Winter Solstice 2010

This one is a doozy. Present tense. Felt it coming on for a long time this year. Some pretty rocky weather for a while, with moments of pure bliss along the way. Singing = good. Baby = good. Recovery time = good. The rest of it is shaking down.

Lunar eclipse. Heavy duty one. On top of a full moon. The rarity equivalent to the diamonds and rubies that poured from Princess Saralinda’s eyes as she cried for the suitors who were eaten by the Todal (James Thurber, I adore you for blowing a six-year old’s mind with The Thirteen Clocks). Oh, yes, felt that moon a whole gazillion. My body knew that was coming all year long. Craters on the moon. Approaching hagdom.

And it keeps going. O Fortuna really cranks me up this time of year, and lasts way into the new year.

On December 22, 1986, my dad, a minister and educator, took his life. We buried him on Christmas Eve. I’ve spent nearly a quarter of a century with that, and it’s OK now. Remembering daddy = good. He would appreciate that we have kids to celebrate with this season.

This year, an old friend came to visit. Coincidentally, or so it seemed, this is the friend in whose company I was the day my dad died. We will see this friend again, soon, in celebration, which is the = good = cheery side of the season. Nice circle.

For several decades, I’ve celebrated my birthday (Capricorn = right next door to solstice) as a movable feast. Birthday goodness is already simmering on a galactic stove somewhere on the edge of the universe. Somehow I seem to know loads of Capricorns, and although we’re not especially known as gregarious party peeps, I can do group festive. Winter? Stone? Saturn? INFP? Fun? Well, yeah!

Retirement celebration. The tree topper this year is surviving the retirement process. Body slamming the bureaucracy/paper-cyberwork retirement beast was the most intense thing I’ve done in such a short period of time since the forty-eight hour home labor and delivery of my darling daughter. The phenomenal gift of a child from that effort = the rising phoenix of the newer, annealed edition of Me having delivered myself of a straight day gig. Big thanks to Ronni Bennett for urging me to acknowledge this huge milestone. I'm glad I listened...


Stepping aside

When the best-laid plans gang astray, sometimes it makes more sense to come at a major change in a different way, rather than repeatedly and futilely bashing your head into the wall. That wall just might be impervious, no matter what you do. No sense in all that bloodshed.

Sometimes you need to just step aside. Not ignore the problem, not run away, simply allow the obstacle (and your concussed head) space to change on a different time table. We are conditioned to believe that we have only a few specific choices: keep on plugging ("never give up"), hammer on another side ("think outside the box"), get wacky ("creative problem-solving"), or (insert your choice of redefining the wall here).

Strange and wonderful things can happen when you just step aside. Sometimes you discover a new plane of existence in which new paths open up. Or the wall loses relevance. Or a bigger, badder wall blows it out of the universe. Or you allow space for another being to enter the equation (nothing like a baby to blow some clarity into your thinking).

Then there's my all-time favorite: paradigm-shift. "Perception" is the first step, then self-scanning for any cognitive dissonance. Questioning deeply-held beliefs helps verify those that are sensible, or the need to rework those that are no longer true or useful. Fold in a little self-compassion, attention to health, and acceptance, and if the problem is not completely resolved, at least you tapped into alternative resources.

Some paradigm shifts are cataclysmic, some are like rain wearing away stone. Change is inevitable. No sense buying into outmoded cliches or modes of behavior. Slip sideways every once in a while. Rest your brain. Or put it to work on something that nourishes and satisfies. Have faith. Lose faith. Find reason. Lose reason. Practice mindfulness. Lose your mind. If all else fails, at least life isn't boring.


Retirement: Month Three

Financial challenges continue to abound. Evidently, the US does not value its older and poorer citizens, judging from the efforts of Congress to ignore the economic imbalance and quash any reasonable effort to provide for anyone making less than $1 million/year. Bernie Sanders says it best:

You'd think that the folks with the big money are trying to kill off a significant portion of the population. Is this truly all that capitalism is about? Greediness with murderous impunity? Do these people truly believe they are performing Christian acts? If the Bible is to be taken literally, did not Christ ALWAYS reach out a helping hand to less fortunate folks? I am blown away by the attitudes and actions of people who lack compassion for humanity while steadfastly maintaining that they are the embodiment of Christianity.

And don't get me started on how a simple phrase--Happy Holidays--is taking Christ out of Christmas. Rampant support of buying tons of "stuff" mostly made in China, fer crissakes (literally) belies that knee-jerk gem of hypocrisy. Be honest--do you decry outsourcing (by those very same obscenely rich US companies) on the one hand while gobbling up thousands of tons of plastic crap that does nothing to enrich the true Christmas spirit on the other?

The same thing is at work here. We seem to be denying our collective responsibility to individuals who have worked long and hard AND PAID INTO SOCIAL SECURITY and our insistence that $$ = right = the One True American Way.

Folks, you can't have it both ways. Either you follow Christ's principles, or you cede power to filthy lucre. Either you practice what you preach, or you doom yourself to whatever hell you subscribe to. Good luck with that!

Back to retirement. November saw some health scares (clean lab results, thank goodness!), lots of research on internet business, learning new networking tricks, meeting new friends and reconnecting with old, singing a fabulous concert (go AVAE). Baby face time, gratitude for what I do have, despair over back pain limiting physical activity, resulting in jillions of boxes left to unpack and resistance to any chores whatsoever, raccoons ripping off siding, life is NEVER dull.

So December will find me still trying to make sense of a wildly disruptive employment situation and readjusting plans and goals to stay afloat. According to Linus Pawling, retirement is Paradise: he gets all the benefits and none of the angst.

(Note the very full belly)
All clean and fluffy, ready for the next nap.


WTC photos

Observation level, World Trade Center. Don't remember which one, although I am pointing SSW toward Princeton. Came across these unpacking. The plaza photo is of my late step-dad. This must have been late 80's, early 90's. We were involved with the earlier parking garage bomb there, which makes these photos doubly eerie for me.

We've always had tons of exchange students and international visitors over the years, and a busload of H.S. exchange kiddos from France had just pulled away from that garage heading uptown when it went off. Many concerned long distance phone calls between U.S. parents/school admins. and French parents. Thank goodness, they were safe, but I remember thinking then that compared to security in other countries, we didn't have much. I watched the TV coverage of 9-11 in the 22nd floor of the UT Tower and flashed back to the earlier bombing.

I've struggled with claustrophobia all my life, until fairly recently. When I took the job in the tower, it took several days of living in my terror and panic to the point that I felt I could tolerate the tiny elevator ride at least twice a day every work day. It holds 6 people. Period. Not counting backpacks, rolly carts, bicycles, or mail. At one point, one floor let all its folks out at exactly the same time and they all tried to pile into the elevator at once. I've counted up to 13 people in that same, small space on several occasions. Yes, I finally did talk to the floor manager, who was a colleague in a different division, and he was very helpful.

The WTC observation area was even more terrifying. Huge ceiling to floor windows, and there were insanely steep arena seats that dropped down to that critical juncture of floor and the sensation of nothing...space. From way up high. I get dizzy thinking about it even now.

The flashback I had on 9-11 to the WTC observation deck was visceral. I am still lost in the immensity. It helped to sing a memorial service with David Stevens and the St. David's folks. We each took a name from a basket of one of the people lost. I've sung my way through a lot of grief over the years. For me, music is the best therapy, and this holiday season I'm grateful that I've found it in so many places and to such depth.


AVAE concerts!

Austin Vocal Arts Ensemble (Chorus Austin), Music Director Ryan (we never get to see you from the back!) Heller, and accompanist and Southwestern University faculty member David Utterback. Photo by Fran Rush.

East Meets West concert season accomplished! Quite a satisfying process, this program. OMG the Russian! I've done my share of Russian--Tchaikovsky Mazeppa,* with Opera Orchestra of New York (Maestra Queler appears to be grooming a successor) and Kirov Opera principals, the Scheherazade concert with the Austin Symphony a few years back, portions of Rachmaninoff Vespers+ and various assorted pieces everywhere. The first half of the program, primarily the Sviridov, was as much Russian as all those put together. No kidding. Sviridov was a demon composer. And so very, very charming.

*a "cosmic fire!" (Kyr's dynamic marking for the final chord of Let There Be Music) occurence, Mazeppa was remarkable because 1) my daughter was a member of Princeton Pro Musica that year, and it thrilled me no end to sing in Carnegie Hall with her grandmother in attendance; and 2) it was the last concert my mom attended. She died three weeks later. Yeah, heavy duty.

+After singing the entire piece (in English) with the wonderful Frances Slade and Princeton Pro Musica on several occasions, including in a verrrrry old, ornate Greek Orthodox church in Jersey City, AND hearing the St. Petersburg Academy Choir sing it in Russian, I instructed my daughter that I would like to have it sung at any memorial of which I might be the central figure.

As ecstatic as the music was, my life between those intense rounds of singing this week was just as exciting. Baby face time is most amazing and nourishing, and being with a friend who knew and admired my mom was just as fulfilling. He shared stories of my mom interviewing Molly Ivins, and stepping in for him to interview Emeril Lagasse on CRIS radio in Chicago and his kind regrets about mother's death.

Precious music, precious beings, precious stories.


Rehearsal notes 11/8 and 11/9--Robert Kyr/Ryan Heller

Composer Robert Kyr, Musical Director Ryan Heller

11/8/10--Last night's rehearsal was at the Oak Hill United Methodist Church in the sanctuary where we will perform. It went well, the group really pulling together. Very comforting to get a feel for the acoustics--how to listen and how to produce sound for that space. The Very Big Deal, however, was Tuesday night's rehearsal.

11/9/10--Composer Robert Kyr, whose "Let There Be Music" is featured on the program, worked with the ensemble this evening, and will be in attendance both performances. He was most enthusiastic about the preparation we'd done under the direction of Ryan Heller, AVAE's musical director.

We had an exhaustive, exhausting, fabulous time regrouping to the physical architecture of the piece. He gave us valuable insight into the piece on common ground and supercharged the response of the chorus. Kyr, professor of composition and theory at the University of Oregon, morphed rehearsal into a master class.

Firstly, we did a few minutes of yoga, although he didn't call it that. Progressive upward stretches to release the tension in the vocal mechanism to produce our best sound. And that it did. I think we all listened "with bigger ears," as Ryan said, and certainly put that piece (mostly--a few things to work out Thursday) where it needs to go. I love working with composers--and they love hearing their work done the way they want it done. And done, in Watermelon Sugar.

From Kyr: "overtones are the DNA of music..." "think of a double helix when you sing these interweaving lines..." let there be music--let there be light--let there be breath." The piece is quite sonorous. It is also quite visual. It will be a great treat for everyone, audience and performers alike.

Regrouping the architecture: Yes, we physically did this--moved the ensemble right out front in 2 lines, with the various voice sections re-positioned. Kyr explained the specific structures to the group, and placed sections that interweave closer together. It makes sense in this piece. We learned what to listen for, and we listened better. And the closer we are to the audience, the more involved they will be.

That's what music is, after all. Equal parts listening and singing/performing. It's the magic of chamber ensembles. The most interesting (to me) choral music and certainly the biggest challenge. I'd like to see all my friends and relatives there, and lots of new folks who love music and are interested to hear a fabulous ensemble perform wicked-good stuff.

Visit Chorus Austin for concert details and tickets.


10 things I didn't expect re: retirement

  1.  So much snail mail. I hadn't bought stamps in a year and a half. Pay 99% bills online. It's like waking up in another country one morning--lots and lots of business for "retirees" in the real mailbox outside.
  2. So much paperwork in general. Some as a result of moving house, some retirement, some Medicare, some Social Security. As far as the USPO is concerned, I've slipped into the never-neverland of "older American," and ads and offers and schemes are threatening to overflow my recycle bin. Get a clue. I'm not going to buy anything from any of you, so quit wasting trees, folks.
  3. Time to sweep and do dishes. Or at least I don't have the excuse of going off to work any more. Time to read. Just finished Neal Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy: Quicksilver, The Chaos, and The System of the World. Dynamite historical novels about England and beyond in the late 1600's, early 1700's.
  4. How awesome it feels to be out from under a crazy-making system at work. Still decompressing. 
  5. The hindsight to find out more about retirement sooner. There's too much information to absorb it all and take care of the necessary paperwork in only two months. I'd say start 5-10 years before you expect to retire. 
  6. Needing a lot more sleep than I ever got while working. It's much healthier for my body to wake up when it wants to, rather than when someone or something else wants it to. Disclaimer: of course this does not apply to Linus, who will get me up if he really wants something.
  7. And that's OK, cause NAPS! It is so much easier to control your blood pressure when you can just doze off whenever you need to. See #6. 
  8. As much as I love teaching, learning, and promoting higher education, I do not miss negotiating campus--the parking, hordes of students, traffic, nasty politics. My friends are still my friends, and we have a better time off campus than on, anyway.
  9. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Shed non-essentials. But don't trash things that bring you pleasure, no matter what they are. Now I have time to do those projects I've always thought I'd do: slide/neg digitizing, organizing into databases, making jewelry again, other artwork I've been collecting materials to put together, more photos, much more of the fun stuff.
  10. Nice things do happen. Saw the Blue Lapis Light group dance on the side of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum last night. Perfect evening: dinner chez niece/friend, driving back streets to BBHTM, sitting outside, chilly enough for a jacket, amazing aerial dance/light show. 
All in all, even Linus likes retirement.


Retirement: Month Two

We're not in Kansas anymore, Linus. Platitudes build up like vascular plaque, to be scraped into two columns: 1) so very true, and 2) you gotta be kidding!

Best laid plans--(1) This was a crying shame. After having drifted through life as a preacher's kid, vagabond, following wife, and PTSD-zonked recovering co-dependent, I bit the bullet and put together a plan for getting out from huge debt from alcoholic relationship and settling down in one place long enough to scrape up a pension, I was stoked. Out from crushing financial burdens (and I count zero as a blessing), car paid off, and non-penalized, maximized retirement and social security. I had a viable, kick-ass goal. The State of Texas went "Aha! Let's yank that right out from under her." Massive sabot tossed into the clockworks.

Adversity makes you stronger--(2) No it doesn't. Solving problems makes you stronger, and sometimes adversity stacks up so deep you're drowning in alligators. You gain strength from learning HOW to solve problems, not get beat-up.

My friend and fellow elderblogger Ronni Bennett send a congratulatory note when she learned that I'd retired and signed up for Social Security. She wrote of the day she decided to march down to Social Security and officially begin this new phase in life. Ronni stressed the importance of celebration, which I must admit was way down the list of what I mostly felt during that time: stark terror.

She reminded me that all of life's great passages are to be celebrated and enjoyed. And so I promised her I would begin to envision how I shall celebrate this step along my path. I'm beginning to see Winter Solstice as a fortuitous date. Remembrances of Paul Winter Consort concerts in the Cathedral in NYC, Howleluja Choruses, the urge to push, to grow out of the caves, the earth, the crypts.

This is the first Halloween I've identified with in a long time. Not as trick or treat, no little kids will be coming to my house on Oct. 31. More the feeling that the ground is being prepared for the winter, and readied for spring and growing.

The first 2 months of my retirement have been in turns hectic, despondent, excited, hermitizing, singing, way too introspective, seasoned with books and film. Realizing that other friends were correct in warning me of the physical crash. Your body telling you that you were unbelievably stressed out, and now you have to take care of it.

Like being underground. Cracking open a geode to find something unexpected. Dancing to new rhythms. Anticipating the light.


Austin Civic Chorus concert and AVAE rehearsal notes: 10.17.10

Austin Civic Chorus tore it up with the Mozart Mass in c-minor Sunday afternoon at St. Matthew's Episcopal. Good job, gang. You sounded confident, well-balanced, sure of your entrances, and thoughtful with the delivery. It was a pleasure to get to hear the group after so many years of not being able to make concerts. Ryan Heller is just right for the group. Commuting from Portland, OR to Austin sounds wacky, but perfect for a young conductor. Two of the most interesting cities in the country.

I also took advantage of sitting in the lobby to nail down the Sviridov, which is the biggest Russian challenge. The music is tricky but predictable, so it's a matter of learning cascades of Russian by transliteration, as there's no way I could learn enough Cyrillic to read it straight.

Good thing I did, because that's exactly what we worked on about 3 hours later. The rest of the program is a breeze, so it was good to have several hours to devote to Svirodov. Yeah, the concert will kick a**.

Nice to have a smaller group again to woodshed. Accomplished so much more, as we could move on quickly and cover more music. We have a bye this Tuesday, with 3 rehearsals left to polish to concert gleam. It'll be great. Everyone loves the music, loves Ryan, loves the group--good attitude + good musicians = crash hot performances.

Today was a red letter day in the retirement saga. I signed up for Medicare Part A and Part B, and Social Security. When the difference between signing up now and waiting til my 65th birthday in less than 3 months is only $22, then it was a no-brainer. Yes, I will be 18 with 47 years experience. Better than the alternative...

Austin Vocal Arts Ensemble presents "East Meets West" on Friday, November 12, 8:00 p.m. at Hope Presbyterian Church, 11512 Olson Drive; and Sunday, November 13, 3:00 p.m. at Oak Hill United Methodist Church, 7815 Hwy. 290 W.


Rehearsal notes 10.12.10--R.I.P. Joan Sutherland

I have this thing about tuning. I've related elsewhere that I get physically ill when pitches are not in tune. Tonight at rehearsal I had a mini-epiphany (is that even possible?): I am addicted to A440. 

I was brainwashed. My mom was an accomplished musician, and so I was exposed in utero to a decently tuned piano and voice. We all played and sang from day one. I began formal piano lessons at age 5 and flute lessons at age 7. Records, concerts, recitals, church choir, school, Back in the day, we were expected to line up at the strobotuner and tune ourselves individually before each band or orchestra class. I figured out the trick of scoring two miniscule right-angle lines on the headjoint of my flute so that at least the instrument was aligned to play A440. Then I could concentrate on embouchure, fingering, and angle.

Each type of instrument tends to have one or two problematic notes related to the physics of that particular instrument. In the case of wind instruments, or aerophones (flute, oboe, bassoon, sax; as opposed to soprano recorders, shakuhachi, and other indigenous woodwinds), some fingerings or registers just can't be machined that precisely. In others, it's how the human body interfaces with the instrument. The flute fingering for C in the staff uses no fingers at all--the instrument simply rests on the left forefinger at the join of the hand, and the right thumb, where there are no keys. The slightly graduated bore of the head joint and the diameter of the key holes have to be precisely bored to produce that pitch, and that's pretty darn tough to do. Hand-made flutes that get this right bring are more expensive than most folks expect, especially if they are made with exotic metals and/or woods, and are made with jewel-precision.

I digress into Musicologyland. Point being that the voice is an even more precious human instrument and our brains can be tuned. So this particular mini-piphany is about realizing that I automatically assume that every singer thinks and perceives sound the same way that I do, and that I ought not do that.

This all about producing music and so NOT about negatively judging singers. It isn't the PERSON who is not in tune, it is the TONE that is vibrating at a different cycle per second. And that's all it is.

Apropos of not much...
Pianos are tuned differently, because the physics involved are those of a percussion (rather than stringed) instrument, because the sound is produced by felt hammers which just happen to be tapping strings clustered together in threes. As far as our ears care, it's the tuning of the strings that determines the pleasing (or not) sound of the instrument. 

Next class: the related topic of overtones and the overtone series...
Tonight's rehearsal was a called rehearsal, which just means that it was outside the normal schedule. As a result, not everyone could attend, so it was at about half-strength, and began and ended earlier. This is a good thing in the rehearsal process. It requires more acute listening, reveals insecure language spots (torrents of Russian rushing at you at terrifying speed), and it helps nail entrances, breath marks, page-turns, and other assorted rehearsal best practices.

And for what it was, it was a very productive and satisfying rehearsal. A perfect ending to a fabulous long weekend in Dallas with fine friends, music, food, wine, and talking to 3 a.m.

This Saturday night and Sunday afternoon: Austin Civic Chorus performing Mozart Mass in C. Check it out on Facebook.


Layoffs continue

The university just laid off another 15 folks from our division. Lots of unhappy people, a few happy ones who were eligible for retirement and got their act together. No separation remuneration, nothing but a FAQ session with human resources and a tiny tag on your file that says any university hiring org has to consider you IF you meet the job requirements--no job guaranteed. Higher ed pretty much sucks in Texas right now. It will be even worse if our incumbent guv gets re-elected.

I had no idea how much stress I was under until 3-4 weeks out from retirement. All of a sudden I'm overwhelmingly fatigued, sleep a lot. That seems to be pretty much the normal reaction, say my friends who have already retired. No one realizes the toll until you let go of the daily grind. Similar to the phenomenon of busting butt at the end of a semester and coming down with a cold or flu as soon as vacation begins.

We're still ahead on precipitation for the year. Seeing green vegetation was uncanny through the summer, it just doesn't seem natural, somehow. Not that I'm complaining...at the moment. It's unsettled enough that it's nearly impossible to forecast how any given season will play out. We stand to break a record low tonight. There will likely be more records falling in the next year.

I still measure the year from September to August--school time. Probably for the rest of my life, since I'm tied to the university through retirement. Makes it a little awkward when January and tax time rolls around.

Next up: applying for Medicaid (mandatory) and Social Security (trying to hold out til January). Still looking for more freelance editing/writing work, if anyone has any leads.  Just a half time job will do--may even look into seasonal IRS work, however mind-numbing that will likely be. Better than living in a tent.

Do check out the UNICEF clean water banner atop the right nav bar. The world is running out of potable water, especially in drought-stricken countries, and especially children. Consider buying UNICEF holiday cards--they're always beautiful, and the $$ goes toward saving children of the world. I still have some cards my parents obtained from the '60s. They help remind me of my parents' commitment to humanitarianism. We are the lucky ones. It furthers one to lend a hand. It's also good for your personal health. Really.


Getting back to flow

Now that I can access the 'net at lightning speed, I can once again practice visiting other blog by people my age. There are so many sage, funny, educational, inspirational folks who are going through that next big change for boomers--retirement. It can be a real bitch, I can tell you. And I'm a well-educated, professional who worked all her life. Well, except for side excursions here and there...but that's another story or two.

Getting out of the fix that I was in within two months nearly killed me. I think I've mentioned that before, but it still holds. Harder than having a 48 hour labor and delivery at home, with friends and family. Up til now, that was the mammoth-sized labor of record. It's still very much touch and go and will be for the foreseeable future. But lots of folks are contributing in a number of ways, so I'll have a roof over my head. And as good a medical insurance as I currently have available.

So I was checking out the Midlife Crisis Queen, Laura Lee, and she asks "does what we wear really matter," which segued into inviting visitors to describe our most memorable outfit--that get-up that made us feel the most powerful, loved, loving person ever. Brought back some sweet and valuable memories for me. Remembering how to live simply as possible and still be creative, in great part, I think, because I have done this before and survived.

Any way, nice place to leave a memory--go check it out.



Friday collectibles

"Friday Roundup" is a commonly-seen post on many blogs. I can dig it. While paddling around the 'net, I often come across stuff that interests me, but not necessarily enough to write a whole post about it. It also gives some structure to a blog. This type of format may be a useful solution to pass along sites that I think might interest friends and rellies.

So let's give it a try.

Healthy Aging: Body, Mind & Spirit

Chock full of good health information for baby boomers!

The Wayward Irregular

Web and multimedia designer Matthew D. Jordan's wacky look at the world

Rolling Around in My Head

Power manifesto on how words can hurt by Dave Hingsburger.

Lateral Action creativity + action = success

Creative solutions for creative people by Mark McGuinness

Midlife Crisis Queen

Laura Lee is a hoot! Good info and lots of humor :)


Rehearsal notes - 9.14.10

OK, so I didn't post last week's notes til a few minutes ago. With the wrong date.

Lessons learned from last week:

Never ever attempt to drive in a hurricane again. Ever.

The roads will be flooded out at some point anyway, and it's too easy to get trapped, especially at night. High water is deadly.

Also got a nice note from Sylvia about rehearsal etiquette. Tonight's rehearsal was much more productive, and we sounded better. It makes all the difference in the world when we keep our ears open and our mouths shut, except for questions about the music. Laughing, yes, quietly sharing your marks from last week with a neighbor, letting off steam between pieces because this is demanding music and a real workout. I want us to blow their socks off. Imagine training for an athletic endeavor, like a marathon. I want to keep those pitches and chords and diminished ninths weaving in and out while I'm NOT singing. Which means I'm still listening to stuff in my head while processing Ryan's comments. Chattering drowns out those pitches. Kinda like driving in a hurricane.

Which leads us to tonight's rehearsal. New while I was on hiatus: folks bringing treats, sometimes  home-made. Drop dead gorgeous cake, Amber! The chocolate truffles with dark red velvet icing were insanely divine. And a perfect size for someone watching their sugar intake. I'll save up all week for that!

Other cool stuff from tonight's rehearsal...

  •  turning the circle--we set up in a circle, which means that Ryan has his back to one of the four sections. By shifting the circle, each section gets a good seat at least 3 out of 4 rehearsals. 
  • everyone using their ears tonight--the sound and pitch is calibrating to strike those overtones. Yay overtones. Yay being satisfied in my soul.
  • Ryan's good conducting--he knows his stuff and how to make us sound great
What I need to do for next week...
  • go over all markings, be sure they flow
  • wood-pile tricky transitions, intervals
  • hit the Russian! 
  • think about something I could bring for break that's healthy, but not too...
  • read through every piece at least once
-- 30 --

Rehearsal notes 8.7.10

What I need to fix or do: 

  • finish marking double choir lines
  • make sure all phrases over the page are solid
  • clean up Russian pronunciation marks 
  • NOT use the new sharpie pencil on music, but totally jazzed to write with it. Awesome.
  • invite my chorus mates to consider reducing talking each time the conductor stops us. When chatter happens, my flow goes out the window. Rehearsal time is precious. Very. It is deeply healing to produce beautiful sound with other humans. Practice throughout the week and take advantage of the time we have together to create a communal flow within the music. Put all that good energy from talking into absorbing the music. Make an old lady insanely happy.
  • marvel at the weather 
  • calm down from driving home tonight in Hermine, the Horrible Hurricane. Massive amounts of water. My car nearly drowned. So did I. Scary.
  • high five the altos for perfect attendance tonight
  • put concert schedule on calendar (thanks MLD)
  • load all music/concert-related stuff in Tricia's waterproof croc bag
  • locate folder. Which implies keep unpacking.
  • stop with the list.


September 1, 2010--the Indian Summer of my life

The Internet is full of "end of summer," "Indian summer," "first of fall," "back to school" posts and musings. Today happens to be significant for me because it is the first day of official retirement from working at an institution of higher education.

Not to be confused with ceasing to work for pay. I am also embarking on a powered-up freelance approach to paying the bills. Said I.H.E. paid 27% lower than comparable positions in the real world, so I have always supplemented my paycheck doing a variety of even lower-paying jobs--tape transcriptions for Ph.D. dissertations, writing/editing projects, blogging as "The Good Musician," guinea pig for various clinical nursing procedures (pap smears by newbie nurses), filling out surveys, and nearly a year in a local department store flogging infant and children's clothing (read: folding and re-folding, termed "refreshing inventory," ad nauseum).

All of which lumped together were exhausting and served only to bump me up another income tax level. I did make some neat friends and useful connections, most of whom will be getting an e-mail from me alerting them to my changed circumstances and probably asking for Linked-In recommendations.

September 1, 1939 is also the date Germany invaded Poland and triggered WWII. Not that I plan to conquer any countries, however. I do expect to become re-acquainted with living by my wits as well as by accumulated skills and knowledge. I'll be better able to focus on health and reducing stress, allotting more time to nutrition and exercise, and rediscovering the world outside academia.

The idea of Indian Summer has always appealed to me, a romance sparked by the Cherokee blood from both parents. I equate the autumnal equinox with nostalgia--the end of carefree summer (at least as a child) and a return to formal education; sadness and elation jumbled up like piles of autumn leaves. The inevitable seasonal changes--colors, textures, flora, fauna, blessedly-cooler temperatures, new school shoes and clothes--frequently new schools, and a return to large group music making. Enduring marching band and Friday night football half-time routines to blissfully tootle in spring concert band/orchestra, with occasional spikes of pure terror when challenging or being challenged for coveted first-chair seats.

I am drunk with possibilities. The freedom to choose among community service endeavors and meaningful personal projects. Meeting new people, traveling, exploring various fullnesses. 

I've always had to live frugally, and as long as the basic survival bits are covered, with a little for travel and entertainment and occasional computer upgrades, I'm satisfied. I've no doubt that hard stuff lies ahead. No stranger to that. The point is that at this moment, things are pleasant and I feel freer than I have for a very long time.


Hamburger? I don't think so...

As if the half a BILLION salmonella-contaminated eggs weren't bad enough, when I think about ground beef all I can see in my mind's eye is

A friend sent this link from Grist, reported first in the New York Times.


Millie Garfield is 85 today! Happy Birthday, Millie

One of the original elderbloggers, Millie entertains and delights all with her down-to-earth, humorous take on life. Drop by her blog, My Mom's Blog, by Thoroughly Modern Millie, to read her Thoroughly Enjoyable Stories and get a glimpse of what life was like when us oldies were growing up.

Mom of Internet video brain Steve Garfield, she posts hilarious videos of things she can't open. And where else could you learn Yiddish online for free, even!

Happy Birthday, Millie. Looking forward to your next post! Thanks for finding the hysterically funny bits in getting older :)



"I was eating my bitterness"

Century plant on the Lamar St. bridge

One of my sisters gently suggested that my last post was perhaps a little too harsh. Perhaps. Sometimes a girl just has to let go. Kinda like the flight attendant yesterday who got fed up with a passenger's abuse, cursed him out over the intercom, grabbed a beer, opened the emergency slide exit, and WALKED AWAY. He was later jailed, but I am savoring what he must have felt, the burden he must have shed, the sense of freedom he tasted, if only for a short while.

It didn't help that physical therapy is kicking my ass (in a good way--I'm gaining mobility and strength), my lower back was out like a fault line slipping, and for some reason (probably stress-induced IBS), my lower intestines turned to water.

I still don't like what's happening, but I don't know of a single soul who WOULD enjoy this particular segment of my life. I give myself permission to be a cranky bitch when on overwhelm. I'm way too old for the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" line, it all kills you. Period. Not especially learning anything new about myself, at this point it's simply a matter of endurance.

The quote above is from Anna Deveare Smith's one-woman show, "Twilight: Los Angeles." With minimal props/items of clothing taken from a trunk on-stage, she transforms herself into a dozen or so survivors of the Rodney King riots. in the '90's. I saw the production in Princeton and was deeply moved, both by the stories she told, and her exquisite ability to shape-shift.

One of the stories was about an elderly Korean woman, a shop-keeper who had lost her husband, along with other tragic situations. It was such a stark line, so visceral, that it has stuck with me all these years.

I think I must have been channeling this woman and the flight attendant when I wrote the last post. I stand behind what I wrote; however, I will admit that one can get a fairly decent education for less tuition than most US universities at UT. It's the politics and the way staff are treated that stick in my craw. Just had to cough it up, kinda like a hairball...


Looking into the abyss

Spineless cactus
Yeah. I know. If you're a writer, you're supposed to be writing. Big change of plans. I thought I had everything planned out so nicely. Car, debt management, all at least to ground zero by the time I retired. Since I took out 4 years of state service, I'm not eligible to retire until I reach 65. Five months away. Only five measly months away.

Life, the fickle bitch, stuck out her bony leg and tripped me once again. As of August 31, my job at the university will no longer exist. Due to reorganization, my team and I are considered redundant, as the folks in the UK would say. No incentive, no severance, just a session with HR. No keeping me on for those crucial five months.

OK. So resist panicking. Nope, that causes my blood pressure to skyrocket. Ignore it. Not an option. Find other work. Five months from turning 65? Right. Do you know anyone who would hire someone my age? Would you hire someone my age? Be truthful, now.

Eighteen years of working at UT, 24 years working for institutions of higher ed in Texas. What a waste. Teacher Retirement in Texas is a joke, especially after 15 years of budget cuts, downsizing, reorganization, attrition, all those tiny little cuts (see Frida Kahlo's painting, "A Few Small Nips") that finally bleed you dry.

Am I shocked? More than at anything else in my life. Am I surprised? Not really. UT is not a people institution, or at least not a staff-supporting institution. It's just a reflection of the state of affairs in the US right now. Rich get richer, poor get thrown to the wolves. Pretty soon there will be no one left to support faculty, administration, students, or facilities.

My stomach churns when I see orange. Not to mention the latest brain fart for supposedly raising money for scholarships, et al--the GSDM/UT partnership to manufacture and sell water bottles in the shape of the tower--H2Orange. And no, it's not orange colored or flavored. Just purified Texas river water. Stunning hubris. They proudly tout that they have bought carbon offset fiat, which means they can claim they're environmentally friendly. Totally defies reason and common sense. Texas has the worst air in the country, thanks to Twig grandfathering the oil refinery industry on the Gulf Coast, so all the crap associated with the manufacture and distribution of the tower bottle will still go into Texas air, water and soil. Well, maybe they will help keep the environment cleaner in Podunk, Idaho, but it just adds more garbage here. Does no one see the faulty reasoning there? And to top it off, only 40% of the proceeds go to the scholarships, et al.

I did not set out to post a rant. Nor will this be a "just think positively, everything will be OK." It might not be. I will do my usual I Ching, open myself to universal possibilities, and reaching out to all my networks like crazy. It is imperative to find work, I just don't have any prospects yet.

At least I'll have more time to post to FOP...


Two breaks, four sprains.

Well this is a fine pickle. Stepped in a hole on my patio where a tree root has broken up the stones. Threw me like a horse. Broke two bones, one on the outside of the ankle, the other inside where the tibia meets the ankle. NO weight on it for three weeks, then only up to 20% weight for the next three weeks. Boot stays on 23/7, with one hour to let it breathe and do 1" toe lifts from the ankle.


Sprained both knees and both wrists, which makes it particularly difficult to get around. Walker time for Mama--I need the 4 supports rather than just the two of crutches, since the 3 "good" extremities are sprained. Could get no further than the bed to the bathroom for the first week. About as helpless as a person can be. Used my computer chair to roll as far as I could, then the walker to get the rest of the way.

My sister and bil in Wimberley came to the rescue. They have both had many years experience in assisting people with special needs (all kinds!) and fixed up their spare bed/bath so I could navigate. Before she leaves for work each morning, my sis packs a cooler with all kinds of gourmet goodies that I can knosh on throughout the day. Recent specialties: ratatouille, cold boiled shrimp, edamame, Chubani yogurt, avocado, risotto, tabouleh, baby green, red, yellow bell peppers, plus an assortment of drinks--water, V8, diet sodas, grape/blueberry/pomegranate juice, etc.

A house full of books, wireless, HDTV, two loveable well-trained Airedales, and migratory songbirds--I feel like I'm recuperating at a retreat. Oh yeah--it IS a retreat. Tomorrow I attempt to make it to the deck and photograph hummingbirds, the two pairs of painted buntings, and various other sweet tweeties.

I hear that I have a gorgeous bouquet of Mother's Day flowers in town from my wonderful daughter. My bil brought home red and white roses, and an armful of deep red-orange tulips, so there are no lack of flowers.

My biggest worry is my kitty. I'm afraid he thinks I have abandoned him. Friends and relatives are leaving food out for him, but he's a one-woman cat. No one has actually laid eyes on him since I left. He's tough and resourceful (like me!) but I hate that I have to be away for so long.

The photo is backwards--it's actually the right leg. Which means I won't be driving for quite some time.

Nothing like having your life completely jerked around. But it's OK. Flexibility and endurance--got plenty of both...for the time being, at least.


Weddings, New Arrival Shinier Than SXSWi 2010

Austin is full to bursting. Wet, wet winter and 79 degrees today, the whole town has a mossy coat. Primitive. I'm startled by flashes of chrome yellow forsythia. Feels like growing a thick, furry skin, full of twiglets and a few early fruit flies. Can't believe it snowed only a few weeks ago.

Anticipation is as thick as conductive gel for a galactic gathering of events. Two weddings and a baby. Spring has truly sprung. Lots of planets lining up in groovy patterns. That's not even including the SXSWi factor.

This is the first time in 6 years I will not be at SXSWi. The higher ed component has its very own building this year. That building, however, will not see me seated on the periphery of the room, power strip to share, taking notes like a madwoman. Not that I won't miss it, it just so happens there are way more exciting things going on.

Bluebonnets--a special benediction this year, the most abundant in decades. Waiting with thrilling, trilling anticipation a sight for drought-sore eyes. Lady Bird's Wildflower Center has a Bluebonnet Cam. Precious. And they will be a deep, brilliant blue this year. Or purple, or magenta, or white, or whatever species, but the Lupinus texensis will be breathtaking.

What a spectacular welcome for the matrimonials and a new wee person on the planet.


Snow in Austin...really!

Plumpest snow globs I've ever seen this far south. It was rather surreal. A bit like the 3" long rocket-shaped hail last winter. Extreme weather is thrilling. Scary. And it's going to get more extreme. Been through Missouri tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires and earthquakes, desert floods, Austin floods, blizzards, mudslides, El Nino, La Nina, droughts, and forest fires. There's a wild joy in nature busting loose, even when there is real danger. Somehow the primordial elements seem more in the order of things, rather than say, a car wreck.

(Austin, TX, February 2010)

Notice how green it is, even though it's snowing. Reminds me of a March--gee, 17 years ago--when I flew to Austin from NJ to attend Paul B's last party. We had been through 23 separate snow storms since New Year's Eve, with ice still on all but the major highways. As the plane dropped into the old Mueller airport, something felt off-kilter. Once we dropped below the clouds, it was emerald green as far as the eye could see. There wasn't a sprig of green in Jersey. A lush 18 inch thick carpet of grass stunned my snow-accustomed eyes. Bluebonnets hadn't yet bloomed, but it was obviously going to be a bumper year. Much like this spring will be.

After years of relentless sunshine, heat and cold, withered plants and panting trees, Austin is a different animal this winter, metamorphosed by rain. Only in Texas skies can the color gray be described as vibrant. Light lends a different character to colors under the lowering clouds, intensifying and showcasing the metamorphosed earth. Moss covers live oaks like a coat of paint, contrasting with the wet, velvet black bark. Rainbows shimmer in the humid air. Gray glows argent, like burnished silver jewelry. Neighborhood cats, thick coats sprinkled with fairy dust, perfect muddy footprints trailing up and over my white car. A bird flutes a surprised, subdued query to unaccustomed early morning rain.

Grackle flurries restlessly prowl in the twilight, one eye on the dumpsters outside the eateries close to the river, one leg on trees perilously bending under the weight of tens of thousands of the buggers, moving like black schools of fish, pulled apart and collapsing together again like taffy, yet somehow  averting mid-air collisions and managing not to knock a neighbor off a perch.

New buildings loom over downtown like giant, shiny tinker-toys. Or maybe metallic mushrooms. The currently tallest one looks suspiciously like a flash drive standing on end. Folks coming to SX won't believe how the skyline has changed in just one year. There's something vaguely nauseating about how much building is going on, when news from other towns describes a completely different story. Where is all the money coming from? Who will populate the buildings? Will they fill as quickly as they went up? Will it be a repeat of the 80's, when the original "skyscrapers" went up, only to stand empty and forlorn for who knows how long?

Changes abound. Weddings and births, changes in circumstances. Can't control the weather, really can't control anyone but your own self. Wish life came with seatbelts. I'm gonna enjoy the ride anyway.