Still Got It

My new copy of 24 Italian Songs and Arias arrived today, and I spent a few minutes marking through it. I didn’t want to go full voice in the living room. The dogs were barking as is……… I’ve done one arietta from it before, Già il sole dal Gange, in high school UIL competition. I checked diction with a Cecilia Bartolli Youtube recording, and it was comforting. I feel I’ve got two things going for me now. My Italian diction is not as bad as I thought it was, and I have a much lighter voice than Bartoli, because even though she is one of the greats, there are a few moments in her recordings where her heaviness makes her vibrato under the pitch. Absolutely no disrespect toward her- not throwing shade. She still sounds fantastic.

I count on Bartoli’s videos to watch her obsessively, but not for the reason you might think. Yes, she’s talented, but she started her career as a trumpet player and had to overcome habits that worked great for brass and not so much for voice. I have walked that path for a very long time, and watching her gives me excellent tips on what I need to change physically to make singing easier…. and therefore, a lot more fun. It is so amazing to have a living, breathing, singing example of my own history.

I started with something I’ve sung before because I didn’t have my phone on me, where I have a very advanced metronome app. Even though I can read notes, I am not sure I’ve ever really learned to read rests. I’ll just come in when the Spirit moves me.

I thank God that I was in band as well, because it gave me a great advantage over other choral singers who could only do solfege. Solfege makes me irrationally angry, because even though it’s been around since the 11th century, I have problems with thinking that it’s legitimately reading music. I refuse to learn a piece through a series of weird hand motions that I do not understand because I’ve never really bothered with it.

My choir director in high school was not amused when we’d do solfege exercises in choir and she noticed that I was only either doing the peace or vulcan signs and turning my hand back and forth, evidence of my snooty and teenage attitudes. By the way, I’m still snooty about it.

Don’t even get me started on The Suzuki Method. According to Wikipedia, “the Suzuki method does not include a formal plan or prescribe specific materials for introducing music theory & reading, in part because Suzuki created the method in a culture where music literacy was routinely taught in schools.” So, you have these kids who’ve been playing for years and years by the time they arrive at school, brilliantly until you put sheet music in front of them. It’s a steep learning curve that to me, seems unnecessary.

Don’t @ me, Bro.

This is not to say that I don’t know successful musicians who use solfege and started out with Suzuki. I definitely do. My concertmaster at HSPVA started with Suzuki and is now the concertmaster for the Metropolitan opera. But that is not the case for a lot of students, some of whom get discouraged and drop out of vocal/instrumental music altogether. That’s because Suzuki often begins when the child is a toddler, and transitioning from playing by ear to learning to read music is difficult at best for those who don’t have a natural talent for it. Generally, elementary schools don’t have orchestras, so they’re playing by ear from ages 3-11. I think this makes it even harder to switch gears.

The last thing future generations of classical musicians need is the urge to give up. There will always be a small percentage of children that love it, but love of great instrumentation and soaring lines should be widely accessible. I feel disappointed when I think of all the kids who thought they just didn’t have the talent to be in choir, orchestra, band…. or perhaps a combination. Through HSPVA, I was in Honors Band, Jazz Band, and Symphony Orchestra.

When I switched to Clements High School, I was in Marching Band, Concert Band, and Varsity Choir.

It was such a wide and varied musical education, but it didn’t start there. My parents and my paternal grandfather were “instrumental” in instilling the love of music before I could walk. The first time I sang a solo in church, I was three. Apparently, I got stage fright and wouldn’t sing with the rest of the choir, and surprised the hell out of my mother when they left the stage and I was still there, picking up a microphone and belting out a jazz/gospel song called I am a Promise. The recording to which I’ve linked is an approximation of how the first few measures sounded…. and that was the only part I knew. I am sure it made the congregation howl, but my mother was entirely supportive. I have only heard this story a thousand times, I don’t remember it myself. But she said that she was so proud of me because it was pitch perfect.

The hardest part about singing is doing enough breath exercises and vocal warm-ups so that the longest notes are supported. I will mark without warming up, but going full voice takes me nearly an hour. I can’t be too careful.

But I’ve still got it. Three snaps in a Z formation. #selffive

A Note

Ever since my mother died, I have had trouble singing. I can’t think of anything that is more loaded with emotion, mostly pain. I haven’t set foot in a church in nearly two years, also in my grief. I know damn well that this is temporary, that my love of church will return when my spirit calms. It is important to have a faith community that loves me through good times and bad, people that I can turn to in both extremes. Right now, though, when I walk into a church I don’t see comfort and joy. I see the ghost of my mother’s past. It is not peaceful for me. It is a white-knuckling, stomach churning experience of just trying to get through the service without a complete goose-honking cry of a meltdown. And the thing is, I know that would be okay, too.

It is my own fear of being that vulnerable in public that stops me. Perhaps fear is the wrong word, but anxiety. I am trying my best to keep my head above water, avoiding the things that will actively help me to stop functioning. Walking around in my mother’s inner landscape, even for a couple of hours, leads to me losing the rest of the day. I have to sleep it off in those depression and anxiety-fueled naps that last hours, even when I’m not sleepy. And even in my dreams, I’m thinking “I don’t have time for this.” The clinical term for this is “decompensating.”

According to dictionary.com, there is both a medical and psychological meaning.

Medical decompensation is “the inability of a diseased heart to compensate for its defect.”

Psychological decompensation is “a loss of ability to maintain normal or appropriate psychological defenses, sometimes resulting in depression, anxiety, or delusions.”

It is funny how incredibly close those definitions are, when you look at the heart metaphorically.

I feel that I should say for the record that I have never had a delusion, although I have come close by taking someone else’s crazy statement and believing it as fact, incorporating it into my reality to disastrous results… What turned their crazy into my crazy was not stopping for a moment to evaluate said statement for objective truth, because in a lot of ways, it was what I wanted to hear…………………

Objective reality slipped beyond my grasp, living in a reinforced bubble created by fantasy. I was living as high as one could possibly be on dopamine without taking a drug to raise it chemically.

Later, when the bubble burst, I came back down to earth. It was an amazing feeling to see life for what it was, instead of my own version. What was happening in the world around me no longer carried a malleable haze.

I present with depression and anxiety, though I’m Bipolar II, so I do get a few hypomanic days now and then. But the highs are not so high. They’re just enough to make me feel like I’m living without depression and can be extraordinarily productive, sometimes foregoing sleep to get things done. Part of this is chemical; the other part is not knowing when I’ll be hypomanic again, and trying to use that time wisely.

I am extremely lucky that my fluctuations in mood just go from not depressed to extremely depressed, and medication makes those swings even easier to manage. Whenever I feel sorry for myself, I simply think of the people who are much worse off, the people who have no trouble swinging between suicidal plans and megalomania…. or have poor impulse control akin to buying five cars in one day.

I have no doubt in my mind that I was hypomanic when I decided to audition for the Washington National Opera chorus, but again, it was just being productive. Had I been truly depressed when I learned that the auditions were in a month, self-doubt would have eaten me alive and I would have lacked the courage to sign up altogether.

Which brings me back around to church and my mom. I need to sing again. I need to be in a chorus with other great singers who will raise my own game. I’m not much of an actor, but I’ll learn. In a gargantuan way, this is all about finding a replacement for church choir while I work on my daily ups and downs during the devastation of grief. I know I will still feel it. How can I not since my sister was in the children’s chorus at Houston Grand Opera, and I have such fond memories of my mom and Lindsay “on set?”

I counter that with all the hair, costumes and makeup. If I audition and get in, I will have the chance to be someone else for a while. Lots of someone elses if I get a contract for the whole season. The operas happening after my audition are Eugene Onegin, Faust, and Tosca. The links are all to their respective Wikipedia pages, because opera is so much more accessible when you know the story before you buy the tickets.

As I was telling a friend the other day, I hope the writing that comes out of a successful audition is work that brings younger audiences to opera. It is not dead thanks to the old and the rich, but if that trend continues, opera will be less and less popular over time. Opera has such a rich history that I cannot imagine losing it. Lots of them are novels that come to life, and generally more accurate than the movies.

It’s also a great break from technology, as it is entirely immersive. You have to read the supertitles to understand the language translation, or in the case of operas in your native language, to be able to pick out the words from the music. Hard to look at your phone and comprehend at the same time…. plus, the ushers will get mad at you because of the light. If your phone actually rings, good luck. God bless. 😛

I’m not starting singing again with arias, though. Today I did some breath control exercises and sang along to Merry Christmas from the Family (the Dixie Chicks and Rosie O’Donnell version as opposed to Robert Earl Keen, because it’s in a higher key). It’s such a funny song that for the first time in years, as I was singing I felt……. merry. It reminded me of the funniest parts of being a Texan, because if you’ve ever lived there, especially in a small town, you know this family. They live two doors down. There’s a broken swing set and a rusted car on blocks in the front yard. Both have been there since you moved in, and will be long after you leave.

The backyard looks like a garage sale all year ’round. On a serious note, even though they have just short of nothing, they’ll give you the shirts off their backs and the shoes on their feet if you need them, because they know what it’s like to literally have nothing and they’ll do whatever they can to help. There is no better place to live than small town Texas, because even though you can’t take a step out of your house without all 2,000 people knowing where you’re going, that’s not a bad thing. They sniff out trouble like bloodhounds, and just rally around you until it passes.

However, if you are selfish in any way, you don’t belong there. Community comes with responsibility.

Which brings me to another important reason why I’ve dropped off the face of the earth in terms of church. I’m empty. I’m all tapped out. I have nothing to contribute because I am struggling to keep my own head above water.

And the thing is, it wouldn’t bother the church at all. They know that when I’m in a better place, I can do more for the people around me. It’s all my own “stuff” to work out, because I cannot abide showing up to a potluck without a casserole, capiche?

I have high hopes for this opera audition, even though I won’t be crushed if I don’t get in. I know for certain that I am a fourth as good as the people auditioning who’ve been singing arias for years on end (I’m not a pessimist, just a realist). The high hopes come from joining a community in a new context, without the baggage I carry when entering a church. I see the glory of God in classical music, which, to my mind, is running towards spirituality instead of away…. making my way slowly, but surely, back into the world communion.

I am surprised that this has been my reaction to grief, because for the first two or three weeks after my mother died, walking into the sanctuary made me feel as if she were right there, so close I could touch her again. Then a pointed sermon on grief made me absolutely lose my shit with anxiety, just crying and shaking as if exorcising a demon. I didn’t want to be comforted, I wanted to be invisible. I didn’t want anyone to see my grief laid that bare. On top of my anxiety, I am quite shy and introverted. If you think otherwise, it’s from years and years of practice at hiding it away. I can have entire conversations that end with you knowing nothing about me, because my go-to is deflection. I ask so many questions about your life that you don’t have a chance to get a word in edgewise to ask me about mine. In that scenario, I can be extroverted and gregarious, because I’m not revealing anything. It also cuts way down on me giving answers I think of as crazy or stupid so I don’t have anything to beat myself up with later.

Trust me, if I was weird to you 20 years ago, I still have the ability to obsess over it. It would be an absolute relief to be onstage as a character in a group, completely forgetting everything in terms of who I am and pouring everything into letting me go for a few hours a night. I am hoping it will give me enough clinical separation to see myself more objectively once the performance is over…. because then, I might be able to turn my anxiety about being vulnerable in public back into needing other people for support, and rising to the occasion of giving my own support to others.

My new copy of 24 Italian Songs and Arias is on its way. May it be the first step forward onto holy ground.

An Actual Song to the Moon

I did something I’ve never done before, and I am really stepping off a ledge. At first, I thought, “how hard can it be? Lindsay did it.” And then I realized that auditioning for an opera chorus as an adult is probably different than auditioning as a child, and I freaked out so hard my stomach dropped to my knees. Things got better and I calmed down once I got a rough sketch of a plan together. That being said, Lindsay had to sing things like Happy Birthday (you would not believe how easy it is to hear the quality of someone’s voice with that song). My memory may be failing me, but I think her prepared piece was from Annie.

At the time, I was too old for the children’s chorus and too young for the adult one…. and besides, my voice didn’t truly come into itself until I was older, anyway. So, as I watched Lindsay on stage in productions like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Turandot and Carmen, it was a mix of powerful pride and brooding Salieri (character in the movie Amadeus). I finally realized that I was old enough to try out for the chorus and not care if I got rejected, which is the most important part of getting older, anyway. It wasn’t the singing that frightened me. It was getting the thin letter instead of the thick one.

I am still truly terrified, though, but this time, it’s not about rejection. It’s about the clock, which is running out. I e-mailed Washington National Opera to ask when the next round of open auditions were for the chorus, and as it just so happens, they’re in less than a month. I have to have one Italian aria and one aria in any language (even English) prepared by then. I may also be asked to sight read, which is actually more exhausting a thought than getting prepared.

I don’t even have a piano at my house. I am still working out where I am going to practice, because I have a BIG DAMN VOICE and lots of housemates. When I go “balls to the wall” fortissimo, you can hear it up and down my street. It’s always fun when I have a marking that loud and splat an excruciatingly bad note on the tops of other people’s roofs. But, if you’re going to make a mistake, do it right.

It also feels good that I’m confident enough to go through the process, because it’s not like it’s some sort of pipe dream. I’m not tone deaf. I’ve sung in many, many choruses and have done some of the great works in history…. just not opera. Oratorios, masses, and requiems are kind of my jam. It would be so much easier if I could walk in with something I’ve already sung and don’t have to start from absolute scratch.

My biggest concern is the Italian aria, and which register to choose. Most of the Italian mezzo arias I’ve listened to go practically into cigar and vodka range, but sometimes mezzo lines go up to a high B flat. I am most comfortable in the high register, called “head voice,” but I am also not Queen of the Night material. Surely there has to be a good resting place between mezzo and coloratura. When I find it, I’ll let you know.

It seriously bums me out right now that my mother is dead. It seems like those words are flip, but what I mean is that I am only devastated when I think of all the things we won’t get to do together. Needing something from her is different. It’s not as important. It’s just a bummer that she’s the only person I can think of who could truly help me pull this off, and my copy of 24 Italian Songs and Arias is probably still in her piano bench. Plus, you can either use the accompanist at the opera company, or you can bring your own. Not being able to bring an accompanist that has always known how to catch me in all the right ways actually does bring me to tears.

There is a world of difference between a mere pianist and an accompanist. A pianist knows how to play the piano. An accompanist knows how not to throw a soloist under the bus. If you sing or play an instrument, you are probably enthusiastically nodding your head in agreement, perhaps clapping, because you know what a truth bomb I’ve laid down.

I am also interested in the writing that will come out of this experience, whether I make it or not. It will either be a big victory or a funny story. To wit:

Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself you can always write a book.

-Ronald Reagan

I’ve never sung it before, but the aria that I’m most familiar with is Song to the Moon from Rusalka. It’s in Czech, so I’ll have to do some diction training, but it does fit the requirements for range and breath control. As for Italian, the only aria I’m familiar with is Nessun Dorma.

You can file that under “not in this lifetime, Holmes.” While I probably could pull it off with several years of private lessons, in a month it would be a shadow of what it’s supposed to be, and the people listening to the auditions will have heard it a thousand times, anyway. For this reason, I’m looking for something very obscure…. I want to stand out….. just like everyone else.

Flavored Coffee is for Young People

This entry is going to start out with a story that seems like a million years ago, but was really only about 17 (I think….). Before I met Dana, I dated a woman that was much older than me, but captured my heart with the simple fact that to her, everything was magic. Just an incredible lightness of being, the art of wearing rose-colored glasses no matter how crappy life got. Her attitude was just #goals for someone as alternately perky and jaded as me. And as different as we were, we were at the same points in our lives- both having just broken up with people we loved despite our differences- realizations that our partners were great people, but not great with us.

It was interesting to see people’s reactions to our age gap. My friends loved her. Her friends hated me, and hate is not too strong a word. They viewed me as the midlife crisis girltoy, and not a fully functioning adult with agency. The worst was judgmental anger from people in an age-gap relationship two years smaller than ours. I wish I had been strong enough back then to just say “bite me” and move on. But I wasn’t. I took everything personally and just hid in my shell.

I don’t think she was immune to judgment, either, because ultimately our relationship ended because she thought I was too young. Maybe I was. Maybe I wasn’t. Hard to tell in retrospect. I just know that I could have handled whatever life threw at us, but if we hadn’t broken up, it wouldn’t have created the door for Dana to open. She became my best friend because in the beginning, we didn’t know each other well at all. I just had to find a new gaggle of friends since most of my friends in Portland were also my then-girlfriend’s, and it didn’t feel like a safe place to fall. The friends I had that were the ultimate support didn’t live there- they met her through phone calls, as archaic as that sounds. I mean, I could still be friends with the ones that were mutual, but it wasn’t my goal to express anger or sadness in front of them, especially since I knew their reaction was going to be a ten gallon jug of “I told you so,” which is always so helpful in a breakup.

But the main thing our age gap provided me was an immense amount of laughter.

We were in Starbucks and she ordered a soy latte. I can’t remember exactly what I had, but if I’m guessing, either a raspberry or mint regular latte. She looked at me and said, “flavored coffee is for young people.” I wish I had been strong enough back then to just say “bite me” and move on.

And now it’s almost 20 years later, and every time I have a flavored coffee… every single time… that line runs through my head. Today it’s French vanilla creamer and dark roast. At 41, now I need to feel like a young person. So there. Flipping the script.

I’m drinking a lot of coffee this morning because even though I slept well, I’m working dish tonight from 1700-2300. I could take a nap, but I don’t want to. I want to watch the first snowfall of the season. It’s just magical, especially since I don’t drive. That way, I can just enjoy the snow without worrying about scraping off my car, or getting into an accident on the way and having to call the restaurant and say “I just slid into a ditch.” Well, unless my Uber driver does. I doubt the bus has that capability. I tend to take the bus in the snow, because if we’re in a wreck, the bus is gonna win.

It’s important for me to stay alive, because no one else is going to update this web site, and Facebook nags me all the time. I have 105 followers on my author page, and I’ll get passive-aggressive messages saying they haven’t heard from me in a while. It’s annoying, but also necessary. I took this job as a cook and dishwasher partly because I needed any job, and partly because my level in IT is “constantly connected to my job, tethered by phone and laptop.” I thought I would have more time to write, but what has actually happened is that I am so physically exhausted all the time that writing has taken a back seat to enjoying sleep and Aleve.™ I am constantly in pain, because I had arthritis before I started cooking, and the acrobatics required on both the line and in the dish pit don’t make that easier. However, I do think it has made my muscles stronger, which helps. More muscle mass has allowed my bones to relax a little, because they’re supported now.

It is not lost on me that I could have a cushy desk job and have a hell of a lot more money, but I am not convinced that I would be any happier, at least not yet. There are things about both blue and white collar jobs that just suck. But I’m never going to learn how to do things in a desk job that genuinely make other people’s faces light up.

My sister is a lobbyist, a rock star in her world. I used to be intimidated by that, until I realized that powerful people love to talk about food, so when I walk into a room, I’m also a rock star. People who have never worked in a restaurant, but whose imaginations are captured by TV shows, love to talk to me. I don’t really like the current slate of shows on The Food Network, etc., because I prefer the old school stand-and-stirs that actually educated people. Emeril before Emeril Live, for instance, even though I watched Emeril Live and learned to love it over time. But I’d rather watch old Julia Child episodes, or Justin Smith, or Martin Yan.

To date, the movie at which I’ve cried the hardest is Julie & Julia, because it reminded me of Dana- particularly the scene where Julia is chopping a mountain of onions to improve her knife skills…. and also myself, because I also had to buy mountains of carrots and celery to improve my own knife skills, and ruin lots of pieces of bread to learn how to flip eggs properly, as well as learning how to mix things like (pre-cooked) macaroni and cheese sauce by flipping it in the frying pan instead of using a spoon. We had a lot of mirepoix in those months. Interestingly enough, even though I am French-trained, the only thing I don’t know how to make is an omelette.

I tried the other day, because my roommate left eggs behind when he moved out, as well as Presidente butter and sharp cheddar. I got closer than I ever have, but it still looked like a waffle cone with cheese at the top (I was doing tri-fold). I need more practice, so eventually it will be off to the store to buy my own butter and eggs, because everything in my own pantry is vegan. This is because eventually, my restaurant will serve brunch, and I think I need to be prepared for the possibility that omelettes will be on the menu, and I refuse to be the only cook that can’t make one. Can’t is not in my vocabulary. I will make a hundred of them if I have to. I just need to invite 99 people to my house to eat the mistakes, which will still taste amazing, but look like a five-year-old made them. This is a problem because I barely know nine people in DC, much less 99. However, if Eight is Enough, I’m sitting pretty.

I just need to ask them beforehand what their views are on flavored coffee.

Earning a W

My Facebook Status tonight:

Let me tell you about the best part of my day. One of the waitstaff came into the kitchen to tell me that one of the customers said the food was incredible. It’s the first time someone has said that and I could prove it was all me, because I was working solo. 🙂

I was only supposed to work until 2200, but life had other plans. I ended up closing the place down, and I have to be at work again at 1000. I actually had a shift beer tonight, my way of quietly celebrating putting one in the W column. The W column is why I love my job so damn much. As I was telling a friend, being in the kitchen is where I feel the most alive. You can’t imagine how high I get on adrenaline (and, let’s not get stupid… caffeine).

It was especially humbling to get a compliment like that on a night where I really didn’t feel like working at all, much less staying two extra hours. Loving my job and needing time to rest are two separate things. I’m hoping to get that Sabbath on Monday, because I’ve made plans with Dan, Autumn, and Jaime. The only reason that I say “I’m hoping” is that when you take a job as a cook, you also take responsibility for being on a team, and when they’re a man down and they need you, it’s difficult to say, “I’m so sorry, but…” In fact, I know I haven’t ever said no at this job and I don’t think I’ve said no at any others, either. I just can’t remember back that far. Having Dana, my ex-wife, on my professional team made it where if I was sick and she wasn’t working, she’d handle it, and vice versa. She’s technically a better cook than me, so the restaurant got the better end of that deal, anyway. I mean technically literally- she’s Cordon Bleu certified, and I am, in a word, not. Our joke at the time was that she paid $20,000 for her education, and then gave it to me for free. The longer I live, the more I realize that this was not a joke at all. It’s God’s honest truth.

Where I shine, and don’t get to often, is palate. I’m not the chef, so I have no menu control. What I’m good at is looking around the pantry and the spice cabinet and making shit up.

Because I’m a writer, “making shit up” encompasses a lot of my life. Not that anything on this blog is fictional, except where explicitly stated. When I’m not writing on this blog, I have a wildly active imagination, which mostly inserts itself when I think I’ve done something stupid and I go off on these downward shame spirals that legitimately have nothing to do with reality. But when I’m really in the zone, I sometimes have a knack for character study. World building and plot escape me, which is why most of the fiction I’ve written is only a few pages. That’s about as much fiction as I can write before the writing gods say, impatiently, “don’t quit your day job.”

Or night job, as the case may be.

One of the things keeping me as sane as I get is one of our dishwashers. There’s a cook that only listens to Tejano music… and while I do like it, after six or eight hours, it becomes a bit grating. I prefer to skip around on genres. I thought I was being a racist for thinking it was getting on my nerves when said cook left and the dishwasher says to me that he HATES Tejano and all of the sudden, Til I Collapse by Eminem starts BLASTING on the stereo as we begin the cleanup process. The dishwasher makes me laugh, because he understands English less well than I understand Spanish, but he knows every word to both Til I Collapse and Careless Whisper by Wham!

Why I think this is hilarious is a mystery to me. I can sing in just about any language put in front of me, because I learn it phonetically. I’ve done everything from the Romance languages to German to Bulgarian folk singing to Hebrew to Suomi (Finnish). But when said coworker and I have spent days communicating through broken English, broken Spanish, and hand signals, tears of laughter come to my eyes, anyway.

What I have learned over time is that one-on-one, my Spanish is improving dramatically. The other person knows I need them to speak slowly and clearly. Listening to two people talking in Spanish to each other, I get lost quickly, because they tend to speak faster than my brain can process.

And on that note, I think this entry should come to a close, because my brain can’t process English anymore, either.

Maybe some Eminem or George Michael would help.

Folgers

Today has not been the best (so far, it’s only 11:30 AM). I generally get a cold at the beginning of spring, because my allergy medication just can’t keep up (gross out warning) and snot just runs continuously down the back of my throat until it’s raw and scratchy. I haven’t lost my voice, but when I woke up this morning, I did have that sexy Debra Winger rasp going on.

It’s gone now, after a really long, hot shower and something warm to drink- hence the title. I normally wouldn’t be caught dead drinking Folger’s Classic Roast,™ but I ran to 7-Eleven for essentials and it’s what they had. Seriously. That’s it. I’ve never been to a store in my life that only carried one type of coffee, and it just happened to be the Budweiser™ equivalent. However, desperation made me buy it, anyway. I haven’t had coffee in a couple of days, and like most of the population, I’m so addicted to it that withdrawal is a thing. Hey, it’s my only vice. At least give me this one.

To my surprise, when I made the coffee the way I like it (one level scoop per cup), it was more than drinkable. Probably the reason I thought I hated it was the way churches tend to make it……. not calling anyone out on the carpet, but I have had my fair share of shitty brown water that they called “coffee.” To be fair, it’s hard to know the ratio for a 40-50 cup urn.

IMG_0037As I am singing the praises of this blessed event (coffee is divinity), the playlist in my headphones is called Stranger Than Fiction on Spotify. It’s all the soundtracks from Argo, Slumdog Millionaire, all the Bourne movies, and The Kite Runner. It’s killer, if I do say so myself…. and it’s public if you want to check it out. Even though I put it on shuffle, I always start with The Bourne Identity‘s main theme. The English Horn solo just blows me away…. probably the only iconic English Horn solo on record for those who aren’t classical music nerds (like me). As for the Bourne series, my favorite is Supremacy, and the only thing I really liked about Jason Bourne was the soundtrack and the picture my dad took of me with the movie poster.

For instance, I was sitting in the theater doubled over in that silent laugh where you’re just shaking violently with snot and tears running down your face, because someone is hacking a computer for information on a black op, and transfers the files from a folder called Black Ops. Because of course all intel agencies hide the documents regarding black ops in a folder called BLACK OPS.

And of course, that led me to think about what I would have named that folder. Probably something like birthday_party_pictures or cat_photos. At the very least, something that someone wouldn’t click on immediately after logging into my computer. HELLO!

Of course, as a computer nerd, it’s probably something only I and my IT peeps would pick up, because it’s supposed to be exposition for the audience. That didn’t not make it hilarious.

It was especially fun to go to the International Spy Museum and to see Jason Bourne with my dad all in the same trip. I don’t know if it was a special exhibit or in their permanent collection, but there was a fantastic James Bond adventure.

Most of the intel agencies around here now have entertainment departments (CIA was the last to get on board), so recent movies like Salt and Atomic Blonde, as well as TV shows like Homeland and The Looming Tower have real-life advisers that make the shows fictional-yet-believable. According to a book I read on the subject, the lives of spies are blown way out of proportion, sometimes to make the movie better and sometimes to divert the public’s attention from the way The Agency really works. For instance, it’s not as interesting to watch a movie about espionage if all that happens is a huge amount of paperwork. Also, no intel agency is ever going to publish in any form the way they operate, because lives depend on it….. publishing it all for us is publishing it all for “them,” whomever they are.

…which invariably leads me to my white hot hatred of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. Disagree with me all you want, but I’m not going to change my mind. Not only did they put American lives in danger, but all the friendlies we’d managed to turn in other countries as well. People seem to forget that they’re called “confidential informants” for a reason…. mostly because they could be executed by their own governments. I haven’t read every single document that was leaked, because first of all, I don’t want to. I’d prefer to stay frosty and let the professionals handle it. I couldn’t spy my way out of a paper bag. Second of all, I am sure that it wasn’t just American covers blown, but Mossad, MI-6, etc. and I don’t want to read about it because it will just feed the anger I already have. I have enough anger in my life. I don’t need to add anything on top of it.

That being said, the Julian Assange biopic, The Fifth Estate, is very good. Even the title is clever- moving us forward from newspapers to the Internet. I don’t know how much of it is real, but I liked it, anyway. The biopic about Edward Snowden (called Snowden, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role), however, kept me up for three days, because I would be frightened to learn that even a third of it is real. Don’t watch it at night. Hold someone’s hand. It will creep you the fuck out. I’m serious. Take my advice or don’t- at your own peril (safety not guaranteed, no refunds, you break it you buy it, etc.).

As you can tell, I’m a fan of intel movies, mostly because now it generally involves computers and hacking (BLACK OPS folder…… hahahahahahaha). I am not clever enough in that arena to figure it all out (and don’t want to), but fictionalized versions are awesome. In my daily life, I am just a regular geek who loves Linux, but would crap my pants if asked to write any sort of program. In terms of the logic behind the languages, I’m barely a step above “Hello, World.” It is not my calling to learn to hack, crack, or program…. but that doesn’t mean I don’t love a good piece of media about it.

The only intel show that I have problems with is Homeland. I watch it anyway, because it’s a good story and I like all the actors (particularly Mandy Patinkin). But I just get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach every time Carrie Mathison goes to her “crazy place.” I realize that she’s Bipolar I and I’m Bipolar II, so basically nothing she does is something I would do. But there’s a part of me that knows her portrayal of that kind of crazy is dead on, and to me, it is not comforting in the slightest that I understand. I feel like I get her in only the way another bipolar person would, and in those moments, watching truly sucks. It’s like a train wreck- I can’t look away. I’m too invested in knowing what happens now.

Leaving out the part that nearly everything Carrie does would, in real life, have landed her in federal prison (or a dark site) long ago.

But it’s just a TV show. Suspension of disbelief and all that.

Am I crazy, or is this Folgers really working for me?

Yes.

The Goldfish

Easter is a hard day for me in terms of grieving my mother. Because here is what is supposed to happen today. We’re supposed to wake up early so that Lindsay and I get our Easter presents, even when I’m not living in Houston and open my presents with her while she’s on the phone. Usually, it’s money and a metric tonne of chocolate, including a hollow bunny for the annual drinking of the Dr Pepper. Then, my mom and I both go off to our volunteer jobs. For a lot of my life it was playing my horn, and for the rest, singing in the choir. The first year after my mom died, I went to Easter services and cried all the way through it. This year, I am not even thinking about leaving the house. We’re having a to-do with “the family,” and that is enough.

This morning, Hayat and I sat around drinking coffee and eating Milanos, but first, I talked to my dad as he was on his way to play his trumpet at Second Baptist.

It’s kind of cool that between TV and Facebook Live events, I can actually hear him play, and sometimes see him in the background. It makes me happy because he is just as good as he was in high school/college. I, however, am not. Some of my fondest memories are of being on the brass line, so it’s nice to live vicariously through him.

Before there were church jobs for me, though, there were trails of plastic eggs filled with candy and/or malted milk eggs to our Easter baskets filled with that fake grass that gets damn everywhere. Black_Moor_Goldfish1In third grade, I asked for a goldfish, and I got it. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with a present, because it was a black moor, and he was so incredibly cute. I managed to keep him alive for probably two years, a miracle since at that time, I didn’t know that goldfish desperately need an aquarium to breathe properly. He just had the classic bowl setup. I’d sit in front of the bowl and just stare at his googly eyes, wondering if he was lonely and deciding that no, he was okay. He had me. This fish is absolutely the reason I’ve kept goldfish most of my life, and will continue to in memoriam…. both for that fish and the one who gave it to me. I wish I could remember what I named it…. I’m usually pretty good about these things. For instance, I remember that Dana and I had a whole tank that we gave eastern names- we had Samir, Saeed, and Zain. Saeed came from Lindsay’s high school boyfriend, Zain was his cousin, and Samir just fit with the theme. But third grade is so long ago…. I’ve slept since then. I want to say it was Malcolm. Don’t quote me on that.

I wish I could remember other presents I got, but I only remember the candy. This was the big highlight, so the one that sticks in my memory the best. I thought it was hilarious that my mother was so big on giving us chocolate for Easter, but never really ate any herself. However, I think she enjoyed my goldfish as much as I did. I often wonder what made her pick the black one, or how she knew they were my favorite. But my mother was sneaky like that. She had the memory of an elephant, so I could say that I liked something and it would magically appear up to three years later…. and I never found any indication that she wrote stuff like that down.

I would make wish lists on Amazon for Christmas, and she never bought anything from any of them, preferring to listen to me and surprise me with things I’d forgotten about long ago. But Easter hasn’t been about presents since I was little. It’s been about hard, hard work. Hours upon hours of rehearsal and laryngitis and my embouchure being plain worn out after several services in a row. The trumpet descants were always better than the soprano ones, so when I gave up trumpet, I would sing those descants as a soprano instead….. unless the organist surprised me by playing his/her own modulations and the descants didn’t fit into the chord structure anymore. I think that only happened once, though, so I pretty much got away with it every year.

As you can imagine, even entering a church is difficult for me now, because I just see my mother everywhere, and it is not as comforting as one might think. It is just a reminder of despair, because there is no better synecdoche for my mother than a piano… or an organ…. or a choir robe…. or a really great alto part….

It’s hard to swallow because I miss choir, but I don’t miss feeling like crap every Sunday because I cannot rise above grief (at this time).

Perhaps the answer is in thinking that my mom’s resurrection is within me, carrying her music into the future.

I’m just not there yet. I mean, I haven’t even bought a goldfish.