Monday, March 31, 2008

In theory, theory and practice are the same . . .

In practice, they aren't, as Yogi Berra noted.

Less than one week into the guitar lessons, and I am frustrated as hell. Oddly enough, the fretting doesn’t hurt my fingers like it did some twenty years ago when I was studying classical guitar with nylon strings rather than steel. Well, as I said before, I suck at this. What is maddening is that I have never sucked at a musical instrument. Practice wasn’t practice so much as playing. They gave me a recorder in the 4th grade, and I could play all the songs in the book by the next day. I was hooked from then on. In the 7th grade, I got to join the band, I think because Gran-Gran had played clarinet and sax by ear and surely considered music one of the most important things in life. Anyway, the next band day, I could play most of the book. The teacher gave me an extra book to play around with. I never got good at piano, mainly because we didn’t have one at home for the most part, but I could either play it by ear or practice the hell out of music. I guess I have a knack for sight-reading. But chords I do not really understand. I’m thinking maybe I should go back to the classical guitar along with the acoustic and read up on this music theory for the guitar in a book I bought recently.

Kaye, a good piano student who also plays the clarinet and recorder, assures me that music theory will make practice positively fascinating. Maybe, but I like to know why I’m doing something – what’s the core truth behind it all. Just like any other discipline, perhaps more obviously, a real study of music is making order out of chaos. I noticed that the three fields I studied (Math, Computer Science, Medieval English Lit) all try to do the same thing, which is to make order out of apparent chaos. I call that quest for meaning religion. Talking about religion gets me into all sorts of trouble, though, so don’t mention this comment to anybody.

My whole right side hurts, and the only excuse for it I can come up with is that I’ve been holding my body in an unfamiliar position and there are screws in my neck on that side, making it less flexible than it thinks it ought to be. I figure I can overcome it, but my teacher may be dismayed by my lack of progress.

My frustration is partly at my incompetence, to be sure, but, as I say, I don’t get it. It’s just “put your fingers here and strum. This is called a D chord.” One of everybody’s first questions is “Why?” I got frustrated as a teacher over this phenomenon. I wanted them to take whatever I told them on faith, given that you have to start somewhere, and they wanted me simply to pour my knowledge into their ears. Having been on both sides of the desk, or lectern, I realize that most of the onus (at least on college students and beyond, and, ideally, before) is on the student – the teacher can’t do much beyond provide direction and carrots and sticks.

I know I gave out a disproportionate number of sticks in my stint as a teacher. I’d do things differently now.

Well, I guess I’ll drag out the classical guitar, so I can feel some semblance of competence, and then be happier to practice chords.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Room to Make Big Mistakes

I think I can say with some confidence that I can now play “Frère Jacques” on the guitar, at least the embarrassingly easy version I have. Still, I’m not getting the buzz on the chord that I was originally getting. I’m still struggling to move from A7 to D (the reverse is pretty easy). If I can do that by Wednesday, I will consider the week a success. I believe there’s a G chord in one of the songs I haven’t looked at much yet. You have to start somewhere, and my problem was more knowing where than being willing to practice. The will to practice so far comes from an intense desire to play anything but what I’m playing. That, and the fact that my mother doubts I’ll be at this for more than a couple of months. That’ll do, for a start.

Borrowing from the Dixie Chicks, I now have a room to make big mistakes in.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Will to Suck at Something and Continue

After one 45-minute guitar lesson, something I’ve long suspected became clear:  I suck at guitar.  Oh, I was prepared for this.  I used to teach something I’m better at, and I constantly told my students not to worry about the early papers, which were weighted much less than the later papers because I expected them to do poorly on the first assignments.  Over and over I said, to get good at something, you have to be willing to suck at it for a while first.  And think about exactly what you’re doing wrong, and what, if anything, you’re doing right.  I guess deep down I didn’t want this to apply to me.

It started out positively sad.  My guitar was out of tune, without looking, I would turn the wrong peg to tune it, and I apparently couldn’t hear.  But I expect I’ll get better at that fairly soon.  What was worse was when my teacher asked me what chords I knew, knowing I’d taken classical guitar lessons about twenty years ago.  I just looked at her miserably and shrugged.  “I just know notes,” I said.  So I’m in the baby section now.

On the other hand, I got better than I thought I could at changing from D to A7 in the lesson itself.  My fingers are sore but proud.  I’m working on, let’s see, “Clementine,” “Down in the Valley,” “On Top of Old Smokey,” “Hush Little Baby,” “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” and let us not omit “Frère Jacques.”  Actually, those are much better than the stuff I had to play when I first started classical guitar but hadn’t actually worked my way up to actual (if simple) classical pieces.

I’m going to need to quit biting my fingernails, I guess, at least on my right hand.  I’ve quit stronger things, but if they’d had sonograms in 1966, you’d have seen me gumming my fingernails, I’m sure.  It’s a hard habit to stop.

Meanwhile, I think that in addition to actually playing (and singing – yikes) these songs, I’ll be sitting on my guitar stool with my eyes closed just changing chords without looking.  So far it’s just a strum with my right hand, so rhythm is all I have to worry about.  And this nearly imaginary guitar practice shouldn’t bother the neighbors.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Desecration of Peace

When we got up this morning, barely realizing that it was Easter, but for the mention from my mother and Yvonne, a very loud grease-removal truck pulled up at the manhole in front of our house.  Kaye went out to ask if there was an emergency, figuring a city that closes the liquor stores on the non-existent holiday of Easter Monday would not violate the peace of Easter morning for no good reason.  No, they said.  Apparently they de-grease the sewers every Sunday morning.  Then the kids next door were hunting for eggs in the back yard, arguing over which egg was whose.  I guess because I don’t have kids, it’s interesting to me how worked up they can get over what seems like nothing to me.  I mean, their arguments can escalate to the point that you’d have to have wrecked my car or something for me to get that upset, and I have a temper.  All is peaceful now, anyway.  My brother and I had the decency to yell at each other indoors (“Mom, Chris is looking at me!” or “She rode in the front seat last time!”), not that it would matter, since for most of our childhood (all but two years with the two of us), we lived out in the middle of nowhere. 

Would that every argument were so mild.  If all the people intent on blowing other people to smithereens could just agree to play in different sandboxes . . . but I guess which sandbox is whose is the source of much of the trouble.  There are enough sandboxes to go around.

The American concept that we know best and are the natural arbiters of other countries’ internal or international disputes is another embarrassing and disappointing issue altogether.  We have a very big sandbox and ought to appreciate that, and the fact that we don’t have suicide bombers going on here.  I am sad and angry about the events of September 11, 2001, but the destruction we’ve wrought is just that – it hasn’t rebuilt the twin towers or brought back the victims; it’s simply created more.

I just wish people could work out their violence during childhood, in harmless disputes.  If that were so, the screaming kids would be a blessing.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Music Room!

Yesterday was so busy. Between appointments and re-doing the house (to a point), I didn’t have time or energy to type much. We turned our guest room into a music room for me. I have four guitars, a banjo, a sax (Gran-Gran’s), a clarinet, a flute, a couple of recorders of different sizes and a keyboard. That takes care of the instruments, I think. The rest are electronic stuff and a guitar stool and music stand. And Kaye’s desk. She just uses it as a file cabinet, but moving it out of the room would be a lot more difficult than moving the bed out was. I hope having a “music room” will help me focus. There was hardly room in the bedroom to store all the stuff and practice (or open closets). I've got a framed picture of Joan Baez up and am planning a Dylan and Arlo picture so now I’ll have a place that says “practice!” the way my study says “work” and the bedroom says “sleep” (or read or paint, but there are only so many rooms in the house, and Kaye wants some of them, and we need one we can lock James in when the plumber comes or whatever).

I can’t find such a thing as a sax or clarinet mute. That’s disheartening, especially with the sax. I guess I will literally “stick a sock in it.” For now, I’ll just nap. I'm so tired . . . but grateful for the space!

I guess the bedroom can double as the recuperation room. :P

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mysterious Itches

The itch from which I have suffered for months (or, but with interruptions, for years) has recently become unbearable and, for the last few nights, has almost completely kept me from sleeping.

Besides, nothing appears on the outside; immediately under the skin, it is like a poison that wants to come out; an injection of extract of bedbugs.  Can it get more intense?  It doesn’t seem so.  But it can enlarge, spread to the whole body . . .

I think of Job looking for a piece of glass with which to scratch himself, and of Flaubert, whose correspondence, in the last part of his life, speaks of similar itchings.  I tell myself that each of us has his sufferings, and that it would be most unwise to long to change them; but I believe that a real pain would take less of my attention and would after all be more bearable.  And, in the scale of sufferings, a real pain is something nobler, more august; the itch is a mean, unconfessable, ridiculous malady; one can pity someone who is suffering; someone who wants to scratch himself makes one laugh.      André Gide, March 19, 1931

This is weird.  Yesterday I wrote about Flaubert, and today I find out that he and Gide (to say nothing of Job) had the same inexplicable itching – literally, I take it – that I’ve been having lately.  I told Kaye we must have bedbugs or something, but she’s not itching.  Well, it’s not that bad.  And I’m happy to find myself in such company, I think.  I notice that Flaubert had epilepsy, if Wikipedia is trustworthy.  It may as well be, as it’s what people get their information from these days.  Gide seems to have been a married homosexual.  Job may not have existed.  I’m beginning to see what my problem is . . . I guess I'll take an antihistamine.

Is it too prurient that I looked up these guys to see what I'm going to die of?

Please Don't Make Me Go

The Atlantic has a great article out, “Caring for Your Introvert” that explains what it’s like to be shy to all the normal people who don’t know.  I don’t mean just shy.  I mean, have to work my way up to an event (which can be going to the grocery store) and recuperate the rest of the day.  I talk other people’s ears off when I get an attentive ear; I just don’t like conversations about nothing, aka small talk.  If I start talking about something real, it scares people, and if I don’t say anything, they are afraid of me (I’m pretty sure) and see me as the neighborhood Boo Radley (forgetting that he actually saves Scout in the end and was just shy).  I think Bob Dylan is shy, for instance, and probably not as much of a jerk as he’s come across as sometimes.  The guy probably just wants to be left alone.  At least I’m going to assume that’s the situation.

Diddums and driftington have already brought the subject of shyness up, but I’m going to add to it so that the three people who read my blog will see it even if they don’t check out their posts. 

My name is not Snark, and I am an introvert.

I have gotten myself into a nasty spot within my own family, just because I can't stand the idea of being with all of them at once.  It isn't any one person.  It's the zoo aspect of it.  I don't like to go to movies; I wait for the DVD to come out.  I love the Harry Potter series so much that for book 6, I think, I went to the bookstore at midnight to see if I could get the book earlier than 1:30 PM.  I had a real panic attack.  I had a similar reaction at Disney World (my mom took me one year) when they started the parade.  When I went into Home Depot, I almost lost it between the number of screwdrivers available, the vastness of the place, and the number of people who wanted to help me.  

So if there are any normal people out there, just don't assume that the loners are all potential terrorists.  Some of us are just shy.

Guitar Lessons . . . Wish Me Luck

I spoke with my new guitar teacher last night, and am set up for weekly lessons. I’m really enthusiastic about this, mainly because it is something I’ve always wanted to do but somehow never had the time, energy and money for all at once. Now, I don’t really have the money, but I think this qualifies as a need – certainly more than my Starbucks habit does. When I listen to music, it does something to me that apparently isn’t true for everyone – the song becomes an active part of my being. It seems like what I imagine as “being in the zone.” I wonder if that’s partially related to my temporal lobe epilepsy – does it serve as a metronome for my brain as well as give my mind something to focus on? It probably doesn’t matter. That it makes me feel at home in my head is very important.

But I know it’s going to be a long time before I can play anything well. I hope my passion fuels my discipline.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Genius and Perspective

You can’t read any genuine history – as that of Herodotus or the Venerable Bede – without perceiving that our interest depends not on the subject but on the man – on the manner in which he treats the subject and the importance he gives it. A feeble writer and without genius must have what he thinks a great theme, which we are already interested in through the accounts of others, but a genius – a Shakespeare, for instance – would make the history of his parish more interesting than another’s history of the world.” – Thoreau, March 18, 1861

Somewhat later, Oscar Wilde noted that "Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter."

Both Thoreau and Wilde seem to be supporting my earlier claim that observation is as important as creation. (If they aren't, well, what’re they going to do about it?) You can’t be creative without appreciating (in the sense of noticing) your corner of the world, whether it consists of you and a cat in two rooms or you on a concert tour. But you need time and space to appreciate things, and that would seem to make a more hermetic existence richer in detail than that of “normal people,” since you’d have to zoom in on your subject instead of seeing it from far away. The globetrotter would see things from a different vantage point than the near-hermit. The astronauts who gave us pictures of an earthrise gave us a sense of ourselves in a different way, and Michael Collins (the American astronaut, not the Irishman) had a then-unique perspective: when he was orbiting the moon while Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were on the lunar surface, half the time he was on the dark side of the moon, making him further removed from the earth than anyone had ever been. Either way, though, we realize that there is another world – either a microcosm or a macrocosm – that should humble us from our egocentric universes. I’m not sure I’m capable of extracting myself from my self-centered universe, but at least reading others’ accounts of their world makes me aware of them. Perhaps genius requires observation. Or is it the other way around?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Flaubert on the Novel

"The story, the plot of a novel is of no interest to me. When I write a novel I aim at rendering a color, a shade. For instance, in my Carthaginian novel, I want to do something purple. The rest, the characters and the plot, is a mere detail. In Madame Bovary, all I wanted to do was to render a grey color, the moldy color of a wood-louse's existence. The story of the novel mattered so little to me that a few days before starting on it I still had in mind a very different Madame Bovary from the one I created: the setting and the overall tone were the same, but she was to have been a chaste and devout old maid. And then I realized that she would have been an impossible character." -- Flaubert, March 17, 1861

I've been trying to get this notion into various people's heads for a while now, and they just give me a blank look. They think a book is supposed to be about something. Not necessarily. And I know that whenever I create something, it inevitably takes on a life of its own. Sometimes it's a keeper; sometimes not. It's always a surprise.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Beware the Ides

Beware the Ides of March. Since it’s March 15th, I wanted to remind anyone who could possibly forget to be extra careful today. Whether you’re standing in line at Starbucks, blogging or working on an assembly line, you don’t want to get stabbed in the toga. It’s seriously dangerous. Well, once it was.

I am amused and annoyed that I have been pegged for a Jesus freak just for standing up for theists and agnostics and admitting that my cultural background was Christian, so that’s what I have in my mind. I keep getting all these “Dear friend in Christ” e-mails. Probably shouldn’t have put my e-mail on the page, but I like to live on the edge. Anyway, anybody out there who’s thinking of addressing me in such a manner, please know that you will be promptly marked as junk mail, and I will never hear from you again. I am not passing out Bibles, becoming a brickyard preacher (at NCSU, we had a lot of them, having a brickyard), financially supporting your Jesus project or anything else. It is not my mission in life.

Discussion is fine, though. Just don’t call me your “friend in Christ.” It gives me hives.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Studying the Guitar

I’m hoping to begin guitar lessons next month. It’s really prohibitively expensive, but (potentially) priceless. And I’d do it on a month-to-month basis, so if I don’t like it or start living on couscous, I can bail. It’s just these four nice guitars I have staring at me, and twenty years of music I’ve bought – and sometimes learned – with the idea that sooner or later, I’d have time for it. When I was programming, I didn’t have time for it. Sometimes I went in at 6:00 AM and left at 11:00 PM. Once, I even got called at home at 11:30 PM after working until 11:00. The message was waiting for me when I got home. Grad school and teaching didn’t leave me with loads of free time, either. Now I have loads of free time and am overwhelmed by all my choices. I don’t expect much sympathy here. But I think I need guidance to move from classical to folk guitar.

Of course, my mother said that I was just always starting new things and never finishing them. I beg to differ (yes, we’ve been down this road before) – who comes up with the finish lines? I can read English better because of having studied French, Spanish and Italian, however sporadically. The cognates help with the words I’ve never seen before (mostly these came up in a few of the “Play for Rice” questions). That’s not nothing. All learning is good, if sometimes painful. I may never be able to speak these languages – and that’s never been my goal: I want to be able to read them and maybe understand them. My mother knows nothing about living in the moment. Funny, I talk to a former teacher who’s now a friend, and she always encourages my ventures. There’s never any of this “What happened to your conversion to Judaism?” or whatever. I learned something going to Temple. I learned a lot trying to piece things together. I could whine on, but I just want to say in really big font:


Is this a mother thing, or did I just get lucky? If she had her way in this wicked world, I’d do one thing for my entire life. Rant over. For now.

Plagiarized Rice

I'm trying to copy Qalmlea's "Free Rice" dohickey because I think it's neat, and, as Pete Seeger's professor father said, "Plagiarism is basic to all culture." So, if you click on the button below, you can play a neat vocabulary game in which your score contributes rice to the hungry:

And while I'm at it:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I Know It's Somewhere in the House . . .

Thanks to, I have discovered that I have a newly-defined psychiatric disorder, and so does Kaye: hoarding. Apparently, it’s genetic, which makes sense, knowing Memaw and Kaye’s father. We haven’t approached their level of “but this might be useful someday,” but I’m loathe to throw things out (except when I go on a purge and inevitably wind up throwing away something I have to buy again later). Kaye is more likely just to bring home some “perfectly good” something that’s being thrown out. Well, it may not be “perfectly good,” but it’s certainly functional and a waste to throw it out. “Kaye!” I say. “We are two people! We don’t need seventeen office chairs!” Well, I guess we’ll both have to be medicated and counseled into the neatness of Mom and Chris. I don’t know whether anyone on her side of the family can keep house, having only been to her brother’s house once, in 1985, and our place was neat then. I am relieved that we have not been able to pass this gene on to any children. I do take solace in that.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Seven Deadly Sins Revisited

Thomas’ blog alerted me to the seven new deadly sins. In grad school, I was playing at being a Medievalist (and did my thesis on the afterlife), so the seven deadly sins have been in my head for a while now. Well, I can always get six of them. I have to sit around and wait for God to tell me the one I’m forgetting – it’s never the same one. (I used to have my students come up with the seven dwarves just to see why I needed a prop to remind me. My students seemed to think I should know these things.) Anyway, the seven deadly sins are:

  • Pride
  • Greed
  • Lust
  • Envy
  • Wrath
  • Sloth
  • Gluttony

Notice that the first five are all sins of the soul. It’s a sin to lust after someone but not to transfer that sin into action. This might lead to some “I’ve already done it in my head; why not do it in my bed?” thinking, but, presumably, if you manage to avoid lust, you won’t be committing any sexual misdeeds.

The new “deadly sins” (I’m choking a bit as I’m typing this – hard to take seriously) are:

  • Pollution
  • Genetic engineering
  • Obscene riches
  • Drug abuse
  • Abortion
  • Social injustice
  • Pedophilia

At least one of these is ridiculous: if you are committing pedophilia, you’re already committing lust of some sort, so that’s repetitious.

All are societal issues. Time was, religion was between man and God, not man and mankind. Oh, I know the “Do unto others . . .” and the ten commandments, but, really, if you get your head on straight (“do unto others”), you’ll be trying to do what you think is right (given that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, you’ll fail). It seems to me that my religious beliefs are between me and God, not me and the EPA. Presumably, I’ll do the right thing.

And I think genetic engineering is the right thing, if used properly. I also think abortion is regrettable but the best option in some situations. What constitutes “obscene” riches is anybody’s guess, but at least I don’t have to worry about that one.

Also, it occurs to me that Arlo is in for some seriously hard time in Purgatory, what with that Alice's Restaurant incident of being a litterbug. While littering is a bad thing, for God's sake, it's not a deadly sin!

Social injustice needs to be defined a bit more. Am I at the giving or receiving end? Probably both, but social injustice tends to be a societal problem, not an individual one, and we can't help being a part of an imperfect society. Does this new "deadly sin" suggest that we are all tainted? Then why point it out? It's just not an individual issue.

I remember something about the body being a temple of God, but drug use (by which I'm assuming the reporter meant drug abuse) can be caused by a variety of things, often started relatively innocently -- a prescription taken as directed? a joint given to you by an uncle when you're a teenager? And what constitutes drugs that can be mortally abused? Do alcohol and tobacco count? How about coffee? Why are some drugs okay and others not? Again, this is a societal issue.

The first seven deadly sins make sense, maybe because they aren’t so picayune and getting between me and God. Luckily, I’m not Catholic. I’m not anything but a hopeful agnostic of the Christian variety. But maybe the Church should stick to matters of faith and trust God to guide the individual conscience. I'm reminded of Jesus' saying that people should "[r]ender to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Mark 12:17, KJV) While I don't expect everyone to listen to Jesus, I would expect it of the Church!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Happy Birthday, Chris

On this date in 1970, I became a big sister to a baby boy named "Chris." I was a little put out that he wasn’t a sister, but I could tell Mommy liked him, so I suggested going back to the hospital the next week and getting a sister. Somehow, that never came through. Anyway, to start with, I thought he was interesting and he grew to think I was important. We’re both pretty much over that phase now, I think.

Happy Birthday, little brother.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Do unto others before they do unto you?

I’ve just finished reading Panzram: A Journal of Murder, by Thomas E. Gaddis and James O. Long. It’s about a serial killer, rapist (mostly of men and boys), arsonist, thief, batterer, and conspirator (albeit largely failed). I’m sure I’ve left something out. I’m interested in what makes people do such evil (and often just plain weird) things. This book bothered me from the start, though, and I almost stopped reading it. The thing was, I felt empathy for the serial killer, and that’s a scary thought. Usually I’m a mix of sadness and perverse amusement at what lengths people will go to to hurt people for no reason. People can be very creative in their meanness. But this guy was abused, neglected, raped, and in reform school (a century ago) by the time he was eleven, where the abuse and neglect were carried to new heights while the rape continued. So he became a rapist, a random serial killer who hated mankind (including himself) and felt no remorse for what he’d done. I guess my empathy would end there. I’d feel remorse. But I can understand his wanting to get revenge, I guess. I made a lot of promises to myself when I was little – not that I would go on a killing spree or anything, but just that I would remember what happened then when I grew up. I have a reputation in my family for one who holds a grudge. It’s true. I promised a little girl I would remember her.

I forced myself to finish the book despite my discomfort. What I am coming out of this book with is the message that “[d]o unto others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31, KJV) is not so much a rule that Christians (and humane people in general) should live by but one that anyone with common sense should live by out of self-preservation if not humanity. I don’t know what a modern psychiatrist or FBI criminologist would make of Carl Panzram, but I suspect that if he’d been treated better earlier in his crime spree (which began with public drunkenness at the age of eight), he wouldn’t have been the monster he became. So whether you want Jesus to love you, to be a humane individual, or just look out for number one, you ought to be kind to people. Not a new idea, but I’m glad I finished the book.

When he finally gets hanged (not a spoiler, as it’s in the introduction), he says something to his hangman that I think is a wonderful, if nasty, expression of the individual: “Hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could hang a dozen men while you’re fooling around!” You have to admire his spunk, if not his actions.

I’m not so worried about my occasional empathy with the guy anymore. He had a far rougher childhood than mine. He just never forgot what people had done to him. I must stress that I don’t approve of or empathize with his actions, just to get that straight. I simply have a sadness not just for Panzram’s victims but for himself.

Friday, March 7, 2008

I Swear I Am Writing My Own Obituary

Every day, the first thing Kaye does after getting dressed is run outside to get the newspaper so that she can read the obituaries. I am bemused at this. Mostly she doesn’t find anyone she knows, although that happens. I hate it when it turns out to be a 59-year-old student of hers (that happened recently). It just reminds me how old she’s getting. True, I’m aging at roughly the same rate as she is, but she has a head start on me. But today, she found a horribly hilarious obit. Some poor guy died and was survived by his “nearly devoted wife of 66 years.” I’m thinking they’d been married for almost 66 years. Maybe she wasn’t dearly devoted, but she surely was devoted to something to hang in there that long. I swear, I am writing my own obituary, sending it around to all my writing friends for proofreading and any suggestions. I will be selective about the suggestions part and avoid mentioning this to my relatives.

In case of a misprint in the newspaper, I suppose I should have fliers out for Kaye to distribute. She will be extremely devoted, bereft . . . and busy handing out fliers. Maybe she could put them under windshield wipers.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

I Wonder as I Wander

I talked with my mother this afternoon. I talk with my mother on a more-or-less daily basis. She is willing to take my calls once a day. It sounds worse than it is, I guess. I mean, if I had to listen to me go on about nothing every day, I’d never answer the phone if it could possibly be me. Today, I was going on about the guitar and methods to try to use to learn it. She said, basically, that I start a bunch of things but never finish them. To a certain extent, this is true. To a certain extent, it may be a neurological quirk. Whatever the case, though, it is a characteristic my mother believes I should work to get out of. And, I might add, it is characteristic that she believes it. She is very goal-oriented.

“Say something in Italian,” she says, mocking the fact that I have worked at Italian (to read Dante), Spanish (because it’s everywhere) and French (because I am of French descent, actually have college and graduate credits proclaiming that I should know something, live with a French teacher and am close friends with a French woman). I also went through a short-lived Hebrew phase when I was considering converting to Judaism. That venture is a story in itself. “Ciao,” I said. What’s it to her, I ask, if I shift gears now and then? I’m not a great multitasker. I tend to take to one thing for almost my entire waking hours and really immerse myself in it. I am trying to make myself do at least a bit of this or that unless I have a really good reason not to, but I’m not expecting to win a Nobel or anything at this point. The thing is, my mother hasn’t done anything like play the guitar or learn a foreign language. She went from high school to marriage and business school to motherhood to bookkeeper/secretarial work to college to teaching high school to retirement and remarriage. I’m not saying she didn’t accomplish anything; I’m saying she’s lived a normal life, worked very hard, and kept two kids and a husband under control. Well, I never burned anything down or got arrested, anyway. No one’s had much luck keeping me under control, which is what this is about, I guess.

The fact that I earned a BS, BA and MA mean nothing because I am not using them to make money (because I am disabled). She hasn’t said that, but I think that’s what she thinks. My brother and sister-in-law have said as much. While I did expect to be working after graduation (and I did work – for five years as a programmer and seven as a college freshman composition teacher), I went to college primarily because I like to learn. I had hoped to keep learning and helping others learn.

What I devote my time to now is learning. What I try to do is observe and learn the mechanics of things I appreciate so that I can create something. To me, the observation is at least as important as creation. Anything tangential that comes from it is purely that: tangential. To that end, I’ve played at the Personality Forge building chat-bots and becoming obsessed with how other bots work, am studying and gradually putting into play Internet languages and trying to learn usable programming languages, since what I know won’t get me anywhere in Windows, and I did enjoy programming. I was actually good at it once. I’m working on and off with paints, charcoal, pencil, digital camera and camcorders, guitar (leaving banjo, sax, flute, clarinet, piano and recorders on the back burner due to the passage of time), doing close readings of various literary works as well as reading for knowledge and perspective. (I consider pretty much all reading fun.) I play at chess. I watch movies on DVD, and, once every twenty years or so, I go to a concert.

The thing is, I’ve felt pretty bad about the whole “you can’t do everything” situation since about the time I turned forty. Click here if you want to see a typical self-centered English major take on the situation. Suddenly I realized that time is passing and I’m all over the map. I am working on and culling a lifetime to-do list. But I think my mom, who is a responsible, decent human being – don’t get me wrong (she might read this) – needs to have an itinerary for everything, whereas I start off somewhere and explore. For instance, I might start off with the Arlo concert to reading a book about Woody to learning more about Huntington’s disease. Then I might volunteer some time for an organization about Huntington’s disease. I never know what I’ll be up to from day to day.

But what is life for? I wonder as I wander . . .