Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Keeping the Fire, Making the Magic

It’s been an interesting several weeks (months?) in the writing life, and your comments and observations about the “non-competitive life” post have been encouraging. The consensus seems to be that one keeps on because one never knows what effect one’s work is having on the greater world. This seems at first to be a little grandiose, to say the least. I mean, whom do we really think we are, anyway? Are we really going to change the world with our words? Are we really touching anybody? The obvious answer may not be the most accurate one. Because on the surface, it seems like we’re not getting very far, whether we’re writing away and collecting rejection letters, or singing away and not getting solos. The kicker is, the more lasting effect we may be having, we can’t see. At least not obviously. But we may be able to “see” it, or at least grasp some of it, if we reflect for long enough. Now, I’m not talking about the eternal effect of what we’re doing. It’s a given that if we’re Christians, and we’re trying to do our lives to the glory of God, we’re going to have at least some lasting treasure accumulated in a heavenly bank account, and I for one plan to write checks on that with glee when the time comes to cash in. It's the temporal effect I'm talking about. Sometimes we can’t see that effect, because all we can see are the ways in which we haven’t “made it.” But the bottom line is, everything we do affects someone in some way. For proof, all we have to do is think about ourselves, and how we got into writing in the first place. Wasn’t it because someone wrote something that meant something to us? Wasn’t it, sometimes, because we had stories to tell—but it took someone special to “give us permission” to tell them on paper? Wasn’t it because someone in our academic world, our friendships, or our families—or all of the above—said to us one day, “You know, you really ought to be a writer"? That’s the temporal effect we’re having, whether we realize it or not. If we put any writing out there in public…if we lay ourselves and our aspirations out there for the world to see…if we counsel, mentor, guide, or edit one other writer along the way…we’re having a temporal effect, and it’s a good one. That, too, shall count toward the heavenly checkbook. (Yippeee!) But it’s nice to consider that it also counts here on earth. And while we may not have thousands of people applauding us for those efforts…someone, somewhere, is benefiting from them.And they’re passing it on. And so on. And so on. Mind-boggling, isn’t it? Whenever I coach a school musical (of which I’ve done a few), or a performance of any kind, I always try to put into my pep talk the following sentiment: Remember when you go out there that not everybody can do what you’re about to do. Very few people can put themselves on the line the way you’re going to. They either don’t have the talent, or they don’t have the courage. You have both, and that’s why you’re going out there. But remember, most of all, that somewhere in that audience is a kid who’s never been to a live performance of this kind before. A kid who’s going to sit there and watch and listen to you…and be enthralled. A kid who’s going to come out of this performance this day saying, "I wanna do THAT!" Someone did that for you, and that’s why you’re here today. So when you go out there today…remember that kid. Perform for that kid. Make magic for that kid. In the end, that’s all that matters. So make the magic, as only you can. Someday, someone else will be where you are now, eternally glad you did. I think if we could all give ourselves that pep talk, preferably on a daily basis (!)…it’d make the rest of this feel a lot better. I’m going to try to remember it myself, and I hope you can, too. Now, let’s go make magic happen! Janny

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Now, this is fun!

What Poetry Form Are You?
I am heroic couplets; most precise And fond of order. Planned and structured. Nice. I know, of course, just what I want; I know, As well, what I will do to make it so. This doesn't mean that I attempt to shun Excitement, entertainment, pleasure, fun; But they must keep their place, like all the rest; They might be good, but ordered life is best.

Experience the fun for yourself...


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

But...there is good news, too

Hooray for baseball as therapy! Check out this story and see if you don't want to cheer. And...a happy ending to a missing kid story, for once! I for one am trying not to think about the Purdue mishap for now. There's a story with way more to it than we know at present... More later from the trenches, Janny

What's It Like?* (*the noncompetitive life, that is)

Yesterday I was e-mailing an associate when I came out with the thought: You know, I spend more than half my waking hours teetering on one edge of rejection or the other. What do people's lives look like who don't compete for anything? Would I even know how to live a life like that? And it started me thinking. Especially since I sang an audition last night and didn’t get the solo. Not that I haven’t been through this gut-wrenching experience before. Heck, if I’ve been through it once, I’ve been through it dozens of times. It’s part and parcel of a business like music…or writing. But at what point do you say enough is enough and stop trying so hard? Or is it ever a good idea to stop? And then what does your life look like when you do? I have to confess: I don’t know what that kind of life would look like anymore. I’m not even sure I can wrap my mind around it, because I have lived my whole life, in one sense, on the edge. No, I don’t do daredevil stunts (well, okay, I like rollercoasters)…I don’t spend 18 hours in an operating room fixing things that other people consider incurable…I didn’t embed myself in a war zone to be on the “front lines” of any particular battle. In short, in a way, I don’t “do” anything dangerous. But in a bigger sense, “dangerous” has many forms. Emotionally, I’ve been in a danger zone for most of my life. Some of that wasn’t of my own making…but in the realm of competitive professional “chances” I continue to take—it is. I put myself on the line on a regular basis, doing two things most people will never do: I sing in public, and I submit writing for publication. And the great majority of the time, those to whom I am submitting or auditioning for a “step up” say NO. There are gigs where you have an assured route to success in both of those endeavors, of course. If you go to journalism school, and you’re reasonably coherent, you will probably be able to latch onto some small newspaper, broadcast outlet, or (now) a web site, and work your way up the “ranks” in the field. Sometimes, with a few breaks, the jobs start coming looking for you; that’s the best place to be. Same goes for music…to a point. You go to a good school, you study with good teachers (this kind of element is much more important in music than in journalism, from what I’ve seen), you sing or perform with certain performing bodies…and you get a gig. Or two. Or a dozen. And then, once again, the gigs come looking for you. There’s also a difference between wanting to be a success at something and wanting to be the BEST. Wanting to stand out. To be a star. And, with the amount of talent I’ve been given, I feel I owe it to God, to myself, and to the world, to get to darn near that last level. Not worldwide fame, necessarily—but substantial achievement. From whom much is given, much will be required. But in both the fields of singing, which I am in, and novel writing, which I’m also in, the gigs that come looking for you are way fewer and farther between…and stardom is almost statistically impossible. Yet I feel I have to try to get there. And that’s what turns this into agony at times. That’s what makes one wake up, look in the mirror, and say, “What in the world am I doing to myself?” You see, sometimes, you do everything right, and the right things still don’t happen. Or they happen in small ways, but you never “get over the hump” and get the Big Success. You keep giving yourself pep talks, you keep trying, you keep chanting to yourself that it’s a “numbers game,” and the odds will eventually be in your favor… …but this goes on for years. Then decades. And the odds never change. You never quite get to that real success, as you’ve defined it. You never get to that point where you feel you “should” be, where you “ought to” be, where you’ll have given all you have and “the universe” will have rewarded it. Then what do you do? When is it time to step off the edge? To back away from it? To stop deliberately putting yourself through those highs and lows? Some people say if you’re in the highs and lows in the first place, you’re going at the thing wrong. That it truly is, simply, numbers. Or it’s “who you know” (or, in the case of music, more likely “who knows you”). Or it’s dependent on things you can’t possibly control (which it is), so just keep showing up. But when does “showing up” become an embarrassment to you and to others? What’s the point at which people stop admiring your persistence, and just wish you’d go away? When have you moved from “persistent” to pathetic? I, for one, am tired of moving through life with a figurative hat in my hand. “Please, sir, may I have some more?” I’m tired of trying to act “professional” and cool as my heart gets broken…again. I’m starting to wonder if I’m fooling myself about the level of talent I actually possess. But most of all, I’m scared. Scared on one hand that if I stop, I’ll have come up the proverbial “one step short” and “just miss it.” Most of us have had that drilled into our skulls so much that it’s part of our marrow now. We can’t quit, even if we’re tempted to, because we’re haunted by the image of stopping just short of the pot of gold. And I’m scared on the other hand that reality, and age, will finally catch up with me…and I’ll run out of “one more steps” to take. In the case of singing, your body’s ability to produce beautiful sound DOES eventually take a hit. If you have excellent training, which I did, that hit doesn’t have to happen too early. But it does happen. It will happen. Even I had excellent training a little late in life. So my breaking point may come that much earlier. On the writing front, obviously, the same physical limitations don’t apply. But once again, the rigors of repeated trying and failing take their toll on one’s creative spirit. Eventually, one starts to go from “wow, this is a great idea” to “well, maybe it’ll fly.” The passion leaves. The fire is gone, and you lack the flint to start it up again. I’m starting to wonder if my breaking point, in both areas, is coming already. Or has come, and no one’s had the heart to tell me. And if I’m moving into that “pathetic” realm, and just don’t know it. The feedback I’m getting on the quality of what I do—in both worlds—doesn’t say so. But the gigs I’m not getting are telling a different story. The question is…what do I do if I stop competing? What becomes of my talent? Have I let everyone in the world, including God, down? What’s next? Ideas? Janny

Monday, March 19, 2007

Just a Note for Those of You Who Care...

Okay, now you know this blog is generally not known for humility (!), but I probably should put in a few disclaimers if nothing else vis-à-vis that last blog: 1. My assessment of postgame words on the part of Coach K was based on secondhand information—i.e., I didn’t see or hear him say those words myself. I didn’t hear the whole speech. But I did hear him quoted on a sports station, and that sentence about “You do this long enough, you’re gonna lose now and then” was all they mentioned. They didn’t mention it was in context of Coach K congratulating VCU…they implied that was his only comment. So if you’re a Coach K fan and you think I “done him wrong,” there’s a lot more people you need to take to task as well, for painting a picture of him that may be in error. I’m just glad Duke’s not still dancing. :-) 2. My assessment of Oden’s postgame words came straight from an AOL story almost immediately after the game. So if you are an Oden fan and think I “done him wrong” too, take it up with AOL—I couldn’t stand to leave the TV on long enough to hear that Neanderthal speak for himself. More later on an actual writing subject! Janny

Sunday, March 18, 2007

An Award Probably Nobody Covets....

I know no one’s been waiting for these with bated breath, but…here they are. My picks for Sports Schmucks of the week, in no particular order. 1. The University of Michigan, for firing Tommy Amaker. It was no secret that when the team didn’t make a good showing in the conference, the conference tournament, or the NIT, that Tommy’s job was probably out the door. But it’s still a shame, because firing him isn’t going to fix what was wrong with the Wolverines this year. Tommy didn’t go out there and turn the ball over 15+ times per game (or half, in some of the more forgettable episodes). Firing Tommy Amaker because the Wolverines have missed the last 10 NCAA tournaments is penalizing a guy for the bad choices and coaching others did before him. He didn’t even have a chance to establish a recruiting class of his own on the court; he was coaching with other people’s recruits. Four years to “turn things around” is a joke. It’s probably no accident that most jocks don’t graduate at the tops of their classes; neither did the guys managing the front offices, apparently. (Or at least Logic 203 wasn’t one of their electives?) 2. Duke’s Coach K, for proving once and for all to the world what a jerk he truly is. Postgame comments after VCU sent Duke home from a tournament they shouldn’t have been in in the first place? “You play in enough first-round games, you’re liable to lose a few.” Notice there’s no congratulations for VCU in there. Not even a shred of sportsmanship. Not a nod to what was clearly the better team. In fact, if you read the comment one way, it sounds more like Coach is in effect saying, “Hey, we coulda beat you, we just decided not to this year.” But Duke’s so used to the NCAA “road to the” Final Four being little more than them showing up—the refs will usually take care of the rest—that this maybe left Coach K at a loss for words? Probably. Surely it couldn’t be because he really doesn’t have any time for anyone but his own team? Surely it couldn’t be because he truly is the egotistical self-absorbed snot he’s rumored to be? Makes me sad he supposedly came from Chicago. 3. And, of course…Greg Oden. And the gutless officials at that game. And the gutless announcers calling it. Lucky you, you all get to SHARE this one. That intentional, cheap, dirty foul wasn’t enough for him to do. You know—the foul that the officials chose to call in such a way that it took the game away from Xavier? The one you mysteriously saw no replays on on CBS? Yeah, that one. Something that had it happened the other way around, they would have been all over like glue on a stamp. It would have been THE headline and THE dirty play of the year, eclipsing even the North Carolina fiasco. Funny how it wasn’t. Oh, yeah, sure, Oden fouled out. Hey, after committing 8 fouls and finally getting called for a 5th, he should have been. (He should have been fouled out about 2 minutes into the third quarter, as he should in most games, but that ain’t gonna happen with a STAR, so we’ll take what we can get.) But what he should have been, in addition to out of that game, was called for the flagrant foul, the intent to hurt someone, and suspended for the next game Ohio State plays. And that next game should have been next fall. Not next week. But even all of that wouldn’t be so painful if this brilliant thug hadn’t then chosen to say what he did after the game, words to the effect that “…they were calling so many bull crap fouls for the game I figured if I was going to foul someone, I may as well make it good.” Note to Coach Motta: every coach in the league knows it’s chancy to let a freshman take a microphone at all, let alone on national television. Why don’t you? But then, again, every coach in the league would have been in his freshman player’s face after that thuglike behavior on the court, and that kid would be running laps, not talking to the press. Or don’t you know that, either? Schmucks, all of ‘em. Makes you all the more eager for baseball opening day. Janny, who needs to go wash her hands

Friday, March 16, 2007

By their sounds, ye shall know them…

A hundred years from now, when the archaeologists are digging up our scraps and trying to put together what kinds of people we were, one of the things they’re no doubt going to find is a lot of little rectangular machines with headphones attached—the "primitive" musical machines we call iPods. They’ll have a chuckle over those, no doubt. But more to the point, if the things are still able to play in some way, they’ll have some direct access to the tastes of at least some of us. If you think about that long enough, that’ll either give you reason to hope, or make you cringe. :-) So what’s on your iPod? And what does that say about you? You may not think of your favorite songs that way, but I always have, I confess. Music has always been more than mere entertainment to me, even more than an occupation or something I got my degree in. Music affects our internal chemistries, if we let it; at the very least, the right song can snap you out of the blues, or let you have a good cry, or make you laugh so hard you forget any troubles you may have been worrying about…for a few moments at least. It can be way more than just being something pleasant to listen to, a diversion, or background noise you like to work to. Added to this element the fact that what you collect, what you download, what you keep, ends up being what people are left with when you’re gone. Someone’s going to know, someday, that a sixteen-inch piece of multicolored crocheted yarn meant something to me—but without an explanation, or a sound effect, or a note, they’re not going to know that I saved it because that was the first crochet my daughter ever did, which she made into a necklace and gave to Mom. (Although now they can know, if my blog survives me in the ether!) But without detailed explanations in your will (!), is anyone going to know why you kept the songs you did? What they meant? Maybe it’s worth writing a little journal and keeping it with your iPod…just for the sake of giving the archaeologists something interesting to put on the Discovery Channel. :-) Or, maybe not. Maybe it’s just fun. Which is, in itself, another way to define who we are. So what’s on your iPod? Not the complete list, but a highlight or two? What’s the most unusual piece of music or sound you’ve captured and kept? Probably mine would be the Suite: William Byrd, as recorded by Frederick Fennell and the Cleveland Wind Ensemble. Not necessarily because people wouldn’t download that…but how many people have it on their iPods because one of those pieces was part of their wedding music? What’s a song you figure very few other people have on theirs? Mine would have to be Leave That Baby Alone by Saturday’s Children. I’d be willing to bet that less than a fraction of a percent of the people who come across this even know who Saturday’s Children were, much less love that purely-fun song as much as I do. Ditto for Rainmaker by the Cryan’ Shames…and yes, there’s a story or two connected with that one as well. What’s the song that gets you going better than anything else? That will perk you up when you’re down? For me, there are so many of them on there it’s hard to pick. But I’d have to say one of my true treasures is Phoenix by Dan Fogelberg. Someday, when you’ve got a couple of hours, I’ll sit down with you all over coffee and tell you why. So…you get the idea. Share, share, share. Come on. And if you don’t have an iPod yet and want one—tell me what you’ll put on it when you do! Or what songs you have installed on Windows Media Player. Or Real Player. Or what you’ve burned to CD. If music be the food of love, what do you love…and why? Tell, tell! Singing and dancing her way into the hearts of…a few, Janny

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

It's the (second) Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

...March Madness! And truth to tell, you have to wonder if maybe this isn’t the *first* most wonderful time of the year, eclipsing even that of the Christmas season (when aforementioned song is supposed to be sung!)—not of course because of what it means, but because of what it doesn't mean. Think about it: 1. No one’s stressing about presents or shopping. 2. No one’s stressing about decorating (unless, of course, you have more than one college flag to hang, and in that case, I’ll help!), cooking, baking, family dinner hassles, or trying to avoid flying fruitcake. 3. No one’s stressing about a higher electric bill (unless, of course, you hang Basketball Lights…and if you do, I want to know where you got them). 4. No one’s stressing about much of anything more important than who should’ve got in, who did get in and shouldn’t have, who got left out, who got a free pass, and who’s going to be this year’s “Cinderfellas,” as one sports hose called them. In other words…no one’s stressing except the coaches and probably the players. (And parents, of course. Nothing like being the parent of an athlete in a tournament for encouraging you to get out your Rosary. Trust me on this.) Oh, of course, there are people who put some substantial money on the games—now there’s a stressor, if you choose to go that route. But for most of us, with the exception of the office pool or a few friendly wagers, that particular stressor doesn’t even enter the radar. Unlike the Christmas season, when even people who don’t know the meaning of the holiday will plunge in full-tilt and end up broke, the only ones truly riding the rollercoaster of this time of year in any real way are players, coaches, families, and college rooters. Which is as it should be. Short of Thanksgiving, this is the most fun non-present-buying “holiday” season lots of us have; short of maybe the World Series, it’s probably the sports event that most people truly enjoy. Super Bowl Sunday is another non-holiday “holiday”…but that’s only really about two teams (and commercials!). The NCAA and NIT are about many, many teams. 64 in one case, 32 in the other (not to mention the conference-championship tournament week or two before, which is a special madness all its own). That’s a lot of basketball, a lot of entertainment for the time spent, and a lot of dreaming, all rolled up in a few days in March. Best of all? Every year, some of those dreams come true. Some “little team that could” beats the odds and brings its fans along on a ride that, however long it lasts, is magic. And I’m the world’s biggest sucker for that kind of magic. So fill in your brackets, or find someone who does, and tune into some of the games. I’ll save you a spot on the couch, we’ll have snacks, do some yelling and jumping up and down (on occasion!), and the best part? When it’s all over, we won’t even have pine needles to try to sweep out of the carpet. :-) Happy March Madness to all, and may your team win! Janny

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Lent: Instead of Giving Up…

Why not think about giving to? I don’t know about your experiences, but it wasn’t until I was well into adulthood (and we do mean well into it) that I learned that Lent was really about more than “giving up stuff.” Oh, of course, the Church always had those instructions about fasting, prayer, doing good deeds, and almsgiving…but let's face it, we always put something in the collection basket, and in my more recent years I’ve been very conscious of trying to actually tithe (by the numbers, even). So I had to wonder how much more the Church would expect me to give in terms of alms, as opposed to supporting the ever-expanding needs of a family. And, I must admit, my almsgiving has been rather spare only in that I want to be sure whom I’m giving to in the first place. Yeah, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer foundation sounds like a real good, wholesome place to contribute to…until you find out its link to Planned Parenthood is almost incestuous. Yeah, things like the Red Cross and United Way have their places, as long as you can pick and choose to some extent where your money’s going to go (in our particular instance here, United Way does not support Planned Parenthood or any other “reproductive freedom” type agendas, but that’s not the case everywhere!). The Salvation Army’s a good bet…but at least part of the almsgiving I want to do, as a Catholic, I’d like to at least see go to Catholic organizations. Catholic Charities (in most instances) is a fine alternative—but we all know there are more than enough causes out there that need contributions. So what are some of the alternatives? Maybe some really wonderful places and causes off the beaten path? Well, I found a good one. And especially for Lent—in celebration of our new resurrected lives to come, as much as anything—I think this would be an awesome place to think about giving a few extra pennies. Take a look at this homey place In future days, I’ll try to cover a few more places I think might be good to send one’s extra “alms” to—everything from an animal shelter or two to supporting good Catholic/Christian media. But we all start somewhere, and this place is just far enough under the radar that I think it deserves some attention. Happy giving! Janny