Do You Hear What I Hear?

So, David made a good point this weekend.

Which he often does, being an insightful guy. I told him about my post on Saturday and how I’m thinking I might just give up on trying to have music, too. After all, I said to him, I have words and I can draw, paint and sculpt passably. I can quilt and “have an eye for color,” our real estate agent says. I have so many venues to express myself creatively, maybe I can just give music a pass.

But you already have music, he told me. Which surprised me.

You sing around the house all the time, he said. I hear you singing. You already have music.

And I realized he’s right. I have music running through my head all the time. Sometimes I sing along. Just because I don’t sing well enough for anyone to want to listen or because I don’t play an instrument (I’m just NOT counting the harp playing) doesn’t mean that music isn’t there for me. I’ve been so fixed on the idea that I needed to be able to play music, that I missed what I really love about music in the first place:

I love that space where words and music intersect. It’s fascinating to me how, when words are sung, they’re intensified by the melodies and harmonies behind them. What I would love to do is write lyrics. I wonder how one gets into that if one isn’t, say cleaning house for an aging former-80s pop icon? When I was having dinner before seeing Legally Blonde on Broadway, the guy at the table next to me turned out to be a lyricist. He was having dinner with the gal who composed the music (who’d run off to take a phone call). She’d found him, it turned out. Just like it happened for Drew Barrymore.

Where is Hugh Grant when I need him?

Our First Spat

Alas, the Kindle honeymoon is over.

No, he didn’t let me down. Didn’t stand me up or fail to be there when I needed him. And really, the love affair is still strong. I just discovered one of his flaws. Inevitable in every romance.

It turns out I can’t buy books for my Kindle-having friends.

I thought I could go to Amazon, buy several books for my friend Karen’s birthday and send them to her Kindle. Instant birthday present! She turned me onto the Kindle in the first place so it seemed good and right to do this.

But I can’t.

I can give her a gift certificate, says the Amazon guy. Or send her the hard copies. We can actually share registries and trade books. But I’m old-fashioned, and a writer to boot: I want the author to get her sale out of it. I don’t want to send a generic gift c, I want to send a specific book. A specific series, in fact. Giving a friend a book you love is a way of communicating, of sharing the experience. It’s a letter, written in someone else’s voice.

If Amazon wants to change how we read books, they’ll have to get a grip on this.

Words and Music By…

My friend, Linda Ceriello, asked me interesting questions about writers and creativity the other day. She’s one of my oldest friends, dating back to third grade, though we suffered a vast chasm of difference starting with seventh-grade angst that lasted twenty years. It’s funny that we were really only friends for four years, which should be negligible in the grand scheme. But the friendship was an intense meeting of like minds then and I find I enjoy the same things about her now.

I’ve been mulling her ideas since — whether writers like to analyze their artistic process so much because words are our medium. As opposed to, say, painters. She elected to leave musicians out of the equation, as a whole other kettle of fish, and I can appreciate her point. I’ve long been interested that authors will frequently choose painters as protagonists in books, usually in a transparent metaphor for the writer herself. There’s a certain two-sides-of-the-same coin aspect to writing and painting. Whereas musicians feel to me like the writer’s antipode. They seem to understand a world that has no words. Even though lyrics can be part of a song, the music part is this whole other aspect that, while it speaks to me, is also impenetrable to me.

David and I have this long-standing conversation that revolves around his hearing the music and me hearing the lyrics. The new Nickelback song, about the girl on the dance floor being so much cuter with something in her mouth, I don’t like so much. It irritates me, that whole attitude that a woman is most attractive with a piece of anatomy shoved in her mouth — and we all know it’s not the thumb. David, who used to play lead guitar in a band, likes the song, but didn’t know what it was about until I told him. And he still doesn’t care — and, no guys, not because he agrees with the sentiment — but because that’s not a relevant part of the song to him. Conversely, he gets frustrated with me when I can’t tell that a song is using the same melody played at a different rythm. I just can’t hear it, I tell him.

I have an Irish harp and I’ve been taking lessons for several years now. I did this deliberately, to learn to understand music. I have this idea that I can get to the point where I look at a sheet of music and all the notes will mean something to me in the same way words do. It’s hard for me, to both read the sheet music and watch my finger placement on the strings. I frequently lose my place on the page — something that has never happened to me at a reading. The words are there for me in a way the music isn’t. People think I’m being modest when I tell them I don’t play the harp well at all. Believe me, I don’t.

Frankly, I doubt I ever will.

A writing friend told me yesterday that she believes anyone can be a writer. That with enough study and dedication, everyone can learn to write a book. She’s also big on learning the rules of genre fiction and gave me critique on my novel based on how many words I have on a given page. And I don’t think she’s wrong. I think it’s probably good advice. But when she describes longer paragraphs as daunting mountains for a reader, it makes me think that I don’t see words on the page in the same way.

I don’t see paragraphs and lines of words, I see the images they evoke, the sounds and smells of the story. But then, I don’t hear the music when I look at a sheet of music.

I’ve often said that writing is a funny art to practice because pretty much anyone can write something down. I suppose anyone can plunk on a guitar or scribble a drawing. But in some indefinable way, it’s harder to discern when the writing achieves something more than stick figures and chopsticks. So, Linda, maybe that’s why writers spend so much time talking and writing about creativity and process. We’re trying to find how to define our art.

I feel certain (no qualifier) it’s not by the number of words on a page.

Snow Day

We managed to fly into Denver last night, my colleague and I. Which is saying something because we first got diverted to Grand Junction, to sit on the tarmac while we refueld and the visibility improved at DIA. We were happy to get there, so it wasn’t so bad the roads were too bad for us to strike out for our homes, north of Denver. We’d go stay at my mom’s empty house and have comfort food at The Bent Fork.

But it was closed. So was the Bent Noodle, my other neighborhood fave. The Bent Noodle’s recording said that they’d closed at 1:25 in the afternoon, for their employees’ safety. Schools were closed yesterday and, as I sit writing this, lookin over the commons and the path that leads to my old grade school, Polton, a path that is blanketed in pristine white, not scuffed by schoolchildren, it appears they’re closed again today.

I remember wishing for snow days as a kid. We’d be all hopeful the night before, watching the snow fall. I had an advantage because Leo was a vice-principle and at the top of the telephone tree for school cancellation. The phone would ring around 5:30am. No phone call meant I was going to school. If the phone rang, I could turn off my alarm and go back to sleep, delighted in the unexpected holiday. Leo would warn me though: don’t get too excited, it takes a lot for them to cancel school.

This just doesn’t seem like a lot to me. Nothing like the big storms of my youth. Yes the roads are obnoxious, but hardly worth shutting down a city. Not the Mile-High City. For two days in a row.

I suppose some of this is simply Denver becoming so much larger and more complex over the last 35 years. When we moved into this house, Parker Road was the highway, I-225 hadn’t been built and Peoria & Yale were dirt roads with a four-way stop at the intersection. Those that live in the area now know how different it looks than that. A bigger metropolis means more that can go wrong. “They do that to keep people off the roads,” my mom says of the hair-trigger closures.

In the eighties, though, I remember our parents talking about the influx of Californians. Housing prices had crashed out there and West Coasters were moving to Colorado in droves. People called Fort Collins “Fort California.” The refrain was: sure, they like it now because the weather has been so warm and the winters so mild. Just wait for one good winter and they’ll turn tail and run back to Californy. Everyone felt sure they’d learn their lesson or toughen up.

It never occurred to us that the reverse might happen, that we would learn their softness.

Denver no longer seems to plow through. There’s only one or two good snows in a winter anymore, so perhaps the city can afford the luxury of shutting down.

Just wait for one good winter and we’ll see.

Not from Around These Here Parts

My New Hampshire boss complains about the aesthetics of the West.

In this way, Lincoln is a city of the West, while otherwise most of us would lump it into the Midwest. She doesn’t like the lack of trees, the ugly buildings, the inefficient parking garage. She asks why the storage sheds are purple and orange, if people really believe rocks on astroturf are a good landscaping choice and why no one tries to disguise their Dumpsters.

While it irritates me, I find it hard to defend.

My North Carolina father, when he arrived in Colorado to attend the Air Force Academy, wrote home that he’d never seen a thousand shades of brown before. And I remember when I first saw Kentucky (where my boss grew up), I thought it looked artificial, a theme park of emerald grass and alabaster fences, gleaming horses trotting about for show. But this isn’t about the acquired appreciation for the aesthetic of the western landscape, for the sere plains and treeless crags. This is about culture. About the difference between people who build pretty little fences around their Dumpsters, painted to match the building, and those who figure garbage is garbage and why dress it up?

Some call it western practicality, implying an attention to something greater than frou-frou considerations. I’d hazard that it’s an extension of the frontier mentality, living on the edge of survival, where all energy is focused on food and shelter and marauding cattle thieves, not on painting the ranch house. The thing is, those days are long over, but the stubbornness lingers. Western folks take pride in not caring, just like they take pride in not having the good stuff.

“We don’t need that….” “We call this nice weather around here…” “I’m not throwing money away on…”

The myth of the cowboy is a story of sweat and grit, not white-washed fences.

The Illusion of Safety

A lot of people are afraid to fly.

My mother-in-law has never set foot on a commerical airplane. Other people will get on the plane, but medicate themselves to do it. It’s less a fear of flying than a fear of crashing, really. On an airplane, one gives up total control to someone else. You’re strapped in, encased in a device that hurtles you to another place and spits you out again. Even if you understand the physics, it still seems wrong. It’s hard to know which are good sounds and which are bad. (I’ve been assured that I’m better off NOT being able to recognize the errors and close calls.) And when the great winds, toss you around, you’re ironically happy the ground is still so far away and not close enough to dash up against.

But really, this lack of control is the norm; being on an airplane just makes it more obvious.

We go through life seeking the illusion of safety. We follow the rules, obey the traffic laws, make smart decisions about where to walk at night. But the universe is a random place and none of us know when our thread will be snipped.

I think about this when I feel superstitious. Ill omens like cancelled flights and bad weather make me pause, make me wonder if I’m fighting fate. When I’m tossed around in the sky or, worse, as the runway rapidly approaches, I wonder if this will be my time. Forever writing my own life story, I assemble the foreshadowing events. And then remind myself that, in that case, I wouldn’t be there to write the worst part, the suffering part.

I’m oddly comforted by that and snooze while the plane rocks me.

Blizzard Warning

A Blizzard Warning means severe winter weather conditions are expected or occurring. Falling and blowing snow with strong winds and poor visibilities are likely. This will lead to whiteout conditions… making travel extremely dangerous. Do not travel.

March is our time for the big snow. Everyone gets pretty revved for it. One year, the March snow came up to the level of our hot tub — about four feet deep. The roads were closed for four days. It was perfect because it began to put it down the night before David had to leave for a meeting. We were both trapped in town, buried under snow. A rare reprieve.

Living in an isolated area means you have to travel to get to anything. My boss’s kids in New Hampshire were surprised when I said I live in a small town of 27,000 people. After all, their town is only about 4,000 people. But you can ride your bike down a winding road through a lightly populated woodsy neighborhood and be in the next town, and the next and the next, like a string of pearls. For us, it’s an hour on a fast highway through antelope country, to Cheyenne or Ft. Collins. Two hours to Denver. The road conditions website is bookmarked on everyone’s computer. When they say “no unnecessary travel,” they mean that it better be worth risking your life.

It’s great to have this warning system. Yesterday it was 63 degrees and gorgeously sunny. I can see how the early settlers were fooled. It would have seemed like a perfect day to head to town for provisions. No signs of a blizzard loomed, except for the curious southwest wind, perhaps.

I have to get to Nebraska today, for work. It’s only an eight-hour drive from here, but I decided to fly from Denver because of the possibility of the spring blizzards that roar straight down I-80. Now I just booked a ticket on the puddle-jumper from Laramie to Denver, because it’s often much easier to fly out than drive out when it gets like this. At least there aren’t tractor-trailers zooming past the turbo prop in white-out conditions.

I’ll probably be able to get out, which is the responsible thing to do.

But I had half-hoped the storm would have hit by the time I woke up. That the storm would keep me here, tucked inside while the snow piles up. Here it is, nearly 8 am, a full two-hours past the predicted start, and nothing yet. Though road conditions show it snowing and blowing on the webcams.

As it is, I’ll probably miss it all. By the time I get home Thursday night, the snow will be melted and trampled. The roads might be snowpacked, but open. We’re moving to Victoria partly to leave the severe weather of our high sagebrush plain behind.

But I had hoped to have one more blizzard.

We’ve Got a Thing Going On

David and I called Lauren this morning, to sing her happy birthday over the speaker on his cell. She’s 25 today, sleeping in after a night of sushi and dancing with her guy. His folks took baby Tobiah last night, so it was a rare free night for them.

And we asked her if she’d gotten the card we sent. There’s a gift certificate inside for a hefty chunk to squander at a salon — David’s idea, to pamper the young mother. The man knows what women like, I can attest. Lauren said she’d have to check the mailbox. Which they usually don’t. For days or weeks at a time.

How can you not check your mailbox, I asked her.

Well, all her bills come online. All messages are emailed. All they get in the mailbox is junk and it makes them mad to look at it. So they don’t. I told her there was probably a “save the date” notice from her cousin in there, for his summer wedding and she sounded bemused by the possibility. This is so Gen X to me.

You may have noticed the impassioned comments on my last two posts from Politico08, exhorting me to use the term “Generation Jones” instead of Cuspers. The article he/she (I’m betting on “he”) cites, Jonathan Pontell, is compelling, in a thrilling political-rally kind of way. Though I view anything in USA Today with a bit of a jaundiced eye.

I must confess, I don’t like “Generation Jones” much. (Not only because I’ve got a “Me and Mrs. Jones” ear worm going now.) I never loved the term “jonesing” either, having heard it WAY too much in high school. There was nothing my cohorts didn’t jones for. Which is, I suppose, the point.

But I do feel swept up in the idea. The last line of the article says, “We’re not late Boomers; we’re late bloomers.” There’s something to it, the feeling that we’re coming into our own. After spending most of our lives thus far in the Boomers’ deep shadow, that we’re emerging into the sun. I began hearing when I was in middle school that my generation was cynical and selfish. I didn’t buy it then and I don’t buy it now. I do believe that there’s a middle ground between socialism and free-market pillaging. I believe that we’ve caused a drastic shift in the global climate balance and that we can do something about it. I’ll pay some bills online, but I prefer to mail checks for others.

It’s exciting to feel that maybe we are our own group after all. And more, that we can be effective. “Yes we can” might have sounded like a political line at first. But it does embody my approach to life. It’s certainly how I answer clients — even if it means I’ll figure out later how I’ll do it. It’s how I approach all of my problems — with the belief that an answer can be found. Maybe that is what our generation has to offer.

So, I’ll hop on the wagon, for solidarity’s sake. I won’t give up my fondness for the grey area. But I love feeling like we’re finally out there doing something. If you all want to call it Generation Jones, fine by me.

We’ll see who’s the greatest.


I knew there was a word for us!

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I thought I belonged in a group that was post-Boomer and pre-Xer. (I also left out the WWII generation –oops. Apparently not the greatest to me…) I IM’d Kev, who’s always online when I’m composing my blog, but he quoted Wikipedia (“it could be true”) with the standard saw that Boomers were born 1946-1964 and Generation X is 1964-1984. Kev was my high school sweetheart and loyal cohort all these years. But I was sure I’d read something else that gave more insight.

And here it is. This article, written by Jocelyn Noveck, was picked up extensively by papers on the AP service. I randomly picked this posting of it. Besides, how often do YOU read the Texarkana Gazette? Not often, I’m thinking.

Cuspers. I feel like this is so us. Me and President Obama. He was born in ’61 and I was born in ’66. They call us practical idealists — something that resonates with me. In an essay I wrote ten years ago I said:

We grew up in a world already poisoned, species irrevocably lost. To us, to work for the environment means knowing how to keep things from getting worse, and trying to clean up what’s been sullied. We’ve been accused of being a cynical generation, and perhaps that’s accurate. People like Sean and me, we’re not the impassioned knights of the environment. This is our job — one we can believe in, invest in — not a crusade.

I feel so validated now.

I popped this article off to my Boomer mother as soon as I read it. Of course, she was frivolously off touring Egypt at the time, so I had to wait for her indignation. She picked Obama way back when Hillary was still queen of the campaign. In my practical idealist way, I thought Obama couldn’t win. I’m thrilled I was wrong. But if one of us gets to claim Obama as “her president,” it’s my mom, by right of precedence.

All of this parsing means little. How do you draw timelines on generations of people, after all? If we all had babies at the same time, that would be one thing. By the Gen X definition, I’m in the same generation as my stepson and stepdaughter — granted I mucked things up by not actually giving birth to them. Though I could have, if I’d been a teenage mom. Blended families, though, blur these lines as well.

I recognize myself as a Cusper though. My website description, written back in 2002 says this:

My stats make me a fence-sitter: Post-Baby-Boomer, Pre-Generation-X. I saw the first episode of Sesame Street when I was four, but live in a house without television. I grew up in a city in the West that is no longer considered part of the real West.

In college I participated in a pysch experiment where we had to take a personality test: I came out exactly betwen Type A and Type B. I was born on the Leo/Virgo cusp. My friend, who’s a brilliant writer and exactly my age, shy of a few weeks, complained that she received a rejection from and editor who suggested that she uses too many qualifiers. (Here’s a great example list: very, quite, rather, somewhat, more, most, less, least, too, so, just, enough, indeed, still, almost, fairly, really, pretty, even, a bit, a little, a (whole) lot, a good deal, a great deal, kind of, sort of.)

Do you see what I see? That’s right. Cusper words. Indeed, we’re all about the qualified grey area.

Pretty Please

Email is a funny thing.

And can be an annoying thing, which is where all the rule-making comes from, I think. I belong to several online loops for writers. I’m even president of one–a deeply ironic development since I hadn’t belonged to the group all that long before I was elected. Every day I discover something else I didn’t know. Yesterday, in the course of conversations with our webmistress, who is trying to take our site from pitiful to adequate, we discovered that there are a whole bunch of standard emails being directed to people we’ve never talked to. Along the lines of — and it’s going to someone who isn’t the secretary and may not even be a member anymore.

The whole online-group thing has this impenetrable quality that way. It’s like this huge underwater octopus –only there’s something more like 300 tentacles–and you can only see fleeting glimpes of the eye or tips of the tentacles now and again. The surfacings are when people send email. I love it when I can IM with people because I have a better sense that I can grasp them. At least it’s a real-time interaction, more or less.

Anyway, I emailed one gal asking who she was and what was her niche in the group, which turned out to be this whole sub-group I didn’t know about (reference: every day = something I didn’t know). She wrote back — yay! not everybody actually answers — with a detailed, complete message. I was hammered under a day-job deadline, so I popped her email to the webmistress, fully intending to write the woman back later. As it should be, she and the webmistress engaged in email conversation on the mechanics of what each needed — and I got a reproving note to let her know when I cc or forward her emails.

Does this strike you as odd? It’s this whole loop etiquette thing. You’re not supposed to forward anything off-loop without permission. This wasn’t on-loop, but I did have a vague idea that many of these ladies expect that as a courtesy. They also have this deal about when and how to “clip” the original message, so the emails don’t get so long — it has to do with reading on digest. Now I use email all the time. I’m on email all day. I work in an office in Wyoming with people in Boston, New Hampshire, and Florida. Unless I’m on the road, all of my business interactions are virtual. And it’s interesting to me that the professional email rules are different than those developed by these social groups. My work email gets archived for three years and can be used as evidence in a court of law, for or against me.

I’m keenly aware of what I write in emails and make sure that if, say, my boss or ethics officer, were to show me a copy of one and ask me to defend the content, I can. The fact that any of my emails can be forwarded, cc’d or bcc’d is a given. Asking a client to notify me if any of my emails are forwarded or cc’d is beyond the realm of possibility.

What I’m coming to is, I suspect it’s a generational thing. The older generations — the Boomers and the Silents — have been understandably appalled at the informality of the internet and the consequent lack of universal etiquette. I think some of these writing loops were established by people like this, the presidents of their chapters, the esteemed leaders. There’s a bit of the ladies’ society, junior league aspect to the romance writers collectives. The thing is the Gen X’ers and my cohorts — I forget what group I’m in… something like the straddlers between the Boomers and the X’ers, have been using email for pretty much all of our working lives. It’s just another tool.

I understand why people want to try to tame this animal, to break it to the harness of polite society, but it will never be the embossed, hand-written thank-you note. (Yes–horribly mixed metaphor.) I’ve been having computer issues with my personal laptop, as you know. Turns out my hard-drive tanked (ten days after the warranty expired). What with one thing and another, it took a month to get it fixed. (See? and I never ranted about it!) I’d been viewing my personal email all that time on the work laptop, but when I fired up the personal laptop again, it finally pulled all my personal emails from the server. There were nearly 1,500 of them. This does not include junk mail or anything work-related.

It gives me good perspective on why I have no patience for “netiquette.” Give me an email with all of the back and forth retained, so I can save one copy of the entire correspondence. No, I’m not going to pause and think to let you know that I forwarded your information to the person who needed it. I can see where the laments come in here, how our fast-paced society has done away with the measured grace and manners of the past. But it has. The world turns and times change. I think it was a Boomer who said that.