Monday, November 09, 2009

Obsessed with Books

Went to the library today, and as usual, checked out more books than I can read. I'm already reading: Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn (amazing. it's blowing my mind!); Shop Class as Soul Craft by Matthew B. Crawford (just read the first few pages); Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout; short stories by Dorothy Parker; Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison (YA novel); and Our Babies, Ourselves by Meredith Small (wow. so interesting. making me question our Western ways of raising children). Today I checked out 3 cookbooks (Bon Appetit/Japanese cooking/1950's casserole recipes), 2 kids books, Gilda Joyce (found randomly in juv. section, a book on photographing children, and Real Simple Solutions. From the CSC library, I've checked out New Art City by Jed Perl and two books on music composition by Hindemith and Schoenberg. Also: Sleepytime Songs, The Sweater Chop Shop, and Altered Book Collage. 

Why do I do this? Do I have an unhealthy obsession with books? Are books a stand-in for real-life activities? Will I always just be an armchair traveler?

 I keep thinking--there's a book out there that's going to change my life--so I check out 30 at a time to find the perfect one for the moment. But most of the time the books go back, unread. Then I think, what's the point of learning about new concepts and ideas from books if I don't share them with others? What's the point of collecting and buying books if they're just going to outlive me? Do I underline telltale passages for future generations so they know what I was like or what I was into? Do I write essays about my favorite books? I love being surrounded by books--I love knowing that I could look up 1960's interior decorating ideas or set up projects around Girl Scout merit badges or reread this passage from Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson: 

"I saw my first tenement apartment when I was twenty--top floor of a six-story walkup in Yorkville. Four very small rooms leading into each other railroad style, cracked walls and old tin ceilings that sagged a little. My best friend Elise, who had just moved in there, had painted all of it white, even the linoleum on the floor. What I remember is the amazing light in that place, how it flooded in as if there was no real separation between inside and outside, and everything--what little there was--seemed to be set afloat in it. A light that was almost Mediterranean, giving the scarred, patched walls a chalky thickness like the walls of Greek villas, beatifying the mattress on the floor, the Salvation Army table, the chairs carried in from the street. 
"I saw that same extraordinary light in the early apartments of other friends. Why there? The defiant absence of anything over the windows, I guess. Maybe it was just as simple as that."

Do you do that? Just reread your favorite passages over and over again?

Now if I could only apply myself to other areas of life with that much zeal (from reading), I'd be very productive. Reading is a passive activity, but it gives me lots of ideas for active activities. But I forget that other people can't hear the ideas in my head. How do I make them real? 

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Why oh why do I order French Toast every time I go out to brunch? It was delicious (fat white bread, bananas, sliced almonds, powdered sugar, butter and maple syrup, alongside homemade sausage). But after I've eaten it I realize I just ate a third of a loaf of bread and several tablespoons of sugar and fat. I'm trying to cut back on sugar, flour products and animal fat, but I'm not having much luck. Especially with the sugar part. 

Then, an hour after leaving The Modern I went to book club, where I ate a slice of homemade apple pie and a few of my Swedish almond/chocolate bars (made from a book I found at Goodwill: The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas. I love this introduction to the cookie section: "A little table covered with a creamy white, embroidered, lace-edged linen cloth. Coffee cups, a little larger than demitasses, set on saucers; the saucers set on plates with coffee spoons nestled next to the cups and pretty napkins pulled through the handles. A plate of three kinds of buttery cookies in the middle of the table. This scene was set for a simple afternoon coffee during our visit in Norway."  I'd love to be in that scene now, eating mandelflarn, kniplingskager, and mazarinkakor, sipping espresso, wearing my blue and white Nordic sweater with the silver frogs, and looking out over snow-capped mountains....).

Seriously, what do you recommend for a sugar addiction? I'm really not addicted to anything else, and I suppose everyone needs a vice, but this is getting ridiculous.

After book club I met up with old college friends Elaine (of Seattle) and Jen (of NYC) at the Caribou Coffee in the Graviidae Commons in downtown Minneapolis. I had never been there before, but from the second floor of the coffee shop you look down onto Nicollet mall from a large picture window. It's one of the best people-watching places I've been. For a few minutes I watched this woman smoking a cigarette as she sat on a bench. She had wild, wind-blown red hair, was 50-something, wore a long gray cable-knit sweater with short sleeves, jeans, and silver bangles and several rings. I watched her watching other people, then pointing down the street-- giving directions to two teenage girls wearing head scarves, and then talking to someone across the street--someone unseen to me, so it looked like this woman was acting in a play. Then she crossed the street to talk to this person and was gone from sight for a few seconds until she reappeared, stubbed out her cigarette, and walked into Marshall's. It was all very Rear Window.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Missing the Point of Human Existence

Another list (because I'm a lazy writer).

1. I feel like my writing skills have gone down the tube, because I haven't had to write much, in terms of school papers. I also used to be an avid journal-writer, but I got sick of my own naggy voice and the lists! I wrote in them (lazy). But oh, if I could write a blog a day, plus a letter to a friend (short emails have given way to even shorter facebook comments), plus a few creative lines in a notebook, I think I would be much happier, if I could get over my laziness. 

2. Where does laziness come from? Is it genetic? Environmental? I'm convinced that Psychology, Neuroscience and Physics can explain everything. I think I spent so much time being lazy as a child (all I did was read and watch t.v.) that it built pathways in my brain for "laziness" and now trying to change those pathways is difficult. And objects at rest want to stay at rest/objects in motion want to stay in motion. I think we will always choose the path of least resistance. So in order to change these pathways I'd have to practice not being lazy for a set amount of time everyday for a month (isn't that how long it takes to form a new habit?). I know I can do this--I've changed my behavior in other ways lately: putting clothes away after I wear them instead of draping them over a chair in my room (I got rid of the chair). I've also been watching less t.v. too.

3. Yes! Less T.V.! Believe it or not it was an Oprah episode on T. V. that made me think twice about my habit. There was an episode about simplifying your life, and one suggestion was to create physical and mental space: i.e. watching less t.v. and cleaning out clutter. So for one day I didn't watch t.v. and it was great! I listened to This American Life online instead (four hours worth, which I guess is another time-sucking activity, but not as bad as t.v.), and listened to music (easy activities with a newborn). Also, brother H's recent visit introduced me to the wonders of watching t.v. shows/movies selectively on Hulu and Netflix. So now I am watching less t.v. (maybe 0-1 hours per day), and listening more. I found myself getting antsy watching my favorite thursday night shows (The Office, 30 Rock, Kath/Kim) last week because they weren't as interesting as listening to T.A.L., which I think is better for my ADD brain then television...
Also, since I have a kid now, I'm more aware of the negative messages/images on t.v. I can't stand the noise of commercials (stop shouting at me, Billy Mays!) or seeing a dead, bloody body each time I turn the channel. What does this do to our psychological state (subconsciously?). Also, I'm convinced that the rapid images and loud sounds on t.v. can cause ADD/ADHD/and autism.

4. I think this is a good time of year to create space. I love Lent because it's a time of reflection, and trying to eliminate the superfluous junk from your life. Every year I try to do something Lenten, whether it's reading some sort of spiritual-themed book or trying to eliminate a bad habit (I never quite do well with these, but it's the thought that counts, right?). I haven't missed Ash Wednesday mass in the last 5 years because I go to the Gonzaga student mass at 10pm, which has been led by this amazing priest there, who gave the best sermons I've ever heard. He basically recycled the same sermon every year, and every year I would take notes in my journal because they were that interesting and uplifting (I miss mass most of the year b/c of bad priests/sermons). He said things like "To fast means to 'fasten' yourself to something you enjoy, or something that will make your life better." There was no fire and brimstone, no guilt in his sermon, just uplifting ideas. The idea he was getting across was the same as Oprah's: if you eliminate stupid stuff from your life you create space for better and greater things.

5. Speaking of Oprah and Lent, I've been skimming Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. I've been skimming it because a lot of it repeats itself (okay we get it: the ego is bad!) and some of it is just made-up b.s. with no research behind it (okay if you're a spiritual advisor, I guess). But I've written down a few things that I think are right on, such as his definition of sin (which I've always thought was a problematic word. I think religious institutions want you to think sinning equals eliminating the fun things from life such as dancing, drinking, having sex, swearing, etc.). But here's the best and most satisfying definition I've ever heard: 

(from Greek): "To miss the mark, as an archer who misses the target, so to sin means to miss the point of human existence. It means to live unskillfully, blindly, and thus to suffer and cause suffering" (pg. 9).

Wow, isn't this ironic? He seems to be describing the history and present state of the Catholic Church (and other world religions as well). 

I also like this:

"Whatever action you take in a state of inner resistance (negativity) will create more outer resistance, and the universe will not be on your side: life will not be helpful....
When you yield internally, when you surrender, a new dimension of consciousness opens up. If action is possible or necessary your action will be in alignment with the whole and supported by creative intelligence" (pg. 58).

Okay, as a side note I have to admit I read cheesy books by Wayne Dyer and Sonia Choquette, but this statement above is similar to quotes I have written down from the above new-age authors. Here's something I wrote in my notebook from WD's The Power of Intention and Your Heart's Desire by SC: 

"You attract what you focus on."

Meaning, if you focus on the negative aspects of your life (I'll never get my dream job/house/spouse...) you attract that negative energy from the universe and you will never find your dream job/house/spouse. But if you focus and imagine in your mind's eye positive things (like visualizing your perfect house or state of health, etc) you will attract those things.

To me, this makes a lot of sense. I'm realizing that during the past few years I've been a negative person (again, I think t.v. adds to my negative emotions). But since baby E (I swear I visualized having a baby and it worked! I was convinced for a while I was infertile....) I've tried to be more positive, even if I feel tired or crappy or crabby. 

My last post was very negative and crabby. I'm also realizing that my ego gets in the way a lot. I think if I focus less on the product (making great art/publishing/showing at galleries...) and more on the process, it won't matter if my work never leaves the house. Rushmore is one of my favorite movies because of what Max Fisher says towards the beginning: "Find something you love to do and do it for the rest of your life. For me that's going to Rushmore." Now I have to find my Rushmore.

Anyway, I've babbled for too long. These are just some of the things I've been thinking about lately.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

In a Parallel Universe I Would....

So a few weeks ago I thought I solved the work/stay-at-home debate. But when you need money, what do you do?

We're doing fine, actually, but I want to feel like I'm contributing to the family income. I know I contribute in non-monetary ways (like taking care of cute little E), but I would feel better if I could help with bills, diapers, and dog food (etc.). Some of it too is wanting to stay involved, to be on some sort of career track. But what career track is that? I've spent the last ten years lazing around--not working hard enough to be a better private lesson teacher (I feel like I'm only operating at 10% of my potential), not trying hard enough during grad school (out of several student performance hours and composition recitals I only prepared one of my pieces for performance. Sad! Most of that came from the fear of putting my music out there)---not trying hard enough during grad school and therefore not getting all the teaching experience I wanted--teaching experience that is crucial for wanting to teach college-level courses later.
How have I futzed away 10 years? How do I get out of this rut? 

I had this weird vision last night while watching "Me and You and Everyone We Know" (I liked it! It was weird--I had to watch it twice), which features a woman who does bizarre digital art and tries to submit her work to a contemporary art museum (and succeeds). I tried to picture in my mind what my art would look like if the New York Times did an article about it. I visualized the article, and saw my name in print, but I knew deep down that this could happen only in a parallel universe--or with a crazy amount of hard work, risk-taking, good timing, luck, and meeting the right people. Have you been in a position where you've seen art or writing and you're like, "I can write better than that!" Or, "God, I'll never be able to write/make art like that!" I feel like that's where I am--knowing I can create something beautiful but not knowing how to get there from here, or knowing if it's worthwhile. Seriously, how many writers and artists and composers can the world handle? Don't we have too many (bad ones) all ready? Is it worth the hassle of writing something and trying to get it published (which may never happen)? Does a piece of art not really exist unless someone looks at it, reads it, or listens to it? What if you just made stuff, and no one, outside of yourself ever saw it/heard it/read it? Should you try to sell your art or just make it? Are you an artist if your paintings never leave the house?

I'm thinking about these issues because it would be great to sit here and write/make art while baby sleeps and send it off to get it published and get a nice little paycheck to help buy the dog food and diapers. But even if I write and write until my eyeballs fall out and my fingers cramp up--I'm not guaranteed any money for my hard work. What are your options as a stay-at-home mom? What are your options for staying on some sort of career track? 

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Sorceress

On Friday the 13th I managed to sneak out of the house for a few hours to go to an Evelyn Glennie concert. K had ordered tickets about a year ago, before little E came into existence; K stayed home with the little munchkin while a girlfriend and I went out to see the show.

Many of you may know about my E.G. obsession. Ever since seeing Touch the Sound, a documentary about her, I've been dying to see her perform live. E.G. is a virtuoso percussionist from Scotland who also happens to be profoundly deaf. If you haven't seen this film, Netflix it straight away. When I taught my humanities class a few years ago, I showed clips of this film to the students. Afterwards a student came up to me and said this movie made her want to do something with her life (it makes me feel that way too).

I was hoping for a 5-hour percussion orgy onstage, but alas--she only played on two pieces with the Symphony. The pieces were amazing though--one was Webern's Langsamer Satz (which wasn't as atonal as I was expecting it to be) and Schwantner's Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra (which was amazing a haunting but too short--I thought she had just ended the first movement when the audience started clapping). 

She came out in an elegant, plain sapphire blue dress and artistic-looking necklace; her hair was long and silvery and she wore funky glasses. She plays barefoot so she can hear the vibrations through her feet. Her playing was so powerful--she was like a sorceress drawing out energy from the earth through large bass drums, the marimba, crotales, gongs, the vibraphone, and other miscellaneous percussion. It was also incredibly perfect--every flam and shake and rattle was crisp and clear, like what tap dancers strive for. The marimba part in the concerto was crazy--super fast and repetitive over quite a few measures. I wondered--how is it that her arms don't fall off? Or stop or lag from exhaustion? But they were supple and elastic--almost supernatural. 

The most beautiful thing about it all was the way she used her whole body while playing. It was all like a dance--visually and aurally stunning. She was amazing to watch and listen to. That's what I've noticed about truly great musicians--they use their whole bodies. At the university I attended I was friends with a Japanese girl who was a piano performance major. She was only 22 I think, but watching her perform was like watching a much older and experienced pianist. She moved with the music, throwing her whole torso into Beethoven's allegros, her arms floating during the adagios.  I had never seen anyone play that way, especially someone around my own age. And I think her movements made a difference in her playing--she had the most nuanced and beautiful sound out of any student (or professional for that matter,) I'd seen live. If I could learn how to use my body like that, I think my own playing would improve greatly. Instead I feel stiff and often have problems with sore wrists and back. How do they do it?

Is it too late for me to become a percussionist? What I love about it is that you aren't limited to one instrument, but you have so many different ones to choose from--the melodic  instruments (marimba, vibraphone, etc.), and the pitched/non-pitched membranophones (I think that's what they're called). You also have household objects and your body to use as an instrument. There are also limitless objects to strike the instruments--mallets, wands, sticks, hands....
My percussion instructor at the university didn't take me seriously when I told him I wanted to start over as a percussionist. I felt such power holding mallets--similar to how I feel when I hold a paintbrush. Maybe that's what holding a magic wand is like. 

What I was also thinking during her performance--she could kick any guy's ass if it came down to a drum-off. She's faster, more graceful, and more powerful. I do worry that girls are discouraged from playing the more loud, aggressive, fun, percussion instruments in schools. In our percussion ensemble the girls were almost always assigned the triangle or shakers--never the quad drums or the snare. Maybe that was just my perception (I was only in the ensemble for a year)--but I do wonder if girls are discouraged more than encouraged to play these instruments.

Anyway, check out Touch the Sound--she's amazing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Baby is sleeping. Dog is sleeping.
A quick random post:

1. At the dentist's office yesterday, the hygienist told me I have a geographic tongue. I wonder if this says anything about my own tendencies to wander?

2. Right now I'm listening to Geographer. Gorgeous music--the male lead singer has the most beautiful voice I've heard in a band. Also Elliot likes it--I think that's why he's been sleeping so long. 

The last show our band, The Triumphant Returns, played was a show in Seattle with Geographer. That's how I heard about them. I got a chance to chat with the lead singer, who was very nice. I can't remember much about the conversation but he did tell me the drummer went to the Berklee School of Music and that they are from San Francisco.
That's what I miss most about being in a band--talking to the other bands you play with. This night was especially great for talking to other musicians and audience members. The bar was packed and sweaty, and I was tired but it was a great way to say goodbye to the Triumphant Returns.

At this show, back in June? I got hit on by a young 20-something guy from Cornish School of the Arts. He must have not noticed my ring finger or slightly protruding belly. I had to enlighten him on my status. He was cute and kinda nice yet kinda icky--he only talked to me when his girlfriend went to the bathroom. He also dissed Spokane ("why would anyone want to live there?"). But when he found out my matronly status he was a lot nicer and wished me well.

3. I'm obsessed with eyebrows now. I picked up the February issue of Vogue at the grocery store, which I never do--I'm usually not into that arrogant, over-the-top fashion stuff, but for some reason I started noticing models' eyebrows and how lovely they looked (weird!). I'm now growing out my poorly tweezed eyebrows so I can get a "professional" eyebrow wax. 

I'm also watching Gossip Girl on the CW channel--not for the writing or content (which is pretty stupid actually--it's about rich teens who go to an elite Manhattan private school)--but for the well-waxed eyebrows and great fashion. I know! What's wrong with me?

4. Speaking of fashion, I've also been looking at The Sartorialist. I feel like I want to be more stylish, and I'm learning that it's all about your accessories: a great (big) handbag, a fabulous necklace or bracelet that provides a focal point, crazy-looking sandals or boots, a scarf draped artistically around your shoulders, a simple haircut, and excellent eyebrows! 

5. For details on my labor/birth, and on the little one write or call me. Too much info to write here. 

6. I'm enjoying listening to music and watching T.V. with the sound off. The New Yankee Workshop and Bob Ross on PBS are excellent for this purpose. Also, we have a new movie channel here, that plays super random movies that no one has heard of ( a ski movie from the 80's, a movie with Ruth Gordon punching a man dressed as a gorilla in the crotch, many Burt Reynolds movies, etc.). This has also been entertaining.

7. It's probably a good thing newborns are so challenging--otherwise we wouldn't want them to grow up. They are so cute and snuggly....and difficult.

8. I'm wondering about the stay-at-home/go-back-to-work debate that mothers have. I don't actually think this dichotomy exists anymore for me.  Your children are babies for such a short amount of time--it seems like a drop in the bucket in the ocean of your lifespan. I want to hold Elliot as much as possible before he is too old and big, which will happen soon I'm afraid.

9. Reading: Best American Short Stories; Sounding the Inner Landscape (a book on music as medicine), Ted Kooser's Delights and Shadows.

10. The further away from school I get the more I love music. I mean really love it.