Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Culture Vulture

"Art is life seen through a temperament."
- Emile Zola

For years I've been telling the Business Guy I need to quit my job and start getting some culture. My usual schedule of playing the viola full-time in a symphony orchestra, raising a family, and squeezing in time to write fiction just doesn't lend itself to making time for sitting in the audience at someone else's performance.

I haven't exactly quit my job, but my sabbatical from this year's Symphony Season is certainly giving me ample opportunity to soak up the culture around here. In my own living room I've been devouring great works of fiction, to the tune of a novel or two per week, supplemented by nightly readings of the great Alistair MacLeod's short stories (for the fourth time, if you want to know). There was the Symphonic Art Auction gala fundraiser I attended last week, where I ogled some fantastic artwork. And a couple of weeks ago I attended the Season Opener of the very orchestra from which I am taking my sabbatical.

Most recently I attended a recital where two fine young musicians, a cellist and a pianist, gave an elegant and powerful performance of mostly French music. As it happens, I am acquainted with the cellist, a strapping young guy with fire in his eyes and an intensity to his playing that I saw coming when he was a wee thing in diapers, playing Mississippi Hot Dog on my viola while I babysat him (for three hours at a time; it was the easiest babysitting gig of my life). He knew as a toddler that he wanted to play the cello, and with its C-string and much smaller size, my viola made a good substitute. And now he and his colleague are on the Eastern Canada touring circuit, wowing lucky audiences. It was inspiring to see these young men, the next generation of Canadian musicians, well on their way.

I'm delighted to tell the Business Guy that I'm finally getting some culture. Next week it'll be a pops concert tribute to Ol' Blue Eyes. And who knows, for the first time in 33 years I might actually see the front end of the Messiah soloists! It's all grist for the writing mill, and I didn't have to quit my job to find it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Violin Lesson

"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards." - Robert Heinlein

In an earlier chapter of my life I was a violin teacher. I had forty young students, each of whom was positively edible. I adored them all. One of them was a cherubic five-year-old named Stephanie, whose name suited her perfectly, with her cornflower eyes, honey-coloured curls, pink cheeks, and rosebud lips which arranged themselves in a dreamy smile whenever she played her violin. She had a Zen-like approach that was unusual in a five-year-old. I loved that little girl, and would gladly have made her my own if her parents had only seen reason, but I guess they liked her well enough, so I let them keep her. I looked forward to her lesson every week.

One day Stephanie arrived looking sweet enough to eat with a spoon. She unpacked her violin and stood before me, pleased in her Zen manner that she'd mastered Go Tell Aunt Rhody. Her mother sat nearby, bursting with pride over her little Paganini's achievement.

Just before putting her violin on her shoulder, Stephanie stuck a chubby finger up her nose, blessed me with that smile of hers, and proceeded to wipe the contents on her shirt. Then she got on with the business of Go Tell Aunt Rhody.

Resting on her tummy not twelve inches from my face was a peanut-sized booger.
Paralyzed except for my gag reflex, which worked overtime for the next half-hour, I somehow got through the rest of the lesson. Her mother, unaware of the situation, brimmed with aforementioned pride.

My association with Go Tell Aunt Rhody was forever changed by Stephanie's booger. But still I would have made that little girl my own, if her parents hadn't been so unreasonable.

(Somehow placing "booger" and "edible" within picking distance of each other only adds to the grossout factor, doesn't it? Writing tip for the day.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ordinary People/Extraordinary Giving

"With ordinary talents and extraordinary perseverance all things are attainable."
- Thomas Baxton

I recently attended a gala arts event. It was a fundraiser for a symphony orchestra; or to be more precise, the orchestra's Education and Outreach program, which strives to enrich the lives of our city's children through exposure to music.

At least two hundred people dolled themselves up; there were suits and ties, dresses and heels, blue jeans and silk shirts; there were frosty glasses of wine and canapes nearly too pretty to eat. In a corner, dressed in tuxedo blacks, a quintet performed music ranging from serenades to tangos. There were name tags for the artists who had donated their talents and time by transforming old instruments into works of art, and then readily given these art pieces to the orchestra to auction at the fundraiser.

It was a show of one sector of our arts community giving support to another, without an agenda, without question, and with great enthusiasm. The artists stretched their own boundaries and artistic vision by trying new things with new media, and they surprised themselves with their artistic growth.

We all admired the flattened, bowl-shaped french horn, wishing more than one of us might take it home and load it up with crisp, red apples. Who among us didn't covet the framed art photo of the insides of a hundred-year-old piano, with its lines and curves reminiscent of an Inuit painting? There were seascapes and cherries painted on old violins and cellos, and a brace of crows perched on the panel of an old piano, surrounded by floral collage. A single hand, fashioned from clay, danced across a section of a keyboard, while nearby daylilies grew alongside torn manuscript, the canvas representing the fleetingness of music in time. It was inspiring to see how far the imaginations of the artists reached, given the opportunity to step outside the norm.
And it was inspiring to see how generous these artists were in their gifts; also the guests who didn't think twice about reaching into their wallets for the orchestra's Education and Outreach program. The artists were happy to be there, pulled from the solitude of their studios and their work. The musicians were glad of the night out and to thank the artists for their kindness. And the guests were happy to be part of this opportunity to help enrich the lives of children through exposure to music.

Gala? Yes. Stuffy? Hardly.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Paper Clips

"Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead." - Gene Fowler

I've just finished dusting the paper clips. Not individual clips, of course - that would be an exercise in procrastination, wouldn't it?

It started with a blank page; to be precise, the blank page where I left off writing yesterday. While I was staring at it, waiting for the words to come, I noticed some suspicious looking dried-up drip marks freckling the page. Kind of gross, and the source didn't warrant vigorous thought, but I wondered how anyone could be expected to write the Great Canadian Novel in the face of such diversion? So I grabbed a damp cloth and started to clean.

Perhaps a clean page would be more forthcoming with new words, I rationalized; however, the absence of grunge on the screen only served to enhance the layer of dust which remained elsewhere on my desk. Idly I carved with my finger on the dusty monitor the message B hearts BG before attacking it with the cloth.

I would not call this procrastination. One needs a clean workspace from which to produce one's best work, so I dusted happily, and before long the speakers, the monitor, the printer, the keyboard, and the dictionary (OED, if you want to know) were sparkling. The page on the screen was pristine, an inviting, snowy white. With fingers poised over the keyboard, I took a deep breath.

Then I noticed the paper clips, at least the plastic container with the magnetic hole that keeps the paper clips from falling out. It was very, very dusty. So I picked up the cloth and gave it a good doing over.

The blank page waited.

My fingers dangled over the keyboard.

I peered inside the paper clip holder, where I saw a mote of dust.
Shaking my head, I put down the paper clips and got to work writing. Dusting individual paper clips would definitely be an exercise in procrastination. And anyway, my dust cloth won't fit in the magnetic hole.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Big, Quiet Moment

"Writers should be read but neither seen nor heard."
- Daphne Du Maurier

Well, I did it. I was going crosseyed from editing my short stories, and the submission deadline on a manuscript competition loomed, so I printed all twelve stories (after checking five times that the page numbers lined up properly, having recently sent a four-chapter children's submission whose pages were off by one after Chapter Two - ARGH!!). Found one of those lethal-looking clippie things in a size XXL, and eased it in place. Wrapped a flimsy rubber band around the manuscript's middle, in case of some postal disaster involving hundred-kilometer winds, and stuffed it into an envelope, padded. Just in case.

Seeing the title page with my name on it, and a hundred and forty pages stacked beneath - the culmination (for now) of four years' work - gave me pause. It was a Big Quiet Moment.

In my other life as an orchestral musician, the big moments are noisy and thrilling, with cymbals crashing and trumpets trumpeting, string players sawing like mad to be heard over the din. I've spent much of my career managing a system of earplugs to help me cope with and enjoy playing through the Big Noisy Moments. So it seemed appropriate that, during the official beginning of my writing sabbatical, while my Symphony colleagues were busy managing earplugs during their first rehearsal back following the summer hiatus (Shostakovich's 10th Symphony, which is pretty much a continuous Big Noisy Moment) I was celebrating a quiet one. I poured my guts into an envelope and licked a stamp.

And then I got back to work writing

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Multiple Players

"The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense."
-Tom Clancy

Ours is a single-TV household. I keep the tube in the basement to make the effort of looking at it as unappealing as possible. Within a tangle of wires next to the TV, the X-Box sits surrounded by dust bunnies and the usual teenager-generated detritus: abandoned pop cans, gum wrappers, bits of popcorn the dog missed, and the like. By any standard it is truly grotty down there.

Regardless of the lack of appeal, when a clump of teenagers arrives at the house to visit, the basement is their inevitable destination. En masse they take up the mystifying wireless controllers, and with thumb muscles strengthened beyond what is natural from years of operating these things, they get to work. (I sometimes wonder about those thumb muscles, and what evolution will make of them.) Instead of speaking among themselves, occasionally they grunt in unison. I can only assume that some act of screen violence hasn't gone as planned.
A recent Sunday afternoon found the household lazy with unexpected late-summer heat. The Resident Teenager disappeared with his friends out the front door, his parting words a cheerful "'Bye forever!" My husband, worn out from a strenuous week of Business Guy stuff, sighed with relief and descended to the basement couch for a rare Sunday afternoon baseball nap.

Within minutes of his descent, the teenagers returned, "forever" apparently having been foreshortened by the lure of the X-Box. When I informed them that the TV was occupied for the duration of the baseball nap, they groaned and cast about for something to do. I watched, fascinated, as they stood around in the kitchen staring at one another.

"Do you have any other multiple-player games?" one of them finally asked. She wasn't asking me, but I answered anyway, grabbing a multiple-player game from my youth and saying, "Cheat!"

To their credit, they all sat at the table and played cards for an hour. They chatted and giggled and poked fun at each other, and to their further credit, they stayed on playing well past the end of the baseball nap.

Come to think of it, maybe it was to my credit.