In Grade 12, I wrote a paper on Scott Joplin for music class. I had to do a great deal of research on it and it is the first topic I remember getting seriously “hooked” on, from a research perspective, other than WWII.
I spent more time on that paper than anything else I did that year. I spent hours reading every book I could get my hands on that was remotely related to music in the US at the turn of the 19th/20th Century. And, of course, I read about Scott Joplin specifically. I have only the vaguest recollection now of the specific details of his story but I have clear and distinct memories of my emotional reaction to the tragedy of his story. The raw, clear expression of talent that would not be suppressed vs. extreme social forces working against that talent. At times, I wept while listening to multiple interpretations of almost every piece he wrote, the popular and the obscure. I disliked the “hot dog” speed demons who turned these gems into blurry races of music. To me, his compositions are not meant to be played even briskly – the subtlety is lost. Played slowly, to me, the pain and knife’s edge place between brilliance and subservience that Joplin lived in for most of his life just cry out. Back in the day, I settled in on Joshua Rifkin as my favourite interpreter for his slower, contemplative tempos and his ability to pull the emotional centre out of the music.
I listened and I wept. I still have that paper somewhere and, to this day, a slow, careful interpretation of Joplin’s best can really get me. The guy wrote all this material, was famous, to a degree, yet died in relative poverty, pain and obscurity with much of his best work unseen and unstaged.
So I’m writing this big, completely unrelated, report for work and there are numbers, charts and graphs spinning around my head most of the day. It has been said that music without lyrics is best for concentration so I’ve turned back to one of my original research subjects, Master Joplin, for background music and, still, some interpretations catch me off guard, right in that soft spot. When that happens, I have to stop writing for a moment and just listen.
Researching that Scott Joplin paper would be so different now. There are so many online resources and oh so many options for listening and comparing versions of specific pieces. YouTube is a treasure trove. There are other Joplin aficionados out there, imagine that, and some have put together amazing playlists of a variety of performers and versions. It is mind boggling. There are different variations of his story out there and debates about what happened, when, to whom. I haven’t had time to read all this – I’ve just been listening as I attempt to piece together decidedly non-musical data, attempting to turn it into useful information.
Here is Rifkin’s rendition of Solace, complete with pops and crackles from the vinyl.
There are multiple routes to get from The PostCard to my workplace, in the extreme east end of Toronto. On the best driving day, with no construction, traffic volume issues, weather, detours or gas/coffee stops, it is one hour, 50 minutes. This, of course, depends on the route taken and I’ve discovered many “new” routes and, each time, I insist that the route is “shorter”.
Technically, this may be true. The new routes get “shorter” but the time to destination keeps getting longer. The “new” routes zig zag past farm land, rolling hills, small towns, villages, hamlets, french fry trucks, abandoned farm equipment, antique shops … a myriad of distractions. I find the “new” routes so much more interesting, especially during dramatic seasonal changes when the landscape seems to shift before my eyes. Right now, we are changing gears from a coolish summer to a gorgeous fall and the colours, the angle of the light, can be breathtaking.
Of course, I find these views, and the act of driving through them, nostalgic as all heck. When you are raised out in the country and you are also an active young person, involved in lots of extra curricular activities, you spend a lot of time driving places to do the things you are interested in. My Mom drove me everywhere. I remember early morning band practices, with the mist rising off the fields and creeks in the semi-dark. I remember navigating countless snowstorms to get to hockey tournaments. Driving in to the city every other Saturday to visit Grandma. Being dropped off or picked up at the school for newspaper, theatre projects, or some event or other. Driving great distances to get to do something, and then driving home, was part of my “culture”, growing up. As soon as I got my license, I was in charge of driving myself, for the most part. Long drives through the night from the community almost an hour north where I taught guitar one night a week. Driving with my buddies into the city for a movie night from time to time – a huge treat.
As a younger passenger, there might have been a book to read or a crossword puzzle but there were certainly no electronic pacifiers for these drives. There was looking out the window, noticing changes and commenting on them. Riding along was a time to think about things, to sort through whatever pre-teen or teen emotional angst was current. I remember sitting beside my mother, countless times, in my sullen mopey way, rolling my eyes at some bit of wisdom or observation she may have had which was, from my perspective, clearly out of touch with reality and definitely NOT COOL. I remember feeling, as a driver, all grown up when I was able to safely get myself – and often my friends – from activity to activity. That certainly felt cool.
My brothers are both drivers of long distances as well. When my nieces and nephews were in school, 2.5 hours from the community where they were raised, it was nothing for my brother and sister-in-law to drop everything, drive down to them and take them out to dinner or something and drive back. My other brother will drive hours north to “his” jointly owned fishing lodge to do engine maintenance or to fix something. Two of my nieces decided to start a main street, touristy summer business in Grand Bend, a daily one hour one way drive for 12 hour shifts. We, in our family, drive a lot and don’t seem to mind it.
This week has been one of the harder ones to manage, schedule wise, but it has worked out okay. I wound up staying in NewMarket after my Tuesday night hockey game at a funny little motel I discovered at the north end. It is clean, feels safe and inexpensive (I think I’m getting a deal now), and has a free breakfast. So, I can get up very early, hit the road home for the last hour and 15 minutes and be in front of my computer screen by 9 a.m., ready to go. On Wednesday morning, I tried to avoid the mass exodus of people going south on the 404 and took Old Yonge St. north to Mount Albert Road. This took me on a narrow road though some picturesque valleys with the requisite mist softening the sunrise. It was really gorgeous.
I came home last night from a work/social event and arrived in pretty good time, about 10:20 p.m. Driving through the inky dark night, zig-zagging through the rural back roads of Ontario, having time to quietly process all that is current or pressing in my life, listening to an audio book or CBC … it doesn’t feel at all like a burden or waste of time. It feels normal and necessary. I’m glad to have some ability to negotiate the timing of the driving and I am often overcome with gratitude for the generous and welcoming friends who let me stay with them in Toronto on the nights when the drive isn’t negotiable. But the drive itself? Sometimes … to me … it is one of the most magical parts of living out the city.
There is a video making the rounds at the moment, a three minute clip from an interview about Dustin Hoffman’s experience preparing for the role of Tootsie.
Dustin’s moment of clarity
I don’t always “buy” celebrity “moments” in interviews, but this one rings true.* I admire him for connecting the dots with such resonance.
I had a rather personal response to this video. I lost 95 lbs over 18 months, roughly between 2008 – 2009. I held steady there for a while but gradually – with all the changes and stress – my weight has crept back up, close to where I started.
When I was losing weight, I noticed that more people talked to me. Men and women. Between having a year off work to consult independently, being in an energizing new relationship, and feeling more attractive, I was certainly projecting a happy, vibrant energy. Undeniably, it helped that I was also fitter, not just more proportional. I had more energy, more muscle shape, and I was really happy with this – especially the muscles and the cardio fitness. Happy people are more attractive people, of course. It is a non-vicious cycle.
Face Too Skinny?
I’m thinking about Dustin’s comment in his video in which he says that he wouldn’t go and talk to himself as a woman at a party, for example, because he didn’t meet his own brainwashed standard of beauty. When I say people were more interested in talking to me, this is what I mean – the simple act of choosing whom to have a conversation with in a social situation. This too is a variable, and a highly prized one in our society. Feeling attractive in these moments means feeling valued.
There was a very specific point at which, from my point of view, I became “visible” and “viable” to people around me. It was really at the point where I’d lost about 35 lbs. with ultimately 60 more to go in the overall attempt. I wasn’t “skinny” by any means but something happened in the perception of proportions that changed my look. I started wearing different clothes and that accented the change. From my perspective, the more weight I lost from this point onward, the “chattier” people got.
As I got down to my lowest weight point – still by no means “skinny” – I thought my face didn’t look quite right. Too harsh or hard, perhaps? The photo here is at close to my lowest weight.
My life has changed enormously since this time. New routines are hard to establish and maintain, especially given the amount of driving I have been doing. All the changes have taken an emotional toll on both Knotty Girl and myself. When there are stressors and demands, I’m not programmed to run to the gym and sweat it off. I’m programmed to consume foods that I shouldn’t. Thus, in all of the hubub, the weight has almost all come back and I don’t look like this anymore. I’ve certainly been conscious of this trend, I’ve felt a bit powerless about it, and I have tried to note at what point I appeared to fade from visibility, generally speaking. At what point am I less likely to be the person spoken to at the party? Not surprisingly, it was right about at gaining 60 of the lost 95 lbs back. So, in other words, there is something magical in terms of the perception of the exterior self that happens right about at that fulcrum point.
This is a non-scientific experiment of course. The other variables – like my own moodiness or sleep deprivation or what have you – are hard to account for. My own sense of feeling less confident, less sure-footed in my new roles at home and in the ever-changing tides at work, hasn’t helped.
Biceps of Future/Past
If I were talking to Dustin about this, I’d tell him not to feel too hard on himself. We are all subject to the “physical attractiveness brain washing”, both men and women. We look at ourselves and judge. We look at others and draw conclusions, often within seconds. I know I do it. The trick is to become self-aware of this behaviour and to try to manage it somehow. I remember hearing Susie Bright say something like this (apologies for inaccurate paraphrasing): the most interesting person in the room is the least “attractive” one because they have to work their other skills – charm, humour, sexiness, intelligence – to gain ground lost by not being “attractive”.
So now what? When I reflect back on the weight loss adventure, I’m remembering how good it felt to be strong and fit. I’m going to aim for that. I’m not sure I’m going to even weigh myself, although those numbers are good guideposts. I’m not aiming to raise my visibility, per se, to anyone but myself. I’ll know I’m getting somewhere when I can walk nine holes without huffing, skate three periods without collapsing, and find myself admiring the curve of my own biceps.
*It is hard to view Dustin’s reference to his conversation with his wife, Lisa Hoffman, without a sense of irony.
So Knotty Girl is away, and the kids are at their Dad’s. Thus, I’m “home alone” for a few days, writing, re-arranging furniture, weeding and generally trying to stay out of trouble.
I was feeling “afternoon snackish”, what with my meals being a bit out of sync. I went rummaging through the kitchen. I found these mysterious spherical objects. I sniffed them. They smell very nice, a bit like a visit to the Body Shop or Lush. What are they? Are they decorative? An olfactory enhancement to room decor? They have a nice heft to them – perhaps they are primitive weapons of some kind? Or exercise equipment?
I spent a significant chunk of time in the first half of 2009 working on the concept / development of a hockey skills reality TV show. My job was to produce draft after draft of the concept and to lead the pitch of the concept to lawyers and production companies.
I didn’t say much about this at the time as I had a gut feel that it wasn’t going to go anywhere. And I was right. I thought I’d learn a few things and meet some interesting people. Can’t say that it was a terrific return on investment so maybe the learning is to listen more carefully to my gut.
I did get to wear Mike Krushelnyski’s championship rings one night in a bar. That was fun.
A brilliant programmer / artist has created the ultimate random text generator. Much amusement for the nerdy, wordy, artsy geeks out there. Here is the site. Click on the words “this application” in the middle of the letter provided.
Here is my new bio.
Floozy Snortwrinkle makes conceptual artworks, performances, installations and mixed media artworks. By demonstrating the omnipresent lingering of a ‘corporate world’, Snortwrinkle tries to grasp language. Transformed into art, language becomes an ornament. At that moment, lots of ambiguities and indistinctnesses, which are inherent to the phenomenon, come to the surface.
Her conceptual artworks demonstrate how life extends beyond its own subjective limits and often tells a story about the effects of global cultural interaction over the latter half of the twentieth century. It challenges the binaries we continually reconstruct between Self and Other, between our own ‘cannibal’ and ‘civilized’ selves. By investigating language on a meta-level, she seduces the viewer into a world of ongoing equilibrium and the interval that articulates the stream of daily events. Moments are depicted that only exist to punctuate the human drama in order to clarify our existence and to find poetic meaning in everyday life.
Her works sometimes radiate a cold and latent violence. At times, disconcerting beauty emerges. The inherent visual seductiveness, along with the conciseness of the exhibitions, further complicates the reception of their manifold layers of meaning. By emphasising aesthetics, her works references post-colonial theory as well as the avant-garde or the post-modern and the left-wing democratic movement as a form of resistance against the logic of the capitalist market system.
Her works focus on the inability of communication which is used to visualise reality, the attempt of dialogue, the dissonance between form and content and the dysfunctions of language. In short, the lack of clear references are key elements in the work. Floozy Snortwrinkle currently lives and works in Dubrovnik.
Recently, I have had occasion to have several windows open in my operating system as I attempt to achieve some kind of productivity. In addition to having two monitors on in my home office, from time to time, I may also have my work laptop open on a separate desk behind me, displaying yet more programs or activities. As I work my way through my to-do list, I am aware of how I’m “matrixing” my time, as a former boss used to call it. I will work away at one project and will need to wait for a screen to refresh, or for a distant server to respond to a request. This causes me to bump over to the next task, or screen,
(or Spider Solitaire) and continue working away at what had been going on there before needing to wait for something to happen.
Thus, one modern version of “multi-tasking” has been born from all the forced “waiting” that our otherwise lightning fast computer systems impose upon us.
Much of what I need to accomplish depends on the speed and reliability of my Internet connection, and the speed and reliability of remote systems, be that a remote webmail server or a remote learning management system server or a remote software application server. As we move more and more of our computing power to the cloud, we will inevitably experience greater wait times. I don’t care what the hype says about solid state servers or increased bandwidth to the masses. Working remotely might get faster but it won’t be as fast as it would be if all the processing were happening right here on my desk. In any case, many of us have chosen to fill those wait times with
Spider Solitaire productive activity working on the next task while we wait for the results of our previous task to take effect.
Add to this multiscreen, multitasking behaviour the constant presence of our new appendage – the mobile device with all its apps. We are all mental and cognitive jugglers with – dare I say it – a plethora of virtual balls.
We are evolving into a de facto multitasking workforce and I think this is simultaneously expensive and not very productive. A lose/lose situation. We are told by experts that single-tasking is really the only productive way to work. Multitasking is a fallacy, existing really as a series of single-tasking events in sequence. (Here is an article about this. Here is another one. Take your pick.) As our brains attempt to manage the switching costs, paid out in loss of cognitive function, of repeatedly leaving one task unfinished in favour of proceeding to continue on with the next incomplete task, we lose time, energy and the ability to synthesize complex ideas.
The actual cost? Although this is a vast generalization, we are losing the ability to focus deeply and think creatively. I think this is a huge loss and I do see this loss on a grand societal scale. It takes time to consider and reflect on our lives, our families, work, passions – all the elements that make up for a balanced way of living. We are, collectively, moving away from being a thoughtful society and into being a busy society in which ADD behaviour is rapidly becoming normative behaviour.
Real creativity, real revelation, true innovation – these valuable and expected outcomes of “successful societies” – these traits can’t arise out of a society that can’t focus long enough to complete one task well, from beginning to end. If our political leaders wish to be truly focused on closing an innovation and/or productivity gap, I would strongly urge them to consider working on forging some new cultural expectations on what true productivity looks like. It doesn’t look like “always being busy”. It looks like “producing well-thought-out, well-planned, quality output”. We need to reward thoughtful behaviours, single-tasking, creative and artistic endeavours, and any type of task that requires focus and clarity of thinking. And I think we need to pay attention to this sooner rather than later, before we devolve into a jumble of tales, told by idiots, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing.*
*Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 26-28) Wanna bet that Shakespeare would have had only one screen open at a time?
Today seems to be all about the light.
I have just pulled away from having my headlight bulbs replaced in my car as they were inadequate for deep, dark, rural nighttime driving. While that was being done, I managed to find a powerful rechargeable spotlight/flashlight on sale which will allow all of us to go owling in our deep, dark, rural winter evenings. As I’m driving into the city this morning, it feels like a beautiful spring day although, in fact, it is a beautiful January day. The quality of the light hitting the vistas before me makes the world seem to glow. This type of day reminds me of the kind of spring day I remember growing up on the farm, with the sun thawing out the soil. You can smell everything loosening up and getting ready to grow. I loved this kind day as a child and I’m looking forward to experiencing this yet again when real spring hits in a few months.
Today is also about the light because I am on my way to a funeral. We have lost a bright and beautiful colleague to cancer and it has taken us all a bit by surprise. Although I didn’t know her well, Sue struck me as being one of the most positive people I know at work. She was upbeat, always, and the picture of health and wellness. Most of our conversations revolved around diet, exercise, living well and loving life. It is a bit of a shocker that cancer claimed her so quickly and completely. It feels important to respect and acknowledge this very bright light having left our particular corner of the world although, knowing Sue even the little bit that I did, I don’t think she would be interested in having us wander around in despair. I think she would want us to have a glass of wine, a good meal and a good dance party.
This light we have lost makes me reflect on the kind of legacy that I might be leaving behind one day, hopefully far in the future. I pause to wonder whether everything I’m putting the world is as positive and as straightforward as it could be. I wonder if I allow my inner demons to shout down my better angels. I fear that the answer, all too often, is “yes”. I over-think things, I over-analyze, and I make situations far more complicated than they need to be. I get lost in it sometimes, as one might in a deep, dark, rural night without good headlights or a decent flashlight. I don’t think it is possible for me to be a relentlessly positive and cheerful person, and I think my analytical skills are valuable at times, yet I think I can do better at not getting so lost. At curbing my tendency to wallow with my demons rather than celebrating with my angels.
Although I didn’t make specific New Year’s resolutions, I am going to take this opportunity to commit to dancing more and wallowing less. To celebrating that which is right in my world rather than highlighting that which is not right. To remembering that light exists, somewhere, even when I’m lost in the dark.
- … where only the finest messes are made!
Knotty Girl gave me this coffee sign for Christmas, for the Coffee Corner. I think it looks great. This is not a terrific shot of the Coffee Corner, but you can see the coffeemaker and the really fancy burr grinder, hiding in beside the coffeemaker.
I drove “over the river” to get this coffeemaker at Target in Niagara Falls, NY. It makes a good cup of coffee. I like the thermal carafe, although it is drippy and hard to pour. It has a cool, retro, green glowy clock timer thingy that I don’t use. When I take the time to clean it properly, it is shiny and nice to look at.
The coffeemaker has all the normal features of a basket style coffee maker. Basket to hold the filter, a place to pour the water. Although it is shiny (or can be), and it looks like more than your average coffeemaker, it is really just a basic filter drip coffeemaker. Put water in one place, fresh ground coffee in another, press a button, wait, pour, enjoy!
How hard can it be?
The foundational paradox about successfully making coffee first thing in the morning is that one has not yet had any coffee prior to initating a series of seemingly complex tasks. Let me list, from personal experience, in this very Coffee Corner, the multitude of ways in which the simple process of coffee making can go very, very wrong.
- Failing to open the resevoir flap on top before beginning to pour the water in.
- Removing the filter basket to empty old grinds but failing to put the filter basket back in. Oddly, the inside of the coffee maker looks the same to caffeine-free me with or without the filter basket. Sometimes, the filter just gets plonked down into the empty space and gets filled with fresh ground coffee. Once the button is pressed, all hell breaks loose.
- Failing to empty the thermal carafe of yesterday’s coffee before pressing the button. Yuck! I do love a thermal carafe vs. a glass carafe on a burner. But the visual of yesterday’s coffee is very, very useful at times.
- Using the carafe to pour the water in the resevoir vs. using something that can actually pour properly. This carafe is a drippy pouring disaster waiting to happen unless you can get it just so. Which I cannot, first thing in the a.m.
- Turning the grinder on without checking that the little cup that receives the ground coffee is properly seated in its place. If Carly Simon were witness to this, she would sing about “clouds of my coffee” rather than “clouds in my coffee”.
- Doing anything, really, that involves me getting the fresh ground coffee bits from the grinder into the coffee maker. This is just too hard for me to do without spillage.
Charlotte is the self-appointed coffee monitor. She inspects the area carefully and has done up some “tickets” for me – with construction paper and coloured pencils – that I get when I make a mess. I’m not sure how much I’m in hock for the fines at this point. She has politely omitted discussion of what my punishments may be. She even often helps clean up, bless her.
Uh oh. I’m in trouble.
Note to self: Learn to use the timer thingy.
There is probably a reason that I have not chosen parenting as a theme in my life. I’ve not much confidence in this area and, frankly, I have always been just a bit afraid of children. Afraid of saying the wrong things, or somehow putting the seed of some idea in their little heads that will result in years of therapy later. Of making an off-hand comment that will result in a grown up child needing to work out their fear of lawns or tea bags or picture frames.
I don’t really “get” kids. I was one, once, and that is helpful. I have tons of memories of growing up, of course, and most of them are well-worn stories about extraordinary moments of fun or perceived danger or adventure. I remember them with a writer’s eye, as if I was watching all the characters and recording the story as it unfolds, frame by frame.
Remembering the kid perspective is a whole other ballgame. It calls for me to give up the bystander perspective and be “in” the story and that feels like a rusty old tool in need of some WD 40. If I’m being entirely honest, the bystander perspective on memory gives me a ton of control. Switching perspectives, remembering how I felt in those moments, as a participant, gives me up to the gods of vulnerability. Feeling small, feet not touching the floor at the table, laughing inappropriately at my own peculiar logic, trying so hard to understand, trying not to show that I don’t understand, toughing it out (whatever it is), hanging in there and always – always – looking up at people.
Nonetheless, channeling my child of my past is helping me try to figure out the children of my present and the 1,000 ways in which I Do.Not.Understand them.
As an adult, I’ve become very wordy. Come to think of it, I think I was a pretty wordy, nerdy kid. (Others reading this blog are more qualified to comment.) I like to use words. I like to describe things. I expect other people to be able to articulate their thoughts clearly. Children have almost no practice at this and have only a fraction of the tools grown-ups have. As adults, we ask them to “use your words” but sometimes the words aren’t there yet and nothing can be articulated with certainty. Words turn ideas into defined, black and white statements and sometimes that is just too scary for kids. Sometimes communication has to be non-verbal and thus less defined. Murkier and more open to interpretation. This adult less good at murky. Less sure about what messages I’m sending and even less sure about what I’m receiving.
However, I’m learning to open this channel up a bit wider and listen with more than my ears. Today, for example, I learned more about The Jay Way.
A few days ago, the Gull River Snow Removal crew (me, Jay and Charlotte) tackled the removal of about 15 inches of snow off our 30 x 50 foot ice rink. I started and the kids joined me shortly thereafter, which was nice. Charlotte is a bit less focused on the objective but she does not lack in enthusiasm. Jay “gets” why we need to do this and gamely started shoveling in a sort of random way. After a few moments, I pointed out to him that he would have to move the same snow all over again and I wondered if that was really what he had intended. He looked at his work and groaned a bit. Then, he removed himself to a different area of the rink, not too far away yet untouched by our shovels, and started going in straight lines across the rink. Over and over again. The same line, or so it seemed. In fact, there is no way to fully clear the snow, scraping the surface of the ice, without leaving a trail behind. So he would take a bit of snow each time, clearing up his trails from previous passes. After about 20 minutes, I realized that his ice was cleaner than mine! Not only that, his way was more efficient and well-paced than my way. So, I adopted the Jay Way of snow removal.
It was time again today to take another 10 inches off our unfortunate, as yet unskate-able rink. Poor kids – helping to shovel a rink they haven’t even used yet. What good sports. I hadn’t anticipated any assistance but, lo and behold, the Gull River Snow Removal crew arrived shortly after I started. Jay needed no direction. He started at exactly the same place he had started two days ago, with exactly the same method. Straight across the rink, not trying to take all the snow in one go. Back and forth. Making One. Neat. Row. Then, making that One. Neat. Row bigger yet even neater. When we got to the part that does not, unfortunately, take a straight line across, he created a new, symmetrical, quite artistic yet efficient pattern.
Thus, here is what I know about The Jay Way (so far):
- I like tasks that let me make patterns.
- I like repeating patterns and straight lines.
- I like doing my pattern well.
- I don’t take direct compliments very well but feel free to tell my sister that I’m doing a good job.
- I’m not so good with direct supervision but don’t get too far away.
- I can concentrate easily when I work alone. In fact, I enjoy concentrating this way. But feel free to distract me with an impromptu, undeclared shovel race.
- (Also, for pete’s sake, when are we going to get to skate on this ice?!?)