Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Not Dead Yet

I’ll be back in a couple of days. Lately I’ve been busy having pleurisy and pneumonia and reading really bad novels with James at my side. I don’t know whether his clinginess is because he’s concerned or just happy to have someone to hang around with. I’m going to pretend it’s the former. While I’m in bed, he assumes the “nurse’s position” in his bed on the bed.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Pilgrimage Day: Chaucer and Cats

Today is, if I remember correctly, the 625th anniversary of the Chaucer pilgrimage. I will observe it by reading the following (from The Manciple's Tale) to James, as I’m sure he will appreciate it:

Lat take a cat, and fostre hym wel with milk
And tendre flessh, and make his couche of silk,
And lat hym seen a mous go by the wal,
Anon he weyveth milk and flessh and al,
And every deyntee that is in that hous,
Swich appetit hath he to ete a mous.

Roughly translated:

Take any cat and give him milk and tuna and a silk beddy-bye basket, and let him see a mouse go by the wall; right away, he’ll ignore all of that and anything else you can think of to give him (laced with catnip, yet), such appetite has he to eat a mouse.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Kindling and Such

I’ve been reading like mad in between bouts of one or another annoying health problem. Nothing deadly, just annoying. I finally managed to get a Kindle, the amazon.com e-reader. I had my doubts at first, which is why I wasn’t one of the ones to get it when it first came out. Since then, I’ve been waiting impatiently in line for them to make new ones. I mean, how long can it take? Suddenly I was seized by a wild and dangerous move: e-bay. I have never used e-bay, but I did find an unopened Kindle posted, and got it, as described. It’s great. It compares to the iPod, which I need to maintain my sanity. Music is that important to me. It also has the advantage of clearing out the house of thousands of books. I’m not going to get rid of all of them, no. Not anything with lots of pictures, not anything that looks simply beautiful on a shelf, and not anything I’d want to annotate (you can make annotations on a Kindle, but it’s a pain). Since Wednesday, I’ve sold ten books and got about $75 in my bank account and lots of books off the shelves (that haven’t sold yet). Those that won’t sell at amazon.com can probably be sold to local used book stores. Of course, not everything in my library is in Kindle format, but enough is to make it usable. Books decorate a room, but after a point, when they’re piled on shelves, on floors, on surfaces, they become somewhat oppressive. Anyway, enough about my new toy.

I have successfully (so far) grown fingernails so that I can use them to play the guitar properly. This near-impossible feat shows how much I want to play the guitar. The fact that I’ve spent more time reading than practicing is another issue. My hands look like they belong on another person. When I was a little girl, Memaw promised me five dollars and a manicure set if I’d just quit biting my nails. (She was a nurse and saw it more as a health hazard than disgusting and unladylike.) Sadly, Memaw is not around to see my new fingernails. I could go without the rewards now; I’d just like to see her happy about it.

This weekend I will be practicing my guitar to death if I am a good girl. That contingency will make for a pretty big if, but I do want to play the thing. It’s just frustrating to start almost anything to realize how much harder it is than it looks!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Recognition and Thanks

Kaye and I have been together for twenty-three years today. It’s never something that’s noted by anyone, though at least my mother has known the date for a good many years now. I feel pretty sure that she’s sent my brother and his wife anniversary cards since September, 1996. It’s not that I want any fuss. In practical terms, I’m somewhat relieved that it goes unnoticed. I’m somewhat reserved, and in this case, Kaye is more so. I’m happy, proud and lucky to have Kaye, and that’s the important thing by far. It’s just maddening somehow that other people don’t recognize us as a couple like any other. I guess that’s because there is no couple to match us.

If there is someone out there pulling the strings, I would like to say thank you.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Arlo on Teaching Methods

From the album Precious Friend, by Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie. Arlo introduces "Garden Song" with some thoughts on how we learn. I wish I'd had Arlo to fall back on in grad school, because by the time I got there, they figured the "boring method" (i.e., some rote memorization from which you can draw new conclusions, create new ideas) was very much looked down upon. I think there's some middle ground.

This’s a kinda easy song, let’s hold one second, let’s learn this song, ‘cause this is, I mean, I know everybody likes singin’ with Pete, but I learnt this song from Pete, an’ it’d be almost the same thing. So, now I know, I mean, the difference, I know, I’ve been watchin’ Pete now for a few years, and he does somethin’ I can’t do, which is, he sings the songs twice at the same time. That’s what we were talking about before, celery consciousness, an’ Pete can do it. It’s the same –it’s – he sings the song once in front of the song and then once with everybody. That’s hard. So, I’m gonna try it, but first, let’s do it the normal way, which is the way we all learnt stuff in school. Now I know, people wanna forget about that, because you don’t figure you can learn anything that way, but it’s wrong; you’ve been learnin’ new ways to learn stuff an’ it don’t work. Right? So. Go back to the old way. It’s the old, what they call the “borin’ method.”

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Teaching Styles

My guitar teacher insists that I am doing better than I think. I don’t know if that’s so I don’t have a nervous breakdown over a transition to a D chord (almost got that without buzzing now). I guess I quit classical guitar mostly because I went to them with a sinking feeling and drove home in tears. I was probably more sensitive to criticism then, not having had nearly as much time to fail at things. The classical guitar teacher (whose name I don’t even remember) was like a drill sergeant. The only nice thing I remember him saying about me is that I could sight-read well. Having been in the band, in high school, I guess I could.

When I taught, I didn’t grasp the concept of “good enough.” I should have. I could have taught my students something about writing instead of putting the bar at English major grad student level, which I think I did. I’d do it differently if I had it to do over again. The thing was, it was hard to find something to praise in those papers! I mean, I got reduced to saying things like, “nice use of semicolon” or something. (They didn’t get punctuation or parts of speech, and we were banned from teaching them. I did anyway, surreptitiously.)

Of course, a guitar lesson that you’re paying for because you want to play the guitar well (or well enough) is hardly the same thing as Freshman Composition. That, you’re taking because you have to if you want to graduate. Not everyone there – and I know this will come as a shock – wants to learn anything; they just want a diploma they can barter into a job offer. That makes me sad. The reason I worked was to pay for a lifestyle in which I could continue to learn things for the sake of learning them.

A cynic might suggest that any private teacher does himself a service when he praises mediocre work by making the student like him through false praise. I’m generally not cynical, sometimes to my detriment. In any case, I don’t think that’s the case with my teacher. I’ve heard about her from a friend and an uncle. I think I’m awfully demanding of students, and moreso of myself. Anyhow, that’s what I’m going to tell myself while I keep practicing at home, where I can cuss at myself freely, and sing along. I sing okay, I think, when nobody can hear me. Kaye doesn’t count as an extra person after twenty-three years. I’m pretty much the same person around her as I am by myself. Not necessarily good, just consistent.

Chaucer's April

To ring in April, no fooling, here is one of my favorite “April” poems. It’s from Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters, a collection of poems he wrote to Sylvia Plath after her death and published shortly before his own. It is one of my favorite poems.


‘Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote . . .’

At the top of your voice, where you swayed on the top of a stile,

Your arms raised – somewhat for balance, somewhat

To hold the reins of the straining attention

Of your imagined audience – you declaimed Chaucer

To a field of cows. And the Spring sky had done it

With its flying laundry, and the new emerald

Of the thorns, the hawthorn, the blackthorn.

And one of those bumpers of champagne

You snatched unpredictably from pure spirit.

Your voice went over the fields towards Grantchester.

It must have sounded lost. But the cows

Watched, then approached: they appreciated Chaucer.

You went on and on. Here were reasons

To recite Chaucer. Then came the Wyf of Bath,

Your favourite character in all literature.

You were rapt. And the cows were enthralled.

They shoved and jostled shoulders, making a ring,

To gaze into your face, with occasional snorts

Of exclamation, renewed their astounded attention,

Ears angling to catch every inflection,

Keeping their awed six feet of reverence

Away from you. You just could not believe it.

And you could not stop. What would happen

If you were to stop? Would they attack you,

Scared by the shock of silence, or wanting more – ?

So you had to go on. You went on –

And twenty cows stayed with you hypnotized.

How did you stop? I can’t remember

You stopping. I imagine they reeled away –

Rolling eyes, as if driven from their fodder.

I imagine I shooed them away. But

Your sostenuto rendering of Chaucer

Was already perpetual. What followed

Found my attention too full

And had to go back into oblivion.

– Ted Hughes, Birthday Letters

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Tom Paxton and Groovitude

Ah ha!  I think I have figured out how I was holding the guitar wrong by looking at pictures of folk guitarists at work.  The bottom of it (as in if you stood it up on the floor with the tuning pegs at the top) needed to be more under my right armpit than it was.  I was still feeling as if I were breaking all the rules by not standing the thing up on my left leg.  And I can change from an A back to a D7 without looking if you’re forgiving.  I’m getting there.  Kaye came in from the kitchen and said, “Oh, it’s you.  I thought you were playing Tom Paxton.”  I think that was meant as a compliment from the ultimate tone-deaf fan (must be my groovitude, I’m thinking), but why Tom Paxton?  Why not, I don’t know, any female singer?  I mean, I mean, I mean . . . 

I have to acknowledge that I do not remotely sound like Tom Paxton.