New Tools

I haven’t written any successful poetry in weeks. After I finished Spendthrift, I really didn’t have any spare thought.

Now, I am going back to the daily discipline of trying to write. I’m a bit rusty, but not too bad. The only thing is, that I find myself gravitating to the sonnet. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Sonnets are masterful forms that transcend time and space. But it’s the only form I am actually practiced with, and therefore the only tool I have.

But some thoughts just don’t fit into either the doggerel, the limerick, the clarihew or the sonnet. Somethings just don’t work. You can’t nail in a screw. You can’t screw in a nail. I’ve got to get some more tools.

So I set out on a journey. I am wrestling with the villainelle. Go ahead, laugh. That’s fine. I haven’t successfully written one yet, so the progress report is pretty brief.

Take your.

Spell, sell, pell, dell

hopscotch

So far, my villanelle is a palimpsest. Well, at least that sounds interesting. Until you look it up and the depths of my failure show up on my threadbare sheaf. Wish me luck!

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Mnemonics

In my undergrad years, I had a bit of trouble with combinations locks. I went through 6 in my freshman and sophomore years. The trouble was not with the lock. It was with my head. Nothing I can do induces me to remember number combinations. I had to go to the custodian 6 times to have my lock cut off my locker. Embarrassed and at my wit’s end, I went to my mother (obviously. I was only 19. Who else could I tell? no…who else could I tell that didn’t already know…this was music school after all)

I am not a number person. Clearly! So my mother and my sweet brother went out and purchased a word lock. Have you seen one like that? The various barrels have letters and you line up the raised letters to spell a word. You can set it to a word that you remember. It was set for GRACE, which quality I desire.

I still have that lock, and it still works. Thank Goodness.

So here at IU, I got a locker, and it came with a lock. A number lock.

OH NO!

How am I supposed to remember 0271? I wrote a poem. It’s not a good poem, but the syllable count corresponds to the number I need next. In fact, it is a silly and dumb poem, but it worked.

Here it is!

 

!
They say
That all hard work gives profit.

Ha!

Gradations

The identification, classification and organization of subtle minutiae consumes every specialist’s life. I’m a specialist (…happy nerd)  in a couple of areas. The important ones like music, violin playing and teaching , hymnody,  are impressive and will one day be colossal palaces of knowledge. The less immediately imperative spheres I relegate to a voracious amateur status. Nevertheless, I love them all, and am not afraid to tell you about WWI poetry, 15th c. Netherlandish iconography, or eating gluten free food without hating your life.

The difficulty is in the filing and referencing of all these tidbits. Improperly placed in the mind, you may find yourself reaching for the wrong anecdote. Remember that bad timing isn’t just bad comedy. It’s bad poetry, bad music, bad manners. Be especially vigilant with topic filing in moments of stress or you may find yourself in a sticky wicket.

At this IU upper string pedagogy seminar, I and 25 other detail oriented violinists and violists are filling up our heads with massive amounts of minutiae. The glory is really getting to be too much. On Saturday, we had 7 hours of lectures, 3 hours of masterclasses and a 2.5 hour concert.

Half way through the day, we took a break, and I noticed my brain drip out of my ears. A colleague and I were comparing notes and gauging our comparative “whelmed-ness”.

It is a fact, that one can be underwhelmed. One could certainly be overwhelmed. What is it to be whelmed, satisfied and with expectations met perfectly?

It’s like this, I said. Last year, I went to Greece and set forth in the Aegean to discover the point of being just whelmed.It was to be for posterity, and I meant to be my own brand of scientific.

I walked out into the ocean and stood to my waist. But there, I was half sticking out of the water. The waves came to my neck and I was underwhelmed.

I resolutely strode forward to meet the rolling salt cobalt sea. Oh! Too far! If you stand up to your neck in the Aegean, that’s nice, but the waves crash over your head. I was fully overwhelmed.

In the end, I found that to stand up to the armpits was just perfect. Wholly whelming in the Aegean.

I continued my tale, prattling dizzily to my colleague. Of course, this only works for the Aegean. The Atlantic is less sheltered, the waves of the South Sea are wholly other. But in the Aegean, one is just whelmed by standing to the armpits on a clear June day.

You know what I mean?

“I’m from Nebraska.”

Ghost of Music Camps Past

This spring, I registered for Mimi Zweig’s summer pedagogy seminar, and now, the day has has come, and I am here. It’s going to be an amazing course of study, and look forward to the cocky level of self confidence I anticipate leaving with. After all, I am here to gain method to my teaching madness, but I already love teaching. Isn’t that half the battle? (It better be…)

It is true that this course will be a wonderful thing for me, but the biggest, bestest thing is that I get to stay with a very good friend. And second to that, I met another friend when I got to orientation.

Standing there, face to face with another violinist, I suddenly remembered everything about the day that we met. It was not a good day. I was going off to Meadowmount, for the second summer to be a counselor. That, of course, meant that I had to be about a week early. So I arrived at the tiny Burlington airport alone. The taxi man took me to the wrong ferry, and I crossed Lake Champlain too far north, landing some 45 minutes from the camp in the middle of absolutely nothing. I was freshly college graduated (…penniless) and in the Adirondacks (…no cell reception). Eventually, I was able to get JUST enough cell reception to the head counselor to call, but she didn’t answer because she was off doing counselor things (…looking for me at the wrong ferry stop). It took 2 hours to get in touch with someone and of course, another hour and a half to get to Meadowmount after they dispatched two other, more reliable counselors in a van to come get me.

They’d saved me some dinner. It was roast beef and potatoes. I sat there, eating while everyone watched. I was very animated and may have been waving my cutlery erratically. Throughout the vasty saga, I was staring into the intense but unmoved gaze of a man with very blue eyes. He was so unamused by my tale that I began to spin it like a demented spider attempting to weave a web to catch a mackerel (… crazily). I don’t think he ever laughed. By the end of camp, we’d spent enough time together to understand that I was trying to get a reaction, and he was worried about getting stabbed.

That was four years ago yesterday. I know because it was my birthday. Today, I saw the blue eyed man again, and we greeted each other affectionately. I met his lovely pianist wife and she said the scary phrase. “Oh yes, he has told me all about you.”

The Bug in my Violin

The inside of a violin is a magical place. A silent, holy hall with skylights in its vaulted roof. The curved walls and the bare floor, the maker’s tag a rug in one corner. A brilliant photographer for the Berlin Philharmonic captured the resting glory of this chamber of sound. See.

Yesterday, I played my violin for my church as a sort of farewell since I am moving again. Since the zippers and clasps can be noisy in reverent moments, I did what I always do and got the violin and the stand and the music all set up well before worship began. I left it in the back, unattended. I can only assume that is how the BUG got in.

Yes, when I opened my case today, there was a huge and hideous BUG of the family of YUCK and the genus of GAH calmly sitting beside the shoulder of my Sleeping Beauty (aka, super loud obnoxiously high noise maker).

I’ve heard stories about bugs and violins. All of them involve the bugs eating the violins and/or the bow. Steeling myself, while shrieking, I rescued my violin and my bow and threw the case and the bug onto my brother’s porch. He can deal with the interloper when he gets home from work.

Panting and shivering, I reached for my violin when suddenly it occurred that the bug Might Not have Been Alone. What if this wasn’t a scout, but an invasion? What if my all of tranquility and harmony was Infested? What if the hoards of vileness had come to stay!?

I hid in the bathroom and called my mother. She says I have to put some pants on and confront my violin. She says I should shake the violin and listen for any exoskeletal buzzing. Then, if there is none, all is well. If there is, I should flee the scene, go to the movies and wait for my brother to come home and turn the evil ones out.I think I’ll do what she says.

Any minute now…any minute…

Lazy Sunday

I’m back in the saddle again. Audition season is coming up in September and I am aching not just do well, but to WIN this thing. You see, my favorite violinist, James Ehnes, is going to be in town. I have met him a few times, and aside from his showmanship and virtoustic technique, he is a great person. Unlike some artists, I have seen him come out into his audience to meet his fans. He is humorous and generous with all. And I have a chance to share a stage with him.

I’m practicing like a veritable fiend. Except when….

The Hammock to the Violinist

It’s too damn hot for Beethoven today
So cut the practice out and come and play.
Another metronomic moment more or less
Of droning, wearied, laboring excess
Won’t change the course of fortune anyway.

The snoozy, dozy Sun will melt away
The tension stored in shoulders, hands, and brain
With pulsing heat massaging out the stress;
But it’s too damn hot for Beethoven today

The music of the birds and trees at play
Inspires deeper vision, and you may
Be the better artist for a rest.
It’s a thought the Great Ones oft profess.
So cut the practice out, lie down and sway.
It’s just too damn hot for Beethoven today.

My Great-Grandfather

I went to Phoenix a few weeks ago for a job interview. It went well and all that, but, as life goes, what I will remember was not what I went there for.

Saturday morning before I flew home, I stopped at my great-grandfather’s nursing home. He will be 95 this year, and while he is looking frail, he is well, and quite alert.

A very friendly receptionist directed me to his room, and I found him watching TV with his friends. I put my hand on his shoulder and said,

“Grandpa, let’s go talk in the lobby for a bit.”

He said, “Sure!”

Now, I am the only daughter of his only granddaughter, so I assumed that my greeting and his affable acquiescence to this idea meant he knew who I was. Further conversation proved this to be untrue.

“Where are you from?”

“I live in Michigan for now.”

“My great granddaughter lives in Michigan. You remind me of her.”

“Grandpa, I am she!”

Joy flooded my grandfather’s face. The purest, warmest draught of delight I have ever experienced radiated through the room. Our laughter and happiness filled the lobby of the nursing home, and the receptionist wiped tears from her sympathetic eyes. We spoke of many things, mostly family and change and his missing hearing aids. Then he got restless, fearing I would miss my flight. I had hours to go, but after half an hour, his courtesy for my “busy schedule” required me to go.

“This was a happy reunion. I am so proud of you. I love you so much.”

And he was gone.

I’ve attempted to convey how sorry I am that I had to go, how much I wish I could have taken the job I was offered. Unlike my usual method, I didn’t employ a classical form, but rather listened to the meter and tried to harness the harmony of words to make a sort of song. I still don’t know what to name it. Suggestions are welcome.

Regret

Only a few minutes pass.

I would spend my life right here
Watching sorrow leave your face
Laughing, holding, loving you

But only a few minutes pass.

Graciously you hold your court
And give your family leave to stay
Beside your chair for half an hour

Only these few minutes last.

You are ancient, life is short
Those who love you hold you dear
I wish you’d let me stay with you

And only a few minutes pass.