Post of the Week

Post of the Week

Published April 7, 2000 3:23PM (EDT)

the poetics of objects and space

Kevin Williams - 12:59 pm PST - Apr 6, 2000 - #2320 of 2325

It is precisely "oxygen-starved/icy death" that seems such a fiction on a good spring day. When the wind hits you and you turn toward it, sensing warmth... that's when you know winter's on its slouching way out.
This weekend, providing I can finish up some work that has moved from dead-line to rotting putrification-line, I will have to mow the grass. This is incredible for upstate New York. I am used to wearing a winter coat until early May, to seeing my breath in the air each Easter. Now in the hills I look over through the office window, there is that bright, rust haze which is the blur of early buds on the trees, before they've greened. It is maybe my favorite natural color, all promise.
Last fall, Ken summed up a feeling about the season: "You blew it." Spring? Spring says, "There's life in you, yet."
Enjoy, all.

The Gifted Vs. The World

Social Issues
Toni Michael - 12:14 am PST - Apr 6, 2000 - #673 of 683

...I was born with a gift for music that was neither nurtured nor fostered, by my parents, nor my teachers. Even tho it blossomed, its fruit has been small and insignificant.
I wonder how my life would have been different if it had been nurtured and encouraged.
My parents did not make music of their own, or at least not much. They used to sing, a little bit, along with the radio. My father had a couple of "sweet potatoes," or ocarinas, small hand-held wooden instruments with a mouthpiece for blowing into, and several holes to be covered or opened by the fingers. But he didn't play them much.
When I was in first grade, I performed in a musical production of "Tom Sawyer," at a Catholic school I attended. I also sang in the choir of the Catholic church associated with the school.
Later, I sang in the junior choir of a Lutheran church, which my best friend attended, and which I attended occasionally, mostly to perform with the choir.
I wanted music lessons. I loved music. When I was about 8 or 9, my family visited one of my aunts, who was living in a house with two pianos. One of them was an old upright, out on a sun-porch, at the back of the house. I happily spent many hours out there, plunking out tunes on that old piano. I could easily pick out any tune that came into my head. I loved it, and wanted to learn to play the piano.
At about that time, the public school I attended began offering music lessons to students whose parents were willing to commit to them. A music teacher came to our school, and introduced us to the 4 major groups of instruments in orchestral music: strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion.
Individually, the teacher introduced us to the techniques for making basic sounds on a member of each class of instruments. We each tried out a trumpet, a clarinet, a violin, and drumsticks.
If we and our parents were interested, we could take music lessons thru the school. That meant, however, that our parents would have to commit to providing a musical instrument and lessons with a private teacher. The lessons the school provided were group lessons, to teach the students to play as a group, not to teach them to play as individuals. That was up to our parents.
My parents were not interested enough to pay for the instrument and private lessons required.
However, when I was about 12, I took piano lessons, which I loved. We lived across the street from an elderly woman called Madame Stantonne, who taught music lessons on virtually all the instruments of the orchestra. She had been a child prodigy, playing multiple instruments at an early age, and had appeared as a performer in virtually all the capitals of Europe in the early 20th century.
My best friend, DeLoris, who lived across the street from me, right next door to Mme. Stantonne, took violin lessons from her. DeLoris' mother paid for the lessons by cleaning and housekeeping for the music teacher.
Several other friends and classmates took music lessons from Mme. Stantonne.
I wanted to take piano lessons, and somehow persuaded my parents to pay for them. Since we didn't have a piano, practicing was a problem. Mme. Stantonne provided two solutions.
In the first place, she lent me a folding cardboard keyboard, which I could take home to use for keyboard practice. It was identical in size to a full piano keyboard, and I could use it to practice the fingering, even tho I couldn't hear any sound from the exercise.
In the second place, she invited me to come over to her home every afternoon, to practice on her piano. And while I was there, practicing, she heard my mistakes, and corrected me, and came to teach me far more than what she was paid for in formal lessons.
Later, my parents rented a piano, so I could practice at home. I loved it! At last, I had the opportunity to play the instrument I so much loved. I quickly advanced thru months' worth of lessons of early piano music. Within 13 months, I had learned to play pieces up thru grade 3 of piano music.
Then, my parents bought a new house, and my family moved.
My music lessons ended.
My parents told me that with the expense of the new house, they couldn't afford to continue my music lessons and piano rental.
I was heart-broken.
I so loved playing the piano. And now I had no piano to play, and no lessons on how to play it.
About the same time, in 7th grade, I took a half-semester class in choral singing. Now, I had loved singing, as a young child, when I performed in Tom Sawyer, and in church choirs. So I was enthusiastic about the class in choral singing. At the end of the class, if we wanted to be included in choir in the 8th grade, we had to audition for the teacher. I wanted to be in the choir, and so I auditioned for it.
However, I was not chosen for the choir in 8th grade.
And so began a long interval of affliction with the idea, "I can't sing. I have a terrible voice, and I can't sing."
And so I seldom sang. In high school, I blossomed as a dramatic actress, and won many awards for performances. But I never appeared in musical shows, because I thought I couldn't sing.
When I grew up and married and had babies, I didn't know how to sing to them. I didn't know any songs to sing to them.
Eventually, when I was feeling most trapped and depressed and unhappy, with a very demanding husband and three small children, on a farm in rural Minnesota, someone gave me a piano. The donor was a friend of my husband, both engineers, who worked together. The friend's wife wanted to get rid of this old piano, and they were willing to give it away to anyone who'd come and haul it out of their basement rec room.
So my husband and a friend went and hauled it out, into a pickup truck, and brought it to our home on a farm.
The piano was a mess! Built in about 1900, it had been "modernized" in about the 1950s. Its original varnish had been covered with "Zolatone," a kind of painted finish that was popular in that era, which consisted of a vinyl paint sprayed onto a surface, featuring threads of plastic of a contrasting color.
It was high style, for a while.
So the piano was Zolatoned. Also, its original column legs had been replaced by gilt-painted dowels, placed diagonally from the outside edge of the keyboard to the inside edge of the front of the piano. Above the keyboard and the music stand, mirror tiles had been installed, the kind of mirror tiles that are smoked and marbled with ribbons and flecks of black and gold and silver.
It was a piano fit for a New Orleans whorehouse.
Except it was not only seriously out of tune, it was also unable to play certain keys.
This was a seriously lame piano.
Also, it wouldn't play several notes, because the hammers were broken.
My husband and I disassembled the piano, and placed the parts on our kitchen table.
The problem with the unplayable keys quickly became apparent.
They were missing the connection that went from the key to the hammer. They needed a replacement part.
As we looked at the inner workings of the piano, we noticed that several of the connections had been replaced by L-shaped scraps of fiberglass panel. My husband looked at these parts and chuckled about the man who'd given us the piano, "He's a really thrifty man. If he needed a 2-by-4, and he had a pile of sawdust, he'd build one."
We managed to repair the piano, so that at least it played every note that had a key.
Then I began to seriously train myself to play the piano. We were living on a farm in rural Minnesota (Lake Wobegon, actually). My children were starting school, and I had several hours a day with no demands on my time. I began to relearn how to play the piano.
I didn't take lessons. But I broke out all my old piano books and worked thru my old lessons. I bought a copy of my favorite piece of piano music in the whole world, "Clair de Lune," by Debussy, and vowed to learn how to play it.
I began to play several hours daily, along with caring for calves in the barn, and small children in my home, and meals for our family 3 times a day.
Trying to skip ahead many years of pain and nothing productive in musical terms, I eventually came to learn how to play the flute. This led to several years playing in a community orchestra.
And also, I developed a beautiful and soulful singing voice, tho untrained.
How much my life would've changed if I'd known I could sing when I reached adolescence is a moot point. But I know it would've made an enormous difference in my life.

Questions for the Cook?

House and Garden
catylaine - 02:52 pm PST - Mar 31, 2000 - #2779 of 2876

I wonder how many middle finger nails have been sacrificed to the kitchen gawds?
My greatest gaff: Growing up in Nola, a prized possesion for serving cocktails were Pat O'Brian highball glasses. You cannot buy them, unlike the foo-foo glasses; you have to steal them in your handbag one at a time. At one time I had a several dozen. About ten years ago I was handwashing the morning after a party, and a chunk of the glass on the rim popped out and I plunged my hand into the glass. Sliced my thumb knuckle to the bone and an inch in, severing a minor artery. So there I am alone, right hand in dishrag over my head, no insurance, hungover, with a stickshift parked in a garage that has to be manually opened. You can imagine trying to dial the phone and finding someone awake on a Sunday morning. Finally I reached my dear friend Melanie, a sexy Mae West that when she laffed, the room gravitated to her like EF Hutton. She arrived in a borrowed Mercedes station wagon, go-cup of champagne in hand, an extra for me, and a spare chilled bottle, and whisked me off to the local charity hospital. Registering with the attendent in the packed waiting room who asked, "Is it bad?" Melanie exposed my hand, now arcing blood, and the nurse said, "Not." And we sat down to wait. Neighboring chair, bleeding down arm asks me, "You been stabbed? I been." Oh gawd. Finally Melanie throws a classy fit and gets me taken to a room where another stab victim tells me how bad "he got her back, and you should see her." Melanie tags one of the security gaurds to stand by the door. The intern arrives, cleans and begins a running stich on my hand. I comment that running stitches are illegal even on dawgs and would he please individually tie the stiches. He must have been in a fine mode, or more likely totally charmed by Miss Melanie, and he complied with almost 50 beautiful knots. I have a delicate scar, almost invisible. I couldn't bear to go back there so I took the stiches out myself. Needless to say I never washed another of those highballs by hand. I still have two. Time to go to Pat O's.

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