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.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

a day without women

Tomorrow is International Women's Day, and as you may know, women across the country are planning to take the day off work, paid and/or unpaid. Dozens of school districts have canceled school because so many teachers, who are mostly women, will not be at work. 

I applaud the women who are able to take this particular action, but I will not be participating in the women's strike. If I take an entire day off, I'll lose money and make people angry, and I'll have trouble getting hired again. I get that this day of action is supposed to be disruptive, but for my particular work situation, it would totally backfire. Also, I work almost exclusively with women (not because there aren't male musicians; it's just how things have worked out this year) and making their lives harder, even just for a day, would kind of defeat the purpose of this whole thing for me.

I will wear red, however, and maybe even scare up a red ribbon to pin to my jacket so it's a little more obvious I'm wearing red for a reason (I like red, in fact, and should wear it more often!) 

I'm also told that participants in this day of action are not supposed to buy anything. Right, I wasn't planning a mid-week shopping trip anyway and I always pack a lunch, so no problem there. If you must buy something, buy it from a woman-owned business...presumably a women who isn't taking the day off and closing her shop or restaurant.

Mostly, I see the Women's Strike as sadly ironic, because the women who are most overlooked and least empowered to do something like take the day off, are least likely to be able to. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

new directions

I just applied for a job. It's part time, seasonal, and would just get thrown into the mix of all the other part time gigs I piece together for work these days. What's different about this job is that it's completely unrelated to music. I have spent the last few evenings reworking my résumé and writing a cover letter. In it, I attempt to explain how all the skills I've accrued studying, teaching and writing about music my entire adult life are relevant to this other kind of work. The job doesn't pay particularly well and isn't very many hours per week, but it's in a field I'm really passionate about, and I know I'd be good at it.

So wish me luck, would you?

Sunday, February 12, 2017


You guys, I am so over Valentines. I'm not talking about having a romantic date with my spouse, because that was never a thing for me and Stuart, whose favorite alternative name for the holiday is "Jerk Appreciation Day."

No, I'm talking about the kid part, where you have to buy or make Valentines for everyone in your kid's class. It was cute in preschool, and sweet in kindergarten. After that we got over it pretty quick.  Handmade Valentines are just a total pain in the ass. Am I right?

I remember when I was a kid, it was all about the candy. We just ripped into every card or tiny box, tearing right by the generic notes and terrible Valentine puns and went right for the candy. Whoever gave you the Valentine stuffed with the most message hearts was your best friend for the day. Bonus points for chocolates, but those were very rare. We, on the other hand, were always the stingy ones who didn't even give candy, but handed out Disney knock-off Valentines from the grocery store, names hastily scrawled on each envelope. One year we may have put stickers on them, but I can't be sure.

Anymore, classroom Valentines parties irk me more deeply than this surface-level annoyance. Some families at my kids' school don't have stable homes to go to or enough food to eat, much less the time and resources to come up with Valentines for everyone in the class, so if they want to hand out cards they have to go to the office and get a package of whatever was donated by the social workers or is leftover from the year before. Aside from that, there's all the plastic junk and sugary food that inevitably is incorporated into these classroom parties...but you can't really complain about it or you end up being THAT HIPPIE MOM who ruins all the fun and hands out organic carrot sticks for prizes. No thank you. I'll just bitch about it on my blog instead.

Part of the reason I can't get enthusiastic about Valentine's Day is that by this point in February, we have serious celebration fatigue. November through early March is one long marathon of holidays and birthdays for all four of us in my house plus a few in the extended family. By Valentine's Day, I've had it with presents and treats and baking cakes and I need to save what little energy I have left for Stuart's birthday in March so he doesn't feel cheated.

Anya is in 3rd grade and we totally recycled last year's lame idea for Valentines for her class. We found a bunch of corny jokes and printed them on red paper, which she cut apart to distribute to her classmates. If she's feeling frisky she'll draw hearts on them, but that's optional. Today, as she was getting everything ready in the Word document, she noticed a distinct gender bias. "Why is it always the boy asking the girl the question?" she wondered. I told her she was welcome to change the wording. Instead of What did the boy bat/bee/ghost say to the girl bat/bee/ghost on Valentine's Day? it could read instead, What did one bat/bee/ghost say to the other bat/bee/ghost? In the end, she decided it wasn't worth the trouble, so all of her Valentine's cards are sexist and assume heteronormality. Yes, it's annoying, but it's just a bunch of Valentine's cards, and in the end we don't really care enough to fix it.

I don't even know if 5th graders pass out cards but if Daniel wants to do that, he's got about 24 hours to get that together.

So what do you think? Am I a Valentine's Day Grinch? A lazy mom? Or am I just smarter and saner than everyone on Pinterest?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Snapshot: Women's march in Madison

We stood 100,000 strong in the streets of downtown Madison this afternoon. 

We are stronger together, so don't give up.

Friday, January 20, 2017


Just now on my way home from a meeting, I passed a young woman on the side of the road with two dogs. One was lying on the ground convulsing, the other standing protectively to the side. She was sobbing. I stopped the car and asked if I could help her. "No it's ok," she said. "My dad's coming." So I left and by the time I drove past the dog had stopped moving altogether. 

I don't know what had happened, except that the dog didn't appear to have been struck by a vehicle. Maybe the dog was old and already in ill health, or maybe he had a sudden seizure. In any case, it's a terrible thing to see someone cry while her animal suffers in a cold puddle in the street. As if I weren't sad enough about today, this filled me with sadness. And what an awful thing for her to experience. Maybe I should have stayed and tried to comfort her while we waited. Maybe that would have made her feel worse. I don't know. 

But it's already a gray, gloomy drizzly day, literally and metaphorically. I couldn't stomach listening to the entire inaugural speech of the newly installed POTUS, but I have heard clips on the news. He stands for authority more than rights. We have reason to be angry, we have reason to be terrified, and we have reason to protest. 

We'll be downtown in our home city tomorrow, the four of us, in the gloom and drizzle, marching for the rights and safety and democracy of all. Wearing pink hats and yelling in the street won't change anything, but it's still important as a gesture. 

We won't take this sitting down. No, sir.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


What is happening to the ACA is horrifying. If the GOP wants to take health care away from people, they should be forced to go without it, too. 

I called my senators this morning. I kept my message polite and to the point. If you care about preserving the Affordable Care Act, in particular the provisions for covering people with pre-existing conditions, I encourage you to do the same. In Wisconsin, our senators are Democrat Tammy Baldwin, who is fairly progressive, and Republican Ron Johnson, who is as conservative as they come.

Baldwin's Washington number is: (202) 224 - 5653

Johnson's Washington number is: (202) 224 - 5323

Keep it polite, and keep it true. In my message, said I was deeply concerned that without coverage people will actually die. I said I hope my senator has enough respect for life and dignity that he/she will do the right thing and preserve health coverage rather than take it away.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

snapshot: from back in november

We took an 11-day road trip over the holidays (I was stressed about it, but it turned out really fun) so I'm still adjusting to being back and trying to catch up. I've missed the obligatory end-of-year/new-year post, so I'll just sum it up like this: 2016 obviously sucked big time in the news but wasn't a bad year for our little family. The best part was welcoming this little nugget. Enjoy a photo of her and her cousin Daniel from Thanksgiving:

Happy new year, my friends in Madtown and elsewhere. Stay strong.