Friday, December 07, 2012

Rejoice Greatly

I was sitting at my desk this morning in a full-on Friday stupor when I got the message.  Soprano sick.  Messiah tomorrow night.  Can you do it?  Even with my caffeine barely registering, I woke up. Quickly.  Can I do it?  Check the calendar.  No direct conflicts, so technically, yes.  However, the logistics required for the next 36 hours would be Herculean.

Have to pick up the kid from College.  Bad.
But college is 20 minutes away from dress rehearsal.  Good.

Have Broadway tickets for Saturday afternoon.  Bad Bad.
Arranged to leave dress rehearsal early to make the show.  Good Good.

Should have at least an hour to spare to make the concert after the show after the dress rehearsal.  Good.

So, all systems are a go.  Ran home, found (yet another) Messiah score, pulled myself together, grabbed the kid from college, grabbed some dinner, made it to rehearsal, and all was well.  In fact, all was very, very good.  Good players, good singers, good music happening.  It's why musicians do what we do.  We live to make music, and we want nothing more than to share it with others.  It's a force so powerful, we are willing to sacrifice, except it's not a sacrifice at all.  It's what we do.

So tonight I'm in baby-the-singer mode.  That means no midnight blog posts.  It means everything has to be organized, accounted for, and ready to go.  My gown is set, my gig bag is packed.  My music and folder are prepared.  I have my written instructions, my GPS to help me find the venue, a fully charged cell phone, pencils, tissue, cough drops and aspirin.  Tomorrow I'll take ridiculous care to consider when and what I eat.  Lay off the dairy.  Not too much caffeine.  Nothing terribly heavy or saucy or gloppy or sugary.  But make not mistake: none of this is a hardship.  It's simply what is done.  I look forward to traveling to a new place, meeting new friends and making amazing music.

If you ever wonder about the old chestnut it's better to give than to receive" I can tell you as an artist, while the gifts we are given are a blessing, the ability to share those gifts is what sustains us all.  So, Rejoice, Greatly!  Tomorrow, that's exactly what I plan to do. 

Thursday, December 06, 2012


This is my confession:  I used to cheat at Battleship.

Battleship was the game where you positioned several plastic ships on a grid, hidden from the view of your opponent.  You then would call out grid locations (B-3!), and if one of your ships was on that location it was a "hit".  If not, it was a "miss".  Hits (red) and misses (white) were recorded on a second grid so you would know what *not* to ask the next time.   My ingenious strategy was to record ALL guesses.  My guesses would be marked on the second grid, but my opponents guesses were marked on the first grid where my ships lived.  The cheat came in that my fleet always happened to be, well... mobile.  If my ship was on B-3, well... it just moved somewhere else.  Since I was recording the guesses of my opponent on my ship grid, I knew which spaces were open so my cheat would go undetected.  And, to defend something as silly as my amazing moving ships, there was nothing in the rules that said you couldn't.  It just assumed once they were placed, they were anchored for the remainder of the game.  I simply didn't make the same assumption.

Another cheat-possible game was Monopoly, but only if you were the banker.  If you were sly or able to distract your opponents, it was possible to palm a few extra hundreds when you were running low.  But to be honest, actually completing an entire game of Monopoly happened NEVER because we always got too bored to finish.  So, extra money or not, it never really mattered.

I abandoned my cheating way with board games early, because... I stopped being six and seven and eight years old, and there didn't seem to be a point to it.  There was no lasting satisfaction in always winning.  It's nice to win.  It's OK to lose.  As always, it was just a game, and the whole point of the fun was to play and hang out with friends or family.  Besides, you cannot help but laugh when you get sent back to Plumpy in Candyland for the 3rd or 8th or 12th time in the same game.  Sure, it's annoying, and you'll probably lose, but hey, Plumpy needs a friend too.

1. Don't be fooled by the smiles.
If you're stuck here, you're in the back of the pack, Jack.

2. I always thought his name was "Plumy" (Plum-ee), not "Plumpy".  
Sorry Plumpster, you shall always be Plumy to me.

 Competition, sportsmanship and fair play are lofty ideals and worthy attributes when it's convenient.  We toss around all sorts of sayings (winners never cheat and cheaters never win) to demonstrate how upstanding we are, and when cheaters are found out, they are impeached or stripped of their victories, or banned for life.  We don't take kindly to cheaters when they are the other guy. 

In an ideal world, we are all better when we begin a sporting event, a prizewinning competition, an academic exercise, a game of chance, or a philosophical debate on equal footing following the same rules.  That ideal works out just fine, until we're hit, and then the rules become fluid and our moral ships become mobile.  We cork a bat, we sabotage a competitor, we steal answers, we palm fake money.  We win our debates by not allowing the opposition to speak.

Today my state government realized it was hit and the rules became fluid very, very quickly.  It started shoving bills through as quickly as it could, and it accomplished this, in no small part, due to the fact that they locked the doors of the Capitol.  No debate.  No dissent.  No opportunity to discuss or consider any viewpoints other than their own.  And make no mistake -- this is not a question of being on the opposing side of the issue.  It's a question about being allowed to have a side and then participate in the process.  There should always be the opportunity to listen, discuss and debate.  We are stronger when we are all given the opportunity to agree or disagree and express those opinions.  But that didn't happen.  Not in my state.  Not today.

Today, anybody who wished to be a part of the process, to play the game on equal footing, or to present a viewpoint and engage in thoughtful discussion was unceremoniously shoved all the way back to Plumy.  It was back to the back of the pack, Jack, and by the looks of things, nobody is going to be moving forward any time soon.  If this were a board game, it might be funny.  But it's no game.  Meanwhile, the ships continue to be on the move, skirting the rules and avoiding the hits, just as long as they are able.  

Sure, I used to do the same thing.  But I grew up.

What's their excuse?

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

I've Got a Little List

Things I'm Not Going To Write About Today

  • The Fiscal Cliff
  • Royal Baby - Singular Edition
  • Royal Babies - Speculative Plural Edition
  • The Weather - Too Hot Edition
  • The Weather - Too Cold Edition
  • Santa
  • Elves
  • Reindeer
  • Christmas Cookie Power Ranking
  • The Atrocious State of Spelling and Grammar on the Internet
  • Why I've Never Seen A Single Episode of Downton Abbey
  • Internet Trolls
  • Politics
  • Lost Socks
  • Cats
  • Inflatable Christmas Decorations, or, Why is Santa in a Snowglobe?
  • Skype - Or, How to Look Like a Murderer In One Easy Step
  • Haiku Poetry. Creativity Abounds. Counting is a Must.
  • I'm Trying to Like Doctor Who like the other cool kids, but So Far the Jury of me is Bored.
  • No, I Still Haven't Seen **Insert Name of Movie Here**
  • Why Is the Ghost of Christmas Future a Skeleton?  Isn't a skeleton the representation of something that is past?  Like, Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Past?
  • As Much as "Hoarders" makes me feel good about my house, it's not enough to compensate for how utterly sad and creepy gross it is.  I Can't Watch.
  • Wacky-Tacky Nativity Scenes -- What's Not to Love?
  • Teaching is Exhausting Awesomeness
  • Whoever Invented the Cubicle is a very, very bad man.
  • I'll let you have "God is Good" but you'll never convince me that God answered your prayer for a good parking space.  Even God has priorities.
  • How many more days until **something that happens later** ?
  • Waiting
  • Three Wise Men
  • Fifty Dumb Men
  • If Frozen Yogurt battled Gelato in a cage match, who would win?
  • Considering everything that was happening last year at this time, it's a wonder I'm still here.
  • What does a Christmas List and War and Peace have in common?  I haven't started either one.
  • I don't like Miracle on 34th Street or It's a Wonderful Life.  Do I need a Holly Jolly transfusion?
  • Charlie Brown Christmas will always and forever be the best.  Rudolph runs a close second.
  • Is there a book club for people who can't get past page 3 before falling asleep?
  • I'm tired.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Shelf Life

Can I tell you how insanely happy I am that my only child is no longer a child?

Sure, there are times when I'm just bummed that she is off having the college experience (which in her case involves class, homework, indentured servitude to the music building practice room, complaining about food, and taking the occasional trip to the football or hockey game), because the house is understandably quieter without her.

But oh, let me count the benefits.

Growing up, as she passed the many milestones of childhood, adolescence and the teenage years, I had a camera in one hand and a imaginary glass of champagne in the other.  Never once did I experience tear-stained nostalgia for loss of diapers or formula.  Like the Israelites freed from their bondage in Egypt, I celebrated the day we walk out of the nightmare daycare #1.  However, just as the Israelites were soon running for their lives from Pharoah and the boys, I quickly discovered the nightmare that was daycare #2 was exponentially worse than the first.  Daycare #3 was the answer to my prayers, and the day she entered Kindergarten, it was as if I had finally entered the land of milk and honey cookies.

Over the years there have been countless other celebrations of never again.  No more school pictures.  NO MORE HOMEWORK.  No more standardized tests.  No more tri-fold pamphlets, power point presentations or group projects that always seemed to involve way too many people and one video camera.  No more elementary school music class recorder presentations (one was MORE than enough).  No more dances, No more proms.  NO MORE PARENT TEACHER CONFERENCES THANK THE LORD AND SAVIOR.  They were all important (or perceived to be important) at the time, but over the last several months I have found myself taking a mental roll call of all the things that are absent this year.

To be fair, life after college isn't all skittles and beer.   Many activities I thought I had drunk into the "done" column managed to return, albeit in a different form.  Group projects continue to rear their ugly heads (but without me, so that's a plus), and the scourge that was parent-teacher conferences was quickly replaced by the scourge that was freshman parent/student orientation.  Somehow, I suppose in the end it all evens out.

But looking back on it all, sweeter than knowing certain tasks were forever done has been knowing that we managed to dodge the bullet on some fads altogether.  And nothing, NOTHING in this world makes me happier than knowing I never had to deal with


For the uninitiated, this is the dreaded "Elf on the Shelf" who is nothing more than a holiday snitch.  A tattletale.  An enforcer.  A narc.  By day this creepy crappy hunk of plastic is the ultimate voyeur, and by night, it's the elfish equivalent of TMZ crossed with the National Enquirer -- reporting all the scandalous activities to Santa.  The purpose of the Elf is to make the child behave during the holiday season, but my question is, where are the parents?  Why does behavior and manners suddenly fall under the jurisdiction of this sideways glancing stool pigeon that has a 31 day shelf life?  If there was ever an inanimate object that deserved "you're not the boss of me" hurled at it by an indignant preschooler, this is it.

Even if I -- God forbid -- still had a young child, there is no way I would ever cede this kind of power to a doll.  The day an adult isn't adult enough to actively parent a child -- day in and day out, for better or for worse -- is the day the parent has lost control in power struggle.  After all, if the elf has to do the dirty work to make a child behave, what recourse will a parent have when their toddler is now a teenager asking for the keys to the car?  Elf on the dashboard?

Thank you, no.  As far as I'm concerned, the Elf can go to shelf.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Ordinary Days

There are days when nothing extraordinary happens.  No unusual stories to tell.  No humorous anecdotes.  No great lessons learned.  No hardships overcome or obstacles encountered.  It was a day, like many others, where I got up, I went to work, and I came home.  Unremarkable and forgettable.

On days like today I could complain about my boredom and the utter Monday-ness of my Monday. The gray, dreary weather, and the last week of college classes.  I'm weary of the national news cycle that has been fixated on the "fiscal cliff" for what seems like an eternity, and I'm fed up with politics of every flavor.

I could whine. I could complain.  I could make up something better so my day appears to have some meat on its bones. But why do that?  Why is it so hard to be content with the unremarkable and ordinary?  Why does "just another day" feel like a failure?

There are lots and lots of people who would give anything to have an unremarkable and ordinary day.  A day without fear and hardships and problems.  Without illness or sadness or loss or grief.  A day where going to work or to college would be a privilege instead of a punishment, and a cause of celebration rather than a source of obligation. 

It's difficult to maintain a healthy sense of appreciation and perspective when you're wandering in the desert of tedium impatiently waiting for something better to come along.  So as monotonous Monday slips into Tuesday, I'll not wish for a better day for myself.  Excitement will come soon enough.  Instead I'll wish for an unremarkable, predictable, ordinary day for all those who would wish for nothing more.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Just Around the Corner

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours in a common activity: killing time until rehearsal was over. GramTuna and I were in Broncoland, and after visiting our usual haunts, we decided to go exploring.  This morning we were looking for something specific, namely, the church TeenTuna has been attending since she's been here at college.  We figured we'd find it, poke our heads in the door for five minutes, make a bunch of snap judgements, and leave.

After navigating the maze of one-way-streets that surround "Church Square" and driving past every other religious structure in the city, we finally fished our Episcopalian wish on the corner and found the right one.  It was a bit of a lucky find because we hadn't been given much to go on.  All I knew was "It's old.  It's small. It's quaint."  Not for nothing, but the wise men got better directions from a star.

With the five-minute plan firmly in place, we headed for a door and went inside, only to be met immediately by another set of doors which were locked.  So much for stealth surveillance.  Time to charm the gatekeeper, also known as the church secretary.

I began babbling in the hopes of gaining access.  "Daughter in college.... sings here.... has made this her college church home... seems to really like it.... we just wanted to poke our head in and look for a minute and leave... don't want to be a bother..."  Before I finished we were ushered inside and now I had to start my babbling all over again with sweater guy.  Sweater guy who also happened to be The Priest in Charge.

I began my babbling all over again, but what I really wanted to say was , "No offense, but I really don't want to talk to anyone.  I just want to look around and leave."  Of course, I kept all that in my head, but to tell the truth, even if I said that, I don't think Father Sweater Guy would honor that request, because before we could say Christopher Wren, we were taken on a personal tour of every nook and cranny.

I had heard the church described as old, small and quaint.
I found it to be solid, warm and lively.

I assumed it would be just another building filled with stained glass, candles and flowers.
It had all those things, and they were indeed beautiful.
But it was anything but JUST another building.

It was alive.  It was filled with the joy that comes not only from sustaining the people within, but especially serving the people on the other side of the stained glass.  There was a celebration of laughter and artwork and stories and good deeds.  And despite an introduction to their hibernating bat (religious affiliation unknown) there was an undeniably infectious excitement for all the possibilities of what comes next and what more they could do.

As I left the building it was hard to know if I was more surprised or grateful for what had just happened.  On just another day we found just another building filled with stained glass and candles and flowers that happened to be where my singing daughter spent just another Sunday singing.  It was just a chance encounter with just another person who spoke with love, conviction and unashamed joy that changed my perspective on just about everything.

It was just another Saturday that was anything but just.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Surprises and Mysteries

We've hit December again. 

There is no surprise and no mystery to that statement.  Ready or not (usually not), it's THE SEASON.  Actually, right now it's lots of seasons.  According to the calendar it's still fall, although it has always seemed strange for it to be fall AND the month of December.  Compounding the confusion is the fact that it is so warm up here in the mitten right now, it feels more like early spring than late fall.  In the month of December.  If there was a Druid nearby it might be easier to get an official ruling, but in the meantime you can henge your bets and safely say it's some sort of season, meteorologically speaking. 

Yes, I've already made up a word and resorted to a Druid joke.  It's going to be a long month.

December is a month of competing interests and conflicting priorities.  Is it Silent Night or Rudolf?  Is it the season of giving or the season getting what your neighbor missed during the 3 AM Super Doorbuster Blowout?  Is it stocking the food bank or stockpiling the food?  Is it "the little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay" or "Hey! Good Lord....Jesus...still asleep?"

The answer is yes.  It's every one of those things.  It could be.  It might be.  Or maybe it might not be.  Maybe it's not all of those things.  Maybe it's not even any of those things. 

What December is is formed by countless activities influenced by society, tradition, religion, and seasonal consumerism, to name a few.  But what December could be is infinite.  This year, instead of swearing an impossible vow of abstinence from everything that is December, I'm hoping for a peaceful coexistence and a better balance between what is and what could be. 

Many years have taught me that what December is is shopping and concerts and commitments and an abundance of stress I am far too skilled at heaping on myself. But there has to be more.  The world is filled with mysteries and surprises and wonders and miracles.  But mysteries can be quiet and easy to miss.  Surprises are scary and best to be avoided.  Wonders live in strange, faraway lands, and miracles are fragile things, easily drowned in a wave of skepticism.

So this year, while I live the incredibly busy, insane December that is,  I hope to discover the quiet mind, the  brave heart and the adventurous spirit that will lead to a December of new possibilities.  I don't expect a complete life overhaul at the end of thirty-one days, but I'm going to set aside my skepticism.  After all,  despite being fragile, miracles do happen.