Thursday, January 28, 2010

We are the music makers...

Yesterday, I got to be somebody I am not.

I was invited to participate in a skit with several members of my local piano teachers organization at our annual January luncheon yesterday. I played the role of the "fidgety, talkative, won't-stop-playing-even-when-the-piano-teacher-is-talking kid."

In real life, I was actually more of a "model student." (If you don't believe me, you can ask my mother.) But I had a lot of fun pretending; my colleagues were practically falling out of their chairs laughing at my shenanigans.

The "bored teenager" and the "difficult, whiny kid" were also represented in the skit; they were hilarious, too. And, let me tell you, I am familiar with ALL of these characters. I actually had a particular student in mind as I played my part yesterday; I simply behaved as he does when he walks into my studio each week.

The point of the exercise was for us, as piano teachers, to share how we deal with these various personalities. And it gave me some real food for thought.

Because it is easy to take my students' attitudes towards piano lessons personally--to respond as if a child who is fidgety, or bored, or whiny, is behaving disrespectfully. But I have found that, in most cases, my students' behavior has little to do with me, and more to do with their lives outside my piano studio. And I believe that part of my job is to help them forget all about everything else, at least for a little while, and immerse themselves in making music.

The fidgety kid? My challenge is to keep him in the moment with tasks that are fully engaging. The bored teenager? Usually it isn't so much a matter of boredom as exhaustion. What those young adults need more than anything is an outlet for their emotions. The whiny children? They need something to wonder about. They need a reason to smile.

Even the so-called "model student" mustn't be taken for granted. I don't want to burn him out. I don't want him to be a robot. For him, I want music to be a sophisticated means of self-expression, not just another means of pleasing adults.

I love my job. I love playing the piano, and I get a thrill out of taking that whole--"playing the piano"--and breaking it down into smaller parts, and then figuring out how to transfer those pieces to my piano students, so that they can create meaningful wholes for themselves.

There is no joy in life like the joy of making music.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


It has been a long day.

I woke up early, wrote my morning pages, raced to the bank to deposit a couple of checks (not soon enough), worked on my novel, went to the gym and put in 45 minutes on the elliptical machine (it's getting easier), worked some more on my novel (1049 words today, yay!), put a pot of vegetable soup on the stove, took a shower, and taught piano from one o'clock until nine thirty. I was just kicking back with a cup of tea and a good read when my phone rang.

It was Casey.

"Mom, I was in an accident. I'm fine, but I don't think my car is drivable."

I asked him where he was--just a couple of miles from home--and got there as quickly as I could.

He wasn't sure what happened, but our best guess--mine and a couple of witnesses'--is that one of his rear tires blew, causing him to lose control of his car. He went off the road and down an embankment; his car was on its side, at least for a moment, but appears to have been saved from flipping completely over by a fence. His back windshield is totally broken out, and the front of his car sustained some significant damage, as well, but with the assistance of a Good Samaritan, we were able to change the tire and drive the car back to the house.

He is having a hard time seeing the good in all this. We're talking about a 1997 Toyota Avalon here; there is no collision coverage on the vehicle, so all the necessary repairs will have to come out of Casey's pockets, and they aren't deep ones. But cars can be replaced, and children cannot. I have lost a loved cousin and a cherished brother to auto accidents, so I know all too well that, but by the grace of God, I might have gone to the hospital--or to the morgue--tonight. I try not to live in fear, but I know how fragile this life is. I am thankful beyond words.

I began a gratitude journal towards the end of January, 2008. I didn't write in it every day, but when I did, I filled a page with whatever I was thankful for at that particular time. Here are a few of the entries.

January 28, 2008--"I am thankful that Josh is so pumped up about going back to school."

January 29, 2008--"I am thankful that Nathan is willing to help me in so many ways--with the dog, with the house, with technology. I am thankful that he still wants to hug me and kiss me and tell me he loves me."

February 25, 2008--"I am thankful for my brother Greg and his love. I am thankful for Susie and all that she has brought to Greg's life. I am thankful for Cassie and Greg, Jr. I am thankful for Mom and Dad and that we were able to visit, have dinner and play 'Apples to Apples' together Saturday night."

March 11, 2008--"I am thankful that Eric found me such a great deal on a new computer. I am thankful for his love and the way he is always there for me."

March 16, 2008--"I am thankful that Greg called while Eric and Donna were here last night."

March 23, 2008--"I am thankful that Casey and I got to see 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall' together this afternoon."

This is the final entry:

May 6, 2008--"I am having a hard time feeling thankful right now. Because my brother, Greg, died the week before last. He was only 44. He left behind an 11yo daughter and a 2yo son and an adoring sister, among others. I don't understand much of anything right now."

There are still a lot of things I don't understand. Why brothers have to die. Why relationships fail. Why life seems so hard sometimes. But there is still much to be thankful for.

I think it's time to make a new entry in that gratitude journal.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Living Well is the Best Revenge

I had a great weekend. Saturday I went to the first meeting of the Georgia Romance Writers for 2010. The local chapter of Romance Writers of America, GRW is made up of approximately two hundred serious, professional writers, nearly ONE-THIRD of whom are multi-published in book length fiction.

ONE-THIRD! I am hoping that some of that success is contagious.

I attended my first GRW meeting on my fiftieth birthday, in August. And it was more than a little bit intimidating to walk into that big room, filled with successful people who asked questions like, "So, what genre do you write?" and "What are you working on?" when I had hardly done anything at all. But they took me seriously anyway--the environment was unbelievably supportive--and the next thing I knew, it was October and I was at the Atlanta Moonlight & Magnolias Conference, the highlight of the GRW programming year, rubbing shoulders and attending workshops with successful writers who made me feel like I was ONE OF THEM! So the meeting Saturday was just what I needed to help me set some goals for my writing in 2010. The next ten thousand words of my novel is due next Wednesday for my online writing class; as soon as that is done, I am going to polish up my synopsis and the first twenty-five pages of my manuscript and submit it before the February 20th deadline for participation in the March critique workshop. And I am already looking forward to an all-day workshop in April and the 2011 Moonlight & Magnolias Conference in the fall.

I also had three dates over the weekend.

I saw Bachelor Number One on Friday night. Let's call him Dave. We saw the movie Up In The Air (five stars, and not just because of George Clooney), ate Mexican food at Del Rio in Dacula, and did a little dancing at 37 Main in Buford. Dave is becoming an item; I met him before the holidays, and will definitely see him again.

I met Bachelor Number Two for lunch at Johnny Carino's in Duluth after the GRW meeting on Saturday. We'll call him Jerry. Both the food and the conversation were superb, and we have made tentative plans for Friday night.

Finally, I met Bachelor Number Three for coffee at Starbucks at Medlock Crossing on my way to pick Nathan up from an overnighter at his dad's house. Bill, as I like to refer to him, was cute and funny, and he also wants to see me again.

Now, since I had three dates over the weekend, I have been accused of being a "player." I'm not even sure what that means. Because since I joined eHarmony the end of November, I have had face-to-face meetings with exactly five fellows, and two of them wanted to have nothing to do with me after our initial rendezvous. That's a FORTY PERCENT fail rate. Let me tell you, that does wonders for a girl's self-esteem!

Is it the extra ten pounds? Is it the cellulite? Is it that I am too old to bear children? Is it the crow's feet? Is it the new haircut?

The thing is, these guys weren't exactly George Clooney. So I don't know why I even care.

Except that, post-divorce, I was rejected early on by a guy because I wasn't as "slim and slender" as he initially thought--even though, at five foot two and just over one hundred pounds, I was clinically underweight. If I had been in my right mind, I would have laughed as I waved goodbye. Instead, I spent an embarrassingly long time in a relationship with him. Was it because he confirmed what I believed about myself, deep down inside? Because at that time, despite appearances to the contrary, I still felt like the overweight teenager I was in high school.

I was the girl who didn't have a date to the prom.

Well, I have decided I am not going to spend another minute trying to be who somebody else wants me to be. I am tired of looking at life as a struggle not to gain weight and an effort to live up to the impossible standards of the rich and famous (who may or may not look any better first thing in the morning than I do).

I am going to be my imperfect self and live my life and write my novel, and if anyone has the good sense to see the beauty inside this decrepit shell, then good for them. If not, then so be it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

So Far

I finally got my instructor's critique on my writing assignment. Although she did make a few changes and suggestions in the text, her overall comment was this:

"The story moves along nicely. Great sense of how to use dialogue to pace as well as allow info about your characters to be revealed in an active way. Great sense of scene and your transitions between are very flowing."

This gave me hope. Maybe I should stop beating up on myself for not being a great writer - yet. After all, I'm taking the class so that I can learn ways to improve, right?

And while I'm at it, maybe I should stop beating up on myself for a lot of things.

I made a very ambitious list of New Year's Resolutions. The process of creating the list was useful, because it helped me to decide what I most want to accomplish in 2010. And I made the goals concrete, specific, and within my control - as much as anything is within one's control.

The challenge, of course, is how to incorporate them into my daily life. After all, I also have 50 piano students, professional obligations, 2 children, and a dog to work into my schedule. Occasionally, maybe even a friend - or a date. I have been keeping track of everything in a 5-subject spiral notebook - hot pink, of course - in which I created sections for health/fitness, writing, reading, hobbies and finances. While there is room for improvement, by and large I have done well. So I have determined that, as long as I am making steady progress, I will focus on my successes and not my failures, and if there turns out to be an area I neglect consistently - so far it's hobbies; maybe I should just bind off those fourteen rows I have knitted on Eric's afghan and call it a scarf - then I probably need to revisit those goals and decide whether or not they are realistic.

This isn't rocket science, is it? But I have to keep reminding myself. Because my nature is to be perfectionistic and self-critical. If I treated my piano students the way I usually treat myself, they would walk out the door and never come back. I think it's time to stop being my own worst critic, and start being my best cheerleader.

And now, I'm off to the gym.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Nose to the Grindstone

What was I THINKING, signing up for an online writing class that started the first week of December?

The class is Advanced Novel Writing, hosted by Writers Online Workshops. The first assignment, due December 16th, was the first 10,000 words of a novel. The second, due, January 6th, was the next 10,000 words. Each was to be a MAXIMUM of 10,000 words. But, of course, to benefit most from the class, it made sense to submit as much writing as possible.

I had the first assignment pretty well finished prior to the start date. But then the holidays happened, and I didn't get going on the second assignment until January 2nd. Since then, I have met my New Year's Resolution daily word count goal of 1200 words, and then some, submitting nearly 6700 words at 11:55PM yesterday (the deadline was midnight).

But I have to admit, I feel like something of a failure. Not only did I fall short with the word count on the assignment I just submitted, I wasn't at all happy with the writing. Maybe it has potential, but right now it is kind of a mess. The pace is slow; the dialogue needs work. The feedback on the first assignment was that the story really didn't get started until the second chapter, and that I consider flipping Chapter One and Chapter Two. I see the wisdom; I will try that. But right now it's all I can do to get the story on paper. Then I will go back and make it pretty.

Although I wouldn't want anybody besides my teacher and my virtual classmates to see my work at this point, I am thankful for the class and the opportunity to share it with them. Because it is hard for me to be objective about my own work.

On a bad day, I think I am just kidding myself. I am not a writer at all. I never will be.

But on a good day, I think maybe all writers go through this. Writing and rewriting. Because sometimes I am convinced I have the beginnings of a really good story. And maybe if I persevere, I will eventually get it right.

Writing is an art. But it is also a craft. And can improve my craft with practice.

Tomorrow, I am going to write 1200 words, come hell or high water. (Or snow on the ground, which is the more likely scenario).