A Letter I Sent

Subject: General Praise for Your Content

Hi Michael,

I am one of many, many, many people who found a ton of spare time during the pandemic and dusted off their clarinets. Getting reacquainted with my clarinet over the past year has been super fun, and since I peaked in 9th grade (I’m old enough to be in 39th grade now), I’ve often reflected on how I reached high notes or tackled a difficult passage so many years ago. I don’t know: maybe I was a better instrumentalist then, but maybe I’m a better musician now? Just cuz life and stuff has reformed my perspective and how I approach goals. And practice. You know?

I hate to say I stumbled upon your YouTube channel, because I try to be deliberate in most of my choices, but you were a significant part of a journey down a clarinet rabbit hole. I found Michelle Anderson, and she mentioned you, and I’ve enjoyed your performances as well as your tutorials.

It’s not much of a leap to say I’m a better player-musician now than I was a year ago. And that’s due to listening to excellent musicians like you. And learning how to REALLY take care of my instrument (I’ve since upgraded from my student model to an intermediate). And adjusting my own reeds. Your content is an invaluable resource, and I hope you keep all of it up.

Anyway, you’ve been incredibly generous sharing as much as you do. Just want to say thanks.

If you’ve wondered while filling orders who you’re shipping to in [City], Utah, that’s me. I’ve loved supporting your business in my little way.

Thanks again, and happy summer!

May

This is Michael Lowenstern’s YouTube channel.

Here is his shop.

This is Michelle Anderson’s YouTube channel.

Here is her website.

These have been my main resources for clarinet advice in the past year. They’re fun and informative and incredibly encouraging. If you relate to the clarinet at all, check out these amazing folks. I’m still contemplating lessons and masterclasses from Michelle. I do know that I need lessons if I want to get better.

That is all.

Forgetting

Back when I was blogging regularly in NYC, I kept a notebook or journal to jot down my ideas wherever I was. I’d sit in a coffee shop or a park and observe my surroundings and write down any write-worthy thoughts that came to mind. I’d go to a small cafe that had live music and write while the scheduled gig performed. The energy of the city and finding my love for writing fueled the process. I started blogging back in 2003, and I’d often post more than once, most days.

I’ve fallen out of practice writing my ideas down. An idea pops into my head, I make a mental note to write about it when I blog, but when it’s time to write, I have completely forgotten what the idea was. And now I’m blogging about this lapse of memory. I mean, it’s a natural thing to forget, especially if I don’t write to remember. That’s a huge reason I started blogging to begin with.

This is my personal history. An artifact for those after me to get to know who I am. Or was. They’ll observe some sort of evolution, as people tend to change some things over their lives. The core stays core for the most part, but opinions, attitudes, perspectives transform with experience. I’d be embarrassed if I read many past entries and noticed how much has changed. Maybe not embarrassed. I don’t know. Surprised? Disappointed? Maybe. Impressed? Proud? Also maybe, but leaning toward Yes.

A few years ago a friend sent me a little notebook for keeping ideas to remember. We supported each other’s desires and passion for writing. I currently use that notebook to keep track of reeds that I’ve broken in–which ones are good, better, best. But I can also write my thoughts in it. Which is what I should do. So that I don’t have to keep writing about unremembering things.

The Opening Line of an Email Today

A few drafts of entries hide, latent, outside the public’s purview. They discuss mostly my French experience in Africa, and I wanted to focus mostly on the African experience, the human experience, the life stuff beyond the school stuff.

It’s hard to separate the two realms: I spoke, read, and wrote French in Africa. We took tests and turned in papers in that language. I’d rather just forget the grades from my study abroad, because–although they’re not horrible–they don’t reflect the breadth of my experience there.

Somehow,  I was able to channel the spirit of the adventure–my reason for being there–and focus that energy into some of my schoolwork. And it resulted in the opening line of an email that made my day today:

May,

Comment allez-vous?  Savez-vous que je vous ai donné un A pour votre projet anthropologique?  C’était magnifique, ce que vous aviez écrit.

So, I’m happy I did well on the anthropology project, which was about families. I enjoyed writing it; I appreciated being able to express some of the things I learned that were important to me.  I’ll push away the thought that I must have BUSTED on the exams to earn the overall grade. That thought is a little bit depressing.

One thing advanced French classes have taught me these past six months is that grades cannot define me. It’s such an easy trap to fall into, and I’ve let it create doubt in my abilities as a student, a scholar, a writer. I’ve let it “degrade” me (sorry, pun, and I’ve also recently watched Wit again, which also plays with the word so it’s fresh on the brain) and undermine my identity. I still might write those entries, just because they outline some breakthroughs and personal growth that didn’t necessarily result in an A.

Unquantifiable stuffs. You know.

Gearing up

I like my little stack of French books. As I read them, I come across a lot of words I don’t know, but that’s okay. That still happens to me when I read English, too.

Le Livre de Mormon/Les Doctrine et Alliances/La Perle de Grand Prix.  Can I just say right off how literary tenses are just weird? I actually ordered this triple combination for an upcoming trip, where our little branch of 20 people will meet every Sunday for church, probably in the hotel lobby. I needed a complete set of scriptures. So, I also ordered La Sainte Bible, though it isn’t an LDS edition.

L’enfant noir by Camera Laye. Autobiographical; tells of a boy’s life between the village and the city. Going to the Koran school, going to the university and leaving his family and missing his mother.

Bescherelle’s Complete Guide to Conjugating 12,000 French Verbs. This reference book will teach you how to conjugate a bunch of verbs (12,000) based on 82 verb conjugating patterns. Super useful. I use it a lot, and it’s great for learning verb vocabulary. Verbcabulary.

La Château de Ma Mère by Marcel Pagnol. Autobiographical, nostalgic. It’s beautifully written. There’s a lot of childhood joy of the French countryside mixed in with sorrow and sadness that’s so typical of the French.

Antigone by Jean Anouilh. Oh, you know the story. Antigone’s brothers kill themselves over throne succession. One’s buried, the other’s left for the vultures. Antigone pushes for the birdfood brother to be buried, but Creon won’t have it, because he needs to teach the kingdom a lesson. This is a tragedy, and the Chorus has sung from the beginning that Antigone dies at the end. It’s her destiny, so she and some other people die. Resistance/Compliance, tragedy/drama, DeGaulle/Pétain.

Une si longue lettre by Mariama Bâ. Semi-autobiographical. Talks about the heartache of polygamy in African villages. A woman’s husband decides to take another wife after 30 years. Tradition doesn’t mean there won’t be resentment and pain.

Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. A really special story. Popular. Read it.

I also have a book of fairy tales, and I ordered another book that I hope will arrive before my trip. I need to read it.

Did I Ever Announce This, Why I’m Killing Myself with French This Semester?

I got accepted into a study abroad program for spring term.

To Senegal.

A total of 18 of us are going. It’ll be five pretty intense weeks.

In case you’re concerned, Senegal is not near Egypt.

I’ll probably buy my plane ticket this week or next.

Here’s hoping my financial aid works out. Today, I contacted the financial aid office about a scholarship I applied for, in addition to the loans.

Chance of a lifetime, right?

Any masochist would eat this up.

Seriously, though. Don’t ask me about French, you guys. It makes me sad and frustrated to talk about it.

Wanderful

I had about five different, potential posts float in and out of my brain in the past day.

Ask me if I jotted any of these ideas down.

And I will tell you, no.

I’m spending a lot of time with a certain group of friends.

Like, this group will take priority. I mean, there’s family, then these girls. They’re my peeps, what can I say.

Pretty full day today.

Today, I went to the temple.

I went to a violin recital, mostly to see a friend I haven’t seen in a while and catch up a little.

The recital was good, though. My friend doesn’t do anything half-heartedly.

A friend and I wandered the West Village and a little bit of SoHo and the East Village, where we met some other friends, one of which was a fellow short person.

We found the chess “district” on Thompson Street, south of Washington Square Park.

We had cheesecake at Junior’s. 

I’m tired.

Oh, the professor and I met today.

So, there’s that.

Reading the Part

KGB BarOn 4th Street near 2nd Avenue is the KGB Bar. It’s three floors with theaters (stages) on the first and third floors, with the bar in between.

The reading was on Thursday. It was at the bar. Three readers, one was the uber-cool Sarah D. Bunting, also known as Sars (rhymes with “scares”). She read a short story she wrote. The second was a guy who read the first chapter of his novel. The third reader was a playwright who read one of her ten-minute plays.

It probably seems obvious who I was there to see. And I ended up sitting right beside her. I was sipping my Coke when she sidled up and ordered a bourbon and ginger ale. I like ginger ale, too! We’re SO friends. She started sitting at a table, but after she read, she ended up next to me. I observed her looking at photos on her camera with her (boy)friend.

It was a fun reading, and Sars ended up leaving after the second person’s turn. I thought about approaching her, tried formulating in my mind what I would say. I almost did it. But then she left, and then I kicked myself. I mean, our chairs were practically touching. All I had to do was tap her on the shoulder. It would have been easy. Alas, people. So later that night, after my date, I sent her an email:

Sarah,

Is it all right to approach you in public? I probably consider you high-celebrity status and have been conditioned to let the famous people alone. I sat right beside you at the bar tonight, to your left, and I kept thinking I should introduce myself, I read your blog and am a big fan of the Vine and TWoP, and the short story you read was great but I just didn’t know if it would be okay to say hi. Grr. Unless you were surrounded by bodyguards, I should have assumed it’s never not okay to say hi. I should have said hi. I almost got up the guts. Next time.

Anyway, great read tonight. Take care.

Then, to my absolute delight, she wrote back. Not some shabby message, either. She is a writer, after all:

Aw, thanks for coming! I wish I’d known there were TN readers there (you weren’t the only one who attended, but didn’t say anything to me) — I would have been less unapproachably cuddly with my “bodyguard” but I didn’t think any of My People were there!

Anyway: it’s really up to you. A reader came up to me once in the CVS; I was super-sweaty and gross and had an embarrassing basketful of cheapo orange-slice candy, but once you’ve gone bald to raise money, it’s like, who cares. So, if you don’t feel comfortable approaching me, you’re obviously not obligated, but it certainly doesn’t bother *me*. And especially it’s fine at a reading; that’s what they’re for. That kind of thing is probably annoying to someone like Madonna, but as long as I’m not, like, crying or something, it’s totally fine.

I’m going to try to put some TN meet-ups together after the summer, so you’ll have other chances. Thank you so much for the kind words, and for coming out on a grody hot night, I really appreciate it.

Do I have a limit to the number of times I can feel like a million bucks? I get to feel that way a lot, and sometimes it makes me feel guilty, you know, for hogging all the opportunities. It’s just that part of the process of becoming a writer is to hang out with other writers. Not just the “successful” ones, though that’s awesome, but the ones who are mired in the unending process, and that includes just about everyone. It’s tremendously uplifting. That’s why I like blogging. Sharing is stretching. Stretching is good for you, just ask my wonderful yoga friend, Sarah.

And now, a quote from one of the successful ones, Kurt Vonnegut:

“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or how badly is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a good friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

I feel so danged contemplative these days, like I could recede into myself and brood, like the oldest tortoise in the world that’s seen so much in his life. I’m not a tortoise, and I’m not (that) old, but I definitely could retract my head for a while, just to be alone and think.

Girls’ Night Out

It’s Monday, about 6PM. My friend notices me outside the Village East Cinemas on the corner of 12th Street and 2nd Avenue. She’s tall, easily 5’10, slender; long, dark brown hair to the middle of her back. She’s wearing black slacks and a black shirt, over which is a cute, off-white crocheted top that I can’t imagine her not having. Her accessories are black, strappy heels, a short necklace that looks like moderately flattened reddish-brown marbles (the mashers, not the little ones) strung together, and a backpack. Her oval face shows off high cheekbones which her smile always obeys; a cute, slightly pointed nose that tames the cheekbones, but not too much; brown, deeply discerning eyes – thoughtful eyes that I’ve never been able to not see a friendly glint in – they beat the crocheted top, hands down.

So, you may say her face is well balanced; it’s very appealing. While it is beautiful and familiar and comfortable, I don’t know if I would say it is balanced. It’s that way all the time. Those eyes capture a lot. They hold sincerity and curiosity: those oglers are constantly hungry. Always reading and inquiring and seeking understanding. Cynicism and bitterness simply cannot fit into those eyes. Who needs that kind of balance, anyway?

I buy my ticket and we stroll toward the restaurant. It’s a little Korean place; very minimalistic, but the food is fabulous. I order the tofu, and she gets the prime beef lettuce wraps. The conversation expands and shrinks like a bellows. We talk about news and NPR and music. We talk a lot about books and authors we adore. We talk about blogs, each other’s as well as our friends’. We try each other’s food. It’s all spicy, so I end up drinking a lot of water and getting full a lot sooner than I wanted. I don’t finish my plate. I build a pyramid out of my leftover tofu cubes. My friend takes a picture. She has a laugh that has a life of its own. I want to be friends with her laugh, all shouty and cheerful. After offering her what I didn’t eat, she takes a cube from the bottom of the pyramid, which doesn’t topple.

The food is cheap. Come visit me, and I’ll take you there. They serve little spicy appetizers before the main course, then they cleanse your palate after the meal with a perky, mysterious cinnamon elixir served in what looks like half a large test tube with a flattened bottom. Liquid Big Red. Spice, spice, spice. We talk about our favorite parts of town and the endless choice of fooderies. She’s a good conversationalist, asking questions that I can always turn back to her. She mentions browsing the website for the Jordanian Royalty regularly, similarly to fans who follow British Royalty. She self-proclaims her dorkiness, while I think of my other friends who have been chosen for Jeopardy, or whose favorite metal is titanium, or have a photo of part of the ceiling of the Library of Congress as her Facebook profile picture. This friend sitting across from me? fits right in with my crowd. Except she’s the only one who has met Desmond Tutu.

We leave the restaurant. It had been raining all morning and afternoon, but the evening is cool and overcast. We enter a little market to search for movie snacks. She intends to buy junior mints but picks up some haribo gummy candy instead. She grabs a wrapped bar of marzipan and shows it to me, and I take it, deciding to try it.

We walk into the theater. We find the ladies room. We wind up the stairs to the theater. No one takes our tickets. We are watching a film starring a friend of ours who was a member of our congregation and whose family moved to Utah about a year ago. The movie is part of an independent film festival. The movie is about a man returning home from serving a mission. He’s engaged; his fiancee has been waiting for him. His sole purpose, other than getting married, is to baptize his mom. He has a death experience where he’s told he has 60 days to fulfill his purpose. Of course he faces some obstacles. Of course a heartwrenching twist is at the end.

We sit in the midst of a bunch of other curious Mormons for the film. I’m usually a bit skeptical about Mormon cinema, but it isn’t as awkward as I expected. Our friend the star was supposed to attend, but the director announces a family emergency and relays an apology to the audience. A question-and-answer session follows the film. The director gets emotional as he explains the commitment and work that goes into creating a film. The next presentation is about to begin, so the crowd exits the theater. One of our friends dares us to ask the costar who is not the star’s wife if he is a good kisser. I stand in a procession of fans who want photos taken with the cute costar. The line seems neverending. I tell her I’m friends with the star, and I laugh nervously as I ask if he’s a good kisser. (I don’t want her to think I’m asking for me, but $20 is on the line here.) She laughs and says it’s like kissing your brother – it felt like he was looking after her. Plus, he’s married with kids. And he’s “older.” My age? Hmm. HMM.

We board the subway. I start to run out of steam, but my friend, she keeps asking questions. She’s genuinely wants to know me better. Am I that interesting? I think about her husband, who’s the bishop in our ward; her two adorable children who would probably be fast asleep when she got home. The last conversation is about politics and our favorites for president. My stop comes pretty quickly. I thank her for her time and company. And she smiles that smile that takes no effort and we wave goodbye. I am so lucky to be going to church with that one.

I remember running into her at Target a few years back. She mentioned her husband working toward his PhD and how their family would lead a quiet, intellectual life. I can still see it. She’s very gentle-spoken; she seems she would never lose her temper. Nice, cozy home. The kids would be off somewhere, being precocious, and she and her husband would have their books, sitting in big, cushy chairs not quite facing each other. They’d discuss the issues of the world, things that matter. The tireless smile, the wiser eyes, still seeking understanding. Then her husband would make a joke. Could someone bring out another chair? That laugh needs a place to sit, too.

Oh. Sidebar. The Jones Family. She’s the webmaster over there. If it suits your fancy, take a clicky gander.