How About a Round of Applesauce!

(What can I say? I read the headline “How About a Round of Applause” wrong. It has nothing to do with anything…but I do like applesauce.)

So, let me think of a ‘real’ topic.

Hmm. I played the clarinet from fifth grade to senior year. With a few things that actually happen in my life, I tend to mention it on a fairly regular basis. At first, when we got to choose our instruments at the end of fourth grade, I had no intention of actually choosing the clarinet. I went straight to the line for the flute…and couldn’t even get a sound of it. Probably tried the trumpet next, although I don’t remember that. I do remember that at some point I got a hold of the trombone, which I could play, but hated.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the trombone, or even that trombone, but in fourth-grade though I like to play at playing it, it just wasn’t good enough. Neither was the clarinet, for that matter, but it didn’t require so much arm work. And I could play it.

Therefore, I told the music teacher I would play clarinet for fifth grade band–with the intention of later switching to something cooler, like the flute or French horn. Whereupon I went home, informed my parents of my decision, and found out that my uncle had played the clarinet for years himself. In fact, his band had played in front of the president…or the governor of Illinois…or some other illustrious personage, which I cannot really recall, but found myself much impressed by at the time.

At any rate, I got to borrow his instrument. A lovely instrument, wood, in a very battered old-fashioned case (that, most unfortunately, did not survive my stewardship). For clarinets, wood is better, unless it’s new and gets too cold and cracks on you. His wasn’t, obviously, and there were no cracks. Although the key pads had to be replaced at least once. By the way, I can’t say way wood is better, or even that it is to other people. It’s personal preference , really.

I don’t really know much about the clarinet, as an instrument. I have read that silver-plated keys are sometimes considered to be better than nickel-plated, although, again, I don’t really know why. Clarinet reeds come in several degrees of “hardness” though I don’t know if that’s how someone who actually knows clarinets would word it. When I graduated high school, I was playing on a 4 1/2. I believe the harder reeds are supposed to be better for playing on the highest register of the instrument. I also have a second mouthpiece, which, again, I think is supposed to be better for the highest register, but this time I did know, and just forgot this time.

Throughout middle school and (most?) of high school, I heard pretty much the same thing: “Play louder!” Over and over again. Because I played quietly, and for the most part never felt any need to play louder. Usually there were a few other clarinetists in the band either better or with seniority, so I figured they could play, and then the teacher wouldn’t be able to tell when I was playing the wrong note, and stop the whole band just to make me fix it. Generally though, despite the quiet playing, I seemed to get by well enough.

Bad habit: once I stopped having to verify that I’d practiced, I’d pretty much stopped practicing. I’d still play probably fifteen minutes out of school about once a month when I either particularly liked, or had a particularly hard, passage. But mostly I figured I practiced enough during school.

In high school, my senior year, I somehow ended up wanting to apply for the Western International Band Clinic (WIBC: pronounced WIB-ic)–fancy name, but dare you to find much about it on Google. I suppose band teacher thought: her senior year, may as well offer the chance, though probably understood it wasn’t very likely. Told me to practice. And I really didn’t. Well, more than I usually did, say about an hour total in my month of “preparation.” Had to do the audition tape twice…really upset the teacher though he didn’t say anything, and hid it rather well (yes, it was a terrible thing to do–I am sending telepathic apologies to him as I type).

Apparently though, they had a bad crop of clarinetists that year. I got in. Scraped by in the last chair of the last clarinet section of the last band. Theoretically, the bands are all equal, but among the students it seemed very clear that they were arranged by skill anyway, I was the…twelfth? (no longer remember for sure)…seat of the third clarinet section, which meant that all my parts were boring but easy to learn. The girl in the seat ahead of mine went to a music academy and owned a two thousand dollar instrument, with silver-plated keys. Made me feel a little better, true or not.

When I was in band, I never played in a group, say, larger than fifty. That may well be stretching it. At any rate, each of the WIBC bands was about two- to- three hundred people (no longer remember this either…what can I say, I’m bad with numbers). And the day of the concerts, two bands would combine for a 600 person band. That many people…it was incredible. So much more powerful. I loved it. It was definitely the most fun I’d ever actually had playing band. I’d had plenty of great experiences in band, but though we’d had some pretty good local concerts, they couldn’t compare to the grandure.

Not only that, but the guest soloist that year was clarinetist Robert W. Spring. Probably the first professional clarinet I’d ever even heard of. I even got his signature. When he came in to practice, he played “Flight of the Bumblebee” without pausing for breath–he was breathing, it’s called circular breathing, just in case that worried you. Now that was cool. And though it was very cool, it did not make me want to be a professional. He mentioned he had to practice hours a day. Still very inspiring though.

I took band a lot more seriously after that. Even got to play the solo part once during a concert. I wish I was still playing, but without having an already structured class, it seems hard to find the time. Or place. Or band for that matter. I’m thinking of looking into a concert band at this school… one band advertises itself to those students who haven’t played since forth grade. Right about my speed, there. Time after time, I still practice. It’s just much harder when you have anyone living nearby. Since fourth grade, I’ve come to see that the clarinet is highly under-appreciated, and is in fact totally awesome, but when practicing the upper registers, it can sound really bad. Really painful.

I should break these posts into sections or chapters or something.

Because Fiction Has to Make Sense

I seem to find nonfiction much more interesting. I still read plenty of fiction, of course. Particularly mystery series, like the Gideon Oliver series, which is awesome. Aaron Elkins can delelop a character that will occupy only two pages of the entire book, and I will know that character more throughly than some main characters…I will not name names–usually books with characters like that are forgotten easily.

Anyway, I’ve always been more prone to picking up books at library sales and used bookstores in the nonfiction section. These are the books that are most likely not to be read, but also far more likely to be kept. I can go back and read and skim, flip through and re-read more often. I remember them more. And I think I might just enjoy them more.

Today I went to the library–surprise!–intending to just drop off two books that I’d convinced myself to give up, but of course I found my way in, and out again with three more books. All three from the nonfiction section.

The first book I picked up, though not one I checked out, was about barbed wire through the ages. Below that was wallpaper throughout American history. Just above was a Sears catalog from 1908. Oh the things you can find in the library!

One shelf over from came the self help books from organizing time and workspace and another shelf, parenting.  Actually, my first forays into nonfiction came from the self-help section. Like most teenagers, I thought I ought to be depressed, and therefore liked to read about it. The most basic of depression books tend to be about how not to be depressed, and so I ended up with books like “Depression for Dummies.” Another oddly ironic title, however, it still didn’t last long.

From the heath care self-help books I moved on to the how-to-write section. I should note here that I rarely, if ever, read these books in order to take their advice, but more out of simple curiosity into what the writer’s thought about their subjects. Most, naturally, consisted of what is known as “common sense” despite its rarity, and yet some authors could be surprising eloquent about how best to punctuate a sentence.

Grammar books can be awesome. I suppose I shouldn’t use such a careless adjective twice in one post, but it fits, and I don’t need too hard to think of something else. It’s likely why I focused on the editing side of things. I have no trouble with judging. As for grammar books, however, I stole one from my parents that was fun to read, but terribly out of date. For the layperson, and everyone else, though, there is Eats, Shoots & Leaves. By the way, did you know that some people don’t believe in the ampersand? Fascinating. (Seriously, read the link)

Mostly, right now at least, I’ve been focusing on histories, biographies, and architecture.  Actually, mostly architecture, house plans, The Victorian Country House, things like that. I love architure. If there wasn’t so much math involved, and it didn’t involve so much schooling, and if I’d know anything about it before graduating high school, I would have become an architect. When I’m driving through town, I look out for the houses, they way they’re built, the style, the era, the condition. I just really love architecture, particularly of older homes. I really don’t know why. But the library has lots of books just on house plans, and ideas on kinds of houses, and I just keep checking them out.

I may be a dork because I like the Sims, but at least it lets me pretend to build houses.

An even better park of the ampersand comments, here. I suppose nobody actually follows these, but really ought to. It’s far better than anything I come up with. Which, I suppose, is always why I’m linking to that site.

Great Minds

Have messy desks.  –It’s on a mug, it must be true.

I rather doubt that I have a great mind. But I do have a messy desk. Well, perhaps not “messy”–there are too many papers and a few receipts that I haven’t filed yet. Mostly it’s the twenty plus library books sitting on top.  Unfortunately, the height of twenty plus library books is too much height for a comfortable workstation. Also an unstable one.

So the mess left over has mostly corrupted the top of the dresser, and it’s spread into the bookcase (which is also on top of the dresser). But the bookcase has resisted nearly all but books so far, and the few small invaders have only inspired a few half-hearted rebels.

Part of the problem is simply too much stuff. Not books, so much. As far as I’m concerned, if there is enough room on the bookshelves to hold all the books, however well-stacked, there are not too many. Library books are not a factor in the equation. It’s too much…stuff. Things like pads of paper, ummm, I really don’t know what else…I have little boxes to keep track of my earrings, slides of my art, my camera, a screwdriver…lots of little things without a real “place”. Admittedly, all such things could find a place, and be put away, and not a mess. But because they’re all little things, it’s just going to take awhile. What you get when you just get lazy for a month (or two).

I think I’m inherently messy, though. Surely that counts for something. As an excuse that is…take for granted for now that nature won in the nature vs. nurture debate. I just can’t keep up with myself. Whether I’m bored or distracted, or both, I like to keep plenty of things to do around to go back and forth.

It appears I’m attracted to messy hobbies. Cluttered ones anyway.

As has surely been made evident elsewhere,  I am rather fond of my computer. I like to play the Sims…which many people who find out don’t understand, but I try not to begrudge them that.  I can’t comprehend sports myself. And while the computer fairly self-contained–as a laptop–computer ‘attachments’, as it were, are not. In fact, should I like to play my sims in the living room, I have to have it plugged in too. And I like my mouse.  I keep the printer in my room though, and because my dock isn’t working it’s stuck in my drawer along with my keyboard, lots of accompanying cords and a cd player for a car.  Hopefully soon I’ll be able to afford it in my car…the current one is a little touchy, don’t let him know I said that.

Of course I like to read. Really, though, like is the wrong word. Not quite obsession, almost a habit, but entirely more compulsion-al. If I see a book, I have to pick up, or nearly always. I won’t always read it, but I at least have to pick it up. No personal leanings toward nonfiction or fiction, or any particular genre. Nonfiction is nearly always fascinating, unless the author is simply terrible. Otherwise the subject matter can make up for most other mistakes.  Still reading the pencil book for instance. Turns out it’s about the development of the pencil as paralleled by the development of engineering (as the subtitle suggested), and it is, well, fascinating. Love reading about architecture, biography, the sciences, oddly enough. As for fiction…character is everything, really. I love to reread series, at least when I’ve had enough time in between to forget.

Let’s see. I used to think I would be an artist. From the time I was maybe in second grade, or so I have convinced myself. Now art can be a fairly simple hobby. Technically, all that’s really needed is some kind of writing utensil and a surface on which to use it. Or if you want to go post-modernist, either one alone or neither. I’ve never understood it myself. But I like all the different mediums, to experiment with each, though not so much all together. This means: pencils, pens, colored pencils, soft pastels, oil pastels, watercolors, acrylic and oil paints–in addition to the accouterments: erasers, sharpeners, chamois cloth, paint brushes, easels, blending stumps, etc., etc. And then to store not just the various surfaces on which to work these mediums, but to store the finished pieces as well. And mostly forever, since a lot of it I just can’t toss.

I also knit…or rather, occasionally try to teach myself to knit, I suppose I don’t quite qualify as a true knitter yet. Mostly I have no idea what I’m doing. But it’s not the neatest hobby either. I’ve got quite a lot of yarn stored for those future projects most of which lack patterns so far. But it takes up lots of space, and is something of a pain to carry around. At least the finished stuff can be useful.

So while my desk is only not messy because it’s piled too high with books, underneath the desk is a knitting bag, my computer is on the bed, and easel is set up in the corner. (It’s a work in progress, I swear!) Maybe not a great mind, but at least I keep it occupied.

A Long Unwinding

Off the rest stop

Off the rest stop

Often, when I am interacting with a new group of people, within the first few meetings, I will ‘brag’ about the oddest things.  One subject that I nearly always find a way to broach is that when I went to community college, I had to drive 14 hours each way to get home (told you).

Just today, I drove only about an hour to meet my dad and brother. And ever since I’ve not made that drive, I’ve been missing it. Part of the reason I bring it up so often is simply because such a drive seems so horrific to people. But I loved it. I miss it.

I would get up about 4 or 5 a.m. and head out to the freeway, going north at the same time everyone else went south. It was lovely.  It would be totally dark, and my side of the freeway abandoned, while the other was solid with headlights. It’s rather easy to feel just a little superior in that situation, or maybe it’s just a little small of me to feel so. But anyway, I’d drive, nearly alone, all the way to the next freeway (138)  to connect to I-5. It’s straight and flat and totally empty.  There is an itty bitty town, with a very old gas station, but other than that there’s little other than the occasional homestead until the massive connection to I-5, which is really only massive counting the tons of concrete that must have been used. And in comparison with the emptiness before. At this point too, it’s still dawn but you can’t yet see the sun, because you’re in the foothills. You can even see a bit of the old(er) Grapevine.

I love the Grapevine, I really don’t know why. Whenever I catch a reference to it, I don’t know, it makes me grin.  Just my mom knew a lot of the history of the area, having grown up in the area (sort of) at any rate, she’d tell us about it during the drives to Grandma’s house (the same, or similar, drive to the one I’d make, only my parents, naturally, took two days to drive it).

So anyway, I’d get to the Grapevine, which isn’t so difficult to drive now, and it’s always nice to be going that much faster than the semi-trucks. Their speed limit was only 35 or 45 mph, I think. Very slow. But they had their own lane. And it would be fully morning at this point.  I love the mountains too. Always have.  Even here, it makes me nervous sometimes driving out of town, that the mountains are so far away.  I don’t think I’d like the Great Plains. Anyway, naturally, the Grapevines=mountains. Very steep, wonderful, glorious mountains. I’m a fan. And during the spring…if you’re driving in the right direction, it would look very green (coming the other way, I suppose, the hillsides didn’t get as much rain).

Coming down out of the Grapevine, I think every time I made the trip, it would be dim. I don’t know whether fog or smog I never paid attention, but by the time you’re out of the foothills–which is a great section in itself, you can see the trail of the 5 by the headlights and taillights for miles–the sun was usually out of sight, and it would just seem…dusky. And you’d drive by an Ikea warehouse.

I tended to divide the trip into sections. Before the Grapevine, the Grapevine, and directly after the Grapevine, all of which I’ve described. Then there’s the straight section until the section of Stockton and Sacramento. In between, it’s straight and yellow.  Usually it’s flat, but there’s a section in the foothills, where it’s still straight, and up and down. Stockton and Sacramento are nice because they have more lanes and more visual variety. More interest with the driving too, although that’s a less happy variation in driving.

After Sacramento it’s flat farmland again until Redding. I like the foothills before Redding too. There are some great mountains that you’re driving into, and in the foothills it’s more up and down driving too. And a few casinos and car dealerships that change night into day, if it happens to be that dark when you’re driving by. Anyway, the hills around Redding are basically yellow grass (usually) with some kind of oak trees (I think) and very little shrubbery. It’s very dramatic, and lovely. Of course, I really like the scenery along the entire trip. Fortunately.

After Redding, of course, we go back to the local highways, and they’re scenic too. But all the way along I’d tick down past the same road signs to keep track of my progress. So know I always expect Red Bluff to be closer to Redding than it seems now, in comparison.

So, I’m sure no one needed that kind of point-by-point summary of my drive. But basically, where I’d intended to go with this was that I enjoy such a long drive. I guess I just have the right kind of mind for such a long trip. For me, really long drives, like the 14 hr one described, are relaxing. Like meditating…kind of. Only there’s no loss of consciousness.  I don’t get bored with the driving, even without cruise control.  I just find it very soothing. And by the end of it I’m exhausted, but I’m not stressed.

I rather miss that kind of unwinding. And the scenery.

Once I got to my point, it didn’t take long for me to make it, did it?