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.


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.




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.”


I’m not at all sure about this cabbage. There’s just something a bit off. Perhaps I added too much cinnamon.

And this pork chop. It’s a bit peculiar as well. What is up with this Dijon mustard glaze?

It’s been a day of successes, small and large. On the small but important hand, I filed my taxes. So early! How Mature! On a larger scale, my review at work was a roaring success. Fantastic. Grandly, I applied for a job I’d actually like to take but that was far far away and took a lot of courage.

This exhausted me. I came home and put some things on the stove to cook in a daze.

Now, through the haze of steam and cookery, I am doubting my choices.

Not my decision to act like a grown up and face forward with solemn courage. You know courage. That’s when you know the odds are 100 to 1 against you but you get out of bed anyway. When you thaw the freezing clutch at your heart with an act of Will and Faith. When you breathe through the pain and drive through the blizzard. Courage… I’m not doubting that.

But I do doubt this dinner. God give me the last ounce of courage to confront my suspicious cookery!


Strange words from strangers

People say odd things to strangers. They say even odder things to invisible strangers. My job is to be an invisible stranger and to talk to my computer, my purple highlighter, my dying plant, and my brother’s photo about violins. In other words, I’m on the phone.

Somehow, people are generally quiet and suspicious of shop workers. At department stores, customers don’t make eye contact with salesmen for fear of needing to smile at them. At the grocery store, if a shelver says “Hi” or “Excuse me”, customers give them a funny look, and a wide berth. Eeeeeew. Humanity.

But on the phone the scene is utterly different. There are no barriers and no limits to what a customer will say into a phone. Somehow, the voice they are hearing isn’t real enough to avoid.

I get life stories. Mothers who’ve miscarried. Siblings who’ve lost their sister to a long illness. Grandpas who just got up (at 11 am) and aren’t “really with it yet”. Proud parents forward me press releases for their successful children’s hometown concert. Homeschool moms discuss curriculum choices. I am just a salesman and a violinist! I try to be sympathetic, but such things catch me off guard.

I also get pundits. These funsters say the darndest things. Examples….easy….

How would you like to pay for that today?

“Lottery ticket”

“As gently as possible”

“My firstborn?”

Is there anything else you need?

“A million bucks”

“A Strad”

“A steak, medium rare”

What are you looking for today?



“I don’t know”

Actually that last was the funniest.  Here’s the call, as I remember.

“Thank you for calling ****, my name is Thalia, how can I help you?”

“I’m looking for something.”

“……anything in particular?”

“I don’t know.”



*sigh*. People!