Friday, June 16, 2017

Lom

What we've seen of Norway is incredible. Today we drove from Oslo to Lom so we can spend a few days hiking in the mountains. Just walking around this little town makes the jaw drop with wonder. Also, it's chilly. I'm frantically knitting another hat so everyone will have on when we go to Jotenheimen National Park tomorrow.





























Wednesday, June 14, 2017

travels

So, we're in Norway. I've been blogging so sporadically I forgot to mention we were going. So far today we've walked about 10 miles and are trying to shed the rest of the jet lag. We're enjoying Oslo for the next day or so. What a city. I could live here, if only I spoke Norwegian and earned a bazillion dollars (or Kroner) a year.

Here are a few pictures from today:

Getting silly at the Vigeland sculpture garden.
There were lots and lots and lots of sculptures of naked people at the Vigeland sculpture park.

Not that you can tell, but this picture was taken at the site of a Medieval fortress.
Daniel peers into a canon. That monstrosity in the background is a cruise ship.

View from the medieval fortress.

The Oslo opera house, where you can walk all over the slanted roof.





Thursday, June 01, 2017

"prehistoric"

We're down to the last week of school before the kids are out for the summer, which means that most of the teachers and all of the students already gave up on anything resembling academic work a while back and it's all about pizza parties and celebrations and trying to stave off the anxiety of starting middle school in a few short months.

Several of Daniel's friends were in a leadership group (he was not, for some reason), and he told me that these kids had an end-of-year celebration that involved not the fun field day they thought they were promised, but instead a pizza party and a viewing of some lame movie. I told him that when I was in fifth grade, we sometimes got to watch film strips and that it was a real treat. I distinctly remember watching a film strip of A Wrinkle in Time in 5th grade, and that my friend Christie had to sit out in the hallway because her family was religious and thought the book included witchcraft and was therefore inappropriate. (Madeline L'Engle was a devout Catholic, so I'm not sure what went wrong for them there...)

If you want to feel old, try explaining what a film strip is to an 11yo in the year 2017. I told him how my teacher had to set up a projector and change the picture every time the cassette tape beeped. Then I had to explain what a cassette tape was because he's too young to have seen one. Kids his age are too young to have used CDs, even. 

Anyway, Daniel thought my description of a film strip was hysterical. "It's...what's that word, mom? Antique?" No, not antique, not that old, I said. Vintage, maybe. Or old school. "Prehistoric. That's what I meant. Prehistoric." 

Sigh. 

Sunday, May 07, 2017

healthcare

I have had a bit of a rough week. Tuesday morning my legs were sore and by evening I knew I was coming down with something. Wednesday and Thursday I drank lots of tea and took Tylenol and tried to ignore the fact that I wasn't getting better, but by Friday my throat was on fire, my head was throbbing and I told Stuart to get the kids to school so I could go to urgent care. An hour later, I had a bottle full of penicillin, a diagnosis of strep, and an afternoon of work to power through.

I had to work all weekend, too. It sucked, but thanks to modern medicine I got through it ok. It's the end of the semester, so I just don't have a choice. (I've also got a bit of an itchy rash behind my right knee but I'm telling myself it was there before I started the antibiotics so I'm not worried about it.)

We have pretty good health insurance thanks to my husband's employer coverage. This is not because either one of us is morally superior or really that much smarter than the average American. We are just lucky that one of us can make a steady living in an industry that provides benefits to its workers. That that person in the family is not me makes me feel a bit guilty, but also lucky. Nothing more. Once I finally decided to go to the doctor Friday morning, I didn't really have to think about it. There was the minor inconvenience of Stuart getting the kids to school instead of leaving early for work, but he was very understanding about that. My point is, we didn't have to consider the cost of going to the doctor, or the prescription I was likely to get because the cost was almost completely covered by insurance. It's not my fault I got strep. It's going around, apparently. Strep happens. But if I hadn't gone to the doctor on Friday, where would I be now? In bed miserable, in the hospital, passing my germs freely to everyone else?

I am a freelancer in the performing arts, so if I were on my own in the health insurance market, I would be sweating bullets right about now wondering what's going to happen with the latest version of Trumpcare passed by the House of Reps. The bill Paul Ryan pushed through is unusually cruel, granting huge tax cuts to the very wealthy at the expense of people who need assistance the most. Cutting Medicaid expansion by $880 billion while granting states the ability to waive essential requirements from the ACA (aka Obamacare) for things like life time spending caps, holding costs to cover people with pre-existing conditions (including mental illness, addiction treatment, diabetes, cancer, domestic violence, asthma, auto-immune disorder - who among us doesn't have someone near and dear who qualifies with one of these?), and basic healthcare like prenatal care and preventative medicine - - all this seems like completely abandoning common sense.

Side note: a lot of preexisting conditions are much more likely to pertain to women, like pregnancy (duh) and surviving domestic abuse and sexual assault and having mental illness, so it's exceptionally ironic that this bill was passed by a bunch of white men.

I won't belabor this point because a LOT has been written about the latest version of the AHCA (read good analysis of it here (Vox) and here (Slate) and here (NYT) plus various podcasts from the same news sources), so I'll just close by saying this: in a country with as much wealth as we have, it is literally sick and immoral to treat quality, affordable healthcare as though it is a luxury that only a few deserve, rather than a right we all should have.

Shame on you, Paul Ryan. Your soul is horrid and rotten. I don't know how you sleep at night.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

on raising young feminists

Feminism is so popular these days. Some fear it has become diluted and used as a marketing tactic to the point of losing its meaning (#femvertising, anyone?).

The other day I had a conversation with a friend of mine about the recent Girl Power movement. "Girl Power, girls on the run!" she exclaimed, "...we're going to end up raising a generation of little bitches." She went on to describe her experience working with some school kids, in which a couple of girls were bossing some boys around and they meekly obeyed. This was, apparently, evidence that the next generation of men is doomed to be compliant to the dominating bitches who have had a little too much girl power for their own good.

Obviously, I take issue with this view. For one thing, my own daughter is in Girls On the Run and is having an excellent experience. It has not turned her into a bossy, dominating know-it-all. Instead, she's having a fantastic time running with her friends and we'll all be doing a 5K together next month.  For another, one should never take a single experience and use it to generalize all of society. (I believe this is called anecdotal evidence.) Sometimes girls are bossy and dominating. Sometimes they are not. I don't think we can blame modern feminism for immaturity in a third grade class.

Also, this friend of mine has several grown children, some of them married (and even divorced) already, and I find that more often than not, the people who bemoan the kids of today are already done raising their own and thus consider themselves exempt from blame for whatever is going wrong with the current generation. It's exasperating, especially for someone like me who is at this very moment raising kids and trying to do it right. I remember being a teenager and hearing how my generation was doomed. It was insulting.

She did have a point about one thing, though. We shouldn't celebrate "girl power" for its own sake. We need to think about what that means. I once saw a youtube video of a 10yo girl singing Roar by Katy Perry, and the storyline of her video was of herself literally beating up a whole bunch of boys in a karate competition. She sang well, but it missed the point. Punching the lights out of the men in your life might seem satisfying in a music video, but it isn't the same as advocating for equal pay and rights and learning to advocate for yourself. We can't pull ourselves up by demeaning men and boys. We need them on board with us.

I've got a son and a daughter and I'm raising them both to be feminists. It's important for them both to understand why these issues are important for all of us.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

spring brain dump

I don't ever blog on good days, huh? I have them, I promise. I have lots of good days. Today wasn't bad, even. But I've been a little overwhelmed lately with life and work and parenting and the million little things that contribute to my overall stress level. Death by a thousand cuts, I think they call it. Actually, for me it's more like filling my pockets with thousands of pebbles until my clothes are sagging and it's hard to walk. 

All the college students I work with are totally freaking out like they always do 3 weeks before the semester ends. Anya started soccer this week. I'm playing for exactly 1.1 gazillion people and scheduling is a nightmare.

And I've got a tween in the house. We've got less than two months before Daniel is tout finit with elementary school. And boy oh boy does it show. I'm only about 3" taller than he is. He's wearing contact lenses now. He rolls his eyes or pretends he doesn't hear when I tell him to remove his dirty socks from the middle of the living room floor. He wants a YouTube account (the answer is a decided NO.) There's a lot of random frustration that I think has very little to do with things actually going wrong for him and a lot to do with the fact that he's getting older and the emotional landscape of his life and brain is suddenly a lot more complex. 

You know what doesn't help? Daily reminders from all the parents of teenagers and grown children who tell me how the next few years are going to be total hell. It's going to suck, they say. Middle school is awful. Good luck with that, they mutter as they walk away shaking their heads. Thanks but no thanks. 

It's a little bit like when I was pregnant/new mother and everyone told me I'd never sleep again, never see a movie again. Just wait, they'd say, just wait until you have another baby. Then you'll know how hard parenting is. Or, just wait until the terrible 2s! That's just not what you need to hear when you're actually in the trenches, elbow deep in messy diapers and bodily fluids and about to go out of your mind with the tedium of building block towers day after day.

The thing is, as hard as those early years were, and as glad as I am that they are behind me, I could handle it. Taking care of babies and toddlers and preschoolers is physically demanding and truly exhausting, but it wasn't as emotionally draining as this. Yes, I had/have complex emotions about motherhood (I did my fair share of complaining, here and IRL), but that had more to do with me and how I was adjusting to my place in the world. 

Now that the young people in my house are closer to adulthood than infancy, especially Daniel, I just don't feel equipped to handle it. Middle school was rotten for me. I was a year younger than everyone in my class, there was some upheaval in my family, and I was completely socially inept. (I was about to say that also my hair was stupid, but in the early 90s, EVERYONE'S hair was stupid, am I right?) Daniel's got more social skills than I did, he has a good group of peers, and I truly believe the school system here, with all its flaws (and believe me, there are serious flaws) is better than the one I went through. I believe he's resilient, though so far he hasn't had to cope with much hardship (other than not being allowed to have his own YouTube account.) 

I can't prevent my kids from growing up. I can't shield them from pain. I can't solve their problems for them. When I worry, I tend to hover, and I'm trying, truly, to stop doing that. It's better if they learn to cope with disappointment and frustration and the realization that the world does not revolve around them and their petty problems. 

But it's hard. I guess I have to figure this out with them.

Friday, March 10, 2017

validation, sexism

One of my favorite people on Instagram is a psychologist from L.A. named Dr. Shadeiyah Edwards who posts a lot about, well, various things, including parenting and female independence. Lately she's been posting a lot of quotes about validation. Here's a sample:

"It takes a strong person to do their own thing and not wait for anybody else to validate their existence." -Steven Aitchison

"Seeking validation will keep you trapped. You don't need anyone or anything to approve of your worth. When you understand this, you will be free."

"If you persistently seek validation from others, you will inadvertently invalidate your own self worth" -Dodinsky

"The only permission, the only validation, and the only opinion that matters in our quest for greatness is our own." -Dr. Steve Maraboli

Now, I'm not really one for inspirational quotes. Often they sound hollow and superficial. These, however, ring true for me. It feels like my whole adult life I have experienced some kind of crisis of confidence on a weekly basis. You'd think I would have grown out of it by now, but some days I still have very little faith in my own abilities. I know that sounds crazy, like I have terrible self-esteem, but I think it comes with being a woman in my line of work. 

Lemme 'splain it to you. Music performance is a field of fierce competition and constant scrutiny. Performance happens in real time, which can be both exhilarating and terrible. You're not allowed to make too many mistakes because they can't be undone. And if the stakes are high (an important audition, a high-profile performance), the pressure is intense.

I work as a collaborative pianist. I teach and do some editing, too, but the bulk of my work is freelance accompanying. I play for high school students in various contests and auditions, where the stakes are high for them but not necessarily for me. I play for college and graduate students for juries and recitals, where the music is much more difficult, but at the same time much more rewarding. I rarely play gigs that are purely professional, but it does happen from time to time. I have found a path where I work in education on many levels, from pre-college to post-graduate, and I love it. 

But boy oh boy, does this have the potential to mess with your head. For one thing, I spend a lot of time in one-on-one lessons, where the student is critiqued on every move he or she makes. Literally every breath you take is being observed and evaluated because if you're a singer or a brass or woodwind player, there is definitely a right and wrong way to breathe. If they do it wrong, they are more likely to fail. If I do something wrong (play the chord wrong, or come in late, fail to breathe with them), they are more likely to fail. 

When things go right, it's amazing, truly. It's partly why I've stuck with this for so long. For me, nothing feels better than a performance that goes well. But when things go wrong, it can be devastating. And often, for better or worse, this all usually happens in front of an audience. Even public speaking is a thousand times easier than a perfect music performance. (Perfection is rare, and ephemeral.) So now maybe you can understand the drive for perfectionism that comes with this work, and how it can scramble your brain.

Let me add some more layers onto this. I'm a woman. I'm a mother. I have family responsibilities that prevent me from being available at all hours of the day and every weekend. Most (but not all) of the freelance accompanists I know have no one to be responsible for but themselves. A few are partnered/married, but almost none of them have kids. It means I have to work twice as hard to maintain my reputation for being reliable and for being worth what I charge. And I do work, I work fucking hard. I might have to cancel or reschedule if someone is home with a fever, and I might not be able to play for studio class on a moment's notice when I have to get the boy to his cello lesson. I do make that clear from the outset, but it still feels like a liability compared to the young hotshots who are willing to work 24/7.

I know men in this town who do the same thing I do - freelance collaboration. They have less education than I do and charge more. They show up to perform in jeans and sneakers. They do not have kids. (I have never once taken a sick day for anyone other than my kids.) They play for high-profile stuff and I get referrals for people who try to bargain with me because "the nice young woman who played last year was a lot cheaper".

They probably have more talent than I do, so they deserve the fawning they get.  Can you blame me for always looking for validation? Can you see why I often feel like I'm mediocre? 

And yet. I persist.

Maybe it's foolish.