Monthly Archives: December 2011


Today, I was rendered speechless by an overwhelming act of generosity and goodwill. I had nothing to say. I cried after I left the woman’s house. Which is unusual for me. Sometimes, when a friendly hand welcomes you into the shade after you’ve walked in the hot sun for a long time, it’s too much. Sometimes, it’s only when the shade comes that you realize how tired you are.

People talk about this stuff all the time, about how God’s not here, so we have to help each other. And it’s always cheesy and ridiculous. Until it happens to you. And in that moment, when you feel someone’s hand on your shoulder and know that it’s not really their hand, because how could it be? They don’t even know you… in that moment, you find the strength to keep walking a little bit longer. Just a little further. You start to feel like maybe you can make it after all.

People believe in different hands. Encompassing earth-mother hands, connected life-force hands, fatherly hand-of-God hands, hands of departed loved ones and companions. Some people believe in no hands, but I think, in their hearts, even those people want to believe. Even Hollywood believes in the hand. The mysterious stranger who gives the hero the key piece of knowledge right before she gives up. The series of improbable coincidences that leads the two main characters together, that helps the mother find her long-lost child, that pushes (sometimes pulls) humanity onward through the darkness.

I hope that someday I can help somebody else feel as comforted as I felt today. I hope I can welcome someone into my house and say, “Come in, weary stranger. Come in and rest.”

“The game”. A few notes on being in, then out, then in it.

I’ve been “out of the game” for many years now. It’s not that my time in the community symphony back in Sacramento was bad or anything. It’s just that it wasn’t enough. It was never enough. And I don’t know if I would have realized that it wasn’t enough unless I moved here. I might have just kept up with it and sort of limped along, instead of really going after something better.

But now, because I am so *completely* out of the game (I didn’t know a single soul when I moved here), the decision of what to do, where to turn, what to seek, has been a very conscious one. I’ve had to decide what it is that I really want. And then look for that. I put an ad on Craigslist. I played fiddle in a couple of bands. It was great–it felt alive & fun and I’ll probably keep going with it. But it’s still not enough. I took my viola in to get worked on, and the guy says, “there’s a community symphony at such & such a place”… and something sort of came to the surface right when he said it. In that moment, it snapped. I realized: I don’t want that. My stomach kind of clenched. I smiled at the guy, and nodded, because that’s what he expects, you know? But as I’m sitting there I’m realizing: No. No more community symphonies. I need more.

What I want is to play my viola. Really play it. Play it like I should have played it 10 years ago. I realized this week that I have been playing the viola for twenty years now. TWENTY YEARS. And I only had a really, *really* good teacher for one of those years. I had a “good” teacher for two years, and an “okay” teacher for two years. I only had a really good teacher for one year. And she was a grad student.

It could have been different. I was at BYU, for crying out loud. While David Dalton was still there. And why didn’t I get to study with David Dalton? Why didn’t I study with Claudine Bigelow after Dr. Dalton retired? Because I didn’t practice enough. Simple as that. “You need to practice more,” they told me. Try again in a year.

But did I want to practice for hours every day when I was young? No, not really. I was a lazy cuss. Did I figure out that I could have studied with some TRULY great teachers if I had only spent a couple more lousy hours on it, instead of being shuffled off to the side and taught by people who were only sort of okay? No. Did it occur to me, back when I was young, what an extraordinary thing it was that I was working in the Primrose International Viola Archive, shelving scores *every day*… in the single largest collection of viola scores on the planet, some of them donated by William Primrose himself? Did that whopper of a thing make a dent in my young, thick head? No.

Sadly, no.

But now that I’m older, I think I’m just barely (juuuust barely) realizing what it meant, back during those days when I *was* practicing for hours a day, what I could have had, and what I could have again. If I actually got off my lazy butt and did something about it.

So I’ve been practicing. Every day. Every spare minute I have. And I emailed a viola professor and asked if he accepts students. “Yes,” he says. “On a limited basis.” So the question hangs there, in the air… unspoken.

How limited?

The really high-caliber teachers… they just don’t take you unless they want you. They don’t have to. That’s why I got shuffled off to the side at BYU while the other kids got to be taught by the great musicians. That’s why the teacher I emailed back in Sacramento never even bothered to return my calls or emails. They’re busy. And they care about people that are relevant to the future of music. If they decide you’re not it, you’re out.

So will I make the cut? Because now it’s been 10 years. I’m old. It’s going to be an uphill battle now. To convince a teacher that, no, I’m really serious this time. Yes, I know I screwed off for years when I should have been spending time on the things that really mattered. Please, please hold the door. Don’t close it on me. Don’t give up on me yet. I can still make this.

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn.

“Nature Boy”, sung by Nat King Cole, just came on my Slacker Radio.

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love, and be loved in return.”

What a beautiful thing. I know it, of course, from Moulin Rouge. That’s where I heard it first. A story about Moulin Rouge: I remember this one specific time I watched the film. I was very, very, very sad. My life was so, so depressing at that time. I was in an apartment, with my baby asleep and the husband away from home (for some reason, he was away from home that day), and I remember watching the film and just crying at the end. I just, cried and cried. I cried hard. I can still remember how my face muscles hurt from how much I cried.

It doesn’t hurt anymore, when I watch Moulin Rouge. Because I know that there is love in the world. Yes, Virginia, there really is love out there. There really are people who have figured out how to love, and be loved in return.

Also: Did you know that Leonard Nimoy sang a version of the song too? Enjoy.

Merry Christmas. From the city of Brea, an old guy, and the future.

The Kooks were playing tonight at the Music Box in Hollywood. But instead of driving to Hollywood and listening to the super-awesome band that I’m kind of in love with right now… I went to the City of Brea’s Tree-Lighting Ceremony at the Civic Center. I had found out about the Kooks concert earlier this week, arranged a babysitter, and had even gone so far as to email someone who was selling a ticket… and then yesterday, I realized. Tonight was the night Connor’s elementary school choir was singing at the tree ceremony. Sigh. So I un-did the babysitter, un-did the arrangement to buy the ticket from craigslist guy, and mentally prepared myself for an evening of wholesome community entertainment.

After work, I picked up Connor from school, and off we went—white shirt & jeans, santa hat in hand. Parked in the Target parking lot, and walked across the street to the Civic Center where they were holding the ceremony. The whole thing felt utterly suburban and pedestrian. I sat down, alone, while Connor headed over to the herd of short people in santa hats. It was cold. I was cold. The seat beside me was empty. I made a phone call, but nobody answered. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes real tight.

And then, something happened. There was an old man.

“Is anybody saving these seats?” the old man said, gesturing to the row of seats behind mine.
“No,” I said. “I think somebody just put down programs on all the seats earlier.”
“OK,” he said, and sat down.

We made a little bit of small talk. He told me about how he used to have a Corvette. He would drive it all up & down Birch street. Back then, in the 50s, he told me, they used to have drag races on this street because it was nothing but fields.

“Of course, then I had to get rid of the Corvette,” he said.
“I was stupid & got my girlfriend pregnant,” he said.
“Oh… oh dear,” I said.
“Yeah, had to sell it to pay for the kid.”

At this point, a woman and a tween girl came up next to him.
“Why are you sitting there?” the woman said, with a tonal quality not entirely unlike a cat being strangled. “I don’t wanna sit there. I wanna sit on the end. Move,” she said.

The old man rolled his eyes at me, privately. “My daughter,” he mouthed. “Ah,” I said.

They ended up changing seats, and moving to the row I was sitting on. There was an empty seat between me and the old man.

“Are you expecting anyone else?” I asked.
“Nah,” he said. I moved chairs to sit next to the old man. There was still an empty seat beside me, but I didn’t feel alone anymore.

“Are you here alone?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “My boy’s in the school choir over there.” I pointed.

We talked a little bit more. What do you do. Where are you from, etc.

“I was born in Sacramento, then lived in Vegas for a while,” I said.
“Oh yeah?” he said. “Las Vegas… you know, Las Vegas was settled by the Mormons, that’s my church. The Mormons,” he said.
“Yes. Yes it was,” I said. “The Mormons…” I said. “You still Mormon?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I went in & out a few times over the years. Used to smoke and drink and get into all kinds of trouble. But not anymore.”
“Are you married?” I asked. It might have been too soon for that question. I can never tell.
“Twice,” he said.
“Still married?”
“Yeah. Barely hangin’ on,” he said. “The wife’s not happy. Says she’d divorce me, but what do you do at this age? We’ve got my Social Security, and my retirement, and we’ve got a roof over our head, so…” he trailed off. “Of course, she controls all my money now, so I joke with her & tell her that if she were to divorce me, at least I’d get half of my money back.”
“Wow.” I paused. “You don’t like each other anymore?”
“I like her,” he said. “She’s just such a grump, you know?”

At that point, the mayor or some other public figure got up and said we were just about ready to start. Then the santa hats herded over to the risers… and… then… magic. Magic happened. They started to sing. And dance. And their eyes were bright, and their cheeks were red, and their faces were the faces of the utterly untroubled. Faces of the future. The lighting on the kids made them kind of glow, in the blackness of the outdoor December night. Each head topped with a blur of the brightest red. And in that moment, I knew. There was nowhere in the world I would rather have been tonight then sitting right there. Watching, while a dozen little futures sang Christmas songs into the open air.

After the kids sang, a quartet of local pastors sang a few songs. And then, the mayor (or whoever he was), said, “It hasn’t snowed in Brea since 1949. That’s 62 years without snow… but I bet if all the kids wish real hard, and we all sing this song, maybe we could make it snow here in Brea.” Let it Snow, we sang. And then… there was snow. From the top of the library building rained down a thousand little sparkly bubbles. The kids went crazy. It was like… Christmas.

At the end of the night, I put a hand on the arm of the old man. I looked in his eyes. “It was really nice to meet you tonight,” I said. “I’m often really lonely here,” I said.

Connor came back from the group of kids. He had a handful of bubbles in his hands. He turned his rosy cheeks and bright eyes and untroubled smile toward me and said, “I feel really happy inside right now.”

So do I, Connor.





Episode 170: My Now-Semi-Annual Blog Post.

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this site. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, though. I do. I have a lot to say. I just haven’t spent any time actually saying it.

So I’ll write a quick update for today. Here are a few things I’ve been thinking about lately:

-Death (again)
-Books and the value of reading them
-What I wanted to be when I was little (a horse trainer)
-What I want to be now (tbd)
-What it really means to be alive (which could be construed as me
thinking about death some more)
-Art (and the art of living)
-Puerto Rico and the delicate balance of resources that can shift the
whole game… and the fact that the game is always over too soon (more death)

So. On the subject of death. My own death is inevitable. “How imminent?” No idea. But someday, I will cease to breathe, and my skin will turn cold and I will stop punishing people with my crankiness and my enigmatic humor. So before that happens, what should I make sure I don’t miss out on? I’d like to live in Germany someday. Weird thing to think about, when you start thinking about death… how much you want to live in Germany. But there it is…

On the subject of work. Work is ongoing. My mind is sunk down in the middle like a mattress that’s been slept on by a person that overtaxed the never-very-good springs inside. It’s struggling under the load of too many different tasks, priorities, things that need to be done, and I can’t seem to actually sink deeply enough into any one of them to accomplish anything useful. I’m really struggling right now. Which is weird. Because I’m quite sure that I have never been more valuable (as an employee) than I am now, and yet at the same time, I have never felt so useless. Getting under the surface of things is hard — and that’s what I do best. It takes time. You can’t just spend an hour and get really down to the bottom of a problem, come back up, and have a solution that you *know* will be better. Those things take time. And I don’t have enough of it.

On the subject of love. People who say that love is all you need are wrong, technically (you need air and water and tacos and the occasional piece of dental floss), but they’re absolutely right in every way that matters. As lonely and surreal as the last few weeks have been, my heart feels full of love. It’s kinda weird. I love strangers and family and new friends and old friends. I love them all. That’s partly why I keep thinking about death, I think, actually. Because every new person I meet, every friendship I make, every relationship I have, everyone I know and everything I do or create, will die. Even a party, a gathering of friends, dies. A thousand little deaths each day. The death of my cup of yogurt in the morning. The death of the sunset as the last colors turn into blackness. Memories die. Sometimes, if the memory is important enough, it changes you. It becomes part of you and it lives on that way. But otherwise it vanishes, as your brain makes room for new things– less important things, usually, the minutiae of everyday living sorts of things. There are people that were important to me once, whose names I cannot now remember. I am humbled and terrified by this.

On the subject of music. The Kooks. A new band that makes me absolutely happy. “Oh-oh, I love her because she moves in her own way…” Also on the playlist lately: Passion Pit, The Shins, John Mayer, and (drumroll please) Michael Buble. Ugh. Okay, so I’ve always had this thing. I make fun of people who listen to Michael Buble. I snigger, audibly, when someone tells me that they like Michael Buble. It’s this thing I do. Making fun of Michael Buble isn’t just a hobby– it’s part of WHO I AM. It’s *sappy*, sappy stuff. So what is with this recent fascination? Lately, I’ve found myself feeling all kinda warm and fuzzy and tingly inside when I hear him sing. So now I have a problem. Because I’m making fun of myself. And yet, when I hear: “You’re every line, every word, everything”, I just melt.

Another little bit about music: I’m in a band now. I am part of a band. We’ve had one practice, and they are the most lovely people. Full of life and warmth. We were going to have another practice last week, but one member of the band hurt his hand, and another one was sick. So we didn’t meet again. I hope we do keep meeting, and keep being a band. These things are so fragile at the beginning. And six schedules, six working peoples’ lives, weaving in and out of the fabric of space and time, are hard to bring together at regular intervals. The threads don’t want to hold. In my mind, I picture actual thread-lines, moving in unpredictable patterns, sometimes moving towards each other, sometimes far away, curving, twisting, abruptly kinking and moving the other way, and then… this magic point, where all six lines converge and there is a single, little knot. The knot is labeled “band practice”. Then the lines move out, once again, spread out into the loosely woven chaos. Maybe they will come together again, at regular, semi-predictable intervals. Or maybe it will be too hard. The distance might be too great. There’s no way to know.

I think that’s all for now. I’ll write again later (good Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise).