writing down the sun

Still in Love

Posted in strung out by annie on April 21, 2007

We’re still in the heady honeymoon days of the new relationship, my violin and I. I love him, he responds with – well, as much fervor as his $50 little body can muster.

So far, I’ve practiced every day since picking it up from Earl. I have graduated from “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to my first semi-classical piece, “Ode to Joy.” (Semi- only in that it’s a very simplified arrangement.) I’m still having trouble keeping a nice intonation shifting from the A string to the E string and back again. Oddly, I don’t have that same problem between A and D – wonder why that is?

I’m concerned about my wrist placement and the bowing movement in general. I keep wondering if I’m doing it right. And then I bump headlong into the real problem with teaching yourself – who’s going to correct those bad habits before they become ingrained? Perhaps a teacher is more of a necessity than a better instrument, then, at this point.

But the category for this post is “passion” and so I’ll return to that topic. It’s something that’s been lacking in my life lately, in massive quantities. Even the breakup of my marriage wasn’t terribly passionate. Sad, surely, and a little bittersweet. Yes, there were some arguments but  mostly civil ones, promptly resolved. We’re not angry at each other, we still hang out periodically as friends, and we’re both very much “as one” where our daughter’s concerned.  I’ve missed that passion – feeling a deep longing for something has got to be one of the most amazing sensations in the world, a gift of being human.  So, I’m particularly intrigued by this development, or realization of the previous passion I’d felt for the violin. Why now? What made it jump from what it’s always been – a pleasant “someday/maybe” fantasy – to what it is now – a fully realized “MUST do this” project?

Was it the separation? Or are both those things merely symptomatic of a larger awakening?


Earth to Alec Baldwin

Posted in celebrities by annie on April 21, 2007

“Although I have been told by numerous people not to worry too much, as all parents lose their patience with their kids, I am most saddened that this was released to the media because of what it does to a child. I’m sorry, as everyone who knows me is aware, for losing my temper with my child. I have been driven to the edge by parental alienation for many years now. You have to go through this to understand. (Although I hope you never do.) I am sorry for what happened. But I am equally sorry that a court order was violated, which had deliberately been put under seal in this case.”

– Alec Baldwin (statement published on his official website, http://www.alecbaldwin.com, which is as of this writing inaccessible presumably due to traffic spikes)

I’m not much of a celebrity-watcher. I never really saw the point, honestly. I figured most of the truth never saw the light of day, thanks to hard-core managers and minders, and the stuff that was published was either sensationalized, wildly puffed, or just downright false. Plus – nothing personal, guys – but you celebrity types always seemed a little silly to me. Caught up in stuff that had nothing to do with my life, you play out these little dramas in the public eye, then throw temper tantrums about how you have no privacy. But it’s that same lack of privacy that made you a star and brought you those countless gift bags people keep throwing at you, so – that’s a puzzle, to me.

Yet this little tirade of Alec Baldwin’s definitely caught my eye. When I first heard of it, on some random radio morning show, I came in mid-story and so spent the first several hours thinking he’d said these awful things to his ex-wife. I was vaguely aware he used to be married to Kim Basinger, and there was some drama going on over the inevitable divorce, but it was rather surprising to me that (A) someone so used to having his private life splashed across tabloid pages would ever lose control like that on a recorded medium and (B) someone who has to be so very careful about his public image now, thanks to an ongoing courtroom battle, would lose control like that on a recorded medium. But, I reasoned, marriages generate a lot of hate when they fail, and who am I to judge if the man loses his cool and runs off at the mouth like that to his ex?

Then, I found out the truth. This was directed at his daughter. Who is not even yet in her teens.

Now, I’m in. Now, I have something to say.

I say this as the mother of a young girl, age 7 going on 30, who is absolutely capable of pushing every single button I have and testing my patience to the very ends of its limits. Have I ever lost my cool with my kid? Uh – yeah. A lot. Have I ever said things I regret? Of course. Have I ever called her a “pig” – much less a “rude, thoughtless” one? Or told her she has no “brains” or “common decency”?

Never. Not once. Nor would I ever.

And this is what separates us from the celebrities, I think uncharitably, realizing this construct places the famous on a slightly lower branch of the animal kingdom from the rest of humanity. That’s too harsh. I’m sure not all celebrities would do this to their kids. I’d like to think none of them would – that Baldwin is some aberration, a genetic throwback to generations of celebrities long past, that homo celebritus has evolved since his kind roamed the planet. Yet in Baldwin I see the manifestation of what I think is the root cause of the issue with celebrities, no matter what the nature of the trainwreck they find themselves at the center of: they’ve started believing their own bullshit.

I think it may happen this way: perfectly normal human being hits Hollywood (or whatever center of insanity serves as the locus for the industry said human being is drawn to). PNHB works hard, achieves some modest success, whereupon the entourage descends. Stylists, PR reps, managers, agents, lawyers, hangers-on – and this creates the all-elusive buzz. Once the buzz starts, there’s really no going back. You’ll either ride the train to celebrityhood or you’ll fall off, crash and burn and wind up on an E! TV “True Hollywood Story: Where Are They Now?” special.

It’s on that train that the transformation happens. PNHB goes from “perfectly normal” to … not. From “human being” to “celebrity.” And they begin to believe the lines that those hangers-on start feeding them, and the inevitable result: a celebrity with an overblown sense of entitlement. That entitlement is what causes tirades like Baldwin’s, I think. They honestly think the rules just don’t apply to them.

And then, when it all blows up in their face? We get the Non-Apology. Baldwin’s really is a textbook example. Note how he never really apologizes for what he said to his daughter, although he does manage a weak “sorry” for “losing [his] temper.” He reminds us that all parents “lose their patience” (a true enough statement but one which in no way describes what he did), and that the real villain here is the one who released the tape and thus injured his daughter.

Call me crazy, Baldwin, but I think what injured your daughter was hearing her father call her a rude, thoughtless pig who lacked brains and common decency.

No Pain, No Gain?

Posted in strung out by annie on April 20, 2007

I got the bright idea today to schedule out my day carefully, using violin time as a reward (which it is, absolutely – at least for now, hopefully for a long time to come).  So I decided to start practice at noon – giving me an hour and a half to play before going to pick up the kid. Basically, I tripled my playing time between day 1 and day 2.

All I can say is “Ow.”

My finger tips – especially the index finger, left hand – feel like I’ve been typing on the Devil’s keyboard of FLAMES.  I have learned my lesson and will adjust practice time accordingly, at least until the callouses start to build up. I never thought I’d say this outside of pointe class back in my ballet days, but “Yay for callouses!”

My First “Lesson”

Posted in strung out by annie on April 19, 2007

Earl got sick of hearing me call in every few hours so the last time, he told Carl, who answered the phone, to tell me it would be ready in 20 minutes – knowing it took me 30 minutes to drive down in beach traffic. (April + beach = spring break traffic. Lovely experience, that.)

When I got there, I almost had one of those “critical bitch” moments again upon seeing a crowd around the front counter, including Earl. As I yanked open the glass door and started inside, I got a better look at the object on the glass counter around which they’d gathered – my violin. My poor, cheap, tawdry, 50-dollar whore of a violin. OK, I thought. I can do this. I mentally pounded on on CB’s make-believe head and shoved her ass back inside the make-believe box, making a mental note to get some make-believe duct tape and seal her up good and tight.

Earl and Carl were perfectly cordial, Earl being a bit more familiar with me and Carl and I only being phone buds. There was an older guy there, as well as a girl, probably teens.

Earl, the smartass (but a heck of a guy and an incredible repair dude), said “Well, I’ve got good news and bad news.” Everyone laughed, like they knew what was coming. Heck, they probably did. Probably had been jawing about this piece of crap violin for the past ten minutes awaiting my arrival. “The good news is that it’s in tune. The bad news is that it’ll probably stay that way for about two hours.”

Carl furrowed his brows for me. “What happened, pegs slipping?” Earl had mentioned to me on Monday that one of the problems with this quality of violin is that the pegs frequently slip, and won’t hold the string sufficiently taut to hold the pitch.

I smiled, and nodded. ‘S’OK, as long as we start off on the right note. So to speak.” They all laughed at my purely intentional pun.

“The chin rest – well, I put it in for you,” he continued, pointing out the large curved piece of plastic now attached via a metal prong near the tailpiece. “But this is, like, totally the wrong size chinrest for this instrument. This is for, like, a viola or something.” (It’s kind of fun to hear this laid-back, Southern drawl talking about things like bow frogs and chinrests and violas, you know?)

“And then there’s the bow … ” Earl continued, showing it to me. “I rosined it up for you but even as I was doing it, hairs were coming off.”

OK, this, he didn’t tell me before. Nobody told me the bow was crap, too. Although I suppose it stands to reason. Crappy violin, crappy bow. It follows.

He stuck the rosin brick in the case and didn’t charge me for it. Earl’s back in my good graces.

I drove home with the violin case stuffed carefully in the foot of the car on the passenger’s side. I had about forty minutes at home to myself before I had to go pick up my daughter. So, I loaded up my instructional DVD into my laptop, unpacked the violin and bow, took a deep breath, and began.

The host of this DVD is a woman probably a few years older than me – 5 to 10 years, maybe – with a pleasant, controlled sort of personality. She’s apparently got a teleprompter or cue cards or something just off to the side of the camera, because her gaze drifts on occasion and she’s unmistakably reading a script. She first teaches me how to tune the violin – I just go through the motions because my two hours aren’t up yet and it’s still in tune. She then teaches me my first violin terminology – pizzicato which means “pluck the strings.” I pluck the strings. Reading music (the staff and notes appear on the screen) comes back to me quickly, with only a few minor stumbles. Before I know it, I’m pizzacato-ing “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Then we move on to bow holding and strokes. I learn the symbol for down-bow (moving the bow down towards the floor, which looks a little like an upside down cup that’s half filled) and up-bow (moving the bow up towards the ceiling, which looks like an inverted V).

And then, I don’t know what came over me. I just had to try. So I did it. I played “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” It was squeaky and the bow bounced, a lot, especially on the down bows.

But it was recognizable. And when I played it again for my daughter later, it brought tears to her eyes. OK, she was laughing hysterically at the time. Still.

Now she’s asleep, door closed. It’s 10:30, and I’m sorely tempted to go try it just one more time. She sleeps like the dead – she’ll never hear a thing.

Is It Me?

Posted in strung out by annie on April 17, 2007

I ordered my violin off eBay – no, I’m not kidding. Sight unseen. It was, not the cheapest, but close to it. My thinking on this was that I didn’t want to put a lot of money into something I wasn’t sure I’d keep up with. That might sound odd, given the passion I professed earlier. But I do have something of a reputation for starting things exuberantly but letting them go weeks later in a fit of apathy. So, I didn’t want to go buy a $600 instrument until I was sure I was going to stick with this.

It arrived over the weekend, in a long rectangular cardboard box. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited over a delivery, any delivery (except, you know, my daughter’s delivery but that’s a very different thing). I nervously installed the bridge – after having searched the ‘net for instructions. That went fine but then I realized that one of the strings was loose. I tried to tighten it but it had slipped off the tuning peg.

So, I took the violin in to the music store half an hour’s drive from my house. That’s OK, because I got to meet Earl. Yes, as in “My Name Is ___” except he’s not as goofy, but just as endearingly nice, and a bit younger. Also, without the slightly off brother following him around.

Before we get to Earl, though, let’s talk about what happened on the way down. Thirty minutes is a long time to be in a car by yourself and not have your little voices start speaking to you. You know those voices – we all have them. The one that popped up today belongs to a judgmental bitch that lives inside me and expects everyone else to judge me as harshly as she does.

“They’re going to make fun of your violin,” she whispered in my ear.

“Say wha?” I was confused. “How so?”

“It’s a piece of crap. The guy’s gonna laugh, and call over his buddies and they’re gonna laugh, and then one of them is going to call over a really good violinist who just happens to be in the store at the same time and HE’S gonna laugh …”

“Enough, enough, I get the picture. Why on earth would they do that?”

“Because. It’s a piece of crap. And you’re just going to give it up anyway, so why you even bothered….”

Whereupon I slapped some duct tape over bitch’s mouth and shoved her back in her box. I mean – damn. Who do I think I am, talking to myself like that?

And, for the record, no, of course no one mocked. Someone did laugh though – me. Then Earl. See, it started when Earl cautioned me, kindly, that this wasn’t “the best quality violin” – I laughed heartily and said, “For fifty bucks off eBay? Yeah, I’m aware.” He laughed. We both chuckled some more. He gave me a slip of paper, and said “Call back in the morning and I’ll have it all fixed up for you, ready to play.”

See, you horrid little critical voice? Nobody judged.

Unfortunately, Earl has now fallen out of my good graces as I’ve learned he didn’t finish my violin last night, as we discussed, so it’s not ready now. I have to wait a whole day. Another day. You’re dead to me, Earl. (I’m just kidding, Earl. We’re still buds, right?) This is actually a good thing, since I’ll be able to focus on work-type stuff, which has sadly been neglected in the distracting amber glow of all the violin goodness.

Should I name my violin?

In Which the Heroine Buys a Violin

Posted in strung out by annie on April 16, 2007

I find myself here, on the wrong side of 40, recently divorced and a single mother, struggling for cash and sanity.  So what do I do?

Get therapy? No. Nothing against it. Just (a) no time; (b) no interest; and (c) no insurance. Also, no cash. Ergo, no therapy.

Buy a sports car? See above.

Get laid? Hmm. Definite possibility. But … no.

What I do is … I buy a violin. A cheap one, off eBay. And I, who have never played a string instrument a day in my life, intend to learn. No – more than that. I intend to teach myself how to play the violin – widely believed to be the most difficult of all instruments to learn, nearly impossible to do so on one’s own. But there you have the essence of my personality, right there – I am drawn to the impossible. I crave it, like crack-addled monkeys in a lab. If there’s a project near and dear to my heart, that’s great. But if I can find a way to make it impossible, or at least much, much harder on myself, then – ah, bliss.

I’m sure that therapist I can’t afford would have a field day with that disclosure. But since I can’t afford therapy, this blog will do.

It may seem “out of the blue” but there is some precedent in my backstory for a violin obsession. I grew up singing, playing the piano, dancing. I spent long, blissful hours cocooned in a beanbag chair in my room, huge pod-like earphones cradling my adolescent head as an eclectic mix of tunes carried me off.In high school, I joined a competitive choir, classically trained and very, very good. I participated in that choir for four full years, and it was the anchor for a turbulent teen-hood. In conjunction with that, I received classical solo voice training – also some in college, where I branched out into musical theatre and straight theatre as well.

And then, my relationship with music rather suddenly ended upon graduation. I had no daily outlet, no choir or show cast to rehearse with, no time to lose myself in a beanbag chair. I went to law school, graduated, and moved to the coast to begin my career. I married, had a child, and dealt with some health issues.  I quit my job, launched my own practice, and buried my mother in the space of three months. By the end of the fourth month, my marriage was over.

And that’s where I found myself last week – broke, overweight, overloaded with obligations (most in relation to my struggling law practice), battling some health conditions (hypertension, fibromyalgia), and longing for … something. I didn’t know what.

Then two things happened that helped me figure out “what.” One – my brother came to visit. T is 14 years older than I am (so, mid-50’s) and last year, he picked up the cello. Just like that. Out of the blue. No prior experience. So, T came to visit and while he was here, he received two phone calls from people who wanted to learn the play the cello, too, and were asking his advice about how to get started. These were obviously grown-ups calling, and it planted the seed. That seed sprouted two days later, as I was tooling around on eBay, after selling some stuff to make a little cash, when I happened across a listing for a violin. It was listed for $50. I was shocked. I didn’t know you could buy a violin for so little cash!

I made the decision within a few seconds. I said a “holy yes” to the wild-assed idea and bought the damn thing.

Right now it’s at a local music shop. When it arrived, the G string had slipped off the peg (more about that in a future post), and it needed to have the chin rest attached. I’m awaiting a phone call telling me it’s ready, and also the arrival of three books and a DVD from Amazon.com, some rosin (also from eBay), a scales chart from another online store, and the Suzuki for the Violin – Book 1. The music stand ($5, also eBay) arrived Saturday. I’ve spent over $100 already. For someone struggling for cash, it was an odd choice.

But it made me gleefully happy for the first time in – well, several years  – when I opened that long rectangular box Saturday morning and unzipped the dark blue case.  It’s a feeling that hasn’t gone away entirely, at least not yet.

I know what I’m up against – more on that later, too. I don’t want to write everything this first time out.  Suffice to say, I don’t expect to be playing anything but “Mary Had a Little Lamb” by the end of the year – and that, badly.  I have realistic expectations – and I’m still insanely giddy over this little project. That has to say something about the authenticity of my dream. This is real passion.

At least – so far.

rainy days at the beach

Posted in beach life by annie on April 11, 2007

Last week was my daughter’s spring break. We spent lots of time at the beach – four days out of the seven – and I have the sunburn to show for it. My daughter, on the other hand, never burns. Is that because I’m more careful with applying her sunscreen? Or is there some genetic variant in her skin tone – visibly more golden than my pale Irish complexion – that renders her less susceptible to the sun’s harmful rays?

No one’s getting a tan today, though. It’s the second day back at school for my daughter and her classmates, and the first day I’ve had to really concentrate on getting work done. The sky’s overcast, dark and roiling with a thunderhead in the west, across the Waterway. The azaleas glisten dully in the rain, purple and pink under a silver veil.

And I have to get back to work.

Inaugural Post

Posted in meta by annie on April 2, 2007

As if I didn’t have enough to do (!) I proudly announce the launch of a hastily-constructed but long overdue blog: Sand In My Keyboard. This blog has a specific purpose (as do my other blogs): to showcase my writing skills and serve as a handy one-stop resource for editors, publishers, and others thinking about hiring me as a writer.

Oddly, given such a narrow purpose, you can expect the blog posts to be pretty eclectic in subject matter. Anything that interests me is fair game. You can also expect a fair number of posts on the writing life (whatever that means) and freelancing as a career path in general.

Enjoy! Drop me a line at sherrie dot sisk at gmail dot com, should you feel so inclined, or leave me a comment.