Saturday, December 16, 2006

Commitment to Lower the Bar of Decency

You know those articles you see on MSN or in Ladies' Home Journal with headlines like "10 Top Ten Things Not to Do at the Office Christmas Party?" My company's party is the place where all of those ten things happen and then some. As Tom, Amy's husband, said, "The thing I like about your company party is that everyone seems committed to lowering the bar of decency." That's quite a fair assessment, and I gotta say it, I wouldn't want it any other way.

Our party is held at our boss's house. For years it was called the "Antech/Anderson Christmas Party", but thanks to an event a couple of years ago, it's now called just the "Anderson Christmas Party," lest the company get sued for unsavory behavior. I have the dubious honor of being responsible for that change, and I now have to finish all my karaoke performances with the disclaimer "No Antech employees were harmed during this performance." I'll tell that story another time.

Our boss's goal is to liquor us all up as much as he can, stir us up, and see where the chips fall. I love that his motto seems to be "work hard, play hard." We definitely play hard at this party..until after 2am. I directed a performance art piece that included 4 new employees reenacting the "birth of Antechians" and proceeded to make fun of a few choice co-workers. Fortunately, I've worked with these people for 10 years, so we've turned into this odd, functional family where we know which jokes are fair game for public consumption and which aren't. The newbies wore black capes and danced like idiots and chanted in whispers repeating key phrases, while Enigma's "Sadeness" played. If only I'd had a smoke machine, it would have been perfect.

The crowning moment of our show was when "the Angel of Antech came down and performed a Christmas miracle." The angel of Antech consisted of my boss's head with wings attached, dangling from a tree branch by rubberbands. Totally ridiculous.. Fortunately my boss has a great sense of humor. Our show was a hit, despite my efforts to just do something so weird that people just didn't know what to make of it.

The performance art piece was the opening act for the next show that can only be dubbed "Naughty Nurses." The admin staff came out in short nurses' outfits with thigh high fish net stockings and did a dance routine to "Dr. Dr., Give me the news..." It was oddly uncomfortable, but that's pretty much what's to be expected from that group.

Tom did a stunning rendition of "Y.M.C.A" during karaoke with another one of the male spouses of a co-worker. As they were conspiring about what they were going to do, there was a lull in the conversations around the room and we just heard Tom say, "Are you going to be comfortable with that?" So, we knew we were in for a show. Yes, Tom and a very good sport, Joe, ended up dancing together and actually rubbed each other's nipples at some point. Good clean, fun!

So while other people at other companies may go to work the Monday after the Christmas party covered in shame, we all hold our heads high and just thank god we work for such a cool company that lets us act like idiots and still get paid.

Merry Xmas!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dinner over Dead Bird

A friend asked me the other day in an email how my Thanksgiving was, and instead of giving the usual answer of 'Good. How was yours?" I really thought about my answer. I felt my experience was best summed up with a short little play full of actual dialog that occured over my table. I present to you "Dinner over Dead Bird"

Scene: Kitchen table of my mother-in-law’s house.
Cast: My husband, mother-in-law, my mother, father, father-in-law, friend of the family, and her 16 year old daughter, me

Scene 1:
My Husband: Sue, are you growing your hair out?
My Mother: Yes, I am. I don’t look like a poodle any more.
My Husband: It looks great. I really like it longer.
Mother-In-Law: No….no, I really don’t like it. You should keep it short.

Scene 2:
My Mother: My mom didn’t have any more kids because she had RH negative blood. They would have had birth defects.
Friend of Family: I have RH negative blood too. So does Kaitlin.
Me: What is RH negative blood? I don’t know what that means.
Friend of Family: It has something to do with a racist monkey.
Me: What? A racist monkey…I’m thoroughly confused.
Friend of Family: No, a rhe, a ree, not sure how to say it.
Me: Oh, a rhesus monkey…. I still don’t get it.

Note: I never got a good explanation.

Scene 3:
Me: So, what do 16 year olds do? Do you have a MySpace page?
Kaitlin: Yes.
Me: How many friends do you have?
Kaitlin: 200 and something
Me: Are any of them predators?
Kaitlin: No!
Me: How do you know? Don’t you watch Dateline? Watch out for yourself out there.
Kaitlin: I only talk to my friends on there.
Me: What kind of music do you like?
Kaitlin: Breaking Benjamin.
Me: I have no idea who they are. God, when did I get old?
My Husband: On the way over here. It happened at this one intersection. It was sad actually.

Scene 4:
My Mother: Yeah, I have a living will set up. I won’t be on life support for more than 3 days. I watched my mother on that ventilator for five and a half months. It was horrible. That’s why my brother hated my step-father, keeping her alive like that…
My Husband: Can you set up your living will for a specific number of days?
My Mother: I think after 3 days they just take you off the life support.
Friend of the Family: Well what if you stay alive after that?
My Mother: More than likely I’d just suffocate to death. That’s what happened to my mother.
Me: You’re such an optimist, Mom. Can we change the subject?

Scene 5:
Me: Do people your age still consider Johnny Depp hot?
Kaitlin: Yeah. He’s older, but still cute.
My Mother: He has such great bone structure. You know who also has great bone structure?
All of us: No. Who?
My Mother: Billy Idol.
Me: Wow. I didn’t see that one coming.
My Husband: Me either.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Story of Scars

My body is not what it once was. Xrays show 14 broken bones, 1 titanium plate and 6 screws. My skin - 5 surgical scars (4 on the belly, 1 on the left arm), 3 chicken pox scars (2 on my forehead, 1 on my left arm), and a hole where a belly button ring used to be. I am missing a gallbladder and a small piece of jawbone. I am 32 and not a victim of child abuse, violent crime, or car accident. These marks are not wounds, but rather stories of my life. The wear, the tear, the marks of living, losing, hurting and healing. Scars are sexy in their simplicity. Their clean, white raised lines mark their territory, take root and become a part of me. Conversation starters and windows into who I was, who I am.

Parts of me that are seemingly unchanged are just blank canvases for that bruise that I'll certainly get in a week or two. I'll cut the corner too close and clip the coffee table with my thigh, like I always do when I'm in a hurry. I'll watch it change from black and blue to brown to green to yellow. I'll admire it's simplicity, it's clear phases of healing. In a year, my right arm will have another 4 inch scar when a surgeon will saw my ulna in half, take out half an inch and pin it back together just like the left one. Power tools will be used to put me back together.

Almost every major part of my body has a distinguishing feature that in a line up of just various body parts from different people, I could pick out my very own. What distinguishing marks do you have? What stories do they tell?

Mine say I'm somewhat clutzy, yet spent most of my childhood on my hands doing gymnastics. That made my arms grow incongrously; hence the surgeries and titanium plates. A softball to the face shattered my nose, causing 2 surgeries and 3 additional breaks. I broke out with chicken pox during a gymnastics meet at 11, spurred a small epidemic, and was consequently at home watching TV when the space shuttle Challenger blew up. In my early twenties I played in a rock band and wore belly baring shirts; hence the belly button ring. I couldn't get it off before my gallbladder surgery, so my husband took wire cutters and cut it out. I never put it back in. The causes, the effects, the marks, the scars. I may sound like a complete wreck, but I think I'm surprisingly together.

Monday, March 06, 2006

My Birthday Prize

A good friend of mine has been coming over on Saturdays and I've been helping him learn how to play his mandolin. I've played guitar for 20 years, so even though I don't technically know how to play mandolin, I can help him play some tunes and just get used to playing with another person. It's been great fun and in the process, I've actually started to learn how to play the mandolin, too!

On my birthday, my husband and I took the day off because our puppy was having some surgery that day. We figured we'd go frolick during the morning and early afternoon while Aussie was at the vet and then we'd have a nice quiet evening at home. While we were out we talked about me getting a mandolin. We drove by this strip mall with a music store I'd never been in. On a whim I said, "Let's go in there."

I walked in and there was one mandolin on the wall with a very attractive price tag on it. I took it down, played it for 5 minutes and said, "I'll take it." I know I could have done a ton of research and all that stuff, but this thing played great, sounded great and was right in my price range. I said, "Happy Birthday to me" and took that thing home.

I got home and immediately whipped out some music from Nickel Creek. If you don't know who they are, they are an amazing group of three young kids that are just extraordinary musicians. I had to laugh that the first song I was going to try and tackle was this piece called "Ode to a Butterfly". It's crazy difficult. I figure if I'm going to learn something new, I might as well really challenge myself in the process.

As I was sitting down struggling through the first few bars, my husband told me to close my eyes while he brought my birthday present out. When I opened my eyes, there was a gorgeous wooden music stand he had bought for me. It's totally hand crafted and beautiful. So, I got to spend the rest of the evening playing my new mandolin and reading music from my new stand. It was great.

It's been interesting to learn this new instrument at this stage of my life. It's odd to look down at a fretboard and have to think about what notes I'm playing...or worse yet, not knowing at all. With the guitar I am at home. With eyes closed I can tell you what notes I'm playing and will know what something is going to sound like when I imagine my fingers running up or down the fretboard. With the mandolin, it's mostly a mystery.

I remember when I was learning to play guitar I would look at the chord charts and put my fingers in the configuration and say "That's a D major" and not realize that there are easily 20 different ways to play that same chord. I was a kid and just thought that I had to just do what was shown to me.

So now I come to the mandolin and I see those same kind of chord charts, but I know those black dots and lines are just a guide and not really the "law," so to speak. So I fumble around for a bit and can think through the theory of the chord and find better variations of it to play, that make more sense to me. It's much like getting older. Experience gives you the knowledge to improvise, make better decisions and judgements, and get through the rough times more quickly and with greater ease.

Fun Tina in Spain

I spent most of Sunday writing emails to various hotels in Spain because I am taking a 10 day trip there in May. I've been put in charge of hotel rooms because I am definitely the pickier of the two of us going. Amy is an amazing creature that has absolutely no problems sharing a bathroom with strangers. That's really not in my blood.

My blood is the blood of a family who rarely vacationed and when we did, "roughing it" was considered no towels at the Holiday Inn. In fact, I'd never camped in a tent until I was 26. Sure, I had done the sleep over in someone's backyard in a tent, but a real campground... that might as well have been a foreign country.

Speaking of, this will be my first trip to Europe. I can't believe I haven't made it there yet. I'm just glad we're going to a country that Amy hasn't seen and I speak the language. I think this will be a good first European adventure --- Madrid, Toledo, Sevilla, Jerez, Ronda, Granada and Barcelona. It just sounds exotic to me.

I'm also glad we're going to a country that believes in three hour naps in the middle of the day. I like any place that holds the nap in such high regard. I recognize the siesta isn't just for sleeping, but napping is the star of that show if you ask me. This way, when we land we can immediately take a nap and Amy can't drag me around demanding that I stay awake until 10pm. I fully intend to do as the Spanish do.

I hope my Spanish holds up. I studied for 8 years in school and I'm doing great communicating via email, but much like my everyday life, I am much more comfortable writing than speaking. It's not that I'm uncomfortable talking, but I like the solitariness and quietness of writing. The beauty of editing sentences and playing with words is gone in conversation. I know there's much to be gained in a conversation, but crafting your words is much more difficult in that situation. However, there is one thing that does help my conversational skills in Spanish -- alcohol.

When I drink, my alter-ego "Fun Tina" appears and apparently she can speak and understand Spanish like nobody's business. I will be on vacation, so I could indulge a little more frequently than usual. Fortunately it takes very little to coax Fun Tina out from hiding --- about 1.5 glasses of wine will do the trick. Todo es bien!

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Year of Puppy Improvement

At the start of the new year my husband and I had declared that this would be the "Year of Home Improvement." In the fall we had tiled our foyer and kitchen area and were impressed by how that relatively small change had a dramatic effect. So, we were pretty excited about this. I had dreams of adding in some new lighting and different sink fixtures, a bigger shower, etc... However, in January we got some bad news.

We have three dogs that we absolutely adore and our oldest puppy, Aussie, has severe arthritis in her hips. Considering how bad her hips look in an x-ray, she gets around amazingly well, but she does have the occasional bad day where she can't walk that well. We took her to the vet and were essentially told, "Aussie's not a candidate for surgery and all you can really do is give her narcotics and anti-inflammatories for the rest of her life. But the anti-inflammatories will also damage her kidneys and liver in the process. The prognosis isn't good."

We were crushed at the news and were depressed for about a week and a half. The only ray of hope the vet gave us was to suggest acupuncture. She said many dogs have had success with this. We are pretty much willing to try anything to help make her more comfortable.

So I found a certified holistic vet who does acupuncture and chiropractic care, along with conventional veterinary care. Amy said I have found the place where all the crazy people take their pets and essentially, she is right. I am quite at home. Every Friday we take her in for acupuncture and a chiropractic adjustment. I believe I am taking better care of my dog than I am of myself right now. That's sad, but true.

During the appointment, the vet brings us some pillows and a mat for Aussie to lie on. They then insert 16 needles into various acupressure points and then dim the lights and we sit there with her and pet her. She does pretty well with it and she does seem to be doing better. Since we've started, she hasn't had any bad days and is able to go for longer walks and just seems more comfortable.

Just to add even more crazy into the mix, we bought a book on puppy massage. Every night we give her a 20 minute therapeutic massage and then take all three dogs for a walk and then feed them some fancy dog food that actually reads, "Contains human ingredients." The dogs are eating New Zealand Venison and Barley and Flax Seed, and Atlantic Whitefish with carrots and barley on a nightly basis. It's just obscene and I know it, but hey, I love those dogs. A friend of mine once said, "When I die, I want to come back as one of your dogs." I took that as a compliment.

I don't want to think about how much all of this is costing, but none of it really matters when I see her jump up after a massage and start barking to go for a walk. In dog years, she's 72 years old. That's not bad behavior for an old girl.

On a side note, it was my birthday yesterday. In dog years, I'd be dead.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Staring Crazy in the Face

Have you ever stared crazy in the face and had it yell back at you? I had the pleasure of that last year, and in my boss' office, no less, with someone who worked under me making bizarre accusations of physical abuse. For those who have no idea what I look like, I'm not even 5 feet 2 inches and a man in his mid-thirties claimed I struck him and constantly intimidated him in a domineering, physical manner. Anyone who is physically intimidated by me really needs to get on some medication and apparently this guy desperately needed some chemical balancing.

I spent two months in a pretty bad emotional state. This was someone I had tried to help and I just couldn't make sense of how things got out of control so quickly and how every one of my actions had been misinterpreted in the worst possible manner. Unfortunately I think he was just one of those people that was so down on himself he saw negativity in everything. He would always believe that he was the victim and people were out to get him. He definitely had a personality disorder that distorted his view of himself and of others.

I was mad, sad, a bit scared and just completely baffled by this whole experience. One night I sat down at my computer and all of a sudden this odd style of writing came out of me. I hate to say it, but it almost has a rap kind of flow. It's like it's someone else's voice and I found it intriguing how quickly it came. It doesn't have a name or anything, but here it is:

So you think the world’s out to get you?
Yeah let’s believe that's true for a second.
It has nothing to do with the choices you choose,
It’s someone else who’s left this mess for you.

Maybe Jesus hates you and has set you up to fail
miserably at life, so when the rest of us prevail
we have something to compare our lives to, something
to measure against…a ruler, a yardstick to say “Yeah,
we’re definitely better than you.”

That’s what you think, that every time we laugh it’s at you,
and not with you. Like that would make a difference. There
are a lot of worse things in life than being laughed at, like cancer,
rape and pedophilia… You think we really spend that much time
thinking about ya, dealing with ya? Please, everybody’s so self absorbed
we’re sponges that can’t soak anything else up…but you gotta be strong like
the quicker, thicker picker upper…Brawny towels that don’t split open under the
weight of a bowling ball or some other unbelievable shit you see on tv.

You see everything as chaotic, but once you take a moment and let
it all slow down you see there’s a pattern and at the center there’s always
You. You’re the constant, you’re the thing that remains the same. Did you ever think
that if you change for a second, you’ll break the chain…like a dog on a leash begging to be free? You can run from yourself, run from the police but nothing's gonna change if you don’t stop…don’t stop and own what you create, what you fake, and know what makes you shake.

You find that thing that scares you and you stare it in the face. I promise
nothing is as scary as you believe it is if you knock on its door. It’ll crumble as soon as you kick it to the floor because you gotta want peace of mind and peace of heart so much more than whatever has been holding you back.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Time for a little honesty

Despite my repeated promises that I will write on a regular basis, this will come to no surprise to anyone stopping by: I am a big fat liar. I imagine any fiction writer could use those words to describe herself, but without the actual writing part, I’m whittled down to just plain liar. I don’t normally use that word to describe myself, but in this instance, it is more true than I’d like to admit. John’s nagging is having a profound effect, as well as his encouragement, despite the lack of entries. It weighs on me when I can’t sleep at night and think about all the things I haven’t accomplished.

One of my favorite quotes is by Goethe: “Hell begins the moment God shows you all you could have been had you only applied yourself.” That is one of those bone-chilling statements that just floors me every time I read it. I want to write a sentence that has that much power, but I will never write a sentence like that if I don’t write.

This is not an excuse, but has been a truth for the past month. My evenings have been spent learning new material for a band I’ve joined. From the time I was 13 until I was 28 almost every weekend of my life was spent playing in some kind of bar, moose lodge, theater, or dance club. Playing guitar has been such a huge part of my life, but after a few bad experiences back to back, I limited my playing to only recording in my studio. I was completely disenchanted with the whole scene. I suppose I was tired of being disappointed.

I don’t want to make a blanket statement about all musicians, because that is simply not fair. However, an unusually high number of them have chemical imbalances, personality disorders, addictions, and I suspect missing chromosomes. Or perhaps that is just what I attract.

I like to think of myself as a successful person. I’m educated, gainfully employed, happily married with 3 dogs and a modicum of talent. I have a good life. But in all honesty, I feel like a failure musically. I am the musical equivalent of some cartoon character that has the best intentions, but will always fall into the big deep hole or open up the package that blows up in her face. So, I’ve decided that perhaps my gift will be to write a book called “How To Not Succeed in the Music Industry.” This will give me several topics to write about on my blog to get the writing going. Here are just few essay topics I plan to include:

Fake English accents and socialist aspirations…not a good mix.
Beware of musicians with names like “Heaven” or “Destiny.”
Spot Drug Dealers Immediately
Don’t show up on a drunk drummer’s doorstep and demand money
Get Free Toiletries
Stalkers and You

I'm not completely pessimistic about my musical future. This band is actually quite good and they are the caliber of players I've been looking for. The only down side is they live four hours away. I went up to Baltimore two Saturdays ago and had a three hour rehearsal and played a show with them that night. It was pretty exciting. The thing is that I love every moment that my hands are actually on the guitar, whether its on stage or in the drummer's basement. It's all the stuff inbetween that kills me and makes me question if I really want to go down this road again. These are the things I hate:

1. Sitting in a bar for three hours waiting to play
2. Band groupies...especially the ones who hang around these kinds of clubs and drink too much jaegermeister and punctuate their sentences with "Woo hoo."
3. The people who claim to be the band's "stylist" or other various self-appointed titles
4. Sound checks that never start on time, or worse yet, never happen
5. Shows that are supposed to start at 10:30, but don't start until midnight.

Okay, maybe those things don't sound that bad, but after you read about a few of my past experiences you may see why these things can infuriate me.