Sunday, July 31, 2005

Care Packages

While I was at Chautauqua, I met Michael, a boy in the School of Music who was extremely gifted, but who was not feeling all that confident in his ability. I talked to him several times and have thought about him a lot since I came home. I wonder what he will do with his life. Will he end up pursuing a career in music?

I decided to bake chocolate chip cookies today for my children and for Michael. I haven’t done nearly enough of this over the years since my children went away to school. And I remember how much fun it was to receive a package of anything from home, even if it was all crumbs by the time it arrived.

My cookies today are not perfect. I never can balance the puffiness and the light brown color. Mine are either flat or pale. I was always so envious of Rosa, my friend through work many years ago, because her cookies always looked just right. But it’s the thought that counts, I always tell myself.

The last batch is finally out of the oven. I’ll wrap them with some cushioning to ease them on their way. David, my stay-at-home retired husband, has agreed to put them in the mail tomorrow. I hope Daniel, Rachel, and Michael enjoy their care packages.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Never Content

I can’t ever seem to feel contented and satisfied. Just a month ago I was writing about how overwhelmed I was with preparation for my bat mitzvah and getting ready to make a presentation at a conference in Mexico. Then after the bat mitzvah was over, I was already missing the 20 minutes a day that I had put into practicing for several months.

Just a week later I took off for Chautauqua. I must admit I was somewhat apprehensive about how this would turn out. I was going there to play music I had never before seen with people I had never before met with the idea of giving a recital at the end of the week. I just wasn’t sure if I would be able to hold up my end of the deal. As it turned out, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Not only did I make a contribution, but I absolutely loved every minute of practicing and performing. It wasn’t scary in the least. But it was an intensive week with little down time.

So here I am back home, with all the free time in the world – no more commitments, no more plans. Therein lies my current problem. I find that I actually thrive on being busy, on having to produce, on having to perform. I have never dealt well with unstructured time, but it is even more obvious after having been so busy.

I don’t have anything scheduled until tomorrow night when our couples book club meets. So how shall I spend all this free time? Whatever I do will not involve David since he still (as usual) has 200 pages of the book to read. Shall I take a long bike ride? Practice the piano? Work out downstairs in the basement? Cook a fancy dinner? Take a long nap? Maybe all of the above.

I wonder if this will ever get any easier for me?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

A Distraction from Drilling

I have always hated going to the dentist, especially if I knew I was going to have major work done on my teeth. Today was no exception. I was going because Larry, my dentist, had noticed that my last lower left molar had a crack in it when the braces came off. He had said that it might require only a filling, but with my track record, I knew that was unlikely.

At the last minute as I left this morning, I grabbed my new CD of Claude Bolling’s Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano. I asked Larry if I could listen to it while he drilled into my tooth. Instead of broadcasting it to the whole office, he set me up with my own set of headphones and cranked the volume up. I closed my eyes and drifted off into jazz-land as he set about carefully numbing my mouth. I usually find the novacaine to be the most uncomfortable part of any dental procedure. He put it in in little doses and did it very slowly. NO pain so far. Then after my jaw was good and numb, the drilling began.

Every now and then he would take off the headphones and let me know what was going on. There was the initial news that the crack extended into the interior of the tooth from both sides – no great surprise. He proposed 3 options:
(1) Remove any decay and just fill the tooth and hope for the best.
(2) Grind it down to a nub and put a porcelain and gold full crown on.
(3) Salvage the non-decayed part of the tooth and just put a gold crown on the top. This was the bargain of the day, with the only downside being that it would definitely look like a crown.
I quickly opted for #3, not caring in the least what a tooth at the far back of my mouth looked like.

He took multiple impressions and photos while I still continued to listen to my wonderful jazz. He actually made a temporary crown that looks and feels like a real tooth. He carefully fitted it and did all of those things where you grind your teeth on the special paper that checks your bite. He then cut off the back end of my retainer so that it would still fit with my new tooth. He had alotted 50 minutes for my appointment. At 49-1/2 minutes, he was finished and offered me a chance to see the photos of my tooth at various stages of the crowning procedure.

After re-claiming my CD and relinquishing the headphones, I re-entered the real world, saw my photos, and prepared to pay for my new gold tooth. $1245 was the amount. It could have been a whole lot worse.

But the best part about it was that I had been so distracted by my wonderful new CD that I had really been able to ignore what is usually an awful ordeal for me. Every experience I have with Larry Bowers affirms that he is by far the best dentist I have ever had.

The memory of biting Dr. Goss, my dentist when I was 6, is still somewhere in the back of my mind.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Putting Up Fences

When your job is to work with clients or patients, you of necessity must consider what you can and can’t do with them both during your sessions together and outside in your personal time. I am currently working with three women who are roughly my age who have all taken a somewhat different approach to this definition of professional boundaries.

First there’s Rebecca, my massage therapist. I consider her my 2-hour-a-week best friend. When I come to see her each week for a massage, we first drink a cup of tea together, while we talk and gossip about everything and everybody. There is hardly a topic that we haven’t touched on. Although our lives are so totally different, we have shared intimate experiences with each other. Outside those 2 hours each week, we exchange e-mail from time to time, mostly initiated by me, but we seldom get together to do anything on a social level. There have been a few interactions – our passover seder, my bat mitzvah, a couple of lunches together. This is Rebecca’s idea, not mine. She gave me her blog address and I read it on a regular basis because she is a fantastic writer and she makes me think. However, she feels it would be professionally inappropriate for her to read my blog. I still can’t make sense of this.

Then there’s Deborah, my internist and my music partner. She has this remarkable ability to pull down a professional curtain in the office, whereby she becomes Dr. E and I am Ms. Diskin. On my one visit to see her to get a physical, she never mentioned our music until the very end of the visit, when she said, “I’m looking forward to seeing you in a week.” Outside the office, we mostly make music together. We talk sometimes about her work as a doctor, but not very much about how it impacts me. She seems perfectly cool with this way of doing business and so am I. There is absolutely no measure of discomfort. I offered her a chance to read my blog and she declined, probably with good reason, although we just didn’t go into it.

Finally, there’s Kathryn, my psychotherapist. She maintains a strict policy of no physical contact, other than the introductory handshake. We talk about a lot of very intimate, deep subjects, but everything she knows is because I have told her in my sessions with her. She also declined my invitation to look at my blog, much preferring a face-to-face revelation of who I am. I have no reason to see Kathryn outside of our therapy time together. So this is the traditional boundary situation.

I have come to realize that I didn’t ask for any of these boundaries. They are there to make the other person feel more secure, more comfortable. In each case, I think I could perfectly well handle a relationship which was free of fences. These 3 wonderful women are an important part of my life and I cherish my time together with each of them for different reasons. I hope at some point all the fences can come down and we can just exist as friends. Boundaries get in the way of real friendship.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Just for the Fun of It

I had so much fun making music last week. I found myself looking with envy at those members of the Chautauqua Symphony who get to do this for a living. Then I spoke to Evan, who is principal violist with a major symphony, who admitted that after 22 years it was not fun any longer. I started to wonder at what point his miraculous gift of talent turned into just a job to make money. I’m sure he is still about as good as they come out of Julliard, but what a shame that the extra passion has subsided. I had a long talk with him about this and he admitted that he peaked too early, winning big at 21 and immediately joining a symphony orchestra straight out of the conservatory, but skipping the liberal arts education that gives one multiple dimensions.

Then there’s Bill who also plays for a major symphony. Most conversations with Bill eventually get around to music because he is impassioned with music. When he was coaching Deborah and me the other day, he was literally jumping up and down at one point saying, “Isn’t this section just beautiful? It’s my absolute favorite. And you played it so well!” Bill cherishes his several European double basses as though they were valuable children. He can tell you in detail what a “chaconne” is. He has definite opinions about music – loves Bach, hates Vivaldi. But the point is that he cares deeply about music. It is so much more than a way to make a living for Bill.

I suppose this phenomenon is true for many people – those in the arts and those with just regular jobs. The idea of doing a job for money often naturally diminishes the initial motivation for doing it. Or maybe it’s the repetition. Or maybe it’s a boss/conductor who is less than supportive.

Lots of questions come into my head: When Evan retires from his symphony job, will playing the viola once again become fun? Will he encourage his children to follow music as a career or will he urge them to have a “back-up” plan? What would it take for me to abandon the piano... again? I think I am finally becoming smart enough to recognize that crucial point wherein something is no longer fun. I hope this doesn’t happen for me.

Chautauqua Finale and Withdrawal

Our concert yesterday was the perfect culmination of a wonderful week. I keep hearing the lyrical lilting sound of the flute in our Telemann piece. Deborah, Roz, Jerry, and I played the notes that were now in our heads and hearts, as well as in our fingers. The performance wasn’t perfect, but there were some really beautiful moments in it. Deborah admitted to me afterwards that she had never before played solo bass, so our duet was a first for her also. As soon as it was over, Bill C and I jumped into the car and drove nonstop home.

I was happy to be home to see David, but I must admit that I got up today somewhat sad because I didn’t have a reason to hop on my bike and pedal up to Cabin E to practice. I feel like I just got this thing started and now I have to return to the minutiae of everyday life, not knowing when I’m going to have the chance to play with a group again. Deborah and I have vowed to keep working together, enlisting the competent help of Bill Vaughan, but we both have jobs and responsibilities that take priority.

This experience reaffirms how wonderful retirement is going to be. I will once again be organizing play groups, not for my toddlers but rather for myself. Being exposed to so many great musicians makes me realize just how much I still have to learn. I see music as being a big part of the rest of my life.

Thank you, Deborah, for pointing me in the right direction and giving me encouragement!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Chautauqua Memories

This week has flown by. I am going to miss a lot of things about Chautauqua:

-- The Englewood B&B, where I feel so at home because I have a bed, a shared bathroom, a kitchen, and a computer. What more could anyone want? Oh, yeah, and it's 50 feet from the amp so we don't even have to go the concerts to hear them quite well.
-- Woody, the "caretaker" of the Englewood, a middle-aged child who is probably gay and who has a fascination with bubbles, to the point of running a bubble machine from the 2nd floor out front.
-- Greeting people in the street. Everyone says hello to everyone else.
-- The feeling of safety everywhere: We don't lock our door room. I don't lock my bike. Kids play in the street without constant supervision. I can't imagine crime here!
-- Watching 3 generations next door play with each other. As I am typing this a 2-year-old is becoming the next Mark McGuire out front with a wiffle ball.
-- My meditation partner Mimi, who revolted from the talkative Sikh's class with me so that we could meditate in silence each morning on the porch of the amp.
-- Sharing food with Deborah, Neal, and Bill in such makeshift ways, using whatever we had or could buy at the farmers' market. Plenty of wine always rounded out our meals.
-- Riding my bike everywhere I need to go, even in the rain. Sometimes with a Starbucks latte fastened to the handlebar with a plastic bag!
-- But most of all, having my musical world explode in a million fireworks as I discovered the fun of playing chamber music with a group. I have practiced more in the last week than ever before in my life because Deb, Jerry, Roz, and Kathy were depending on me to know the piano part of our Telemann sonata.
-- Practicing in Cabin E, where I had to figure out just how much the windows could be open to provide air and still not blow the music off the piano.
-- Being coached by people who know infinitely more about music than I ever will -- Arie, Evan, and Bill. Oddly enough, I seem to thrive on criticism.
-- The Chautauqua Daily, where there is never any bad news. This pretty much says it all.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Coaching Styles

I know from my childen's experience in competitive swimming that there are a variety of coaching styles. This has been reinforced here in the music program at Chautauqua. Our quintet has seen the benevolent, kind, encouraging coach in Arie Lipsky, an Israeli who is currently the conductor of the Ann Arbor Symphony. He worked with us for about 30 minutes yesterday and helped us learn to listen to each other. He emphasized the "song line" that floats from instrument to instrument. Today we had Evan Wilson, principal violist of the LA Symphony. Evan announced that he would be quite blunt with his criticism, which he lived up to as he doled it out WHILE we played. We were only supposed to stop when he said STOP. He told me to play with less pedal, almost in the style of Bach, with each chord being precisely placed and confident. At one point he told Deborah and me to do whatever the flute or violin was doing in terms of intensity. I questioned this, saying that we either had to agree on what that would be and write it in the music or react to their lead -- i.e., we didn't have ESP! I'm not sure he was used to anyone making those kinds of comments. But Evan for all his brusqueness was kind. At one point he came over and put his hand on my shoulder so he could encourage me when I played the way he wanted. And he did on several occasions tell us how good we were sounding.

Then there was Rebecca Pennys, who taught a masters' piano class yesterday. She was absolutely brutal to all 4 students who played. But first a little background on one of those students...

On Tuesday as I was practicing in Cabin E, I hit a roadblock with a section of movement 2 of our Telemann sonata that was repeated 3 times. I just couldn't make the fingering work. So I stuck my head out the door and hailed a nice-looking boy of about 20 who was walking by with "Do you play the piano?" to which he replied, "Not very well." But I asked him about my devilish fingering problem and he spent 10 minutes working it out in a rather ingenious way. His name is Michael Sheetz, as I was to later learn.

Michael was on the docket for the class and was quite nervous. He obviously had been there before and I'm sure his nerves got worse as he watched 3 students go ahead of him. The drill was for the student to play the 10-15-minute piece from memory -- big pieces from Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and the likes. The student played on one of two big Steinways, positioned next to each other. There were about 50 people in the audience, many of them fellow piano students and Rebecca. After the student finished, Rebecca came down and thoroughly dissected the piece, playing through sections with the student, almost like the dueling banjos of Deliverance. But what I disliked so much was her tendency to poke fun at the student -- she told the first boy not to play so hard with his hands that his hair shook. She told a shy oriental girl to go buy bangle bracelets at the Dollar Store to liven up her wrists. She asked very pointed questions of each student which went to the heart of their training and shook their foundation. Her ability to play each of these very hard pieces impeccably with just the right technique and feeling was unbelievable.

I ran into Michael later as he was finishing practicing and I was on my way to the student recital. It turns out that he is a music major at Vassar. His experience here has really shaken his confidence about going into music. Fortunately he has other options since Vassar is a liberal arts college. I told him that I thought he played the best of the 4 students because he played with real emotion that made his Chopin Ballade dance in several places. Why couldn't Rebecca have noticed that and commented on it? There are some people who maintain their lofty status by finding fault with everyone else. Maybe she is one of them. Anyway, Michael beamed at my comment. This was a kid really in need of some encouragement.

I just ran into him this afternoon and told him about my experience with Evan. He laughed and said that you get used to it. I hope when he is 56 he still loves music the way I do. I hope he can play for fun even if it is not his life work.

I wonder what kind of coach I would be if that were my job?

As a postscript, I went to another of Rebecca Pennys' masters' classes today and found her to be much more supportive of the piano students who played. Either yesterday was an off day, she thought they were tougher, or she was having a bad day. She had positive things to say, mixed in with constructive criticism, in 3 out of 3 cases.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Thoughts on Chautauqua

I feel so very much at home here in Chautauqua. It has nothing to do with a romantic vacation with the love of my life. He is in New Orleans attending a techie conference and I am here with our mutual friend Bill and with Deborah and her husband Neal.

My day today started out with meditation. I confronted our Sikh instructor with a plea for more silence and less of his philosophy (he never shuts up). Upon realizing that this just isn't going to happen, I approached another meditator (you can tell the serious ones because they bring their own benches) and we decided to meet at 7 AM in front of the coffee shop and do our own silent meditation. It will be a lot better.

The rest of the day was filled with music. The head of the music department, Arie Lipsky, coached our quintet this morning. At first I was scared to be performing in front of someone so talented. But his unassuming air and casual approach to making corrections quickly quelled my fears. He sat down next to me so he could see the full score of our Telemann sonata and fulfilled a useful role of turning my pages. I kept waiting for him to notice the notes I was leaving out, but instead he talked to the flute, the violins and the bass. I'm sure it will be my turn tomorrow. The people who have heard our 2-day-old piece think it sounds really good.

After my personal practice time of an hour and a half, I went to a masters piano class. Whew! I am glad I wasn't one of those students. It was really brutal. First of all, they each played a really long piece from memory. Then the head of the piano department told them everything they had done wrong. I wasn't quite sure if some of the non-native English speakers understood all of her comments.

Then Deborah and I played for another hour. I was pretty wiped out by then. We did some nice work, but we were both tired.

I threw together some dinner, thanks to the farmers' market -- quiche, taboulleh, fresh tomatoes, and a fruit salad for dessert. We ate on our second floor veranda, with real wine glasses found on a top shelf in the kitchen.

Deborah, Neal, and I headed off to a student concert after dinner. It was wonderful to hear all that young talent. By intermission I was ready to ride my bike home and write.

So what appeals so much to me in this rather one-dimensional existence here? It's this chance to explore music in a way that has never been possible for me before. I am starting to realize that I really can play pretty well. I even wondered today what it would have been like to have music as a career. I am sure I wouldn't have made as much money, but it is so satisfying.

Aside from music, there is an allure of this place that is really special. We don't lock our door at the B&B -- in fact, we don't even close it! I never lock my bike. Little children play outside in front of their houses without the need of constant adult supervision. Even the dogs seem unconcerned about anything and certainly not interested in running away. The topic of conversation is always the latest lecture or class or concert someone has attended. There are people here from a variety of religions, but it doesn't matter in the least.

I also love my B&B. It is like being at home. We have full access to the kitchen, including the refrigerator, stove, and cooking utensils. I sit here and use their computer all the time. Even though we don't have a bathroom in our room, there are 3 communal bathrooms that are always available. We are about 50 steps from the amphitheater, so we don't even have to go to a concert to hear it. I listened to La Boheme from our veranda. Tonight there is a jazz concert.

People are genuinely friendly. They greet you in the street. They share tables at the coffee shop. They seem to be interested in what you have to say. Maybe it's because people here are not so caught up in making a living, they have more time just to notice what is going on around them.

I'm really going to miss this place. It is like a gem of an experience that I would like to preserve.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Practice Cabin E

I have been assigned Practice Cabin E for my personal practice time here at Chautauqua. The practice cabins are these miniature "houses" all grouped together in the School of Music. They are about 10 feet square with 2 windows and a door and a FAN! Mine of course contains a piano also -- a very nice piano, I must say. It's a Kawai, new and with wonderful action.

Standing in the middle of the practice cabins is like standing in the middle of a food court savoring the different smells. You hear a little Chopin coming from Cabin A, a soprano singing an aria from Cabin G, a tubist in Cabin D -- you get the idea. With the windows open, the sounds all run together to make an odd symphony sound.

Now there are sounds of Telemann, Handel, and Russell form Cabin E. Often just piano. But for an hour a day, Deborah hauls her bass up to Cabin E and we play together. I had never played more than an hour a day before Chautauqua. That has suddenly changed to 4-1/2 hours a day. My butt is sore from sitting on the piano bench.

I'm ready to take a well-deserved nap before returning to Cabin E for my last practice hour today. I never thought I would see the day when I would look forward to practicing the piano!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Making Music at Chautauqua

Today I went to sign up for adult chamber music, somewhat tentatively. It seemed like absolute chaos. Finally it was decided that I would play some piece for double bass-piano with Deborah and I would play in a quintet to do a sonata from Telemann. The piano part actually didn't appear to be too daunting. I was still not ready to make any promises about whether or not I would be ready to play it by Saturday.

I am going to be playing the piano a lot here. Our quintet practices from 10:30 - 12 noon each day. I have individual time from 1-3 and 6-7 each day, some of which will be with Deborah. That's 4-1/2 hours a day! A real record for me.

My first few read throughs of the Telemann actually went quite well. It will be interesting to see how it sounds with all the instruments tomorrow. I started worrying less about making mistakes and thinking more about how very cool it will be to play with 4 other people.

My little group may not ever remember my piano playing, but they will remember that I found them an air-conditioned practice room in the midst of a heat wave here at Chautauqua. In the end, that may be a perfect memory.

Bill Vaughan coached Deborah and me for a long time this afternoon. It really helps to have someone who plays both instruments well and knows the pieces we are playing to help us.

I'm missing David incredibly, but having the musical time of my life here at Chautauqua!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Church at Chautauqua

Bill and I chose to go to a church service that was not either of our denominations. It was called Unity. We chose it because the advertised sermon was on "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness". It was a tough choice actually as we walked to the service. There were choirs warming up and pianos playing in a number of other small churches on the way.

At Unity Church Rev. Linda had us make name tags. The man in charge of music played some nice classical music on a keyboard to get us ready for the service. We sang a hymn to get started. Then there was a guided meditation for about 5 minutes. Rev. Linda talked about groundedness and thoroughly dissected the Declaration of Independence. She read little snatches of scripture from the Old and the New Testaments, never quite giving the context. She referred to Jesus, our teacher. Guess they don't think of him as a Messiah, or the Son of God.

At the end we made a big circle and held hands and sang "Let There Be Peace on Earth." All in all a very nice way to start Sunday morning. Unfortunately I forgot that only Jews pay dues, and that everyone else passes the plate. All they got from me was my good will.

Welcome to Chautauqua

Bill and I arrived yesterday amid torrential rainfall. Even so, this is the most amazing little town. As I type this, I am listening to wonderful church bells coming from somewhere. I hope we see the sun today.

We're staying at the Englewood, where no one locks the door and where you just borrow a bike any time you want to go somewhere. We have a large room with 2 beds and 2 fans (a real necessity in this humidity). I thought it wasn't supposed to be humid in New England, that I was supposed to need a sweater.

We had dinner with Deborah and Neal last night in their funky apartment with its very TINY kitchen. It's almost fun to have to make do with less than ideal equipment. Dinner tasted great, probably because we hadn't had a lot of real food during the day. The more I get to know Deborah, the more I like her. She balances her work with a lot of other interests and seems to do a good job with all of them.

We heard Mahler's 7th last night with constant rainfall on the roof. Sort of a cool sound in a concert hall which is covered, but open-air. Bill Vaughan looks like he is really enjoying his stay here. I will find out this afternoon, when we go to a volleyball-dinner party at Deborah's teacher's house, to which the symphony is invited.

Bill C has checked out the schedule this week and had his yellow highlighter busy. There is no shortage of things to do. So while he is being lectured, Deborah and I will seek out the chamber music program. That's tomorrow's adventure.

I feel happy to be here in this beautiful place with people I enjoy. I wish David was here, but I can look forward to seeing him when we're both back home.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The River of Feelings

This was the reading at last night’s meditation group from Thich Nhat Hahn’s book Peace Is Every Step. He says that we can use our breathing to be in contact with our feelings and accept them. He also says that if we face our unpleasant feelings with care, affection, and nonviolence, we can transform them into the kind of energy that is healthy and has the capacity to nourish us.

We talked a lot about strong feelings like anger and fear, realizing that the breath could offer us a way to deal with these sometimes overwhelming feelings. Matthew suggested an approach to anger whereby you simply wait a while to be able to discuss a problem rationally with another person. I said that my typical approach is simply to close down emotionally so as not to deal with it at all. Neither of these is exactly what Thich had in mind.

I expressed a lingering fear that I have about this trip to Chautauqua next week. I really don’t know how I will match up to the other musicians who are participating. What if I am the worst? What if I am the only piano player and they have no one else who can play? I have such a good relationship playing with Deborah. We have worked out how to make progress together. But I don’t know these other people. So I vowed to remember to breathe if I get in a position where I am feeling afraid. It will probably turn out to be so much fun that I will not even remember feeling this way, but right now I don’t know. My desire to play with others is always tempered by my fear of failure. I wish I had Deborah’s natural confidence!

I agreed to let Matthew and Sharon know just how it turned out at Chautauqua. We talked 15 minutes past our normal stopping time just because we were so much enjoying the conversation. I feel so at home with these people.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Poetry by the Light of the Moon

After our winter poetry evening, I commented to 90-year-old Florence that we should make this an annual affair. She quickly replied, “Maybe you should do it more frequently,” suggesting that she wasn’t sure how many more yearly readings should would be around for. I said maybe we could do it outside in the summertime, to which she commented, “Oh, yes, we could dance by the light of the moon!” When Florence had her stroke before Passover, I vowed that if she recovered, I would organize a summer outdoor poetry evening.

I consulted Rebecca about a place to hold such an event and was not encouraged when she said, “First of all poetry outdoors loses its subtlety which makes it difficult to hear. Second, nobody is going to want to come to this when it is hot and muggy and buggy in August.” My initial response was to say, “I’m sure Rebecca knows what she is talking about.” But then I decided that we would never know if it worked unless we tried it. As for the subtlety problem, I figured if we put people into small enough groups, there would be no problem with hearing each other. As for the bugs, people can just use bug spray. As for summer nights in DC, humidity is a fact of life!

We sent out an invitation today for a potluck dinner followed by poetry for August 20, the date of a full “sturgeon” moon. The initial response is mostly negative, but not because of a wimpy response to the weather and the bugs, but because people are legitimately out of town. I recall that the declines came in first in the winter also. David and I have already decided that if enough people can’t come, we will move it to September.

One way or the other, it’s time to start looking for some good new or old poems that I can read and hopefully no one else will pick!

Finding My Voice

Before I chanted Torah last Saturday, I acknowledged that it would not be perfect and just asked God to give me confidence. I was really scared of hearing my own voice, just me!

When I was a child, I never wanted to hear my voice. I would put my hands over my ears when my parents played their reel-to-reel tape recordings that included my voice. Why was I so uncomfortable listening to myself? Was I afraid that what I would hear would reveal a flaw, a fault?

I have never wanted to sing a solo. For whatever reason, I have always sung alto in choirs, never feeling like I could project the sound, especially when it got into the lower range. The one time that I had a line to sing in a small chorale, I could barely make myself come in.

When I first started practicing the trope, I realized that the sound came more easily if I pitched it higher. I also realized that if I really breathed and relaxed I really enjoyed the sound. The first time we practiced with the actual Torah and I was feeling afraid, I heard it in my voice and didn't like the cracking sound.

After I sang on Saturday, several people said to me, “Why in the world are you an alto? You actually have a soprano voice!” I actually liked hearing my voice, especially for the trope tunes that covered a broad range of notes.

I had a very interesting discussion of this with Kathryn today. She has identified a pattern that my Torah-chanting fits into, whereby I am searching for a way to make myself recognized and heard, I’m trying to find my own voice.

I think this extends on to my music. I have always been content in the past to play for myself, or for noone in particular. I finally want to make music with others, finally to let other people hear what I can do.

The curious thing about this search for my voice is that it may well be something completely different than I would have thought. But that’s OK as long as I like the sound!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

An Early Woman Conservationist

I had an interesting conversation this morning with my friend Deborah about her grandmother, Rosalie Barrow Edge, founder of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. Apparently Rosalie became concerned about the welfare of migrating hawks in the Pennsylvania mountains during the early 1900's. Hunters were felling them as fast as they flew into the area. She enlisted the help of friends to purchase a huge tract of land that became Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.

I now understand where Deborah gets her commanding presence. Rosalie sounds like a powerful woman, well before most women had power. She grew up in a family with money, but not too much money. Once when she and her sister were going to a dance, they only could afford to buy one pair of long gloves, so they split the pair and each carried one over their arm. Another time when she was traveling on a train, she inquired of the woman next to her what her husband did for a living, to which the woman replied, “He is the President of the United States.” The woman was Eleanor Roosevelt. Rosalie is quoted as saying, “Telling the truth is not necessary to a good story.” She was not a saint.

Rosalie Edge was declared to be one of the five leading conservationists of the 20th century, along with people like Rachel Carson. Her bird sanctuary is alive and well today, sponsoring visiting conservationists from all over the world and spreading the word about saving the birds of the world. What a wonderful legacy for my friend Deborah to have!

Here are a couple of interesting links:

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Post-Bat Mitzvah Blues

My big day has come and gone. People said I did a good job, but all I seem to remember were the mistakes I made. Why must I always be so hard on myself?

It was actually a wonderful service. The rabbi, Susan Warshaw, is a rabbinical student who just pinch hits in the summer when Danny is on vacation. She met with us prior to the service today and we looked at the torah scroll and did a “dry run”. She told us to think about all the Jewish women who have never had the privilege of reading from the torah as we got up to read.

This service was all about women. There was a baby naming for a beautiful young girl. There was the female rabbi. There was Meryl, our cantorial solist. And of course there were Tamar, Judith, and myself. What a statement for modern liberal Judaism.

It was actually a great privilege to read from the Torah, an experience I will never forget. I’m sure this will not be the last time I do it, but firsts are always special and memorable. It is really powerful to think that Jews around the world were chanting the same verses that I was this morning.

Getting ready for this day, mostly on my own, has occupied much of my free time over the last few months, or at least 20 minutes a day. I can’t even begin to count how many times I went over what probably took all of 10 minutes to chant. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Will I do it again? Absolutely.

But it’s a little depressing not to have this thing to do any longer. There’s always music to practice and books to read and maybe I should just learn how to enjoy doing NOTHING at all. But an adjustment from being so busy even to being busy doing other things is hard. We are all such creatures of habit.

Friday, July 08, 2005

A Visit to the Mikvah

This morning I made my first visit to the mikvah, the ritual bath traditionally used by Orthodox Jewish women each month after their period. Reform Jews – both men and women – have come to use the mikvah to mark special occasions – weddings, conversions, and for me an adult bat mitzvah.

The mikvah is a small pool which is fed at least partially by a source of natural water – in this case rain water. You are supposed to approach the mikvah only with what you were born with – no jewelry, no glasses, (in my case) no retainers, no nail polish. You also prepare by cleaning out your ears, your belly button, every crevice, and by carefully combing your hair after you shower and shampoo.

The idea is to completely submerge yourself 3 times, not touching any surface of the pool. In between dips or afterwards, you can recite prepared prayers or any prayer that has meaning for you.

As I entered the warm water I felt very buoyant. The prayers carefully directed me to look backwards, letting go of unnecessary things and feelings, and then to look forwards, reaching out for new meaning for my life. What a perfect way to prepare for what I will do tomorrow, as I read from the Torah for the first time.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

A Quick Dip into Latin America

I have rediscovered why I loved working in the international area of the Census Bureau so much so long ago. I have just spent 3 days with wonderful people from all over Latin America and from Spain, France, and the UN. I finally found a woman tonight who spoke English worse than I spoke Spanish, so we ate dinner together and spoke only Spanish. I attended an executive meeting of statistics office directors this afternoon (in Dr. Kincannon´s place) and forced myself to not use one word of English. The Spanish would come if only I were here just a little longer. I could understand everything in the meetings, in Spanish and surprisingly in Portuguese (which sounds like a weird version of Spanish).

But what I love most is the people. I now have good friends in lots of countries. The director of the Peruvian statistics office brought me cookies at every break and told me “I want to make you fat.” I ate the cookies and thought “How cute!” The director of the Brazilian statistics office gave me a special invitation to come to Rio next spring when the group reconvenes.

I commissioned Martin from the UN to do my shopping when I realized that I was not going to have one minute to buy anything. He gladly accepted, but then came back empty-handed with only pictures of very cool, very colorful Spanish churches. So we spent time talking about all the native birds he saw in the local nature preserve and he agreed to send me the pictures of the churches.

I had thought that I might just come down to Mexico and hide in my room since I didn´t know anyone. My room is certainly worth hiding in, since it has a sitting room and a bedroom that could easily sleep 4. In fact Martin commented that in his graduate student days he could have put 12 people into a room that size. But I really only stayed in my room to sleep. I thoroughly enjoyed the company of my many new-found friends and proved to myself how very easy it is to make friends when you want to.

I would really like to slide into Spanish the way all of these people seem to be able to handle English. I hope I get some more opportunities like this one to go in that direction. The world is so much bigger than home...

But, come to think of it, I am looking forward to seeing David and Daniel and the dogs tomorrow and Rachel on Friday. I have a bat mitzvah to go to soon!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Pinesol Clean

Recently someone told me about a bathroom situation that encouraged speed by leaving an open bottle of Pinesol.

I found just such a bathroom here at INEGI in Mexico. In contrast to the many deficient bathrooms I have faced in developing countries, this one is perfectly well equipped. There is always toilet paper that doesn´t even feel like sandpaper or newsprint. It is constantly being cleaned, so it always has that Pinesol smell, which does actually have the effect of making me not want to linger.

Mexico: Not a Place for the Disabled

I am struck by just how many steps there are everywhere in Mexico. There are even steps in my room between my ¨sitting area¨and my ¨sleeping area.¨ I have this fear of falling on my ass or on my face as I get up in the night .

There is no indication of an elevator at the hotel La Noria. There are stairs up and down through the gardens, to the pool, in the restaurant, and to my room on the second floor. Fortunately I can still walk, but if I were confined to a wheelchair, I would be in trouble.

It doesn´t get much better at INEGI, the Mexican equivalent of the Census Bureau. It looks like an Aztec temple, beautiful but with long flights of stairs everywhere. There is actually a ramp up to the women´s bathroom, but then there is a step to get into every stall. Each day to go to lunch in a beautiful garden area, we must negotiate at least 200 stairs. The food is well worth the walk, but I keep wondering how they would deal with an ambulatory-challenged person.

We take for granted the great strides in the US to deal with persons with disabilities. It just takes a trip to a third world country to remind you of how difficult things can be.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

A Busy Time

My life is probably way busier than it ought to be. But I am not complaining because everything I’m doing is something I want to do.

I just finished playing the piano with Deborah, my new-found friend, bass player, and doctor. We both really treasure our time to play together. We’re playing some hard music that is starting to sound good – a Handel sonata, a Vivaldi sonata, and Chaconne by Russell. We take turns making mistakes and starting over. But when we’re on, it sounds great.

Tomorrow I leave for 5 days in Mexico to attend an international conference on household surveys. I have to give a 90-minute presentation on the American Community Survey. I agonized all week over getting the final slideshow ready in Spanish and in English. I hope it goes well and that they don’t ask me too many questions which I can’t answer. I will make a few remarks in Spanish and then do the presentation in English with simultaneous translation. I hope there are people at the conference with whom I worked many years ago in Latin America.

The next big event is my adult bat mitzvah on Saturday. I am reading from the Torah with two other women. I have been working on learning to read Hebrew and chant the trope since February. I finally feel like I can do this without making too many mistakes. I also have realized that everyone in the congregation will be wishing for me to succeed and not looking for mistakes.

In preparation for this first in my religious life, I have decided to visit the mikvah, or ritual bath, on Friday morning. Orthodox Jewish women go to the mikvah every month after the end of their menstrual period as a form of cleansing. Reform Jewish women view it somewhat differently. They see it as a way to mark special times in their lives – a conversion, a wedding, a first Torah reading. I have been reading about this special ritual and think it will be an important preparation for Saturday.

I am very much looking forward to having Daniel and Rachel home next weekend for my bat mitzvah. It’s not that often that our whole family is together these days.

After Saturday I can take a deep breath and think about going to Chautauqua. The more I talk to Deborah, the more fun it sounds.

My therapist, Kathryn, said this week that she thought that I had always had all this excitement within myself – that I was just figuring out how to let it out and what to do with it. Even though my life is too busy these days, I am thoroughly enjoying every minute of it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world!