In Go I


In Ventura County, back in the 1980s, there was a popular bumper sticker that read, Pray For Me, I Drive 33. It referred to Highway 33 that led from the coast in Ventura up through Ojai and on over the Maricopa mountains to Taft at the crest of the San Joaquin Valley. It’s a winding, dangerous road that goes up and down mountainsides and makes sharp hairpin turns, and it’s driven by a lot of people (and truckers) who think it’s a freeway and who want to drive it fast, taking chances like passing on curves. There’s also the wildlife to watch out for. Anyway, you get the idea. When I decided to commit to NaNoWriMo for the month of November, I remembered that bumper sticker.

Truth is, I joined NNWM in 2007, but I never committed. I never entered one single day’s word count and I promptly forgot all about the account. In fact, when I tried to signup tonight I found out that I was already registered. Imagine my surprise. I don’t remember signing up back then.

So here I am committed, nervous and excited, awaiting Sunday when I can enter that first day’s word count. I’ll be working on Book Three of my trilogy and, although I anticipate it being a lot longer than 50,000 words, I’m hoping the daily exercise will break this lethargy and get me back into the Zone. I need the self-discipline, not one of my strong suits.

What got me going on this was Kelly over at Byzantium’s Shores. He’s been a participant every year for at least a century now and he finally got to me. Not that he tried to, he doesn’t even know. Thanks for the inspiration!

You can keep an eye on my progress over there —> via the sidebar meter and on my NaNoWriMo profile page.

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The First Is Loss


Since the devastating accident at our homecoming parade on Saturday morning it’s been hard for me to think of anything else. I suppose that’s true for nearly everyone here in Stillwater. We went to Braum’s for burgers last night and the mood was thick and deep with grief. It’s like that all over town. People do what they have to do, but they do it with hushed voices. I’m not even hearing boom cars. It sounds trite and predictable of me to say this, but things like this don’t happen here. Lynette and I don’t go to the parade every year, but we hear it; we live just two blocks from Main Street, where it’s held, and only a few blocks from the corner where the accident took place. Lynette drives past it four times every week day going to and coming home from work both at lunchtime and in the evening. Like everyone else in this town, we spend time at the businesses on that corner: Hastings Books, Panera, Food Pyramid. It’s one of the busiest corners in town.

I won’t drag you over my emotional road map of the past few days, but a couple of things really shook me. I mean, beyond what one would expect. When I read the list of those who were killed or injured, I saw the name Atwell, which happens to be my youngest son’s last name. I hadn’t seen him around the house that day and he often goes to community events to take pictures so my heart jumped into my throat. How many Atwells can there be in a town this size? Then I saw the name of one of the deceased and it was the exact name of a friend of ours. I had to ask Lynette if it was our friend and she assured me it wasn’t, but two scares like that on top of everything else pretty much sent Thyroidzilla into shock.

I also won’t bother you with my opinions about this incident, except to say that I’m in total and utter despair of the meanness and cruelty of people. The Open Carry lynch mob mentality has literally made me ill. People are vile and monstrous, looking for any excuse to vent their self-loathing while sitting perched with their knives and forks at the ready. And that’s all I’m saying.

So what I’m doing—what I have to do—is step back and reclaim my own life. How much or how little I pay attention to this event will not change anything, but it will effect my health and, as callous as it sounds, life has to go on. That’s what it does and inasmuch as I am not directly affected by the tragedy, I have to pull away from it. This is a coping mechanism I’ve had to learn in recent years. It doesn’t mean I don’t care, or that I won’t keep tabs on how things transpire in the weeks and months to come. It means that I cannot allow myself to be sucked into the vortex of grief, anger, and confusion.

I extend my heartfelt condolences and compassion to the victims, the driver, and all the families and friends involved.

“Grief is in two parts. The first is loss.
The second is the remaking of life.”
Anne Roiphe

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Dear Prudence

Story & Clark Piano
Not my actual piano, but the same model.

Dear Prudence,
When I was five my parents, who had watched somewhat perplexed as I taught myself to read piano music and to play my grandmother’s piano, took me to the Story & Clark showroom in Ventura. I remember that day vividly, the exact location of the store and the magical feeling of being surrounded by so many beautiful instruments. I didn’t know why we were there and it took me many years to realize that you, in all your blonde radiance, were to be mine and not just a piece of furniture for my mother’s brand new living room. In those days the big thing was blonde wood, and my parents, after enlarging the living room by about 12 feet, bought all new pieces, very modern, very trendy, and all very turquoise, pink, and tan. There was the Riviera convertible sofa with its matching armchair and the armless chair that spun, causing my mother many, many hours of consternation (“Stop spinning in that chair! It’s not a merry-go-round!”). There was the blonde coffee table and matching end tables as well as a matching corner table, and the table lamps. You know the ones. I’d give anything to have that pink lamp now. And then the Jetson-like ashtrays in pink and turquoise and in sleek triangular shapes. We were stylin’ out there on Orange Drive. And then they added you.

Getting a piano of my own was one thing, but the fact that my parents shelled out so much money ($900 in 1957 was a lot—nearly $8000 in today’s money) was no small thing. I suspect they saved for years to do the remodel and buy all new furniture, and you, that year.

Yesterday I spent about 90 minutes playing the piano. Not you, of course, but Lynette’s piano. Like you, hers sat in her parents’ living room for years. After her mother died, her father gave it to us. I’m grateful to have it, but it isn’t you. I haven’t built up a lifetime relationship with it and I’m not particularly in love with its sound or its touch. You were lost in the Big Dump of 2001. Of all the things I miss, I miss you the most and I always wonder where you are. Are you in someone’s living room? Are children learning on you in a classroom? Are you helping a struggling composer? Did you get stripped for parts? I can’t think about it too much, because my heart just crumbles into a million little pieces.

A number of professional pianists I knew through the years also loved you. They all said you had an action like a fine grand. You had a mellow tone and my hands never grew tired no matter how many hours I played you. I’ve heard you resound with the majesty of Beethoven and I’ve heard you get down with the Blues. And the hours I spent composing and playing my own music on you cannot be counted.

Through the years you went through a number cosmetic changes. In 1972 Dad removed your blonde finish and stained you walnut. He also replaced your modern legs with turned spindle legs (Mom had gone Early American by then) and took his router to all of your square edges. Later, in 1988, I painted you white. We knew each other through and through; I even tuned and repaired you myself through the years. If I ever come across you on the web I’ll move hell and high water to buy you back. And I’ll know you, too. You have a few little flaws that would be hard to hide. And besides, I still have your birth certificate, including your serial number. I keep my eyes open, but so far you haven’t shown up. I have to admit that the same model, like the one pictured above, would be a huge temptation. I could almost—almost—pretend it was you.

After you went away I couldn’t bring myself to play anymore. We were so close and the loss of you was so great, I just quit. 2001 was a year of heavy, heavy loss anyway. Yesterday I worked on a couple of songs that are going on the album, Circle Line and To You. You remember them, don’t you? The latter came out nicely and needs no changes, but I had to transpose Circle Line down from F to D. This will take some time to get used to, but it’s really not a big deal. The hands are thinking instruments and they learn new patterns fairly quickly. The only problem I ran into is that I need to start working on stretching my webs again; my left hand (which, as you know, plays a lot of octaves) really began to hurt and still hurts. You never hurt my hands.

Anyway, Prudence, if you’re out there somewhere, please find me. I miss you so much.

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Keeping It Simple


I’m one of those people, who, when inspired to create a simple project, will always complicate it, making it more difficult than it needs to be. When an idea comes to me and I decide to manifest it, I invariably take it as far as I’m able. A short story becomes a trilogy, a pencil sketch turns into wall mural, and a piano sonata turns into a symphony. On and on it goes. I’ve always done this and up until now it’s never bothered me or held me back, but as I’ve gotten older this has changed.

Take my album for example. My initial idea was to make it a simple production; four tracks at most. The main vocal, sometimes a harmony, and maybe double-tracked guitar, but as usual, I began to think larger and larger until I was momentarily thrown off the whole idea. Take after take after take, ping-ponged tracks and full-tilt band arrangements just seemed to complicate everything until my basic idea, as well as the music itself, became unrecognizable to me. I began to move out of my realm, causing me to feel uncertain and not up to the task.

The problem is, as intoxicating as it might be to allow my vision to expand in this way, it puts me off my game and I wind up feeling defeated and overwhelmed. Last month I ran into this and I almost decided to not record the album at all. Outside of Judge And Jury, I’m not happy with my tracks so far and I’ve said as much on this blog. I took some time off to get back in tune with what I wanted in the first place. I worked on my book a bit and cleared my head. With help from the 5-HTP that has returned my passion and energy, my creative vision came back home to me and I’m ready to go back to work. “Keep it simple” I tell myself. I thought about running up a little sign to keep me reminded, but I just know it would turn into an embroidered sampler or something.

And with that in mind, I’m keeping this blog entry simple and getting back to work.

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