Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Crazy About You. Or Just Plain Crazy.

I feel lucky to be married to my husband Fred.

I do. I've known him for seven years and he's my best friend. Though that sounds cliche, I find it remarkable. We are this perfectly odd match. And by odd, I mean I find it odd that I found someone who suits me this well. I mean, how did that happen? What kind of strange cosmic bartender shook the world hard enough to pour out two equally matched oddballs like the two of us?

I didn't think I'd ever find anyone this smart, funny, inappropriate, handsome, good in bed, talented, kind, thoughtful, strange, quirky, witty, surprising and did I mention good in bed? (That second good in bed was for his benefit. Also: sorry mom and dad.) And we're both highly neurotic in strangely similar yet conflicting ways, which adds to the excitement in our relationship.

I joke that we both have OCD-lite. And by "lite" I mean that although we are both compulsive, we're not obsessive. So really, we're just annoying, not life-threatening with our issues. We each definitely have a sense of what's "right" as far as the placement of the household objects go. I mean, it's great that we're both compulsively picking things up around the house, right? I mean, it's not like one of us is a slob and the other is neat. We're both neat. We like to do a daily chant of: "YAY! TEAM NEAT FOR THE WIN!" And then we high-five each other.

We're both quick to grab the Windex® and go at the counters, table and floor. If someone feeds the baby, you never have to worry that they didn't clean the high chair. I've had people comment on our daughter's high chair. It looks like new. She's two. Yes, that's how compulsive we both are. And yes, I've Windexed that thing from top to bottom, including under the seat cushions. We're not animals.

It's funny, though, sometimes our innate sense of what's "right" contradicts. And by "contradicts" I mean, Fred is wrong. To me, it makes the most sense to leave the removable high chair tray resting vertically on a dish towel on the counter top, yet tilted against the wall so it can drip dry. The second Fred sees the tray on the counter, he has to move it back to the high chair where it will lay horizontally. Wet. This is where our neuroses conflict. I mean, really, who puts a wet tray on a high chair? It's madness.

Objects constantly move back and forth around our house. You probably would never notice this subtle dance. Perhaps I move the coffee grinder next to the stove, so it can be near the kettle. Perhaps he moves it next to the sink, so it's not in the center of the kitchen. Less obtrusive. Perhaps the coffee grinder will do a dance, left to right, right to left, like a kitchen accessory tango over the course of a few weeks, each of us surprised to see it has moved since we last replaced it.

Things can also happen to items on the mantle. I like the Buddhas tilted so they're looking at an angle, facing the couch. Fred tilts the Buddhas back so they're parallel to the wall, facing the chair. I put the Xbox controllers behind the TV. Fred puts them in the drawer. I keep a neat stack of books on my nightstand. Fred puts his books in a drawer. There is nothing on the floor next to my side of the bed. Fred's side is covered with wires to his various electronic devices. I roll socks into a ball. He folds them in half. Fred puts the kids' clothes away in the closets. I rearrange where he put them. And maybe even how he folded them. Who's to say? You can't prove it either way. I put my hair brush in the bathroom. Fred puts it in the closet. Fred puts the toilet paper on the floor, I put it on top of the water tank. Back and forth, up and down, the objects in our house move from one place to the next in a subtle dance of compulsion.

When we first got married we drove each other nuts. I think we were both shocked that we were married to someone who actually put things away. I mean, it was nice. It was great! Two neat people in one house. We are Team Super Clean, yay! But then it was like, "Hey, who moved my Buddha? Stop touching my stuff! My placement of household objects is perfect! How dare you question my judgment of the arrangement of stuff. I practically have a PhD in my very own school of Feng Shui that no one else can quite decipher." Whatever. My way is obviously the best way ever.

I'm not sure if we're both crazy, or just crazy about each other. I suspect it's both. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mini Athlete Genius

After taking mandolin lessons for a year, I decided to get a new teacher. I thought it would be beneficial to learn from someone new and perhaps learn something new in the process.

My new teacher has a completely different approach to the instrument. While my last teacher was mostly interested in me learning how to play songs (which makes sense), the new teacher is more interested in how I'm playing the instrument.

It's interesting to take this step back a year into learning the instrument. I hadn't been paying close attention to my instrument any more. I was focused on the notes on the page. I didn't know what my hands or fingers were doing, other than whether or not they were hitting the right notes.

After my first lesson with the new teacher, I changed the way I have my strap positioned on the mandolin. I did this so that I could change the way I hold the neck with my left hand. I tend to grip the mandolin like my life depends on it. I have to remind myself that it's not a paddle and I'm not rowing a boat. I can hold it lightly with my thumb and in so doing, free up my four fingers so that they can move easier over the strings.

My first assignment from the new teacher was to simply run up and down the neck, doing chromatic finger exercises. I was no longer playing particular notes and I wasn't playing a scale. I simply ran my fingers up and down the neck, four notes at a time, and in so doing, I watched my fingers completely spaz out. They did this weird spider-like movement above the strings because they weren't familiar with the new positions. You can see what I mean at the beginning of this video:

After running up and down the fretboard all week, my fingers relaxed and hovered over the strings quite calmly. The weird finger splaying had stopped. 

The other thing the new teacher had me do was finger exercises. I now sit at my desk and flip flop my fingers over one another, over and over again. I don't do this on the mandolin. I just hold my two hands together, palm-to-palm, and I flip flop my fingers over each other. 

First I flip flop the index finger of each hand over each other, then the middle fingers, then the ring fingers, then the pinkies. Then I try doing the first and second set of fingers together, the second and third sets of fingers together, then the fourth. Moving on, I try to do the first set at the same time that I do the third set. This is when things start to get messy. Then I do the second set simultaneously with the fourth and now my brain freezes and says, "I DON'T KNOW WHAT NERVES TO SIGNAL BECAUSE I HAVE LOST TRACK OF WHAT FINGERS YOU WANT ME TO MOVE!"

It is at this point that I realize I'm not using nearly enough of my brain on a daily basis. It makes me understand why they say learning a new instrument or doing crossword puzzles — anything the challenges your brain on a daily basis — is a good way of preventing the onset of dementia and mental illness as you age.


That's right. The mandolin cures Alzheimer's. You heard it right here. Interestingly, my mandolin teacher says he considers musicians "mini-athletes." It makes a lot of sense. You need to work out the muscles of your hands and forearms just as if you were training for a sport. It takes practice. It takes repetition. It takes conditioning. So now I'm finally addressing the physical challenges behind the instrument and I'm actually enjoying it a bit more. 

And now, just for fun, here are some of my favorite bands featuring the mando:

Here's Brandi Carlile, who I'm going to see in concert this month and whose voice was sent down from the angels or knitted by unicorns. I'm not sure which. Maybe it's both:

And a little uplifting diddy from the Lumineers, thanks to the sprightly strings of the mandolin coming in at around :56:

More mando in the weirdly techno-folk Crystal Fighters. They grow on you, I swear:

And last but not least, Chris Thile on the mandolin from the Punch Brothers, who was also named a MacArthur Genius this week. That's right, folks, A MANDOLIN GENIUS. I'm telling you, learning the mandolin will make you both a genius and the world's tiniest ironman athlete. Oh, and could win you $500,000:

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Finding the Melody

The other night I posted this picture on Twitter with the caption: "Too many notes."

That was before I had even attempted to play it. As some of you may know, I've recently started taking mandolin lessons. Learning a brand new instrument as an adult can be a humbling experience.

It's also rather embarrassing. I feel completely exposed practicing like a feeble-handed kid in front of my husband. Did I mention he was a music major?

I must be a glutton for punishment. Or my husband is. He probably didn't expect me to pick up a squeaky hillbilly instrument when he married me. I'm sure I seemed like a normal, northern, cosmopolitan lady.

I've been practicing this new instrument every day, for an hour a day. I practice until my hand aches. I practice until my fingertips burn. I have hardened callouses and the skin peels off. Sometimes I don't feel like playing but I drag the mandolin case out and my sheets of music.

Some nights, when I look at a new piece of music like Gallopede up there, I think I should just give up. There are too many notes. I'll never figure it out. Just who am a kidding, an adult trying to pick up a bizarre musical instrument when I already have more hobbies, activities, children, jobs, and social life than I need.

All of these voices of doubt play through my head and still I sit and stare at the notes. I don't close the book. I don't give up. I want to make music and feel joy in my heart. Even if I sound like a Suzuki Method player doing it.

The only way that's going to happen is if I just get in there and start plucking. Even if I hit the wrong notes. Even if I'm flat. Even if I have to decipher which three notes to play at once, or how to play a dotted quarter note before a triplet or what have you.

The other night after I Tweeted that moment of defeat: "Too many notes," I sat and I started to play through the piece. As I played, I found the melody and the notes were really much simpler than they looked. And I enjoyed playing it.

It's a reminder to me that just because something looks difficult at first, doesn't mean you can't do it. You just have to take it slow. Play it one note at a time and soon you'll find the melody.

Mando et mando.

Note: I wrote this a year ago when I'd just started the mandolin and never posted it. I'm still playing, but not particularly well. Though I must say, looking at the music for Gallopede now is laughable. It looks so easy and those notes look pretty sparsely scattered across the page. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Writing Is Stupid.

Why is writing such a painful endeavor? Why do people do it? Why do I do it as both a profession and a hobby? Is it because I'm a masochist? But then sometimes we say we love writing. It's our greatest passion. So which one is it? Is it torture or sex?

It's a little bit of both, I suppose. There are moments when you get so lost in writing that it's like you've become one with your god. You've merged with the universe and there is no more "you." But those moments are more fleeting than the moments of you staring at the screen like the empty husk of the damned, wishing you'd chosen some other career or hobby. Anything. Play an instrument. Paint a picture. But pull words out of my ass? What was I thinking?

Anyway, this is just to say I'm procrastinating. I'm supposed to be writing something else entirely. See, look at that. I'm so far gone, I'm writing while procrastinating from writing.

Send help.