Thursday, December 21, 2006

Celebrity sightings!

You may think Spokane is a boring, snore-inducing little town, but so far I have spotted three celebrities--two in the past week, and one last summer (Cuba Gooding Jr, wearing a nice white shirt and tie, standing in the doorway of his trailer, which was parked on a street downtown, which was, incidentally, on my way to work. He was filming some movie at the time, and when I walked by I was a little stunned and tempted to flash him, but I spotted some teenage girls standing there and drooling so I thought I'd save him from too much fan lust). Last week, I was on my lunch break in the cafe next to the bookstore in the building where I work, minding my own business, sipping some split pea soup and trying to read. I always take my glasses off when I read and/or eat, so I couldn't see the guy a few tables down who was laughing and talking loudly to a bookstore clerk. I kept looking over, because, you know, I was trying to focus on my reading, and he just wouldn't shut up. Then I realized who it was: Sherman Alexie. He was signing copies of his novels for the bookstore, where he usually gives readings when he's in town. He looks like such a regular guy that I'm always shocked when he's not in waist-length braids tied with feathers and wearing turquoise jewelry. I really was going to make a fool of myself and go talk to him as soon as I finished my soup, but he left before then. It's probably best that way--I'm sure he gets tired of fans coming up to him and saying how much they like his work, and that they're writers too, and would he look at something they wrote? Well, I wouldn't go that far........or would I.....? I was amazed though--he is one of my favorite writers--Jonis introduced one of his short stories to us in Intro to Creative Writing, and ever since then I've been a huge fan. Incidentally, on our trip to Portland a few days later, we stayed in the Sherman Alexie room in the Bluebird Guesthouse (which consisted of pumpkin-colored walls, vintage lamps, and black velvet paintings of wooded landscapes).

My third celebrity sighting was today, in my little store. This woman comes up to the counter and hands me a stack of Christmas puzzles and Deluxe Scrabble and wonders if we could hold them while she looks around some more. I look up and it's Julia Sweeney. Again, I'm surprised at how normal she looks--like she's just another housewife that lives in Spokane. I really don't know what I expected (fur coat? tiara?) but I couldn't believe she was one of the many Christmas shoppers in the store, probably buying the puzzles for her mother and the scrabble for a nephew. Anyway, I did make a fool of myself and asked if she was indeed Julia Sweeney, to which she looked down or away and said yes. I was immediately embarrassed that I asked her, because, of course she was Julia Sweeney, and she was probably worried I'd bring up my favorite sketches and start imitating them (which I would never ever do). To remedy the situation I asked her if she was from Spokane, to which she replied yes, that she comes here a few times a year to visit family. Then I shut up. I'm sure she hates stuff like that. But, I couldn't resist.

On a related note, just yesterday, K's coworkers dragged him to Santa's lap in the mall and made him sit on it so they could take a group picture. I guess they budged in front of Julia Sweeney in the line so they wouldn't be late for their P.F. Chang reservation at 11:15. K didn't realize who they were budging in front of, but today, a coworker revealed what they had done. So we both had indirectly made fools of ourselves to the same person within 24 hours of each other. Boy howdy.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I'm pulling my hair out now

Sorry for the lapse in postings, but I have two final projects due tomorrow plus a truck-load of papers to grade, so check back on thursday or friday.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Too Hot for Vienna, ca. 1800

I'm sure my students think I'm on crack.

Today in class I described Beethoven's music as being "sexy."
How else to describe it though?
I showed them a clip from Immortal Beloved--the part where Gary Oldman as Beethoven is playing Moonlight Sonata with his ear down on the piano. I'm having flashbacks to the year I lived with Kelly in Crandall Hall and our room was plastered with pictures of Gary Oldman and Daniel Day Lewis and Ralph Fiennes. We were obsessed with G.O's Beethoven and listened to the slow, pulsating (sexy) second movement of his 7th symphony over and over and smoked Galois cigarettes, as a sort of outlet for our mid-CSC-no boy-dilemma.

I played the Pathetique piano sonata for them in class on the stereo, along witht the Andante of the 7th symphony. Did I reach them? Did I make it clear to them just how sexy Beethoven's music is?

Am I being too creepy?

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Very Peevish and Bitchy Post

I'm feeling very peevish.

This morning in orchestration class my professor couldn't understand why I hadn't included a brass section in my orchestration of Debussy's Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut. I had explained why before (I like homogeneous groupings of instruments like all strings or all winds or all percussion or all brass--I have a hard time mixing them--like some people have a hard time mixing their peas with their mashed potatoes; also, this piece sounds very bell and gong-like--nothing too brassy or bright). Anyway, it just rubbed me the wrong way (seriously I can understand why he wanted me to include brass, but I get tired of explaining my artistic decisions to him--not that he's not artistic--and I sound like a total pretentious bey-otch here but I don't want any g-damn trumpets muddling up my gorgeous marimba/flute/string vibe I have going on here.

Also, I teach a counterpoint lesson on Monday afternoon to a student who is incorrigible (is that the right word? Or maybe I should just say damn annoying). I know I shouldn't talk about my students that way, but oh my god I'm so sick of him complaining about how counterpoint rules interfere with his genius compositional artistry (he's a freshman). "Why is a fourth dissonant? Why can't I use fourths on the downbeat? Why is it called a 'perfect' fifth? Why can't we use parallel fifths? I feel so restricted! I'm just going to write the most boring music then, to REBEL AGAINST SOMEONE WHO'S BEEN DEAD FOR 500 YEARS.
What. the. hell. I appreciate the curiosity, the questioning, but it really is a moot point isn't it? I can't explain why they didn't like fourths in the 16th century--they just didn't! So live with it! Anyway, I could go on and on but I can't tolerate inane, pointless, irrelevant questions. Some teachers say there is no such as a stupid question but I say there is! And could you not take up my time asking them? And to make it worse he was talking back and getting mad at me for correcting his improper use of dissonances. The point of all this bitching is that I'm sick of having to justify why composers made up rules for controlling dissonances back in the 16th century to a pretentious kid who can't wait to write a symphony and be famous.

I'm really starting to understand why this field is dominated by men. It requires complete and utter belief in your own compositional genius/prowess and the (biological?) need or want to show off that prowess. It also requires insane attention to detail and incredible, left-brained analytical skills. I'm not into any of this, although I know some women are. I really think that the tradition of writing art music down to be performed by professionals is becoming obsolete and irrelevant. General audiences don't care about this sort of music, and professionals don't want to play new music (generally speaking. It takes years to work up to that point. Or you have to go to Juilliard). I think the world needs new music, but not in this way. I think we need to go back to the old days where composers were more like tradesmen or public servants (none of this genius crap). They served a necessary purpose in society--to write new music for church or the court or dancing or street entertainment. It wasn't about this sense of entitlement (oh look at me! I wrote a symphony! I can't understand why no one wants to play it or listen to it). It was about serving their community. Granted, that life sucked in many ways and they weren't able to compose freely, but they were able to make livings as musicians. It really is no wonder that most people prefer to listen to Baroque, Classical, or Romantic music compared to twentieth-century music.

I think I'm done with my rant. But I still feel peevish. I felt peevish looking at the new issue of BUST (I love that mag but am getting kinda sick of so-called "alternative" culture). I'm mad because I lost a library CD (I can't find it anywhere!). I'm mad because I'm sick of school and students who come up with lame excuses for not turning in an assignment today ("I couldn't find the essay questions on the website!" Or "I left class before you wrote down the fourth question," or "I tried sending you an email last week but it didn't work so I'm turning this assignment in a week late because I don't know your office room number!" -----All of which are completely ridiculous. Everything is either posted on the website or on the syllabus). I'm also sick of French manicures (those icky girls who wear slutty expensive-looking clothes and for the life of them cannot go to the bookstore and buy a 3-dollar mini-stapler).

Yeah, sorry about that. What I need to do now is take a nap.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sisley Huddleston is Such a Drip-- and How!

I spent a lot of money today.

We made the mistake of going into a used bookstore and antique store after breakfast this morning. By the way, breakfast was had at Ferguson's Cafe--the restaurant in Benny and Joon where Ruthie (red-haired what's her name) worked as a waitress. Cool, huh!

I bought:
*2 Christmas records: Spokane's own Bing Crosby; and Kenny and Dolly
*A vintage young-adult book: Tom Swift and His Jetmarine
*A book entitled: Paris Salons, Cafes, Studios: by a man named Sisley Huddleston (printed in 1928). In the first few pages, there is an "epistle dedicatory" to W.L. Warden, Esq.
*A cool pink vintage lamp (with an attached bowl thingy in front. Is that for candy?)
*A vintage cocktail set: tall martini pitcher with 6 matching gold-striped martini glasses

I was naughty, but I only splurge on fun stuff a few times a year. So there!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Shut Up! I'm Trying to Compose!

I've been so deliciously lazy lately.

I'm nearly done with my final projects (well, I'm over the hump at least) and have had these last two days off of school due to the music building being taken over by pimply high school jazz students for what is called "jazz dialogue." They take up every classroom, so boo-hoo--there is no teaching nor learning to be done for today (or yesterday). So, I've been sleeping in until noon (literally) because I've been working on about 5 hours of sleep a night. I feel a little hazy today and guilty for not getting up early, but I don't care. I'm going to work on my orchestration project and then walk downtown (I haven't really "exercised" since the wisdom teeth came out on Sept. 1). Then I'm going to watch a movie (feeling an Amelie itch) and play around on the piano (what other people call "composing." If I call it that I feel like I have to write something brillilant).

Other than being lazy, here's what else I've been up to:

1. Watching the Frontline episode about the Jim West debachle (by the way: oh my god. The whole thing, including Frontline's selective coverage, was very f' ed up).

2. After that, PBS re-aired one of my favorite Independent Lens shows. It's called, "A Touch of Greatness," and is about this elementary school teacher from NY, who, in the sixties, had his 5th grade students put on plays by Shakespeare and Shaw, and had spelling bee races, and designed a classroom atmosphere in which active learning (doing) took place instead of passive learning (read John Holt--see below). I love this show and lament that teachers cannot get away with this sort of thing today because of all the ridiculous standards and tests and political correctness. I'm sure this is on Netflix--you must see it if you have any interest in education.

3. Because I watched this documentary, I'm on another John Holt/education kick. I'm skimming through these books (I don't really have time to read for pleasure yet):

"Instead of Education."
"Freedom and Beyond." (both by John Holt)

I'm also looking at these books:

"What Does it Mean to be Well Educated?" by Alfie Kohn
"What's College For? The Struggle to Define American Higher Education" by Zachary Karabell
"How Popular Musicians Learn" by Lucy Green
"Musiking: The Meanings of Listening and Performing" by Christopher Small

I think by reading all of these I should get an honorary P.H. D, or as Kelly calls it, a P.H. Me.

4. I've been sleeping in lately because I missed out on sleep on Tuesday night, when a friend of ours called, inviting us over for a midnight birthday celebration. It was great--we had just finished watching "Art School Confidential" (which was weird and disappointing) and drove over to J's apartment in our old neighborhood. We put on some Mardi Gras beads, ate some carrot cake, played mad-libs (haven't done that since 6th grade! They didn't believe me when I said "fusty" was a word. It is indeed a word and means "fogyish, or old-fashioned." It also means "smelling of mildew or decay."), and set off some bottlerockets in the middle of the street. Incidentally, the young German composer of the Spokane Symphony lives in a condo next door (how do I know this? I'm too embarrassed to tell you. No no it's nothing like THAT). We joked that we might disturb him from his music practicing by setting off the rockets (he has a baby grand--I saw him practicing through the first-floor window). Imagine K mocking the conductor in his best German accent: "Shut up! I'm trying to compose!" God, that was funny.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Sentimental Value of Hot Dogs, Xanadu, and Amadeus

As I was looking across the sea of bored faces in my humanities class this morning, I wondered if it's harder for people to appreciate classical music if they haven't been brought up with it. I was thinking about one of my favorite movies, Xanadu (one of two movies I own--the other one is Breakfast at Tiffany's--both on VHS) and how people either love or hate that movie, depending on if they saw it as a child. I remember watching it on t.v. when I was in first or second grade and thinking I heard my name in that song Olivia Newton John sings when she's roller skating around that empty auditorium (I think it's called, "Magic," and when she sings the word, "survive," it sounds like she's saying my name). I rediscovered that movie in college, when I happened to be working in the paint shop with two other girls who also loved that movie as kids. One of the girls owned it and during our lunch breaks we'd drive to Dairy Queen for 50 cent hot dogs and go back to her apartment and watch that movie (we were a little liberal with our lunch breaks). We felt like we were triplets separated at birth, because it's difficult to find other people who love that movie (it's really pretty cheesy).

Anyway, I've been having the students do little presentations on Romantic period composers where they share some biographical information and bring some listening examples for the whole class to hear. The group today brought in some Bruckner, who wrote some gorgeous symphonies. We listened to a few minutes of one, and I while it was playing I realized that this music could really sound boring to people who haven't listened to classical music before at home as children or teenagers. They're used to classical music being elevator music, or something they study to, or something they hear on commercials or movie scores--always background music, if they notice it at all. They recognized Wagner's Ride of the Valkries (sp?) and Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet because these themes have been used numerous times in commercials or cartoons. But when it comes to something that's unfamiliar to them like a Bruckner or Mendelssohn symphony, they automatically tune out and their eyes glaze over and they start chatting and rustling papers and coughing. It's almost like a Pavlovian response: an unfamiliar orchestral piece comes on over the speakers and they start drooling (or dozing or coughing or sighing with boredom).

I think I really love classical music because it has sentimental value for me. When I was a kid mom had the Amadeus soundtrack on cassette tape, and for a period of a few years, that's all we listened to at home. It was Mozart, 24/7. I remember specific instances. I was in third grade and we were living in Grand Island, NE in a small apartment building. I knew we must have been poor because the carpet was ugly and brown and I had to wear hand-me-down clothes from my cousins, and we didn't have a piano, so I was not able to take piano lessons like I wanted. Instead, the carpet served as my keyboard. I knew the Concerto for Two Pianos inside and out, and would sit on the floor and pound out all of the notes, convinced I could play it for real if a piano materialized in front of me. I also remember putting together a terrarium for a science fair project and singing along to Don Giovanni.

Now, whenever I listen to the Amadeus soundtrack, which is on my iPod, I am instantly taken back to that time when Mozart helped us get through a tough time. I know the order of the songs, and I can sing them by heart. But unless my students have experienced a similar scenario where music was played at home, I doubt they can connect with the music in the way that I can. That music is written in an old and outdated language they don't understand. It sounds completely different from Tupac or Alicia Keys or Britney Spears or Vince Gill, songs of which last a few short minutes with catchy and provocative lyrics and flashy guitar riffs or techno beats to keep them dancing or singing along. Classical music, on the other hand, requires a long attention span, deep listening skills, and a comfortable chair to hear all the nuances and subtle orchestral effects. It takes time to absorb a piece--it doesn't offer instant gratification like popular music. And for them to be exposed to classical music for the first time in a big, fluorescent-lighted, concrete-walled, no windowed, bland white dirty choir room with no comfortable desks or chairs to sit in--it's no wonder they space out and text-message their friends during class. I would probably do the same if I were in their shoes.

There has been no precedent set for them--no reason for them to consider music written by "dead white guys" hundreds of years ago. Classical music is something rich old people listen to. What could it possibly have to do with their lives? The fact that it is beautiful is not enough. They have no point of reference, or sentimental attachment. I honestly can't think of a reason they should listen to classical music or attend symphony concerts, other than transparent arguments that it makes them more "cultured," or because it's beautiful, or it feels satisfying to listen to. They've already got their music that feels satisfying to them.

I feel like I have to sell them on classical music before the end of the quarter on Dec. 1. How will I do it? Is it possible? Should this be the purpose of the class or should they be allowed to sit there bored out of their minds, making a few chicken scratches in their notebooks as I lecture about the difference between a fugue and a toccata, or what sonata form is? Should I care that they don't care?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Miscellaneous (did I spell that right?)

Nothing to report. Must go to bed. Here's a few freebies:

I'm reading Citizen Vince by Jess Walter (local author) and will start reading The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch after that.

Quelf is a fun game.

I learned how to say "I dance like an elephant," in Russian, last night at a party.

I want to have a "Sixteen Candles" 30th birthday party where one would find t.p.'ed trees and pizzas on the turn table and Anthony Michael Hall trapped underneath the coffee table.

After I graduate I'm planning on playing in a rock band, a small Baroque ensemble, a cafe-accordion duo with a singer, a Klezmer/Eastern European ethnic ensemble, and a contemporary music ensemble.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The process of de-institutionalization starts now

Last night I saw a great band at Whitworth College--Norfolk and Western from Portland. They played here last spring, and I got a chance to talk to their girl drummer. She teaches at the Rock n' Roll camp for girls (Portland, every summer. They even have a rock camp for women too), and painted a cute crow beating a drum on her kick drum. The band is really cool--there's a lead singer/guitarist, bass guitar/2nd guitar, drummer, and guy who plays violin, banjo, guitar, bass, theremin and musical saw. Totally great sound and live band. I went to see it with my future band members (friend T, and K) and we decided that I will be the multi-instrumentalist. T has a viola, which I hope to learn promptly (either that or I will rent/buy a cello!). We already have two accordions, keyboards that make helicopter sounds and samba beats, two guitars, two banana shakers and two harmonicas. I think we'll be making a trip to the hardware store for misc. percussion and saw parts. Anyway, I think being in a band will be a good way to de-institutionalize myself after I graduate. I've had all I can take of teaching millenials and being taught by overworked and jaded professors.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Things that make me weep

I'm sitting here at school, on my lunch break, listening to Vivaldi and reading some of Kate DiCamillo's online journal entries (there is a link to the right). Damn! Her entries are making me weep. And by weep I don't mean gushing heart-wrenching tears but enough moisture balling up at the ends of my eyelashes to make me want to dab my eyes politely with a lacy hankerchief.

So I've been thinking of other things that make me weep:

1. The opening credits and music from Anne of Green Gables
2. The opening credits of Disney's Beauty and the Beast
3. Vivaldi's Summer and Winter (this also makes me feel punk rock, if you know what I mean).
4. Cather's My Antonia
5. Gillian Welch's Orphan Girl
6. The ending sequence of American Beauty (I wailed, not wept, for 2 hours afterwards).
7. Cafe Latte's Raspberry Cream Torte or Grandma B's buttermilk chocolate sheet cake
8. Playing Katherine Hoover's Winter Spirits on flute
9. The choral version of Barber's Adagio done by the Dale Warland Singers
10.That one aria from Turandot I can't remember the name of but it is sung by a tenor.
11.Any opening or ending movie sequence with gorgeous music
12.Rachels' Music for Egon Schiele.
13.Greg Brown's Spring Wind
14.When the Mutts cartoon does its shelter stories

Sometimes when I'm singing in the car along with a song I'll choke up for no reason (or maybe there is a reason: a beautiful chord progression or lyric?) and won't be able to sing for awhile. Does this happen to you or am I a weirdo?

Be-wigged Vivaldi Beauties

Boy, I'm glad I didn't send that email to my composition prof. After I wrote that I went downstairs and played some of my parlor music from the 20's on the upright piano ("I Would! If I Could! But I Can't! Why? Because I'm Married Now" is the actual title of the piece). From there I started messing around and came up with a beginning to my women's choir piece, which is based on the Fontbonne Pool at CSC. I'm hoping it could eventually be sung by the CSC choir in the actual pool. That's my dream. If you don't know about this obsession, ask me about it sometime.

Anyway, I've been into Baroque music lately because I've been discussing this period with my humanities students. I remember a Rick Steves episode where he goes to watch a concert of a period-costumed and be-wigged all female Vivaldi chamber orchestra. That's my dream! To play in that orchestra. But I have to learn how to play a string instrument--I'm thinking cello or viola because everyone plays violin. I also showed my class snippets from Monteverdi's Orfeo opera, and the music is really gorgeous for that time (1607!).

Also new: I discovered that a classmate of mine is fluent in Spanish--she studied abroad in high school--and wants to get together and practice her Spanish, so I think I might try and pick it up again (took 4 years in high school). She loaned me some books and DVDs so maybe I'll be writing my next post en Espanol.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Warning: Intensely Personal and Embarrassing Blog Entry

Can I get something off my chest (in other words, this entry will be good therapy for me, but boring for you)? Even if it's intensely personal and somewhat embarrassing?

All day, I've been crafting a letter in my head to my composition professor, which would explain why I've only composed 3 pieces since I've been in grad school (since January 2004). This was all sparked by two things: and impending composition lesson tomorrow in which I have nothing done (again), and, seeing how much my fellow students are composing in a composition seminar today.

Here's what I've got so far:

Dear Dr. ______,

I'm not sure why I haven't been setting time aside to work on my composition projects, but yet again I have nothing to show you for tomorrow. However, I have a couple theories, which might explain my behavior.

1. I need lots of physical and mental space to feel safe enough to create. As you know I have two large humanities classes to take care of, and every moment of my day is taken up with lesson planning, grading, maintaining the class website, and thinking about how to make my class better, how to make my students care, and what to do with students who turn in late papers and "forget" to do their presentations. In some ways I don't think it's quite fair to throw grad students into teaching when they have their own classes and grades and papers to think about, no teaching assistants to help with grading and photo-copying, and no guidance whatsoever on how to even teach material I don't know well to a large class of 50 non-music major freshmen. Besides this, I have a large orchestration project that's due on Nov. 15, a piano pedagogy project that's due on the 29th, a women's choir piece to write by Dec. 1, plus misc. minor things that still take time, such as working part time while attending school. As you can see, I have no mental space for the creation of musical works. My brain is all used up and I have trouble remembering which key opens my front door, what the copy code is at school, and where I put my chapstick. As far as physical space, I have a nice piano in the dining room, but there is no privacy there. It is just a few feet away from the television. That was the only place to put the piano--it is the only inside wall downstairs.

2. I don't compose as prolifically as my fellow grad students because I don't have the same strong music background as they do. Both of them have been composing and performing for a long time and both have undergraduate degrees in composition. My b.a. is in art education. What classes in my past life have prepared me to write abstract sounds down into a concrete form? The last theory and ear-training classes I had were in 1997. My friends already have craft. I am still at the first step and need to gear up to write something down. It's like I'm trying to write a novel in Russian when I only know three words in the language: cat, pencil, and battery. There's only so many variations on these three words. Also, I know my colleagues have as little time as I do (one of them has 3 kids! The other one has numerous performing and teaching gigs), but they can just sit down and spew out music in a few hours. I'm not to that point yet.

3. Do I really want to write music down? I think one of my problems is motivation. My primary musical interests lie in the education, therapy, and ethnomusicology realms. did I choose the wrong major? Aren't there enough contemporary art music composers out there? How much quasi-tonal "woo-woo, pluck-pluck" postmodernism can the American concert audience take? Should music even be written down anymore, now that we have highly advanced recording equipment? Besides, a score is not music--it is a picture of music. Real music exists in space. The pieces I would write (and spend hours on!) would only exist in space for a few minutes and then get dusty in some drawer or on a shelf in a forgotten section of the library. Does contemporary art music help anyone? Does anyone care?

4. If I really liked composing, wouldn't I just do it and stop whining about it? Some composer said on a blog I read recently: Self-discipline is a natural trait for composers because they want to spend as much time creating as possible. Or something like that--I don't have it quite right, but you get the idea. I'm afraid self-discipline has never been one of my strong suits, even though I enjoy creating in a language I'm familiar with. As a fourth grader it was so easy to sit on my bed and write short stories or make up fashion designs in my sketchbook. I never analyzed what I was doing--I just did it and it didn't seem like work at all. I was just playing. I like the playing around part of composition, but I don't like the more analytical, detailed work that goes into editing and refining. I loose interest by then. I am by nature what Barbara Sher calls a "scanner." So the question is, do I go against my own nature or try to shape it and change my habits?


and so on.

Blah blah blah, I'm so whiny! But these are questions I struggle with everyday. I want to get out of school and get on with my life.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Too much, too little, too late (hey, that's a 70's era Johnny Mathis song!)

I totally agree with Gintastic on the warm fuzzies one gets with this sisterhood of interbloguality. It's a fun experiment. If I can stick with this for a month, they say it takes 21 days to change a habit, so maybe the writing habit will stay with me....

Anyway, can't blog too much right now. I just got home from a (pathetic) composer's concert (we only had 3 pieces on it) and now I have to preview some Baroque operas to pick out some clips to show my students. I'll also be showing a clip from "Farinelli," that movie about a castrato. Hopefully they'll find these somewhat interesting, although sometimes I feel I have to be as entertaining as Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society to keep them from falling asleep or playing solitaire on their laptops. Seriously! They expect so much out of me and I can't give it too them. I'm about ready to throw in the towel and just say, you know what? We're just going to watch Amadeus and Immortal Beloved and Impromptu and eat popcorn for class. None of this trying to care if they learn about classical music crap. They're all visual learners these days anyway, right? Is there a Mozart video game out there? Gee, look at me, I'm already jaded and I'm not even a real professor! Ha!

On a more upbeat note, Sammy Davis Jr. was on Charlie's Angles tonight and played two characters, one of which owned a chain of liquor stores and dressed like a pimp with very poor fashion sense (a long long blue plaid suit jacket with matching pants and red shoes). I only caught the last 30 minutes or so but that sure made my night. By the way, I've been noticing strange parallels between Nancy Drew and Charlie's Angels. I think this might be another topic for another blog...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Blue-hairs singing 4-part harmony in church! Just imagine!

I'm listening to a new record right now: The Carter Family--I Walk the Line. On the cover is a picture of the four ladies (June, Anita, Mother Maybelle and what's the fourth one's name?)in blue and white striped scoop-necked 60s party dresses and bouffanted hairdos. K found it at Value Village today. I am listening to it on my portable vintage record player (thanks Jen!)on top of K's new amp.

Yes, K is playing music again. Our friend T wants to start a band and wants K for backup guitar and bass. I would play misc. instruments. K's been practicing electric guitar for an upcoming show that T will do this coming thursday. K's really quite good. When I first met him he would play a six-stringed blues guitar while laying on his twin bed. He also had an acoustic 12-string and an electric guitar and would jam with the guys he lived with in his first apartment in Minneapolis. When we moved to Eugene and he started going to grad school he sold his amps and guitars--all except the electric guitar. I tried to talk him out of it--what if he wanted to play again someday? It was the end of an era in a way, and I couldn't understand why he couldn't be a journalist and play music (at the same time!). Well, we were also poor and had to eat and selling the miscellaneous instruments made sense.

But it's so cool to see him jamming again--just like old times. On a related note, we (my family and I) gave my stepdad a guitar for his 51st b-day just last week. Last year he bought himself a harmonica, so we figured he would like to branch out a little and try something we could always see him playing. He has a deep Johnny Cash voice and with a couple chords under his fingers he could totally have a Cash cover band. People in NE would go apeshit for that. But I guess he's psyching himself out about learning it--and is putting off lessons. I think this is a symptom of a sickness that's plaguing America--a musical sickness. Yeah, that sounds cheesy but here's the thing: there are billions of bad music teachers out there that tell people they have no musical talent, can't sing, and can't dance. I think everyone can say they've had a bad music teacher at one point in time. Those harsh words stay with people--it's like a bad seed that's been planted--and from then on people swear off music forever. I have an aunt who never sings--not even in the car--because some mean nun in the 50's told her she was a terrible singer. It's really sad. That's one of the reasons why our culture is so musically underdeveloped, in terms of amateur vernacular musicking. We need more people playing guitar and piano and dulcimer and fiddle at home for their families and on the street corner. We need people to sing four-part harmony in church. We need people to dance more. I think people forget that humans are inherently musical (if you can talk you can sing, if you can walk you can dance) and that musicking does not mean playing dead-white guy Western art music, and most of all that music is supposed to be fun. Anyway, that's my soapbox speech for the evening.

Yesterday I got the opportunity to play Tibetan singing bowls. You hold them in your hand and rub a wooden stick around the edge (the set looks kinda like a metal mortar and pestle) which sets them vibrating and emitting this other-worldly hum, like wine glasses. The vibrations actually feel really good. They're supposed to affect your chakras or something new-agey like that but they really are relaxing and beautiful-sounding. We're playing them in a composition concert tomorrow night. Maybe I'll save some money and buy a set and open a vibrational healing shop. Kelly could read tarot and Gintastic could bake some ginger wheatgrass cookies and we'll dress like hippies and make a fortune! It'll be great.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Bachelor Flats

I'm not even sure where to begin.

I had the most surreal experience today. The backstory is this: this rich old lady donated 100,000 dollars to our music department, and in her honor, her neighbor, a rich old man, threw a party for her for donating the money, and for himself for throwing the party. They wanted some students and professors from our school to play some chamber music for their soiree, so I played accordion in a trio a fellow composer friend wrote. There was a little program made up, and whomever put them together listed me as "Zamina, accordian." They forgot to include my last name, so it looked like I was trying to be Madonna or Prince or something. My classmates and a few profs that were there thought that was pretty funny and gave me hell for it. So we played our piece, and the two profs that were there, a married couple, played some bassoon and cello duets, and a student soprano in a fancy dress sang Schubert's Ave Maria along with a student accompanist (also in a fancy dress). It was very Anne of Green Gables all of a sudden, where they are staying with that rich lady and she takes Diana and Anne to see this opera singer singing for a similar soiree. It was all very 19th century salon-ish. We played on an open second-floor landing near a mahogany baby grand piano and a victorian-style floor lamp with tulip-shaped glass bulbs. A dean of the college asked to touch my accordian. I think she was really into it.

This is one layer.

This is another layer: when you walk in this house (which was in a gated community on the South Hill--a very well-to-do area of town, which has marvelous views of Spokane), first you see the marble floor and oriental rugs. Then you look up and see massive amounts of blue plates hanging on the dining room wall. Then you see shining crystal goblets, vases that look old and valuable (from the Ming Dynasty?), Asian sculptures, crystal chandaliers, tapestries, and Queen Anne style chairs covered in shiny navy brocaded fabric. There is so much to see that your eyes can only focus on one thing at a time. Gradually everything becomes more clear as you adapt to the lavish surroundings. You start noticing more things: a wall devoted to Renaissance-era religious art in huge gilded frames, an ornate Asian-style china cubbord filled with small jade and ivory and brass Buddhas that you would expect to see in the Chicago Institute of Art, Japanese scrolls, Chinese brush paintings, crystal-baubled wall sconces. You walk downstairs and see what looks like ornate wooden doors from a 10th century Chinese noble's house, attatched to the wall. You see big oil paintings with cowboy-western themes, and a bar filled with booze and decorated with models of vintage cars and hot-wheels in their original packaging. In the corner you spy a voo-doo walking stick with what appears to be real human hair tufting out of the top, and an animal's brushy tail hanging on the wall next to the ornately carved dark-brown stick. There is not one surface of wall left uncovered in the upstairs or downstairs areas or the in-between areas. There are collections of glass, crystal, plates, figurines, miniature paintings, large paintings, and so on and so forth. You wonder how one person has collected so much art, and how much that vase on the pedestal costs (50,000 dollars?). You imagine the crew of Antiques Roadshow running through the house and shrieking orgasmically. You feel sorry for the maids who have to dust and vacuum this house. Your first thought upon walking into the house was one of complete and utter shock: someone actually lives like this? Your second or third thoughts might be: how much is this man really worth, and how can he live like this when people can't afford food and healthcare and education?

Imagine me, walking around with a crystal glass of Chardonnay in my hand, peering at the art as if I were at the MIA or the Smithsonian, and trying to mingle with old rich people; chatting with my fellow music friends, feeling underdressed (a dark denim skirt, black-grey argyle tights, black flats, tan corduroy western-style fitted jacket, dark blue and black scarf decorated with piano keys and treble clefs) while men sport ties and suit jackets, and the women wear heels and pearls (I had no idea it was dressy dressy). Upon hearing of the real animal tail hanging on the wall, the associate conductor of the Spokane Symphony and I rush down to the equally ornate lower level to find it, like little kids who are exploring the professor's house in the Narnia series. I think surreal and pompous and lavish and over-the-top are the operative words here. But what shocked me more than the expensive art collection was the strange juxtaposition between high and low art: in front of the fireplace sat a collection of homemade felt mice-dolls in bonnets and pioneer-style prairie dresses with those cheap-looking wire frames one finds at Hobby Lobby perched on their noses. The backdrop for the dolls was a medieval-looking worn tapestry hanging from a brass rod. Similarly, two church-bazaar-looking crocheted pandas sat atop a black antique jewelry box (or was it a radio? I can't remember. But it was old and expensive-looking). Tom Clancy paperbacks were peppered throughout the house, next to gold figurines from Thailand. Miniature asian sculptures and colored glass grapes sat upon a huge flatscreen t.v. A cheap-looking robin's egg blue velour couch, complete with needle-pointed pillows, was placed below the exquisite collection of religious Renaissance art. The more I looked, the more I realized the place was badly decorated. Objects and paintings were just thrown around with no sense of aesthetic placement. You'd think for how rich this guy is that he could afford an interior designer who could inject a little feng shui into the house. It's all so misleading at first: the expensive-looking ancient art and crystal collection throws you off-guard and makes you believe for a while you're in the most exquisite palace when really it's just a new house with flat white walls and vinyl windows and dark-stained wood details to make it look fancier than it really is. I do have to admit that the view was gorgeous, though. And tonight Spokane was all misty and navy blue with rain.

Other notable things: apparently this professor (he really was a retired professor) had almost married the daughter of the Shah of Egypt (or was it Iran?). Apparently.

I was afraid to sit on the fancy-looking brocaded silk chairs, so I stood the whole time. I drank decaf out of a gold-rimmed china cup, which I almost knocked over while laughing.

The upstairs bathroom was filled with some woman's beauty products (Mary Kay?) and electric roller set. I thought this 80's something guy was single. He called his place, Bachelor Flats. "Have a look around Bachelor Flats," he says.

January 4, 1989, apparently

On an electronic sign outside of a strip mall by our house it tells us that it is January 4, 1989.

I forgot to mention that yesterday was our first snow of the season. I was driving to a piano lesson and had to turn my iPod to Vince Guaraldi's "Christmastime is Here" song. I find myself listening to that song a lot--even during the summer. It's a good song to play when you're feeling bored/down/wistful--all at the same time.

Today we had a plumming disaster. Poor K woke up with a stomach bug and had to deal with it on his own while I was trying to deliver a lecture on secular Renaissance music to a room full of bored, chit-chatty students. However one of my students gave me a chocolate bear with a red heart. I spent the better part of the evening making sure our sink was cloroxed out enough to wash dishes in it. K is still sick but feeling better. After I cleaned the house I ran to the grocery store for the second time today to pick up some 7-up, spaghetti-o's and chocolate pudding per K's request (I think his stomach is feeling better....) and in the cleaning products aisle John Lennon's "Woman" came on over the loud speakers. That song always makes me happy for some reason, as if I heard it in the womb and I'm remembering something lovely and distant.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Cowboy Bus Driver

I realized this morning that my morning bus driver looks like he belongs more on a horse on a ranch in Wyoming than driving a city bus in Spokane. He kinda looks like Paul Newman and could totally be an actor playing a cowboy in some Hollywood western. So from now on I'm going to imagine that he's wearing a cowboy hat and a denim shirt and holding a lasso. As he's driving the bus. Just for fun.

Today I looked at Bored at work? Check it out. Sorry, I'm too lazy to provide a link.

Today I introduced my one piano/art student to watercolors. He's a 13-year old homeschooler who is very polite and will probably grow up to look like Kevin from The Office (but not as fat). I swear they have the exact same mannerisms and laugh. Anyway, he was worried about spilling paint and water on the carpet downstairs so we painted upstairs. I noticed that he was very meticulous with his watercolor cakes, cleaning them off with paper towels so the colors didn't muddy from mixing and double-dipping. He says please and thank you a lot. For all our carefulness I ended up spilling water all over their counter and nice hardwood floor. Of course they didn't mind--they are very nice people from Crawford NE, and the mother gave me a recipe for Runza Casserole. If you don't know what a runza is you must find out. Anyway, we commisserated on how no one outside of NE understands the beauty of this particular food. It's nice to know people like that. People who understand NE instead of saying, "Oh it's that really boring flat state, isn't it?"

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

the anti-school school

I'm going to try this blog everyday thing for the month of November. It sounds like a fun challenge. This is also the home stretch to the end of the quarter so we'll see how well I hold out. I'm pretty excited because the last day of graduate school classes ever (ever! well, at least here) coincide with my 30th b-day on Dec. 1. You can all bet I'll be drinking heavily that night to celebrate.

Today started out pretty well. I woke up half an hour before my alarm, which gave me time to finish an assignment I had procrastinated on all week. On the bus I read an article about the musical brain (for my piano pedagogy class) that said everyone is born with some capacity for music and music-making, and it also said that people are subconsciously drawn to music that mimics proportions in nature. This nature idea was later brought up in class, but in a more round-about way. We were discussing how it is better, in performance to have correct rhythm than correct pitches, because uneven and unsure rhythm makes us feel nervous. This led to speculations about the rhythms of nature, i.e. the regularity of our own heartbeats and a predilection for even, steady rhythms. Then a classmate interjected by saying that she has an uneven heartbeat, and does this tie in with her inablity to keep a steady pulse while playing piano? Someone else mentioned that if you put two old-fashioned metronomes together, on the same speed but start them at different times, that their beats will eventually synchronize. Very deep thoughts for a wednesday afternoon, but it's all pretty fascinating if you think about it. I'll have to try the metronome experiment sometime and get back to you.

More drama in the classroom. I posted, on my class website, that I was concerned with their grammar skills and tendency towards plagiarism. I got an annonymous comment from a student who was appalled that I didn't state this policy in my syllabus and how could I possibly grade down for that? So I wrote back that it goes without saying that whatever written work you turn in for school needs to be at least somewhat grammatically polished and not copied from another author. I haven't heard back yet, but hopefully they get it now. It's so frustrating. I see why they're frustrated. High school did not prepare them to be good writers and thinkers, but plagiarism? My god, K was just telling me that in 3rd grade he learned what plagiarism was because he had copied an oral report out of an encyclopedia. Am I being too mean to these students? Am I asking too much?

Along these lines I'm currently reading a book called, "What's College For?" and in it the author mentions that today's college students feel entitled to receive A's and pass classes just because they pay tuition. It's a business venture--I pay you, you give me a degree. This may be one of the reasons college today is dumbed down--deans feel pressured by parents and students to ease the load so the college can continue to operate and keep their enrollment high. This is probably a gross oversimplification, and there are definitely other factors involved, but this book is really fascinating and makes me see higher education in a whole new light. It is really a business--it has nothing to do with learning or education at all. On the other side of this all, I've been enjoying teaching because it makes me mad and makes me want to do something about it, but can I really go through the bullshit of another graduate degree just to teach a subject to students that feel a sense of entitlement, who don't care about the subject, who work full-time jobs (because they can't afford to go to school AND feed their families or pay rent), who are visual learners instead of aural learners--who would rather sleep or chit-chat in class or watch a video or play solitaire on their laptops or listen to their iPods with one ear-bud in their left ear (all happened)---and the worst part of it all is that I understand because I am a student and I've been in painfully awful classes and seen ineffective teaching. Well, I hope I'm not too terrible of a teacher, but I can't be worse than some profs. But how do you teach a large lecture class that meets everyday a subject like music history where the only option is to give boring lectures everyday because no one reads the textbook (which I didn't pick out by the way--it's embarrassingly dumbed down--large pictures, containing over-simplified and sometimes incorrect music-historical information). There is no opportunity for active learning, deep listening, or intense engagement when people are worried about their next paycheck, or they're sleeping because how does Renaissance polyphony relate to Alicia Keys and Tupac? You can't teach someone who doesn't want to learn, and feels entitled to receive an A just because they paid tuition. Out of a 50-something class, only 20 have been showing up. How can I not care about that? How can I keep going when I know they don't care no matter how hard I try?

I want to work in the field of education, but it's all so messed up. I think I'm going to start my own school: the anti-school school where you pick out a few subjects you want to study, and you read about them on your own, and you make robots and puppets and go on field trips to learn about dairy farms and talk about current events and put on skits. This is actually what it was like in "gifted" class in 5th grade (I hate that word because everyone is "gifted" in some way). Why can't school be like that?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Spooky Spookane

Hey kids, I added some new links. Colon cancer sucks ass is the blog of a friend of mine who was diagnosed with cancer last year. Remi 1000 is the blog of a friend of ours who writes random stuff about Spokane (I just about wrote Spookane. Perfect for Halloween). Taste Everything Once is the significant other of Remi 1000 and her blog is all about food and has some great recipes and food links on it.

As for me--same old school stuff. Getting mad at my students, at the state of education, at their inability to write and think and my inability to really do something about it. It really is disheartening when you assign a simple project (find an article about music in the NYTimes and write a summary/reflection on it) and it comes back with the article hand-copied by the student with no citations or source or summary or reflection. How do these people graduate from high school?

I'm happy tomorrow is Halloween--my all-time favorite holiday. Unfortunately I'll be working so I won't get to greet the cute little kiddies in their ballerina and sponge-bob costumes at our new door. We were hatching a plan where I'd answer the door, and while the kids were standing there, K would pop out of a garbage can and scare them. Although that might be a long time to wait in a smelly cold garbage can.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Seen any ectoplasm lately?

So, I've been spending the afternoon blogging instead of doing homework, but I need a break from the relentlessness of assignments and class-planning. I have two school-related blogs: one for my humanities class, and another one for our composer's group. They seem to be working well, although it's hard to tell how many students are looking at them. I post assignments and misc. announcements on them instead of using blackboard. Anyway, if you're reading this, forgive my long absence, but school has been crazy and I barely have time to sleep let alone write. But I've been realizing that my writing has really sucked lately in school papers, and unless you exercise that writing muscle, you kind of lose it, so in a way I am doing homework right now....

My humanities class is going fairly well. I am the teacher of 117 students, and so far it's been interesting to say the least. I'm not used to huge lecture classes, and miss the intimacy of small CSC classes. It's hard to keep track of attendance and participation when you don't know everyone's name (although I know a good 90% of their names). But on any given day only 30 out of 55 show up, so I guess it's not too bad. I have to keep reminding myself to stay detatched--to not care too much if they miss class or don't turn in assignments. There are a few kids that are really cool though and they make up for the less-interested ones. I showed the documentary about Evelyn Glennie called, "Touch the Sound," and after viewing it, one student came up to me and said it made her want to do something with her life. Amazing! That's exactly the response I wanted from that film, because I felt the same way after I saw it. Another student emailed me and told me I am the only prof of his this quarter that is actually teaching something passionately. I'm not bragging (okay maybe I am a little...) but isn't that sad? That the other profs are that apathetic about their subjects? I've also had students bring me coffee and mixed CD's (hoping for instant A's?), and been given gifts by a retired music professor (from my school) who happened to pop into my first class on the first day and ask if I was Dr. J.E. I told him who I was (a grad student studying composition), and since then he's tracked me down to donate used 3-ring binders for my students, 2 humanities-related books from his personal collection (which he's gradually donating to the library and music school), and a free ticket for a symphony concert tonight (he wants to discuss my reactions to a contemporary piece called, "Damn," which is on the program tonight). I was flabbergasted by this man's kindness, and also his never-ending interest in the musical development of music students. He used to be the chair of our music program and is a font of musical wisdom. The other day our piano pedagogy class met at Starbucks and he just happened to be there buying coffee beans (apparently he has stock in Starbucks). He spied all the piano books strewn across our table and asked us what class we were taking. He then asked if we were piano majors, and proceeded to ask each one of us what we would be playing on upcoming concerts. As each of the girls named off their pieces, for instance, the Bach Fugue No. 1 in C minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier, he'd look into space for awhile, his finger at his chin, and then say, "Oh yes. That's a lovely piece. How are you doing with the left-hand arpeggios?" I swear he knew every single piece they named (he was a piano professor at one point, but still...). He's so nice and humble--he just totally makes my day when I see him. So tonight I'm going to a concert, courtesy of Dr. R.

Other than school stuff, we just moved into a house! It's super sweet. I can play the accordion at 11pm and no one cares, except maybe K and some mice. There is a nice big guest bedroom (hint hint) and backyard, although that needs help (next summer: bring your trowels!).

I've been listening to Joni Mitchell's Hejira album (we're a block away from a record store, which is dangerous), and reading Haruki Murakami's "Sputnick Sweetheart," (disappointing), and "Spooks," by Mary Roach (very humorous and interesting. There's a delightful/disgusting chapter on ectoplasm. It makes for good Halloween/Friday the 13th reading...). What else? I'm wearing more neutrals these days, going to a hairstylist that can just look at your face and cut your hair so that it looks good, and having night dreams about old friends. Do you do that? Dream about someone you haven't thought about in ages?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Not-so-wise wisdom teeth

It's time for bed but I'm not quite tired yet. As usual, I'm on my summer sleeping schedule of staying up late and getting up at 9 or 10. I don't have to go to work until 1, but I get mad at myself when I don't make my mornings more productive. Will I ever change? I have a friend here who runs on a nearby trail at 6 in the morning everyday. On one of her excursions, she picked blackberries on the way and brought some to me. My god, if I even had two ounces of her energy....but after she brought the blackberries we played a little guitar together. She's just learning, so I taught her the first few chords of Blackbird (which I learned by rote from Joan (the best music professor ever) way back in '96 (did I sound old just then?). It's the only song I know on the guitar by memory. I was amazed at how much I do know about the guitar. My friend kept asking me basic things about strumming and picking and tuning and I remembered things my teacher had told me. I really love playing the guitar, I think because you hug it when you play it, and it emits a soft sound like a perfume (Joan's words).

I've been avoiding writing about my summer so far because so much happened--good things and also lots of drama. The most lovely part of it was visiting O'Neill, NE, and driving around country roads past homes my ancestors lived in. It made me realize that I come from somewhere (as if I needed reminding, but when I'm here, my life in the midwest seems like a dream and that I was born in a cabbage patch--which is really what I believed in 2nd grade). It really is beautiful out there, very flat with scrubby trees and pastures and meadows full of haystacks and bales, seemingly arranged in some cosmic order like Stonehenge. We also saw lots of wildlife: my first owl, who was perched on a fence post; a family of raccoons crossing the gravel road; herons? or egrets? I'm not sure, but beautiful tall birds; and lots of other miscellaneous birds (I wish I knew their names). We drove into the yard of a farmette where my great aunt and uncle lived until just a few months ago. The two-story white stucco house was built by my great-grandfather for my great-grandmother, but I don't know how long they actually lived in that house. But the place had a great big yard, three barns, a basketball hoop, and nearby ruins of an old foundation. This was all surrounded by a grove of trees, and you get there by driving through an enchanted lane of low-hanging branches of trees (where the raccoons crossed the road). In other words, I loved this area, and fanticized briefly about moving there, but then realized I'd have to live in small town NE, and be there in the nighttime, which I am afraid of in the country. Anyway, I loved seeing it and other places my family had lived. The highlight was stopping by for an impromptu visit to my mom's cousin's farm about 10 miles from O'Neill. She didn't know we were coming, and we pulled into her yard to be greeted by a barking blue heeler and farm kitties, and the loud grumbling noise of a garden tiller. This late 50-something woman was pushing this noisy, heavy piece of farm equipment through dark soil, which was caking up on her blue plastic sandals. She wore a baseball hat, a big yellow tee-shirt with butterflies on it, and blue shorts. I was amazed. She was like a real Mary Jane farmgirl, working in her beautiful, huge vegetable garden, in which the rows of peas and beans were perfectly aligned. She was happy and surprised to see us (I don't know if she gets that many visitors) and invited us in for a chat and some beverages. Her house is typical NE farmgirl: kitchen covered in floral wallpaper, mauve/grey living room filled with a formal dining table, t.v. set, pictures and hanging figures of angels, china cabinet, fresh flowers on the table, and a small accordion propped up in the corner. Everyone in NE either played the accordion at one time or knows someone who did. In this case, it was her mother that had played it. It was nice to know I had some musicians in the family. On the fridge were 4-H pictures of her son and husband, standing by a cow (or was it a horse? I can't remember). A nearby bulletin board showed off satiny colored 4-H ribbons. It was a very inviting and cozy house, although sad because her only son was killed in a car crash a few years ago. I remember her saying something like, "You have to accept it--there is no other choice." I was amazed at her strength of spirit. She then asked us if we would like some fresh raspberries so we went out in her backyard and picked them ourselves. The blue heeler, Susie, was nipping at my ankles in a playful way. Cousin E then asked us if we'd like to see her roosters and baby chicks (boy would we!) and led us into a dimly lit barn (remember that, kelly?) to show us her sumatran roosters that lay blue eggs (she gave us one, and a brown one too), and her baby chicks that were now adolescents. The dogs had followed us in and wanted very badly to chase them around, but they obeyed and stayed back. E said she wanted to try raising chicks, so she just did it. I wish I had that option! Anyway, she then showed us the beautiful bird house she made to look like a church, which had won a purple ribbon (or was it blue? whatever first prize is) at the fair. This homemade birdhouse was perched above a galvanized tank filled with flowers. Again and again, I was amazed at her farmgirl savvy. It was a lovely day which in which I was immersed in my farmgirl fantasy, and one that I've been thinking of often since I got back. It was the highlight of my stay (along with sewing aprons and purses with mom, and painting an okay still life of flowers).

The downside of my stay was the drama surrounding my dad (most of you know what this entailed and I don't want to go into details) and worry over finding a house in Spokane. K and I decided while we were visiting K and H in early summer that we'd start looking for a house in Spokane, because K really likes his job, and cheap housing is to be had here, so why not start building up equity to buy a really cool house later on in another city. My anxiety began while I was at home, in my parents' house in NE. I'm not a flyer, and being this far away means I have to either fly or drive three days to get home. I don't know if I can keep this up for 3-5 more years--of spending a few weeks in NE once a year--and being bombarded with drama (the two-family situation of being from a divorced home). My family reads this blog but I'm sure it's no surprise to them that I get stressed about living far away and only coming home once a year. When we moved here I thought we'd be "home" (meaning Minneapolis) by 2007, and we'd finally "settle." But now, with buying a house on the horizon, it means being here longer. I'm both excited and scared about being here longer. I really like it here, and cheap housing is abundant (we'd never be able to afford a cool house in the cities). We're making great friends, and more and more I'm loving the mild weather and knowing that I could just drive to the ocean or Portland for the weekend. I feel torn between two worlds, and am not sure where home is and if one should go back to their roots (bloom where you are planted? a mini-quilt bearing this quote hangs in my grandma's kitchen). I feel tied to NE and MN, but would I like living there again? Would it ever be the same? Would I hate it if I moved back? Can one ever go home? Where is home? I don't know if I'll ever answer these questions. K told me the other day that he could stay in Spokane forever (after saying this summer that he could not stay in Spokane forever). I'm not sure where I stand on this issue.

Sorry if I've been waxing prosaic in this posting but there is a lot going on right now, on top of trying to graduate soon (the possibility of doing a recital seems ridiculous right now--I can't envision myself actually doing it, which is keeping me from writing music), preparing to teach a huge lecture class on music history this fall, and trying to figure out what I'll actually do after I graduate (hopefully not work retail). I've also been on a Madeleine L'Engle kick and reading the entire Austin family series (I love them! They sing rounds at the dinner table for grace), and revisiting my interest in marine biology, which first came in the seventh grade after reading "A Ring of Endless Light," in which the main character discovers that she can communicate psychically with dolphins. I found a first-edition copy of this book at a basement, hole-in-the-wall bookstore for 15 dollars and just re-read it. It was luminous, to say the least. I've started wearing the dolphin ring my dad gave me for my fifteenth? birthday, when I was still enthralled with dolphins and marine life.

Oh, it's time to go to bed!

I'm tired, finally.

P.S. I'm having my wisdom teeth out on friday, so think of me and send me letters!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Back in the Inland Northwest

I've been putting off posting a new blog because there is so much to write about. I just got back from spending three weeks in the midwest. I think I need to decompress a little. But I'm gearing up for more writing soon.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Whatever gets you through the night--or orchestra rehearsal--it's all right

This quarter, I have had the experience of playing principal flute with our university orchestra. Don't worry, I'm not bragging or anything--I was asked to take over for the original prinicpal flutist who is suffering from tendonitis this term (I was the only other flutist at school that was available). The last time I played in an orchestra was about seven years ago at CSC. I remember really liking orchestra and playing the challenging flute parts for Prokofiev's Classical Symphony and Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. What happened between then and now I'll never know, because I'm stressing out and not enjoying playing in an orchestra as much as I used to. Don't get me wrong--I love orchestral music, and our conductor is awesome: a young (okay, he's my age and went to the prestigious Cincinnati Conservatory of Music) Japanese guy who says funny things while conducting like, "One-two-Captain Crunch!" And has mentioned that he watches the Colbert Report and Arrested Development. He's a very good conductor and kind--he doesn't get too mad if you mess up. But this whole orchestral experience is stressing me out and I'm trying to figure out why. I think it's because I've been playing flute so long that I feel like I should be able to play these stupid runs and fast passages in the music by now--that I'm entitled almost to play well, even though I've never been a good or consistent practicer. When I screw these runs up in rehearsal I get very upset and flustered and swear under my breath, and sit there on the verge of tears thinking, why can't I get this? As the first flute player, it is very hard to hide behind other players--I'm very exposed and most orchestral music tends to have tricky little licks for flute players.

I've been talking to my flute teacher about this, and he showed me a few short cuts, like for fast runs, it doesn't matter what notes you play so long as it sounds like a gliss up to a certain note, and alternate fingerings for tricky passages. I was telling him that I noticed that if I sat up straight in my chair with my left foot planted firmly in front of me, and tried not to lift up my eyebrows while playing that I feel more relaxed, or in charge anyway, and do slightly better with the nerves and the tricky fingerings. He said, just do whatever works, and convinced me I wasn't crazy for adopting a "lucky" pose--akin to rubbing a rabbit's foot or knocking on wood 5 times or any other physical manefestation of obsessive compulsive disorder. He made the point that if certain performers get nervous enough to throw up that that is a sign that mental bullshit can manifest itself in a very physical way. Therefore knocking on wood or trying not to lift the eyebrows while playing doesn't seem so crazy because it works the other way too: by concentrating on changing the physical, the mental seems to follow suit. This may be a whole field of psychological study I'm not yet aware of, but I do read a lot of Dr. Weil and his ideas about mind-body-spirit connection. I have a theory that if I work on my physical self (i.e. exercise more and try not to eat so much sugar) my mental self will stop being so crazy. All of you who know me know that I drive myself insane with over-analyzing every aspect of my life--especially those questions like, what instrument should I focus on, should I be a writer or artist, should I be a painter or photographer, should I teach in the schools or privately, etc. I've gone back and read journals that I've written over the years and they are filled with mental crap such as this--and it's always the same questions over and over again. My brain actually feels sore sometimes after thinking so hard. I'm afraid if I don't stop this I'll go insane. So maybe I'll test my hypothesis to see if it actually works.

But the point of all this is that I have realized that playing music well has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with learning how to deal with, and get over psychological brain freezes and mind-games. I know that when I look at a page of black sixteenth notes my brain freaks out and it manifests itself in my right eye squinting and my left leg swinging over to my right side (when I'm standing). B, my flute teacher, has pointed these things out and pleads with me to stop doing them and to look confident even though I don't feel confident, and to play with conviction even though I'm unsure of the notes. So I've been telling myself, when a rough passage is coming up, that I don't care and I'm just going to play as shitty as possible. And you know what? This little trick works most of the time. Unfortunately I still have to practice because I'm not a great sight reader.

It really is a chore to drag myself to the practice room (the dingy, dirty, fluorescent light-bulbed practice rooms at school with trumpet dribble on the floor). I'm lucky if I get an hour a day in--not because of time restraints, but because of just not feeling like it. If I found a way to enjoy it then I'm sure I could get in 2-3 hours a day. B, again, reassured me by saying that people who practice 8 hours a day are not normal, and are probably slightly mentally ill. This was news to me because we have been told, as musicians, that if you want to be successful, you have to practice 6-8 hours a day! You have to practice before you can have fun, my piano teacher at CSC told me. It was a huge relief to hear him say this, and to also say that it takes a certain sort of person who actually wants to be isolated in a practice room for 8 hours a day--and that this type of person probably also has no social skills as a result, which leads to diva syndrome: when classical musicians get persnickety because the piano is two inches too far to the left, or if their cello strap is not properly placed at a 90 degree angle to their chair, or if they were left Dasani and not Evian water for their oboe reeds to soak in (believe me--I have seen this and worked with this bullshit--I am one of the stage managers at our school for weekly performance hours, and some of our faculty fit this description to a tee). B said that since they can't control how perfect their performance is they feel they have to control
every little external thing that they can change, i.e. the angle of the piano and so forth. See how f-'d up this all is? Anyway, I was so glad to hear that I am normal, and that normal people would rather socialize and sit out in the sunshine then put themselves in a practice room with Brahms for 8 hours. In fact, he told me a story of a cellist he once knew who broke down her 8-hour practice session for him. Apparently she spent about one hour lifting the bow up and slowly bringing it down to the strings as soundlessly as possible. If she made a sound she'd start over and then do this 100 more times or so. Then she would practice scales for 2 hours. If she made a mistake she'd start over from scratch. Sounds a little OCD, doesn't it?

So what is the answer? How can I enjoy practicing and orchestra more and not freak out about pages of black notes? I think I'll do it by not practicing 8 hours a day, and by meditating and eating my greens and by taking a walk and watching squirrels.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


This past weekend, I experienced a very strange psychic phenomenon. On saturday I was supposed to play in a Leone Buyse flute masterclass at school. That afternoon I was planning on practicing and also getting ready for our orchestra concert on monday night, in which Leone would be the featured guest artist. So early saturday afternoon I was puttering around my apartment, getting my things together for the masterclass at later that day when it suddenly hit me that the masterclass was going to be cancelled. Just like that--out of the blue I had a strange feeling. I went to check my email to make sure it was still on. My stomach kind of lurched when I saw a message in my inbox from my flute teacher: URGENT: masterclass cancelled. I was a little weirded out for awhile--and also proud in a weird way that my brain had managed to pick up on the collective energies of the people involved with the masterclass.

This was not the first time something like this has happened, but this time it was a really clear message--and almost physical. I could actually feel it entering my mind, like actual brain waves. I doubted myself of course--I thought it was just wishful thinking because I was dreading playing for this really famous flutist in front of my peers and professors. It was a relief to find out that it had actually been cancelled. Apparently she got really sick the morning she was supposed to fly to Spokane--a combination of vertigo and nausea.

Anyway, on tuesday at my flute lesson I was talking with my teacher about the cancelled masterclass, and how I had a sixth sense that it would be cancelled just hours before it was scheduled. He thought that was interesting, because he was figuring that I was getting this sensation just as he was emailing people about it. He also said that I must be a "receiver." I had never thought about it in this way before, and I was intrigued. He went on to say that he has had occasions where he was a "sender:" particularly one instance in college where his boyfriend brought up the idea of playing a psychic game, where one person would think of an object, and the other would try to pick it up psychically. So the boyfriend was thinking up a word that B just couldn't pick up on and was getting mad in the process of having to play this ridiculous game. The boyfriend decided that B should try and think of a word instead, so B was picturing leaving this guy (and his stupid psychic games) and walking out the door, going down the stairs.....when the boyfriend said, "You're thinking of stairs?" just after B thought it.

So this got me thinking of "senders" and "receivers." Are some people inately senders or receivers? I can think of other instances where a similar thing has happened: dreaming the same dream as my mom one night, thinking of a specific song then it comes on the radio (has happened several times in moments of clarity), and just pretending I'm picking up on people's thoughts and imagining what they're thinking--when maybe I'm literally picking up on their inner thoughts and feelings? I've often wondered that when I dream of someone I haven't thought of consciously, in my waking life, in awhile, if they're also dreaming or thinking of me. In a letter sent by a boyfriend in college when I was a sophomore staying in NE for the summer while he was in MN, he wrote that he felt we were "coupled by an ethereal thread over the sea of corn and soybeans." I think I laughed out loud when I read that line--he always pretended to be so masculine and intellectual that a sensitive and cheesy line like this came as a surprise--but not a shock. The thing was, was that we both had the same birthday, and at times were convinced we were twins separated at birth. Our first psychic happening was when we first met, and we were sitting on a couch, and he asked me when my birthday was. I said, December 1st, and he got the strangest, most spooked-out look on his face. He then showed me a copy of a birth certificate he kept in his wallet: birthday: December 1st. He said that right before I told him what my birthday was, he was thinking, "she's going to say Dec. 1st." So maybe I'm also a "sender." Maybe everyone is both. I've had similar happenings with K, my family, and other people that I'm close to. But it really made me think about starting to take my sixth sense seriously. I tend to not trust my intuition, but when things like this happen, I wonder.

Maybe we could test it out? You could send me a psychic message, and I'll let you know if I received it.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Green Bean Casserole!

I don't really have time to post because there is so much other school stuff to do, but I'm going to do it anyway because I'm feeling bitchy. One thing I'd like to bitch about is the Easter vigil mass we went to on saturday night. It had been a few years since I've been to a vigil mass, and I forgot how insanely and ridiculously long they are. It started out very magically with the dark church, and everyone was holding a lit candle, and the choir director was singing a beautiful chant. Then, after the fifth reading of the Old Testament and fourth musical interlude we were wondering how many more readings there were and started passing notes to each other (we went with a couple friends of ours--2 of us were Catholic, the other 2 weren't) and getting the church giggles. After the seventh and final reading we thought we were getting close to the mass parts, but there were still baptisms and confirmations to be done. And the mass parts were super long--the choir director was singing every single saint name that ever existed: "St. Ann pray for us, St. Anthony pray for us, St. Francis, pray for us...." You'd think that after mentioning a few key saints they would sing, "and all the other holy men and women...pray for us....." But I think he sang about thirty saint names. Finally I dared to look at my watch. Almost three hours had passed. Well, at least the music and light show was good. The choir sang some great Renaissance polyphonic music, and also some more contemporary music involving an entire brass section with timpani (I was told later the brass people were Spokane Symphony members). Seriously, why can't they do baptisms and confirmations at a less jam-packed mass? I don't think I'll ever be able to go back to another vigil mass, which is too bad, because it really is lovely, minus baptisms/confirmations.

Also, school is again beginning to grate on me. I'm back to grading papers for the music history prof, who has the students write summaries of the chapters they had to read, to make sure they've read them. There are so many things wrong with this that I can't even begin to name them all (students are so sick of school by the time they reach college they don't give a shit; it's another way colleges are dumbing down, etc....don't get me started). Concurrently I'm reading a great book that in turn is making me feel very hopeless about higher education. It's called, Declining by Degrees, and I just finished reading one of the essays, which is basically all about how colleges throw students into huge lecture classes so the college can make more money, and they hire professors mainly to do research, with the teaching of undergraduates of little importance. Anyway, it's a great book and it will piss you off so you should read it. How can I possibly persevere to the end of grad school? I'm so drained from the week at school that by the time the weekend rolls around I want nothing to do with it, and so do everything but study and practice. On the weekends I finally feel like myself again, and all I want to do is go antiquing, go to the public library, read good books, and maybe do some crafty things.

Well, those were the two main things I've been bitchy about. On a lighter note I just read Kate DiCamillo's new book, "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane." It's very good and it made me cry at certain parts. It was a good book to read on Easter, because it's about a china rabbit. Speaking of Easter, we had 14 people at our apartment for an afternoon feast. We managed to squeeze everyone at the gorgeous antique table that came with our apartment and everyone brought yummy side dishes. We provided the ham and I made an orange mango chiffon pie. A couple friends stayed late and we all drank more wine and had some good conversations, although I can't remember what about (did I drink that much wine)?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Crazy Percussion Fest

So sunday night I got home from being at the Northwest Percussion Festival this weekend. It's a really cool deal where percussion ensembles from colleges in Idaho, Oregon and Washington get together and play for each other. It's totally non-competitive and a chance to hear what other groups are doing. I think I want to be a percussionist now. I never realized in fifth grade that percussion was more than playing the snare drum, which I found boring. I've learned that anything and everything can be a percussion instruments. Some groups played these great compositions, most of them contemporary, consisting of hitting pots and pans, upside-down hanging clay pots, crystal glasses, the underside of the vibraphone, a box of rocks, clicking stones together, body and vocal percussion, and aluminum cans dropped on sheet metal. How cool is that? And the sounds they made were amazing when combined with the marimba, bass drum, and other more traditonal instruments. The group from Southern Oregon State did some great performance art pieces, one involving non-traditional notation and stones: different shapes had been placed over watch faces, and when the second hand hit a certain shape, a certain sound was made. For example, a square might signify a scraping sound, and a circle might mean a clicking sound, etc. The whole ensemble was making these sounds while two percussion instructors improvised on wooden boxes. The stones sounded like crickets, and the whole effect was amazing. Another piece involved students strategically placed around the recital hall with a pile of paper that each of them improvised ripping, shredding, scraping, tapping, and other sounds you can make with paper. Why have I been playing Chaminade when there is this?

Being around percussionists is different than being around flutists, or any other instrumentalist for that matter. They have always been the cool kids in band, and the guys and girls who stick with it emanate coolness. The few girls that were involved were cute and hipsterish, wearing chuck taylors, silk-screened tote bags, and edgy hairdos. The boys for the most part were either cool and aloof or goofy and friendly. I wasn't surprised that there were fewer girls than guys, but is that because most girls are drawn to the pretty, melodic instruments (flute, violin, piano, clarinet), or is it because they were discouraged to play the more boyish instruments of bass drum and snare? Or was it because they felt uncomfortable in fifth grade band being the only girl? I remember having a fascination with the drums in fifth grade, but either talked myself out of it, or was talked out of it by someone else. I was also very girly and prissy. Anyway, most of the groups consisted of mostly guys with one or two girls. Portland State featured a group of four girl percussionists on one piece, and they were amazing. It got me thinking that I would love to, if I ever had the chance, start up an all-girl percussion ensemble at St. Kate's. I really think more girls would be involved if they knew it involved marimbas, vibraphones, and other gorgeous instruments. I don't think I even knew what these were in fifth grade.

Anyway, aside from getting hit on by the Yamaha salesman (I think I was the only student there older than 21) the people dynamics were very.... interesting. Everyone in my ensemble is a freshman or sophomore, and I had to stay with them in an unchaperoned conference/retreat center across the street from Central Washington University (which has a gorgeous new music building). I really like my classmates--the guys are really friendly and helpful and very goofy and fun. But I had forgotten what 18-19-20 something boys are like--completely out of control and crazy. After each concert ended at night and we were left with some free time, the boys would go to Albertsons and buy three energy drinks each. Then they proceeded to climb up the stone walls of the grocery store, push each other around in a shopping cart, climb into and get stuck in dumpsters, toss a dry-erase marker around the foyer of the gorgeous new music building, and proceed to write with said marker on the windows of new music building, move around parking signs, slide down the stairs on a table in the conference center at 3 in the morning, etc, etc. The list goes on. Mind you, I did not accompany them on these exploits, but the two other freshman girls with me did (who can blame them? They're cute, charming, boyish boys, if a little rambunctious). As a result, I didn't get much sleep, because the girls would return at 4:30 in the morning, while the other girl that was staying with us, insisted upon staying up to watch a movie in the same room I was trying to sleep in. She thought that turning the t.v. around away from me would help, neverminding that the sound comes out of the back. And she was talking to herself outloud while watching the movie. And I was the one driving the next day. I really felt old. I felt like the old crabby lady that complains to the youngsters to turn down their loud music. Had I been ten years younger I probably would have stayed out til four in the morning. I was realizing that these kids were ten when I was twenty. That's a world of difference. They're not even in my generation. One night they were gathered around the computer in the lounge and looking on their MySpace accounts. They were stunned when I told them I wasn't on MySpace. I already have a blog, and I can chat with friends on gmail, so why would I need a MySpace account? They didn't understand this reasoning. I was also remembering that I didn't even know what email was until first year of college, and in the sixth grade we were playing the Oregon Trail on those Apples with the green screens. When they were in sixth grade, which was only about seven years ago for them, they already had XBox and cell phones and email accounts. It's like they can't live without technology. I felt completely out of my element, and wished I had someone to go have a beer with. So in a way it was refreshing to hang out with them and their craziness, but on the other hand even if I were their age I still would not be into climbing into dumpsters or drawing on new music building windows with a dry-erase marker or sliding down stairs on tables that weren't mine (or stairs that weren't mine, for that matter). The most trouble we got into as freshman was smoking a couple Virginia Slims in our dorm room, which was on a smoking floor, making forts out of blankets in the study lounge, dyeing our hair in the yellow bathrooms, and sneaking around Durham hall at night. I should have just hung out with the directors.

Anyway, percussion is my new thing, and to all my young percussion friends here: someday you too will need eight hours of sleep and drink decaf instead of Red Bull.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Chad the folksinger lives here

This blog post is going to be pretty random. I don't really have any school issues to bitch about, because I've been on spring break, and just started up this week. It was only a week-long break--hardly long enough to recover from the hell that was last quarter. I've just learned that I won't have any research papers to write this term, unless I have to write one for my conducting class, which I doubt. I'm taking Baroque music, which involves preparing two presentations: one on Handel's Messiah, and one on Bach's Goldberg Variations. I already know a little something about the variations, so that should be fairly easy. I also get to be in orchestra this quarter, because the principal player has tendonitis. It's been years since I've played in a student orchestra--hopefully I won't suck too badly. You're a little more exposed as a flute player in orchestra--I'll be playing first so I'll get all the hard solos. I guess I have to practice this quarter! I also just found out I'll be playing in a Leone Buyse masterclass at the end of April, so I really can't slack off. I've always wanted to play in a masterclass, but it might be kind of scary. I hope she's kind.

Anyway, I've been having a sort of dilemma with the flute, like I always have. What am I doing? Do I really like it? I've realized lately that one doesn't have to stick with the instrument they started in fifth grade, and that sometimes people outgrow their instruments. It's not that I don't like it--I just feel indifferent to it sometimes. Is this bad? I'm really not a big fan of flute literature--most of it's very fluffy and girly. There are no great Beethoven or Mozart or Brahms sonatas in the flute literature, so we miss out on all the good, juicy stuff. I don't even know if I like practicing it. Trying to control the breath and stay in tune while energizing the abdominal muscles and trying to stay relaxed everywhere else is like trying to spin plates with your hands and juggle with your feet. And do people care about the flute? I mean, really? Maybe in church, and maybe in an intimate chamber setting. But will your average 20-40 something go out of their way to pay for a ticket to a flute recital? And in jazz--no one takes you seriously unless you also double on sax. I'm trying to decide how far I want to go with this instrument. Am I happy being a church-playing amateur, or do I want more? All these issues spin around my head as I try to practice, which makes for very unproductive practice sessions. But the other dilemma is this: do I start playing another instrument, one that I might enjoy more, but which could take years to get to a decent level of playing? I don't know, but for this quarter I've got to focus on flute.

Other unrelated things: I found out a couple weeks ago (and didn't remember until now) that Chad of the folk-singing duo Chad and Jeremy, lives in Spokane and buys furniture from this store in Spokane where a friend of mine works. And apparently some other folk guy lives here too, one from the New Christy Minstrels, or something. I can't remember. Isn't that great? Spokane is really weird and random that way. It is getting more cosmopolitan though. We're gradually getting better, fancier restaurants, and a ton of posh condos are going up downtown. I'm hoping it'll turn into a Portland jr. within the next ten years, although who knows if we'll stick it out that long? I really like it here, especially the weather, which is so vanillla, that I never have to get kidney stones worrying about severe weather again. I just really really miss going to art museums, having good Chinese and Mexican food (seriously, there is none to be found here), coffeeshops that stay open past six, good second hand stores (either you have Ann Taylor or Goodwill--there is no inbetween, like Ragstock or Buffalo Exchange), good record stores, and never-ending opportunities in the fields of folk-music, puppetry, modern dance, the Alexander Technique, etc (I'm thinking of Cedar Cultural Center, Zenon dance company, Heart of the Beast, Tapestry folk-dance center, and of a woman I'd like to take Alexander Tech. lessons from in the cities. There are none here). So, grrr. I'll be okay for now.

Books: I did get to read something for fun over spring break. Gintastic gives great book reviews, so I decided to read Pamela Dean's Tam Lin. I really enjoyed it, except I kind of got lost in all the Classics and English Literature speak. Don't get me wrong, I love that stuff, but it all gets so heady and dense that I get lost and my brain glazes over at the mention of books and authors I've never read or studied. It was like A.S. Byatt for high school students. Very interesting, but hard to read at times. I was also kind of shocked? surprised? but the ending, which breaks into this weird science fiction/fantasy thing for the last thirty pages or so. I get that it's based on this old Scottish ballade, but the rest of the book was completely based in reality. I was kind of thrown off by that. Call me a philistine if you will, but sometimes I just need to read trash to rest my brain. Maybe I should balance it out with a terrible harlequin romance?

Other things: currently obsessed with June Carter Cash (and the Carter family in general), percussion ensemble and the marimba (is it too late for me to be a marimbist?), free-writing shitty short stories in coffee shops (really really shitty, but fun nonetheless), old homemaking books from my school's library, and watching Rick Steve's Europe on PBS. He's so dorky that you can't help but love him. It also gives me ideas of places I'd like to visit: Toledo, Greece and Turkey, Copenhagen....

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Creepy Exploring Adventures

Thank God, spring break is here. But only for a week (damn!). I've been sleeping in, watching lots of t.v., reading a boat-load of books--including some homemaking books from the fifties I discovered in my school's library. One is called "Homemaking for Teenagers" and includes a recipe for milk fluff--some milky substance involving raw eggs and sugar. Ick. They also give suggestions for choosing fabric colors for a homemade apron: "Aprons are intended to be useful but this does not mean that they need be made with dull, uninteresting colors. Gay, lively colors are attractive for aprons. Of course, this does not mean that colors should be screaming reds or poisonous greens!"

I have visions of making all of these cool, homemade skirts, painting, batiking, baking, writing and taking photos during this brief spring break, but just getting started takes time and school starts on monday already. So I've decided to indulge in just a few of these pasttimes: writing, in the forms of blogs, emails/letters, and misc. free-writing, and urban exploring. This is a new name for something I've always been interested in. I was so excited to read in the new issue of BUST that a group of people in NYC already do this sort of thing, and it's called urban exploring. They basically trespass around and inside old buildings and take pictures and write about them. I love this sort of scary, Nancy Drew exploring. I'd give you a link but I'm feeling lazy. It's at So creepy. But this is the sort of thing I did at CSC, while on the paint shop crew. This is how I discovered the secret Fontbonne pool, full of gorgeous yellow tile and fish etchings in faux-black marble lining the tall walls; huge windows, old creepy locker rooms, and tons of junk inside and around the blue-tiled pool: ceiling fans, toilet paper rolls, dirt, ladders, etc. I wanted to do an art/music installation inside this space as part of a senior project. But I was warned by the head of environmental services that it was unsafe to be in this area. Of course it was! Which makes it all the more creepy and interesting. I'll never forget telling my guitar teacher, Joan, about how I wanted to do this multi-media project in the pool itself, and showed her all the information about it from the archives: old synchronized swimming programs, press-releases about its opening in 1938 (one of the first fitness centers in the country for women, I think), and romantic descriptions of the pool by students found in yearbooks. Joan insisted on seeing the pool space, so we totally snuck into the area, which was locked by its main door. So intent was she on seeing this space, that she found an alternate passage through one of the spooky locker rooms. It was all very adventurous and exhilarating.

Since my fellow paint-shop workers and I discovered this space, we were hungry to find more creepy areas on campus. Working in the paint shop was a good front: it allowed us to explore secret areas without getting into too much trouble. While painting the basement of the chapel around the O'Neill center, during one of our lunch breaks we crept up to the choir loft of the chapel, which was usually closed off by an iron gate during the school year, but at that time during the summer, a crew was working on renovations, and it was open. Wow, was that place creepy or what. Everything was very dusty, and there were still music stands and shelves of chant-music books up there. Beyond the choir loft was a door, which led to a storage area. We found silk flowers, candleabras, and misc. church items. But above this area was a trapdoor, which was open so that we could see that above us was a room that looked like it was full of old heavy furniture. We could also see the rose window from our vantage point. One of the girls, Sheila, tried to climb up there, but it was impossible. I still wish I could see what else is up there. We could swear that we heard ghostly music coming from somewhere, but it only turned out to be the radio from the renovation crew.

Among our other adventures, we got to see the nun's quarters on fourth floor Durham, which was always rumored to be haunted, especially by a nun in a rocking chair. Supposedly a red light can be seen from her old window, and when I lived in Caecilian hall, I used to look for that light, half hoping I wouldn't see it. But our paint crew was scheduled to paint these rooms, which looked as if the nuns had just lived there the week before. In some rooms, the mattresses were still there, with pictures on the walls, and curtains on the windows. The walls were painted a lovely mint green, but the paint was peeling which gave it a slightly sinister aura. The whole place gave me the creeps. I loved it. This whole senario reminded me of being a freshman, and with a few other third-floor St. Mary's girls, took the elevator up to fourth-floor Durham, intending to explore it in the dark (it was after ten I think). We were half-expecting the elevator to stop at the third floor, because apparently the fourth floor was closed off. But when the elevator doors opened onto the fourth floor, we were scared shitless. It was dark and empty. I think there was some junk strewn about, but it was hard to tell. We pressed the down button as fast as we could. I had disaster fantasies of being stuck at the fourth floor all night, not being able to get back down. But luckily the elevator was working properly and we got out of there as fast as possible. It was so fun!

Needless to say I'm on my new-old kick of exploring places. I'm not sure about the trespassing thing, but I'll be on the lookout for more safe, yet scary urban explorations in Spokane.