Monday, January 30, 2012

Schubert's Kicking My Ass

Schubert’s Waltz in B Minor.  Man, how I hate that piece.

Not really.  I love it.  It sounds like this:

Simple, really.  But challenging to me.

I took lessons as a child (getting good enough to play “Für Elise” by Beethoven at the request of my dad). But I abruptly quit. 

One of my teachers turned out to be quite the taskmaster and pissed me off.  She wanted me to play the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”  Frankly, I was tired of Beethoven and wanted to change my repertoire to Billy Joel and Elton John songs.  So I convinced my mom to let me stop with the lessons (one of the many examples from my youth of cutting off my nose to spite my face).

My 40s snuck up on me.  And I realized that I missed the piano. 

We all have dreams.  Mine?  To make my living as a pianist.  Now, I’m not expecting to become the next Billy Joel, Elton John or Ben Folds, but it would be great to be able to play at different venues (weddings, parties, etc.) and make enough money to support myself.

One of my friends is an accomplished classical concert pianist and teacher.  I mentioned to him one day that I would like to take lessons again and if he could suggest someone who could teach pop/rock style.  He mentioned a couple of sources, and then said offhandedly “Well, I could teach you.” 

At the first lesson, my friend and I discussed where to start and where I wanted to go with the lessons.  While I want to focus on pop/rock style, I understand that a good foundation lies in classical music.  So I decided to work on one classical piece and one popular piece per lesson. Before I sat down at the piano, I laughed and said, “I hope that I don’t bore and frustrate you with how slowly I learn.” 

He smiled.  “Don’t worry.  I only ‘fire’ students when they show no interest and refuse to learn.”

 After a particularly tough lesson (compliments of the Schubert waltz), I drove home thinking “I’m going to get fired from piano lessons.”  When I returned for my next lesson, I pulled out the sheet music for the waltz and said, “I hate this piece.” 

My friend recoiled and said, “Oh, my…well, let’s give it a go anyway.”  I played it badly, blundering at the same measures over and over until he finally said, “Stop.  I tell you what.  Just put this waltz away.  Forget about it for now.  At this point, you’re beating your head against the wall with it.  After a couple of weeks, take another look.  You will find that you can play it much better.”

I guess life is like this.  Sometimes we need to step back, take a breath, and tackle the challenge a bit later at a different angle and with a fresh point of view.

I told my friend about my concerns following the previous lesson that he was going to “fire” me.  He laughed.  “Don’t worry. You are my project.  I won’t be happy until you are playing Carnegie Hall.”

Although he may have been joking, it completely encouraged me.

I’ll let you know when I’ve booked the date.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Magic Doesn't Just Happen

I squandered my chance at magic this morning, but it happens each day in Houston.  There is a magic moment when you can zip to the office through traffic somewhat unhindered. 

I slept a bit late this morning, with The Man coming to my bedside every five minutes to ask how much longer I intended to sleep – my standard answer is always “5 more minutes.”  “5 more minutes” turned into an hour and a quarter this morning.  Which was unfortunate, seeing that my boss’s birthday is today. 

You see…I’m part of the office decorating committee.  A co-worker and I (probably the only two people in our department who care about such things) decorate for each person’s birthday.  This consists of some paltry streamers around the top of cubicles and balloons at each corner.  Whee! 

When I finally arrived at the office, my co-committee member had enlisted one of our co-workers to help decorate the cube.  With orange and white streamers. 

Yuck.  I did not say anything, but a gay man would never decorate with orange and white.  Orange and blue, maybe.  Orange and purple, sure.  Orange and white, never.  There’s no pizzazz there.

I didn’t get to create magic today on my boss’s cubicle.  I should be less gay or more punctual.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Lighting the Way

“As we light a path for others, we naturally light our own way”
Mary Anne Radmacher

It’s easy to get lost.  It’s easy to get turned around and lose direction.  When your world’s been shaken to the core, finding which way is up is sometimes impossible.

I have a family member, a young man, who has found trouble again and again.  To the point of finding himself in jail a couple of times.  As I type this post, he is incarcerated.

The Man has a close friend who has been in-and-out of the prison system over the last fifteen years.  It’s disheartening to know that this pattern (in too many cases) is circular.

I’ve learned from The Man.  He has never given up on his friend.  The Man writes letters to him faithfully.  The Man sends him money orders, so his friend can buy various personal items in the prison commissary (like special soap…yeah, it surprised me too).  Since the only way to make a call from the pokey is collect to a telephone land-line, The Man ensures that we have one so his friend can call and chat once a week.  If truth be told, The Man is the only stable person in this guy’s life.

When my own young man landed in jail the first time, I was upset: “Angry,” to be truthful.  I was angry because I thought that he had not listened to my “words of wisdom.”  His addiction to trouble and drugs was something that we all thought could be overcome outside of the system.  Not so.
Where Rule #1 is “Be nice,” I had forgotten Rule #2: 
“Listen, try your best to understand.  And if you can’t understand, just listen.”

When my young man first went to jail, I visited him at the facility.  I talked with him through the cloudy plexiglas divider.  I was able to make it a couple of minutes into the conversation, and then I started crying.  He smiled and quickly changed the subject to ask about a rock concert that he knew I’d recently attended.  Then he proudly showed me his new prison tattoo.  God love him.

It hurt.  Badly.  I couldn’t hug him hello.  I couldn’t hug him good-bye.  I couldn’t good-naturedly knock him on his head and tell him to “Shape up!”

A few short months later, he was released.  He kept his nose clean for a while.  And then found trouble once more.  And to the facility again, about two months ago.

I wrote him a letter back in early January.  My communication was sharp and forceful.  I had to write and rewrite the letter four times over before it became a bit more pleasant and compassionate.  I wasn’t sure I’d get a response. 

Just a couple of days later, I received a letter from him.  He had been very excited to get my letter, comparing it to a Christmas present.

Like The Man with his close friend, I will always be there for my own young man. 

I remember taking him to New Orleans when he was four.  At night, we rode the ferry from Canal Street over to Algiers with him holding my hand as we stood at the rail;  I recall that he stared down at the dark water swirling alongside the boat and back at the lights of the French Quarter.  He looked up to me and smiled. “This is so cool.”

I'll always be there for him.  If just to hold the light to help guide the way.  After all, he is part of my own blood, part of my heart, part of my soul.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Marking Up My Body

In a week and a half, I will have my fifth appointment with my tattoo artist in as many months.  Yes, I’m getting quite a bit of work done.

I got my first tattoo when I was about 30 or so, and then got four others over the next few years.  I finally decided to tie them together in a common theme.

Draft of Work to be Done

After my third tattoo, my (then) best friend remarked, “You’re just going along with this fashion trend, which is going to be tired and over in a couple of years.  It will be so passé.”  In retrospect, he was wrong.  I’ve yet to regret any of my skin art.

In proof of my fatherly influence, my son (upon turning 18 years-old) went immediately to the tattoo parlor and got a HUGE piece inked on his upper arm of a dragon wrapped around a sword.  He had planned to follow that up with our last name tattooed across his upper back in Old English style lettering.  I successfully convinced him not to go this gangsta route.

Having a large tattoo on my arm has presented a few challenges at work.  Since I work in a fairly conservative corporate environment, I wear long-sleeved shirts almost exclusively.  I only wear short-sleeved shirts if they cover down to my elbow. 

I plan on getting a full sleeve tattoo on my left arm.  My closest friend at work says at that point I should make sure to wear short-sleeved shirts as often as possible to show my anarchist nature (although, again, I wonder if tattoos are so nontraditional in today’s place and time.  I see small ones on co-workers and other people in the company quite often).

Although I do like to buck the system, I mostly just like to be me everyday of my life.  And that includes showing how I’ve decorated my body.  I can live with that.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I'd be better at this if I just had more champagne...

On the first day of 2012, I posted on my regular Facebook profile:
My main New Year’s Resolution for 2012 is keeping track of how quickly it will take to break all of my New Year’s Resolutions
It’s been difficult tallying. 

Now, let’s make it clear.  I think the idea of New Year’s Resolutions is a bit dumb.  I understand that some people see the first day of the year as a time for new beginnings.  I view New Year’s Day as just another day (realist, not grump).  I am a bit annoyed by all of the people who suddenly flood my gym during the month of January.  I wonder how much resolve that they will have (grumpy and judgmental, admittedly).  I notice that the church parking lots are at high occupancy in January (smug and sacrilegious).

But this year, I sincerely thought about some things that I would like to change in my life:

·        Stop smoking. After puffing on cigarettes since the age of fourteen or so, I’m certain that I have permanently damaged my lungs, clogged my arteries, and jacked up my senses of smell and taste.  It’s four days into the New Year, and I can report that I am still smoking.
·        Gripe about work and my management staff less. What’s the point?  Work is work.  I have to work to pay bills.  I enjoy our house and have to pay the mortgage. I like to travel.  I need to feed my menagerie, etc.  I can report that yesterday was my first day in the office for the year, and I was only mildly successful at keeping my grumbling to a minimum (not regarding my projects, but management was going the extra mile to break this resolution for me).
·        Allocate my home time more reasonably. As I reported in early December, a new video game was released.  As I reported, the game would probably swallow my life.  I can now report that it did.  Completely.  As you might note, my last post was that December one.  I spend most waking hours either playing the game or thinking of strategies for playing the game.  I even spend my “should-be” sleeping hours in that other fabricated world.  Last night all it took was a couple of snores from The Man and then Luke whimpering loudly in a dream (we must have played fetch too long yesterday), and I was jolted awake.  12:33 AM.  And what do I do?  Head to the living room and jump on the couch.  After playing the game for a while in the dark, I turned on the light to check the time…3:35 AM.  Perfect.  Up at my regular time of 6:00 AM.  I almost face-planted in the shower this morning.
·        Keep a better track of finances. The Man and I both have our separate bank accounts and one house account.  I maintain my own and the house account.  I can report that there is a stack of receipts on my desk.  We recently switched telephone carriers, but we are still paying both companies.  Duh.  We have a movie service (you know, the one that sends you DVDs by mail and allows you to stream movies through the Net), we NEVER use that.  There are other countless ways to shave off fat in our budget.

I think that’s about it for my resolutions.  Off to a stellar start in 2012.  I guess I can reload. 
2013 is practically around the corner.