I wish I could find the certificate they sent me!

My friend Amber and I share a love for movies and TV shows we watched as children. We're the same age and happen to have the same tastes in this sort of thing. Even when I bring up some obscure movie nobody's ever heard of, chances are good that Amber not only has seen it, but remembers it vividly and can still sing the soundtrack.

Jess: I'm naming my next pet Oblio
Jess: or maybe my firstborn
Amber: watch out w/the firstborns
Amber: some green mist might kill it
Amber: name wasted
Jess: you're right.
Jess: oh, poor Oblio
Amber: i think i'll get two cats and name them Oblio and Oubliette
Jess: hahahhaha
Amber: homage to labrynth, the point, R&J, EVERYTHING
Jess: I thought it would be fun to rename Cookie and call her Artax instead
Amber: HAHAHAAH why didn't you
Jess: I just thought of it last week
Amber: DOOOOOOO IT
Jess: except artax was all white, and a boy horse
Jess: and also, she's been Cookie for 7 years
Amber: not important
Amber: make it happen
Amber: paint her
Jess: I'll see what i can do
Jess: it's her mane & tail that are the problem
Amber: she does look a little like artax
Jess: it came up when I was in utah. Mike had the song from the movie on a mix
Amber: NICE
Jess: and I was quietly RACKING MY BRAIN trying to come up with the horse's name
Jess: and he was like, "oh artax!" before I had a chance to open my mouth
Amber: ya know sometimes i get the feeling our conversations would only be valuable to the two of us
Amber: anyone else would be like, is that dutch?
Jess: I know, right?!
Jess: "what are they talking about?"
Jess: it's like spy code
Amber: haha yeah it's so obscure we could actually be of use to the gov't
Amber: any middle eastern spies would be like, "fuck i can't decode this nonsense"

April 22, 2009

Years later they find themselves talking
about chances, moments when their lives
might have swerved off
for the smallest reason.
What if
I hadn’t phoned, he says, that morning?
What if you’d been out,
as you were when I tried three times
the night before?
Then she tells him a secret.
She’d been there all evening, and she knew
he was the one calling, which was why
she hadn’t answered.
Because she felt—
because she was certain—her life would change
if she picked up the phone, said hello,
said, I was just thinking
of you.
I was afraid,
she tells him. And in the morning
I also knew it was you, but I just
answered the phone
the way anyone
answers a phone when it starts to ring,
not thinking you have a choice.

-- marriage, lawrence raab


another softball practice tonight; it was much colder and not as successful, personally, as the last. but as I came charging past home plate, one of our Rigoletto cast members, who came to join us for the evening -- a cast member for whom, earlier in the day, I had tracked down an Ernani score -- said, in surprise, "you run like a deer."

April 21, 2009

balcony garden: pre-season

I took the day off today to celebrate the last day of unabashedly nice weather. I awoke without an alarm to a breeze blowing into my open window -- there are few things sweeter, no? -- and rolled out of bed to eat oatmeal with strawberries and honey. I drank a cup of tea on the balcony, rocking in my rocking chair, and read a chapter out of my book. In lieu of the hike I had originally scheduled for myself this morning, I instead opted to clean up my apartment, which at the last minute included cleaning out the storage space in my balcony. Up until today it's been cluttered with all of last season's dead plants. Awesome.

before: unkempt balcony garden mess

Because the garden died off slowly last fall, pots (most of them full of the dead plants) were put away in a trickle rather than in any sensible order. They were just piled up willy-nilly. So this morning I finally threw all the dead plants in the compost. What, you didn't know I manage to keep a compost bin, despite the fact I live on the third floor in a giant apartment complex, with no yard?

hidden compost pile

it's one of those Metro deals: if you live in the tri-county area you can buy a compost bin for $35, which is way cheaper than you can get one anywhere else. I've had it for two years.

garden goods

So. I pulled everything out (this is not even close to everything) and began siphoning the remaining soil into 5-gallon buckets set aside for this purpose. I'm sure there is something ill-advised about reusing dirt from last year's container garden, but I've been doing it for two years without issue. I have so many different plants that I can't imagine they all leach/add the same nutrients to the soil. And I have SO MUCH DIRT. If my entire balcony garden up and dies in the middle of the season everybody can point their fingers at me and laugh. In the meantime, I'm not buying potting soil.

ANYWAY. As I was emptying out the closet, I discovered, to my utter surprise, that the chive plant I had abandoned mid-winter as dead was living and growing, entirely in the dark. Now it's back out on the balcony rail. I'm hoping for the best. Plants are so amazing.

irrepressible chive plant

Chives again this season!

So now I have four buckets of dirt and a billion empty pots. The compost still needs turning but I don't have a turner so it'll have to wait. Otherwise, though, the closet is ready for planting time.

all better

I can't wait. I'm so enthusiastic about this year's garden, having learned a ton from my mistakes last summer. Two years ago I grew only tomatoes and some flowers on the balcony. Last year, though, I discovered the garden was one thing that, despite my depression, gave me great and simple joy. I went all out: tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, rosemary, strawberries, chives, mint, thyme, catnip, foxgloves, hollyhocks, morning glories, sweet peas. My aim was to make the balcony private from the neighbors. I didn't quite pull it off, primarily because of poor strategy. This year I plan on training the morning glories, sweet peas, and pole beans early in the season, to create a wall of foliage. Now I know more about the light on my balcony, and where to keep plants for the best placement. And I have a zillion more pots -- not to mention 30 pounds of soil. I CAN'T WAIT.

otherwise, today: a long and meditative drive to Sauvie Island, a few hours camped at the beach with a book, a delicious 90-minute riding lesson, sunburn. I did the dishes, washed and vacuumed the car, and wrote letters. It was a tremendous day off.

April 20, 2009

softball season

Tonight was the second practice of this year's Critics, our company softball team. It was a beautiful, perfect night to play. I missed last week's practice so tonight was my first time donning the glove since last July. What a practice! In past years many of our pre-season practices have been rained out; this year we're on the field more than in any of my previous 3 seasons. We did drills! We practiced infield strategy! We played a mini-scrimmage! Not knowing how long we would go, I ran my heart out catching pop flies in the outfield in the beginning of practice, only to discover we had another hour and a half of fielding and running.

I have a particular soft spot in my heart for catching pop flies. As a kid I was not a naturally adept softball player; I had an OK arm but I got nervous when the ball came my way and often dropped or missed catches entirely. My stepdad, who loved the sport, began taking me out into the front field (six acres) and practicing. He would stand by the house with a bat and a bag of softballs and hit fly ball after fly ball to where I stood, across the expanse of grass. I began to feel that catching fly balls was a zen-like activity; underneath that long arc you find your place below the ball and you line up your mitt, and the ball drops in with a satisfying smack. I got good at them. I loved to run around the field like a crazy person, leaping for lobbed balls. It's the sweetest memory I have of my stepdad.

Tonight was like that. Most of the way through practice I heard Brendan say, from third base, "Best night ever."

I decided to wear my game socks to practice. They're why I have my team nickname -- Rainbow Brite. They used to be toe socks but when the toes began giving me foot cramps, I cut the feet off and began wearing them as leg warmers. When that got too warm and uncomfortable I started folding them in half. That's how I wore them all last season. The effect is a little like wearing two rainbow-striped knee pads. Maybe wearing the socks helped me feel committed tonight. I snagged so many balls, both at second base (my preferred position) and in the outfield, that during the lull our coach (the IT guy at the opera) said, "You're just like a human backstop."

softball: practice

April 19, 2009

things I miss

the sound of locusts in the trees, salt potatoes, rocking chairs with their white paint flecked and chipping, my mother, the inner miles of the ridge trail, the sharp smell of tomato vines in the garden by the pond, snowballs, a husky/shepherd mix, sangria at the mission, saturday mornings at the market, racing in the 200m, dunkin donuts iced coffee, my first car, your arms around my waist, christian thorne's gothic theory class, nights on the balcony bent over a notebook, letting myself into your apartment to leave you flowers on bad days, jumping 2'6", the outdoor shower, drunken biking across the pontoon bridge, crab feasts, sweet tea, a home answering machine, my ponytail, waiting for your letters, singing out your car window, the far field, the tarzan swing, the dogwood tree in the front yard, the coffee and cologne smell of your studio, our stupid passive-aggressive literary arguments, playing the clarinet, you, and you, and you.

sunday, mid-april

it's a Sunday morning, full of abundant sunshine. I've been keeping the blinds open in my bedroom; it means waking to panels of light on the bedspread at 7:30 in the morning. This morning, tea in hand, I sat on the rocking chair on my balcony, wrapped in a blanket, and wrote a letter. Today it will be in the mid-70s; I am in rehearsal for most of the afternoon. As a concubine I ride two different baritones (Rigoletto, Marullo) like horses.

Speaking of horses: yesterday I helped Heather, the barn owner, strip and reinstall the mats in 9 of her stalls, which took us the better part of the morning. Afterwards she took me to lunch at the Redland Cafe, the little hole-in-the-wall down the street where 80% of the customers are fresh from a day working the land and know every waitress. And she handed me Cookie's registration papers, along with listed bloodlines of her sire and dam, and baby pictures. As of yesterday, I own 100% of my horse. Yesterday after lunch I went for a ride; she spooked at some mystery thing out of my sight and as she bolted my saddle listed about fifty degrees to the right. This is what you get for deciding your girth is 'not really tight, but tight enough.' Thankfully she has a long, thick mane, so I just held on. She only bolted ten feet or so; when she stopped she stood there calmly, as if nothing had happened. My saddle had slipped so far I had to dismount to fix it. Later, as I was cleaning one of her hind feet, she pooped, missing my head by roughly two inches. Ah, horses.

April 17, 2009

fun with texts

I started collecting my text messages in a file on my laptop a couple years ago, since I always agonized about deleting the funny/sweet ones. (I was tickled to discover that Sarah does the same thing on her blog). For your amusement (maybe):

Oh! I could have saved you with my two people, three napkin rule!

Remember the Flowbee? What the hell kind of person trusts their vacuum to give them a haircut?

My drink says "nourishing the body whole" I thought it said "nourishing the baby whale"

I just saw writing on a bathroom wall that was in exactly your handwriting and it said 'we are going to have open sexual intercourse on every street corner in AMERICA!'

totally thought the bumper sticker in front of me said i heart hell

I just ate grilled cheese with spicy, crunchy indian snacks in it dipped in barbecue sauce. I am never having sex again.

While you were having sex, I was having a sex dream about me and bill clinton.

At the airport. Just heard in the still of the night scored for bass clarzihorn, oboe, floten and possibly also b flat clarzihorn. it was painful.

Spent a pleasant evening at the hot tub with officer mike where we discussed taxes and his dental work. do I live the life or what?

Someone else's mexican fiance is getting me drunk in a bar that looks exactly like my gram's basement. Strip Polka is playing on the jukebox because I requested it. any last words?

POOP TEA!

I just had the impulse to send tiger a text message. (ed. note: Tiger is a cat)

Ava is going to whittle the driftwood jesus!!

Maybe it's Juan Valdez. That'd be sweet. I hope he rides a donkey in columbia sometimes

Oh. Spontaneous choreographed group dancing. Most tragic movie move.

HI jeSSICA ARENT YOU PROUD? MY FIRST TEXT MESSAGE! LOVE MOM

You were just used as an example in rehearsal. Naughty librarian!

April 16, 2009

self-congratulatory potpourri

1. As I passed a coworker in the hallway she stopped and remarked, "you have such great style!" I was wearing clothes everybody has seen before in no particularly enlightened combination, with the unlikely addition of a scarf, which I keep around the office because they insist on turning the air conditioner on the minute the outside temperature hits 65 degrees. Of course I appreciated the compliment, but it reminded me of the time I came to opening night of Fidelio having gotten dressed literally in the dark (in a rush, in my closet) only to have every member of the orchestra coo over me. I was wearing a strapless black dress covered in lint -- a dress only 3/4 the way zipped up when I arrived, because I couldn't do the rest myself -- a scarf/wrap that I had thought matched my shoes but in fact was a totally different color, and TWO DIFFERENT EARRINGS. (by accident). My horn crush caught me at halftime and told me he had stopped dead in his tracks when I walked into the pit earlier that evening. "You look stunning," he said. I give up.

2. I accidentally ran 7.2 miles tonight, instead of my intended 5.5-6. Oops? I decided to see where a trail fork ended up and the answer was, way farther than I intended to run. I'm glad to know I have it in me. I could probably crank out at least a 15K, though I have to remind myself that it's bad news bears to amp up the mileage too soon. Still, I might be able to run a half before my birthday after all. The only unfortunate thing about tonight's run was that I hadn't eaten enough for that mileage, so I came home more exhausted than I should have been. And then ate about half a pound of food.

3. I'm famous!

4. I've written 16 letters so far. More than halfway there.

And in other news, R.I.P. Orlando Opera. I'm so sorry to hear of yet another company going down. (My own hometown's was one of the first to go. Seeing that website breaks my heart). It's terrifying out there. My condolences to everyone on the staff.

the titanic

So this is how it feels, the deck tilting,
the world slipping away as one
sitting at a desk writes a check.

The Titanic went down titanically
like a goddess glittering,
Pinioned to an iceberg, she sank

almost thankfully while tiny mortals
leapt into the sea
and the band played Nearer My God to Thee.

But what happened to the signals of distress?
Nobody believed it was all really happening.
I still can’t believe that it happened to me.

As a child, I stared horrified at the photograph
and the vision of that scene in the moonlit sea.
We will be one of the survivors, we think,
then something looms up like catastrophe.

All life, it seems, is the morning after
and love is the most beautiful of absolute disasters.

-- June Robertson Beisch

April 15, 2009

a day in the life

We have been in the market for music notation software recently, since we are undertaking a project to create professional parts for our last two Baroque operas, which our assistant conductor created himself. While researching both Finale and Sibelius for the proposal I put together here in the music library, I came across a review which complained about the colloquial nature of the Sibelius handbook. Certain examples they mentioned did actually border on condescending. In the end, though, the overwhelming consensus I found was that Sibelius was the better option for us (not a single person, in fact, recommended Finale), and we just got our copy in yesterday. The handbook is smaller than I anticipated (Finale's manual is big enough to use as a blunt force murder weapon), and, uh, hilarious.

"British readers may be interested to know that in America, both 'bar' and 'measure' are used (so for universality we've opted for 'bar') and 'staff' means British 'stave.' Any British readers who are offended by the American spelling of 'center,' 'color' and so on will just have to use a pen to amend the spelling in the Handbook or (less effectively) on the screen."

"Unless you have X-ray vision, you've already managed to open the box to get at this Handbook."

This is all in the first three pages. I haven't even cracked open the part where it tells me how to use the program.

Mid-install, I remarked on Twitter how I was having some problems with my Sibelius disk. A few hours later, one of the senior project managers sent me a message. He must be periodically scanning Twitter for mentions of the software. I had already resolved the issue on my own, but I'm impressed.

Otherwise, in the life of the music librarian: Today I stepped into the rehearsal room for a moment, to touch base with the conductor, who needed some rehearsal numbers marked into the orchestra parts. When I left, the General Director (who is stage directing this show) called, "There goes the concubine!" This is certainly one of the few lines of work where that sort of thing is completely normal. I start concubining on Friday. They tell me I'm going to be riding the title character like a horse. My coworkers are having an absolute field day with it; today they tried very hard to coerce me into sitting with the cast at the meet & greet. I demurred.

Lastly: as I was rifling through my photostream on Flickr, I came across the alternate photos I took as I was marking these parts. I love this one. It's so emphatic.

tacet, damnit

"Tacet," for those of you who don't spend your whole lives in music rehearsals, is from the Italian tacere, to be silent. In music, it means "don't play this."

April 14, 2009

the Nub chronicles

some back story: last year when my family visited, my eleven-year-old sister bought herself a chipmunk puppet, promptly called Chippy, who has become a ubiquitous fixture around the house. I had interactions with Chippy every day for the two weeks I was home at Christmas. Ashley's become adept at manipulating the puppet; he has a pretty extensive vocabulary of moods and facial features.

Later in the summer, prompted, of course, by Chippy, my brother (also eleven years old) bought himself a porcupine puppet, called Quilliam. (Travis is particularly good at this sort of clever word play). Then, this past fall, they bought my mom a squirrel, Sully, for her birthday. That left me as the only member of my immediate family without a puppet familiar. I had suggested I wanted a skunk.

My mother sends me an Easter basket every year, and this year it took days for me to be able to pick it up from the leasing office at my apartment, since they open after I leave for work and close before I usually get home. My sister was unnaturally impatient to have me pick up the package. On Friday, just before leaving for the airport, I finally got it. Inside my Easter basket (actually a tote bag) was my new hedgehog.

Enclosed was a letter, which I share with you verbatim:

Dear Jessica, congratulations! You finally have a puppet of your own please call us to tell us what you have named it. Chippy is a little upset that the hedgehog gets to go but he doesn't get to live or visit where he is from. He asked me if you could read the rest of this to your knew family member. Oregon is a cool state and you'll love it there but there are some things you need to know before you get to cozy. Number one there is less humidity there then here so you can breathe a little better. Number two make sure that Jessica (your owner) takes you on most of her car rides because they are loads of fun! Number three is to be careful of little children because they will hurt you, but don't worry about Ashley or Travis because their gentle. Also you won't have to worry as much because you don't have the family over your house. Fourth or last when Jessica flies here to Maryland make sure she takes you. I'm a little homesick but I hope you'll have a great time there as I did send postcards.

Love
Writer Chippy but Quill, and Sully

p.s. don't forget to wave to people in other cars and make sure she'll let you drive!


So I stuffed the as-yet-unnamed hedgehog into my backpack and headed to the airport.

nub in utah

Meet Nub.

Top row: Nub preps the four-wheeler; Nub finds a shrub; Nub practices his marksmanship. Bottom row: Nub meets a plant version of himself; Nub enjoys a Sunday drive; Nub is locked & loaded into his airplane seat.

April 13, 2009

40 miles of sky

so small in the big desert

this weekend: vast expanses of empty desert, dust, dirt roads, mountains. the occasional antelope, the cow crossing the road, several bands of wild horses (!) grazing idly or trotting off. with a little luck I managed to get my day of sunshine, of driving with the windows down, of being tiny in so much space. there was thoughtful conversation, and thoughtful silence. it was hard to come home.

also, see you later, number five.

GUNS!

April 10, 2009

a bientot

I am leaving town today for the weekend. I hope to come back with stories, photos, and a couple of items crossed off the list. have a good easter weekend, everybody. see you Monday.

April 7, 2009

letter #7

to all the exboyfriends of my life,

do you want to know why I left you? well, I'll tell you. I left you because you would come home drunk and fall asleep in our bed reeking of beer; you would lie heavily on your back and snore so loudly I could feel it through the bed. I left you because even though you were so brave about some big, remarkable things, you were terrified of every day life. I left you because you wouldn't let me walk down the street without holding your hand, and sometimes a girl wants her own goddamned space. I left you because no matter what I said, you couldn't understand how much my job means to me, and how it's that way for everyone who works in the arts, and how it's passion and not workaholism that keeps us there despite it all. I left you because you were so terrified to go into that divey little pub, even though there was nothing in the world wrong with it. I left you because you wouldn't let me stay up late and read, or write, or practice piano, and I wondered what girl you thought you were dating. I left you because next to you, I looked fat, and that's really saying something. I left you because you were pretentious. I left you because you were so jealous of me I had to apologize to you when I won a part in the school musical. I left you because you never bothered to tell me you smoked pot, even though I wouldn't have minded at all. I left you because your first reaction was always "no way." I left you because you were too far away. I left you because you had to be close to me all the time. I left you because you didn't know me, you didn't bother to know me, you didn't want to know me, I didn't want you to know me. I left you because staying with you felt like closing the door on every opportunity in my life. I left you because there were horses, music, sports, movies, books, writing, poems, friends, bars, camping, road trips, languages, countries, and I couldn't share them with you. I didn't want to share them with you.

subtle

in conversation with my little sister this morning, talking about plans for new livestock.

"We get to take home the chickens from poultry club. Can you imagine ten chickens in the back of the station wagon?!"

and

"We're going to get chickens, and then Mom's going to get sheep, and then bees."
"And then grandchildren!" my mother calls, in the background.

April 6, 2009

knoxville: summer of 1915

This prose piece, by James Agee, author of the Pulitzer prize winning novel A Death in the Family, is one of my favorite bits of writing anywhere. I think of it often: when I hear crickets, or watch the sun set on a clear day, or think of myself as a young child, growing up in a rowhome in Irvington, just outside downtown Baltimore. Although it seems far from Knoxville, the sense of community and safeness was the same; or it was to me, at least, as a five-year-old. A particular night always springs to mind, when as a young child I was put to bed early by my mother; early enough that it was still light outside. The light came through my curtains and I was resistant to being in bed, but my mother read to me from A Child's Garden of Verses, and I fell asleep.

Portions of this text were used by Samuel Barber in his song of the same name; incidentally, my most beloved and favorite piece of music.

"We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennesse, in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child. It was a little bit mixed sort of block, fairly solidly lower middle class, with one or two juts apiece on either side of that. The houses corresponded: middle-sized gracefully fretted wood houses built in the late nineties and early nineteen hundreds, with small front and side and more spacious back yards, and trees in the yards, and porches. These were softwooded trees, populars, tulip trees, cottonwoods. There were fences around one or two of the houses, but mainly the yards ran into each other with only now and then a low hedge that wasn't doing very well. There were few good friends among the grown people, and they were not poor enough for the other sort of intimate acquaintance, but everyone nodded and spoke, and even might talk short times, trivially, and at the two extremes of the general or the particular, and ordinarily nextdoor neighbors talked quite a bit when they happened to run into each other, and never paid calls. The men were mostly small businessmen, one or two very modestly executives, one or two worked with their hands, most of them clerical, and most of them between thirty and forty-five.

But it is of these evenings, I speak.

Supper was at six and was over by half past. There was still daylight, shining softly and with a tarnish, like the lining of a shell; and the carbon lamps lifted at the corners were on in the light, and the locusts were started, and the fire flies were out, and a few frogs were flopping in the dewy grass, by the time the fathers and the children came out. The children ran out first hell bent and yelling those names by which they were known; then the fathers sank out leisurely in crossed suspenders, their collars removed and their necks looking tall and shy. The mothers stayed back in the kitchen washing and drying, putting things away, recrossing their traceless footsteps like the lifetime journeys of bees, measuring out the dry cocoa for breakfast.
When they came out they had taken off their aprons and their skirts were dampened and they sat in rockers or on their porches quietly.

It is not of the games children play in the evening that I want to speak now, it is of a contemporaneous atmosphere that has little to do with them: that of the fathers of families, each in his space of lawn, his shirt fishlike pale in the unnatural light and his face nearly anonymous, hosing their lawns. The hoses were attached at spiggots that stood out of the brick foundations of the houses. The nozzles were variously set but usually so there was a long sweet stream of spray, the nozzle wet in the hand, the water trickling the right forearm and the peeled-back-cuff, and the water whishing out a long loose and low-curved cone, and so gentle a sound. First an insane noise of violence in the nozzle, then the still irregular sound of adjustment, then the smoothing into steadiness and a pitch as accurately tuned to the size and style of stream as any violin. So many qualities of sound out of one hose: so many choral differences out of those several hoses that were in earshot. Out of any one hose, the almost dead silence of the release, and the short still arch of the separate big drops, silent as a held breath, and the only noise the flattering noise on leaves and the slapped grass at the fall of each big drop. That, and the intense hiss with the intense stream; that, and that same intensity not growing less but growing more quiet and delicate with the turn of the nozzle, up to the extreme tender whisper when the water was just a wide bell of film. Chiefly, though, the hoses were set much alike, in a compromise between distance and tenderness of spray (and quite surely a sense of art behind this compromise, and a quiet deep joy, too real to recognize itself), and the sounds therefore were pitched much alike; pointed by the snorting start of a new hose; decorated by some man playful with the nozzle; left empty, like God by the sparrow's fall, when any single one of them desists: and all, though near alike, of various pitch; and in this unison. These sweet pale streamings in the light lift out their pallors and their voices all together, mothers hushing their children, the hushing unnaturally prolonged, the men gengle and silent and each snail-like withdrawn into the quietude of what he singly is doing, the urination of huge children stood loosely military against an invisible wall, and gentle happy and peaceful, tasting the mean goodness of their living like the last of their suppers in their mouths; while the locusts carry on this noise of hoses in their much higher and sharper key. The noise of the locust is dry, and it seems not to be rasped or vibrated but urged from him as if through a small orifice by a breath that can never give out. Also there is never one locust but an illusion of at least a thousand. The noise of each locust is pitched in some classic locust range out of which none of them varies more than two full tones: and yet you seem to hear each locust discrete from all the rest, and there is a long, slow, pulse in their noise, like the scarcely defined arch of a long and high set bridge. They are all around in every tree, so that the noise seems to come from nowhere and everywhere at once, from the whole shell heaven, shivering in your flesh and teasing your eardrums, the boldest of all the great order of noises, like the noises of the sea and of the blood her precocious grandchild, which you realize you are hearing only when you catch yourself listening. Meantime from low in the dark, just outside the swaying horizons of the hoses, conveying always grass in the damp of dew and its strong green-black smear of smell, the regular yet spaced noises of the crickets, each a sweet cold silver noise three-noted, like the slipping each time of three matched links of a small chain.

But the men by now, one by one, have silenced their hoses and drained and coiled them. Now only two, and now only one, is left, and you see only ghostlike shirt with the sleeve garters, and sober mystery of his mild face like the lifted face of large cattle enquiring of your presence in a pitchdark pool of meadow; and now he too is gone; and it has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds hung havens, hangars. People go by; things go by. A horse, drawing a buggy, breaking his hollow iron music on the asphalt; a loud auto; a quiet auto; people in pairs, not in a hurry, scuffling, switching their weight of aestival body, talking casually, the taste hovering over them of vanilla, strawberry, pasteboard and starched milk., the image above them of lovers and horsemen, squared with clowns in hueless amber. A street car raising its iron moan; stopping, belling and starting; stertorous; rousing and raising again its iron increasing moan and swimming its gold windows and straw seats on past and past and past, the bleak spark crackling and cursing above it like a small malignant spirit set to dog its tracks; the iron whine rises on rising speed; still risen, faints; halts, the faint stinging bell; rises again, still fainter, fainting, lifting, lifts, faints foregone: forgotten. Now is the night one blue dew.

Now is the night one blue dew, my father has drained, he has coiled the hose.
Low on the length of lawns, a frailing of fire who breathes.
Content, silver, like peeps of light, each cricket makes his comment over and over in the drowned grass.
A cold toad thumpily flounders.
Within the edges of damp shadows of side yards are hovering children
nearly sick with joy of fear, who watch the unguarding of a telephone pole.
Around white carbon corner lamps bugs of all sizes are lifted elliptic, solar systems. Big hardshells bruise themselves, assailant; he is fallen on his back, legs squiggling.
Parents on porches: rock and rock: From damp strings morning glories: hang their ancient faces.
The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once enchants my eardrums.

On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there. First we were sitting up, then one of us lay down, and then we all lay down, on or stomachs, or on our sides, or on our backs, and they have kept on talking. They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine, quiet, with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of night. May god bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.

After a little I am taking in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her; and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and welll-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am."

(reprinted lovingly but rebelliously without permission)

number twelve


photobooth: ace hotel, originally uploaded by that orange hat.

not off the list entirely: there's still Finnegan's to contend with. but Saturday night found us all at Clyde Common, the bar inside Ace Hotel. Ace Hotel, of the infamous photobooth. so, Cristina, Jonathan, and I, we made some magic happen.

April 5, 2009

reprieve

today I did a headstand on the top of a tiny, dormant volcano.

DSCF5274

(jonathan, hiding behind his 'camouflage')

Cristina and I were supposed to go skiing today, but late this week the weather turned, and today was supposed to be the culmination of that, a day of warm and abundant sunshine -- something Portland hasn't seen in weeks. instead of skiing, we got together with the brunch club and had a BYOB(runch) on the top of Mt. Tabor. A picnic! Three blankets and loads -- LOADS -- of food.

DSCF5272

DSCF5267

and of course, bloody mary components. we all stuffed our faces satisfyingly: bagels with cream cheese, smoked salmon, onions, tomatoes, and avocado; donuts; confetti rice salad; bacon (I cooked a pound of it this morning and brought it along); fruit; rice krispie treats. (chex treats, actually). then we played frisbee and did handstands. what a day!

in other news, my letter-writing project is going as planned -- five letters are written, stamped, and in some cases mailed -- but I am finding that it's more challenging than I expected to keep producing letters, especially when they're each to someone else. it's tempting to fall into the pattern of writing a similar letter every day, but I am hoping to resist the urge. I regret that I did not ask those people who requested letters (at my prompting) to also suggest subject matter for their letter. I envisioned these letters to be primarily writing exercises that just happen to be mailed. they're turning into run-of-the-mill letters. then again, I still have 25 days to get it right.

the letters have also made me less inclined to blog, as I don't want to ruin the content of the letters for their recipients. not that any of them are reading this thing, for the most part. but still. I also hate to write the same thing twice in a row. I'll try to be better about that.

p.s. I want this for my birthday

April 1, 2009

april, fools

it begins. today I begin my letter-writing project, an attempt to do something quantifiable for number eighteen, as well as an attempt to reach out to others, and also to maybe get mail in my mailbox. I'm writing one letter a day for every day in April. though I want them to be something beyond conversational, I'm trying not to get too picky. today's letter is to my greatest pen pal ever; m & I have been writing each other letters since we were sophomores in college. I often joke that when we are dead, biographers will find out about us through our musings to one another, penned sometimes on homemade paper (her) and sent in whimsical handmade envelopes (us both). this fantasy of course riding entirely on the assumption that both of us will have died famous artists of one medium or another. which, of course, is completely plausible.

an aside: just remembered a dream I had last night whereupon some friends of mine lived in an old repurposed Walmart building. it was pretty awesome?

so there's April. no jokes were played on me today. I had a lousy day at work but ended by coming home and playing video games with Cristina; as the evening devolved we found ourselves having impromptu craft night (her: sewing a sock monster; me: knitting a blanket) and watching back episodes of South Park. sometimes it doesn't take much. now: wine, dirty dishes, headache, stomachache, and up past my bedtime as usual. crankiness has not subsided. some days you just can't escape it. running would have helped.