putain, fais chier

blogging, cello, music, sad No Comments »

Hello again.

I felt I should write about a more serious subject for the first time in what seems like quite a while, and it’s the reason I haven’t been writing as often as I have in the past.  The problem is motivation.  I’ve been really frustrated with myself and the state of my life for the last few months, and I just can’t seem to pull it together.  Eight solid months of constant financial difficulties have created a sense of foreboding and despondency that is, while not entirely new to me, certainly at an all-time high.  That kind of stuff isn’t fun to write about, and neither is it fun to read, so I’ve kept quiet.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, and I don’t want to you to worry about me.  Incidentally, ‘I don’t want you to worry’ reminds me of a funny thing one of my friends said recently.  He said that he’s going to start saying, “I don’t mean to–” and then say that very thing.  As in, “I don’t mean to be rude, but you look really fat!”  I responded in kind with, “Pardon my French, but ‘Putain, fais chier!’ ”  But I seriously don’t think you need to worry.  Actually, you can if you want, or not; I can’t really stop you.  But at least you know what’s going on.

In some strange news, two people have died very young recently.  One of whom I knew only slightly—a friend of a friend kind of situation, but he was a great guy—and the other I didn’t know at all, but who was my close friend’s brother-in-law.  Both men died from sudden heart attacks, and both men were in their thirties. I don’t really know what else to say, but my heart goes out to all involved.  Things like that freak me out, and with the news of the airplane crash in San Francisco and the nightmarish runaway oil train that derailed and decimated the heart of the little town in eastern Canada, it’s a miracle I get any sleep at all.  There are a myriad of things to ruminate over.

I’ve hardly touched my cello in months.  It never seems to get any easier, even after playing for almost nine years.  I play a ton of other instruments, and eventually I’ve gotten to a certain comfort level with them, but that comfort level on the cello continues to elude me.  It probably doesn’t help that some of the better cellists in town have either lived before or currently in my same apartment building, which has led me to be a bit self-conscious at times about practicing here, but that’s my own issue.  Learning the cello (and probably any other instrument) is a series of plateaus.  You strugglestrugglestruggle with one technique, and then it finally makes sense and you take a little step up.  You stay there for a while and strugglestrugglestruggle with another technique, and so on.  This is perfectly natural.  But when is it going to seem like I know what I’m doing on it?  My vibrato is terrible, I never sound or feel relaxed, I’m sure I have about a million bad habits, et cetera, et cetera.  By comparison, it only took about 2 years to feel comfortable playing the guitar, and about a year or two to feel comfortable on the accordion.  Drums, although I don’t play them very often, have always come fairly naturally.  Mandolin took about a week, but that’s an unusual situation, since it’s the same skill set as the guitar.  Cello is still, by far, the most difficult and frustrating instrument I’ve ever attempted.  I don’t need to be Yo-Yo Ma or join an orchestra or anything—although that would be great—but it would be nice not to cringe every time I hear a recording of myself playing.

That’s all I feel like writing at the moment, but I’m going to try to write at least a little more regularly.  Here’s hoping the despondency and foreboding dissipate before too long.  If and when they do, you’ll hear from me more.  If they don’t, then. . .well, I guess you won’t.  And you’ll know why.

See you around.

 

Mister Cookie Face

dreams, funny No Comments »

I had two excellent, hilarious, and related dreams this morning.

* * * * *

Brother and I and someone else are sitting at a table in a small college cafeteria.  I have a box of cookies on the table to my left, next to where my arm is resting.  Brother steals one and asks, “What are these called?”  He pops it into his mouth without chewing.  I intuitively realize that if I can come up with a clever enough name for the cookie, he has to give it back. Luckily, I am somehow prepared for this eventuality.

“It’s called ‘Mister Cookie Face.’  Give it back.”

Realizing he’s been bested—although I can’t exactly explain how—he instantly spits out the damp but unchewed cookie and deposits it on the plate in front of me.

“THANK you,” I say triumphantly.  The guy sitting to my left looks completely baffled by what has just transpired.

* * * * *

Okay, so that was Dream Number One.  Dream Number Two happened a few minutes later, after I rolled over.

* * * * *

Brother and I are at Dad’s old apartment, and the three of us are sitting on the sofa.  I decide to put on a movie.  There are three televisions in two cabinets sitting next to each other.  The two small ones seem to provide the picture for the big main one, but once the main one is going, the little ones can be turned off so as not to distract from the main.  It’s complicated.  I go through the elaborate process, turn off the two small TV’s, and sit back on the couch next to Brother and Dad.  I tell Brother, “Oh yeah, I had a funny dream just now.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. You and I were having an argument about the name of a cookie.  Whoever came up with the best name for the cookie would get to eat it.”

“Who resolved it?”

“I did, sort of.  I called it ‘Mister Cookie Face.’ ”  He laughs out loud, while I continue.  ”You had to pull the cookie—which you’d already put in your mouth—back on my plate in defeat.”  He laughs really hard at that, and the laughter is what wakes me up.

It’s worth noting that there really is—or was—a cookie called Mister Cookie Face.  Stupid name for what is—or was—a really delicious concoction; an ice cream sandwich made from chocolate chip cookies.  I haven’t had one in about twenty years.  The cookie in my dream bore no resemblance whatsoever to the real MCF, and was merely a smallish lump of chocolate, more like a truffle than anything else.

There you go.  Mister Cookie Face.  I think we’ve all learned something very valuable here today.

keep you posted

funny, music No Comments »

I went to the grocery store today and ran into an actor/comedian acquaintance who was waiting in line ahead of me.  While she was checking out, I zoned out for a second—as I’m commonly known to do—and started whistling.  The checker called me on it after my friend was finished, and while she was ringing me up she asked, “Is that your Waiting-In-Line whistle?”

“Nope, it’s my I’ve-Got-A-Song-In-My Head whistle.”

She took a beat.  ”What song?”

“One I wrote, actually.”  She has no way of knowing that it’s a brand new GhostBand song, and it’s a safe bet that she, like most other humans, isn’t even aware of GhostBand’s existence.  ”I was working on it all morning.”

“Oh.  That’ll be $15.99.”

I handed her a twenty-dollar bill.  ”Hopefully you’ll be able to hear it out there in the world before too long.”

“I wouldn’t really know what to listen for.”

“Well, then. . .I guess I’ll have to keep you posted.”

There was an awkward pause, while she counted my cash and returned the change.  ”Okay, have a good evening.”

I love my life.

diving in the sky

beautiful, funny, Oregon, true 1 Comment »

Last summer, I jumped out of a plane.

It was fun, and scary, and it’s definitely the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my life, up to this point.  I did it partly because I wanted the experience, and partly for solidarity with GhostBand.  SingerDanielle made a vow as part of our KickStarter campaign that if we reached our goal, she would conquer one of her phobias and go skydiving.  We did reach our goal, and when the time came, there was a group of us who thought it would be much more fun to do together.  So we did.  In addition to the aspect of moral support, it gave us a discount on the price.  One has to be frugal, times being the way they are.

The business of skydiving is a strange one.  The first time you go, you have to take a short class, and you have to sign a huge waiver that says (in no uncertain terms) that if you are injured or killed, you or your family will not hold the company liable and sue them.  The waiver is insanely detailed.  There’s a little box after the end of each sentence that you have to check, in order to show that you’ve read and understood every last bit of the document, and that you have no recourse.  It can take half an hour to fill out the thing; it’s crazy.

Once we finished the paperwork, we stood around and waited for our class.   We filed into the little room, and they told us what position to be in for our jump—lie on our stomachs with our arms and feet raised behind us—and we each had to demonstrate the position so they knew we understood.  They also stressed the importance of doing exactly what the instructors, to whom we would be bound by an elaborate harness, tell us to do.  If we struggle, or go against what they say, we could have problems, and that could make the instructor’s job of controlling the landing much more difficult.

When the class was over, we stood around outside and watched a number of other skydivers land, gently and effortlessly, and our nervousness abated.  I actually wasn’t nervous about the skydive, surprisingly.  I just thought it sounded amazing, and was looking forward to it.  Certainly, once I’d seen a bunch of other neophytes land without incident, I knew we were in good hands.  Finally, our turn came, and we each joined our respective instructors.  We put on jumpsuits and were assigned helmets and goggles.  We followed the guys to the airplane, climbed aboard, and got into position.  There were six of us in the group, each with his or her own instructor, and one experienced skydiver who was jumping solo.

As the plane ascended to the requisite thirteen thousand feet, our instructors set to work harnessing us to them, so that we were essentially attached, and we could move as a single aerodynamic body.  They even gave us last-minute chances to chicken out.  They tapped us on the shoulder and yelled (since the plane is extremely loud), “Are you ready to jump?” to which the acceptable answers are either, “Yes,” or “No.”  They have to be absolutely clear that we’re giving them permission to take us on the jump.

Suddenly, the plane came to altitude, the door slid open, and there was the sky.  Right there.  The experienced solo guy jumped first, followed by SingerDanielle, followed by the rest of us.  Since I had been the first to board the plane, that meant I was the last to jump.  My instructor tapped me on the shoulder, as all the others had to their assignees, and asked if I was ready to jump.  I said yes, and we scooted awkwardly down the length of the otherwise empty bench seat until I was sitting on the edge of the open doorway.  Before I could even formulate a thought, my instructor said, “GO,” and he launched us out of the plane and into free fall.

When you first jump out, you flip onto your back (like scuba divers do) and look up toward the plane, which disappears from view surprisingly quickly.  You stay on your back for a short time, and then flip over and assume the arms-and-feet-raised position you’ve been taught in the class.  Meanwhile, the wind is pummeling you, and the ground is rushing up at great speed.  If the instructor’s parachute doesn’t open, he or she will go ahead and deploy the one on your back, which is the backup, and they won’t tell you they’re doing that, since you would almost certainly freak out up there and make the situation much worse.  You know how you are.

Falling through the sky at a hundred and twenty miles an hour is not something the human body was ever designed to do, and the feeling is like no other.  Every muscle in your body tenses, and you can feel a bit nauseous, but you also feel more alive than you ever have before.  It takes about one minute to plummet from thirteen thousand feet down to two thousand, when the rip cord is pulled and the parachute presumably opens.  One minute is a really long time to fall, and your body doesn’t really get used to it, at least if it’s your first jump.  I imagine it gets easier once you’ve done it two or three times, but the first time is. . .well, it seems so ridiculously cliché to say a ‘rush’, but that’s really what it is.  You’re completely outside of human experience, and you’d better believe that your body knows it.

Near the end of my free fall, I had a bit of difficulty with my goggles, since I wore them over my glasses, and nobody told me I shouldn’t do that.  [NOTE:  If you wear glasses, take them off and just wear the goggles by themselves.  Trust me.]  My instructor could see that I was having difficulty, so he pulled the ripcord on his parachute and reined us in, while I could see the rest of the group far below me as their parachutes deployed a few seconds later.  I felt a huge but not entirely uncomfortable jolt as we quickly slowed to the normal drop speed, and our bodies swayed forwards and back, a bit sickeningly (if I’m honest), as we moved into an upright sitting position, and after we settled down I was able to adjust my goggles.  Since there had been a small air gap along the bottom edge, my right eye got scratched pretty badly, and I had to struggle to keep it open.  I didn’t want to miss any of the experience.  My instructor showed me how to turn, by having me reach up and grab the ropes on either side of us.  I pulled one, and we lunged to one side.  I pulled the other, and we lunged to the other side.  Then it was all gentle curves and beautiful views, as we flew over the lovely Oregon countryside and headed back to the tiny airport.  The instructor and I had done a quick practice landing in the air, and I had watched enough other people land that it totally made sense.  I kept my legs stretched straight out in front of us, and the instructor  landed us on his legs and ran us out.  Easy breezy.  It all went off without incident, and we were safely back on terra firma.

Our group, uh, regrouped and compared our experiences.  We were all exhilerated.  SingerDanielle was pretty nauseous.  I was the worst for wear with the scratched eye, and I felt a bit nauseous an hour or so later, back at home.  Skydiving is pretty hard on your body, but it’s an incredible experience, and I might actually do it again, especially now that I know what to expect.

FrenchSinger has also been skydiving once, and we were discussing it and wondering how often people get sick in the air.  It seems like the kind of thing that would happen pretty often.  We cracked up as we imagined some unsuspecting guy working in his garden or whatever, when suddenly, out of the clear blue sky—BOOSH. . .he’s drenched from above by projectile vomit.

I would recommend that you try skydiving, at least once in your life.  It’s not for the faint of heart, as I like to say (usually when describing movies), but it’s an absolutely unforgettable experience.  The free fall is scary, but when you’re floating gently in the air after that, it’s just sublime.  The instructors are totally professional, too, and despite what the litigious waivers may say, it seems safe enough.  I never felt unsafe, let’s put it that way.  I felt like I was in good hands, and that we were totally in control.

Since then, I’ve heard a couple of crazy stories of mishaps, but those are definitely the exception rather than the rule.  One person told us about a long-time instructor who decided to randomly go on a solo jump.  He was completely in the moment, and feeling great.  The only problem was that in his excitement, he’d forgotten to strap on his parachute, and no one noticed until he’d jumped out.  He’d jumped so many times before that it never occurred to anyone that he wouldn’t be prepared.  Whoops.

My friend’s dad jumped once, back in the days before instructors were required to go down with you on your first time.  He hit his head on the foot bar on the side of the plane and knocked himself out.  He came to, luckily, during free fall, and once he realized where he was and what was happening, he was able to pull the ripcord and parachute normally.  But holy crap; what a story.

These days, there are lots of checks and double-checks that instructors do, and they don’t leave anything to chance.  Well, except for pure excitement, I suppose, like the guy who forgot his own chute.  But, I mean, come on.  If I can do it, you can certainly do it.  It’s awesome, and crazy, and unlike any other experience.  I don’t think I’ll ever bungee-jump off a bridge, though.  That’s where I draw the line.

If you’ve jumped too, what was your experience like?

 

 

 

momentum

blogging, pictures No Comments »

Well, it seems to have happened again.  I lost my writing momentum.  This is not the first time this has happened, as you’re well aware if you’ve spent any time sniffing around the blog.  Despite being unemployed and having neither a wife nor a family to take care of, I have a very busy life, and sometimes I’m just not sure how much of it—good or bad—I want to share with the Internets.

I do know that a good way to get the momentum going again is just to start typing and see what happens.  Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Worth mentioning is the fact that I seem to have developed a pinched nerve near my right shoulder blade, which makes my index finger numb and causes occasional fits of shooting pain through my arm.  This makes things like driving a car, playing musical instruments, and using a computer (in other words, most of the things I do with my life) much less fun than they normally are.

I was housesitting for almost two weeks for FrenchSinger and his wife, keeping their three cats company while they were on vacation in Canada.  In addition to the cats, they have a good-sized television, and all the major movie channels, and a Netflix subscription, which meant that this was the primary activity for the majority of my time at their house:

BFxi3STCMAAjTJb.jpg-large

It’s not exactly the greatest picture in the history of pictures, so if you can’t quite make out the details, it’s me lying on my side on the sofa, with two of the cats perched on my leg.  A couple of times, I could swear that vegetable matter was beginning to form between my other leg and the sofa, as I watched marathons of shows like Kitchen Nightmares and Top Gear.

I also got my passport, at long last.  A couple of my friends who live elsewhere in the world have been bugging me to get one for years now, but the hassle and expense (years of underemployment are taking their toll) of ordering my ‘real’ birth certificate as well held up the process a bit.  I had the same problem that Barack Obama did, with an unofficial copy, which used to be perfectly acceptable until the world went crazy.  No more, however, since my shiny new passport is here in my hot little hand.  Well, not in my hand right now, but you know what I’m saying.

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The brochure that came with it says on the front, “With your U.S. Passport, the world is yours!”  So it would seem.  Now all I have to do is use the thing, as much as possible.  The first place will be beautiful Vancouver, B.C., for a gig in a few weeks.  The most likely places after that are Switzerland and France, although who knows; I may get a random jonesing for Iceland or Japan or somewhere like that.  I’ll keep you posted.

I’ll leave you with what is currently my favorite piece of music.  I came across it in a documentary film, and looked it up in the credits, and have been obsessed with it ever since.  It’s “Nimrod”, from the Enigma Variations, by English composer Edward Elgar.  It’s absolutely stunning, and well worth the four minutes it will take you to watch this video of the excellent (and very stern-looking) Daniel Barenboim conducting.

There, see?  I told you.  Beautiful, noble and epic.

Incidentally, I’m still taking submissions from guest bloggers.  I had three or four people say they were interested, but I suspect that my own lack of blogging momentum was contagious to them, and the interest seems to have temporarily waned.  So come on.  Let’s all ‘fire up’, as they say.  Actually, I’m not sure who says that, but let’s do it anyway.