Words Fail Me

I come from a family full of stage folk.

I’m pretty sure that somewhere on my birth certificate it states that I wasn’t born in a hospital but rather on the jutting apron of a stage.

I was raised flossing my teeth on the grimy ropes of the house curtains. I learned to crawl up on some poorly constructed way over-budget theater catwalk. And I probably believed for years that whomever was hired as the followspot operator for the sun should be readily fired, as he was doing an abominable job whenever I was outside and in need of illumination.

There was the stage, and then there was … well, I heard there was other stuff, but I wasn’t sure what it all was or looked like.

Whether drawing a bow across an instrument shaped like a violin but surely in truth a tortured cat, skipping across eighty-eight keys with the hope and a prayer that some of them will be the right ones, and a few in the right order, or clutching a microphone and praying it can cover the intense alarm on my face as I gaze out over a crowd of hundreds, it didn’t matter that I left my lunch in a bucket backstage before stepping into that lonely pool of light. What mattered was that minutes later I realized that I’d left my heart out on that dais and that I was going to have to go back there to get it.

Because I wanted to do it all over again.

I’m not sure if the real thrill came from the adrenaline rush of standing in front of showgoers and hearing them applaud at the end of the number or the stress release of realizing that I made it through to the end, had not fainted in the middle of my performance, and no one had to rush up on stage and drag my limp body off into the wings.

It was always, always a possibility.

And the thing that created the most mammoth amount of nerve jangling? Going blank.

I’m going to guess that most folks have had this happen to them at least once in their lives. You forget someone’s name, all the facts you’d just crammed into your head the night before for the big test have suddenly vanished, maybe you arrive in a room and think, I’ve walked down into this cobwebbed, basement utility room for … what again?

And the consequences for these blunders can range from annoying to GPA torpedoing.

My vocation blunders were usually on the end of the spectrum marked “cringe-worthy.” That just went with the territory.

But thankfully, there were a boatload of tricks I’d learned over the years, ready to be shelled out at a moment’s notice, if my brain suddenly blew a fuse and all went dark.

Lose the thread in the middle of your fiddle solo? Just “accidentally” knock a peg and lose a string. Then give a nod to one of the guys in the band. They then take over while you just start clapping along and wait for a stage hand to slide you your spare Stradivarius.

Blow the choreography? Quick do the splits. Audiences love the splits. It’s both riveting and unsettling. And throw in some Travolta disco fever hand gestures. Pretty soon one of the other dancers is going to improvisationally pick you up and help pirouette you off the stage and out of the fray.

Forget the lyrics to your song? Point the mic to the audience and scream, “Sing along! Y’all know the words!”

Or step on the microphone’s cord and unplug it—or if it’s cordless, switch it off, and bang it on your hand like the battery’s gone dead. Send up looks of frustration to the sound booth at the back of the theater and shrug apologetically at the crowd.

There’s always something one can do to hide a misstep or mistake, and the more you do it, the more adroitly you grow at gracefully sliding around it.

But … what if the mistake is not you but your audience?

Yeah, sure, that’s a bit meta. But let me explain.

These days I no longer shuffle or sing or fiddle my way across a platform, I simply speak atop of it. I visit schools and libraries as an author determined to inspire middle school and high school kids to leap off the great precipice of possibility, wade through the wretched whirlpool of failure, and trudge down the precarious path of the Hero’s Journey just like their favorite characters.

I also encourage them to erect statues of all their school librarians.

But occasionally you get thrown a curveball you’ve never been thrown before—like arriving to give a talk to a bunch of people who were half the people you thought they’d be—not as in size, rather stature. As in, some of them were still busy forming eyelids and fingernails. One or two of them were definitely going to struggle with my talk mostly because talking was an incredibly fresh activity for them.

How could I deliver a message which was tailored to kids who were already prepping for their SATs when the true audience was still working on their ABCs?

I panicked. And it wasn’t pretty.

There was no mic to sabotage, no instrument to abjectly point to with regret—there wasn’t even a back door. And a back door is crucial if your excuse for not showing up when your name is called is that you heard cries for help out in the alley and rushed to aid the distressed and then rode along in the ambulance to make sure the paramedic had enough blood on hand because you happen to be O negative and the universal blood type.

I stood in front of these tiny preschool and elementary kids as they whirled in circles on their swivel chairs. Extra added bonus? The swivel chairs also had wheels.

My brain raced and squealed in a high-pitched hysteria: How do I rework and reword my ten minute tale of resilience about strong-willed and single-minded NASA scientists who had worked for fifteen years on one Mars rover project only to see a fat chunk of their life’s work come to a hugely crushing end because of some unforeseeable and miniscule error in math calculations?

So … there are these people who built a thing that went up—up to where the stars are, right? And this one thing—which took them a bazillion years to build—just went … boom? Right? Then these people gasped, hit the floor with their knees, ate a lot of ice cream, and then got up and said, “Let’s give her another go, Stanley!” Does that make sense? Cuz that’s what I’m telling you to do too.

Imagine this scenario—just with different subjects—on repeat somewhere about four or five times. Yeah, that was my talk.

I really thought I’d blown it. It was the wrong talk, to the wrong audience, with the right stuff, but the wrong time.

I made a tiny bow of my head and mumbled the end to a smattering of applause from the befuddled librarian and a few parents.

As I was packing up my things to slink out to my car, thinking I could wallow quietly in a pool of my lead balloon bomb, a mother and her small daughter came up to me. “We’d like to buy your book.”

I pulled back. “Really?”

“Yup,” the girl replied. “I’m going to read it … once I learn to read.”

I looked at the mother. “The main character is twice her age.”

“Not for long,” the little girl said.

I thought about my talk’s message of dealing with downfalls. You get in over your head, you make a mistake, you face failure in the eye. It happens. So get up, get going, start again. You go from can’t to can, couldn’t but want to, didn’t but will.

Life is not a stage, life is a series of stages.

This little girl got it. Shined a spotlight on it too. I started applauding, but that came across as a little weird.

So I just did the splits.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

 

 

Magical, Musical, Maleficent Mayhem

Hello, Peakers.

It is I, my mother’s nefarious, cupcake-baking daughter.

I have returned.

I know you missed me.

Even better: this is one of three guest blogs I’ll be writing over the next couple of months to give you a taste of our glorious summer adventures. I’m also subbing cause she’s been kinda busy with her book that will probably put an end to all sugar.

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Still not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but regardless, you should buy it immediately because the only college care packages she has sent me this year have been socks.

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(Shout out to my grandmother for secretly mailing me my massive stuffed rhinoceros pillow named James Franco when my mother scoffed at my childishness.)

Anyway.

The first installment of this epic adventure collection involves satanic worship, children in cults and good old fashioned family time. And it all began when my mother made the fatal mistake of agreeing to play the piano accompaniment for my grandmother’s music recital.

For those of you who didn’t grow up in a classical music cult, allow me to enlighten you about the Suzuki Mafia, or, What My Grandmother Does When She’s Not Gardening.

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She runs an illicit ring comprised of small children whose parents willingly give their time and money in exchange for pint-sized violins and children that can imitate chicken noises on a musical instrument.

These children are called “Twinklers,” owing to the omnipresent, haunting theme of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” that is repeatedly drummed into their heads. I believe it has hypnotic power, and that whenever its dulcet tones are imitated, the kindergarten sleeper agents are summoned to serve their evil overlord. In our story, their commanding officer is my grandmother, who goes only by the code name “Mrs. W.” Probably for tax evasion purposes.

These Twinklers are disseminated throughout their hometowns, and with their persistent chicken scratching, day in and day out, slowly work to break down the mental stability of those around them, converting them to the cult under the guise of “musical education.” And then, once every season, the ring coalesces in a local church to perform mass rituals and provide sacrificial offerings to Mrs. W and their parental network. Then, over brownies and fruit punch, they all discuss their progress on the front of world domination.

I know all this because I was once a Twinkler.

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I was one of the agents so deeply ensnared that it took me forever to escape. My childhood was a blur of itchy dresses, tightly braided hair, group bows, (“look at your toes and count to three!”) and broken strings. These mass rituals or “recitals” form some of my earliest memories, and so revisiting the scene to watch my mother play piano accompaniment for the tiny, unarmed yet powerful sleeper agents was quite the nostalgic experience.

The day before, my mother and I met Mrs. W in her underground fallout shelter (basement of the Music Emporium) to assess the readiness of the troops. Five of them, pigtailed and confused-looking, stood with their imitation Stradivariuses crammed under their arms, waiting by the piano for Mrs. W’s cue. On her mark, my mother sounded the first four chords that triggered the little ones to play.

As five bows collided simultaneously with five strings with the spirit and determination of invading Huns, I felt the earth open up beneath my feet and the welcoming satanic embrace of the underground climb up my chair. The little army of violin robots played on, sawing out their homage to Bach, Beethoven and Voldemort. Watching them rehearse, I felt the ability for and disposition to independent thought slip away, leaving me with the sole desire of joining their ranks and offering dissonant screeches to the evil overlord.

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The next day was showtime. Parents crowded the pews of the commandeered church, their faces worn with visible exhaustion from corralling their mind-warping musical maestros. My brother sat, skulking in the back, his face hidden by the flowers I forced him to bring, likely illegally streaming movies. My mother was attending to Mrs. W, addressing last minute crises like the fact that Tommy may have just stepped on Sara’s violin and now it doesn’t quite sound the same.

I sat in the front, readying my best snarkastic face to distract my mother while she attempted to accompany. I was prepared for a full, glorious 90 minutes of the audible equivalent of having teeth pulled. I watched as one of the tiny cult members took the stage, readied his violin and tried to reposition his knee-length tie. He tucked his violin under his neck, took a shaky breath, and with the bow hovering over the strings, hesitated for a moment. I saw his round puppy eyes glance at my mom, waiting for that magical, motherly look that is a combination of recognition, approval, and assurance.

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She smiled and nodded, and, with renewed vigor and purpose, he plunged into a hearty rendition of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Gently Down the Rivers of Blood of our Enemies and Stage Mother Tears.” No matter if he forgot a note, or a measure, or an entire half of the song, she would follow his musical diversions and remain a safe place to fall.

The rest of the recital was a whirl of Mrs. W’s recruits acting like adorable tiny humans and stepping on each other’s expensive horse-haired bows. Yet I remembered that quiet, singular moment of connection between a nervous little one and my mother. In my hectic tornado of lab work, laundry and cooking for myself, sometimes, those little reassurances that the accompaniment will always be there remain the strongest glue holding me together.

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That and Mrs. W’s magic Kool-Aid.

~Chloe (an ex-Twinkler)

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

 

 

We Need to Talk

I talk to my dog a lot.

Occasionally, I’ll exchange a few lyrical syllables with my cat.

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When my teenagers are around—and if you’ve ever owned a couple, you’ll know that the frequency of those events diminish exponentially in relation to the number of Facebook friends they acquire—I remind myself to listen instead of lecture. Well, that’s the plan anyway.

But ‘talking’ is something I’m going to have to get good at—and fast. Because if you publish a book, history tells us that the success of that book reaching the hands of interested readers only happens if you actually announce it exists.

And you have to announce this A LOT.

But this is a problem. For me anyway.

Public speaking is something I used to do and got paid for it. But three things were categorically different back then. One – I was pretty young. Two – this was the music industry. And three – I knew that most of the individuals in the audience were three sheets to the wind and wouldn’t remember what I’d said in the morning if they found themselves presented with a pop quiz at breakfast.

This time, it’s a whole new kettle of fish. Or ballgame. Or can of worms if you really love clichés—which I don’t, and avoid like the plague.

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As a young mother, I got used to the idea that repetition was key to remembering. I lived by the book of layering life skills—which is just a fancy way of saying that I came to realize what all newbie parents realize: gurgling, wobbling infants have precious little recollection of you spending an inordinate about of time warning them that they should never do drugs, discover what inspires them, and always check the expiration date on a quart of milk before drinking from it.

Therefore, I got really good at repeating myself. Ad nauseum. And this is pretty much what my children have decided is my name translated into Latin.

And speaking about my upcoming book would be a helluva lot easier if that was the only book I have written and was still steeped within its plot, characters, and setting. But I’m not. I am two and a half books ahead of it, and writing a blog, and critiquing other writers’ manuscripts,

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and continually in the process of creating new untraceable identities for myself in order to keep one step ahead of the British legal system that is in pursuit of an unpaid parking ticket. Yes, the sign said ‘Diplomatic cars only.’ But after a quick conversation with my rental car, I immediately surmised it was extraordinarily tactful. It qualified.

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My point is, I can’t keep everything straight, and some things I’ve allowed to leak out of my head in order to make room for others. And not having a well-organized memory palace, I’ve forgotten in which rooms I’ve placed important people and data.

How many folks will be willing to sit in front of me at the podium and patiently wait while I attempt to recall if this was the book where I wrote about my passion for all things related to the US Postal Service, or if it was the one where I canonized the inner workings of college dormitory laundry facilities and the secrets withheld by the Dean of Sanitation? I think we can safely assume I’ll be offered a short grace period of substance summoning.

That said, my desk is becoming littered with sticky notes, wall pasted pages, and 3D models made from deli plastic spoons all meant to keep fresh in my mind the topics I will soon be rattling on about. And these desperate attempts to solidify needed data in my head are bleeding over into more areas than just my workspace.

I’ve got a chart of bullet points in the bathroom.

Opening up the fridge reveals a list of statistics that illustrates the bullet points.

Turning back the duvet on my bed uncovers the twelve most helpful and amazing memory tricks—three of which I am capable of remembering—and it also uncovers cat hair. Apparently someone else in my household is determined to ward of dementia.

Or maybe she’s got a lecture coming up and our calendars have not yet synced.

I’ve also forced myself to listen to a lot of podcasts about public speaking and body language, because apparently even if you have the most dynamic ability to recall your sparkling speech, it can be wholly disconcerting if the only things barely moving are your upper and lower lips and you’re in a death lock gripping stare with the coffee pot on the refreshment table.

I get it.

Move about. Engage in eye contact with the entire room. Make sweeping arm gestures, but not ones that will leave folks wondering if you’re signaling for help or attempting to land a Boeing 757.

And change the pitch of your voice but don’t display any vocal fry. Not too high, nor too low, don’t swallow your words, nor over pronounce them. Use the mic, try to project, speak from the diaphragm, make sure you’ve got all your teeth in—the list goes on.

Preparing to speak in front of a crowd is about as nerve-wracking as being an intern who is allowed into your first surgical experience and handed the job of holding onto the life-preserving clamped aorta just before being warned by the nurse opposite you that you should be careful because Nigel, the anesthesiologist, is quite the practical joker and loves to sneak up on first year residents and catch them off guard by tickling them under the armpits.

So I’m trying to get prepared. For all the upcoming talking.

At the rate things are going, with all the hazards, pitfalls, and potential snags, I may just talk myself right out of talking altogether.

~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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Twas the Night Before Finals

I have been on both sides of a performance since way before I can mentally remember, and likely somewhere around the time I was first forming eyelids.

My mom was a musician.

Her children all became musicians.

She married a man who was not a musician, but was a better musician than many musicians I have come to know.

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Sitting in the audience is hard if you go to a concert and you are “a musician.”

You really, really, REALLY want the performance to go well. Better than well. Spectacular. You want to be moved in a way that would have you offering a kidney to any one of the participants afterward as a way of saying thank you for sharing their skill, talent and soul with you.

I know very few musicians who actually attend other people’s concerts with their fingers crossed that the show will suck and it will get slammed by the press. Yes, I know a few, but they’re miserable, unhappy people who are constipated and suffer from halitosis. They have no friends. It’s a sad life, but they deserve it.

I went to a concert last night. It was a holiday concert I attend nearly every year. And it’s something I look forward to with as much excitement as the first winter snowflake, the first winter hearth fire, and the first moment I realize it’s futile to keep fighting my body’s desperate need to bulk up for the upcoming season. Winter pudge is a fact of life, and I’ve come to heartily embrace it.

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Almost as much as I relish this annual concert.

Every year, this particular performance spotlights the talents of our local university’s divine male voices, corralled into polished control. It must be a massive undertaking, as these dulcet tones are more accustomed to swilling caustic liquids and belching out the alphabet when not rooting for their home sports team like caterwauling hooligans. The transformation is magical. But I imagine they convert to factory default settings faster than a taxed rubber band snapping back to form.

Two hours of intense and focused concentration is a lot to ask of a young lad aged 18—22. Especially as it was finals week. The fixed determination on these collegiate faces revealed the end of a long semester with nothing more than one more toilsome week in front of them. They were tired.

But the boys sang on.

On top of everything else, they were required to decorate the hall before the event. It really should have come as no surprise to anyone then that having asked said young men to make the hall look festive, they would use whatever adroit ingenuity they could scare up. To describe the auditorium as merry and bright would be accurate, but deficient. More precise would be to point out that much of the décor was likely nicked from neighborhood lawns and secured with whatever supplies found in the hallway janitorial cupboard.

Strings of lights were pinned up with duct tape. Plastic garland was tossed around podiums. Miniature multi-colored trees were plopped in random places across the stage and plugged in with long extension cords that snaked to available outlets. And large pink flamingos stood guard like stand-ins for the life-sized nutcrackers that never quite made it for Showtime.

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It was award worthy.

For a frat house.

And yet, strangely, this was part of the charm.

They walked in like tuxedo draped monks, holding candles and chanting O Come O Come Emmanuel, and filled the darkened hall with an incantation that transferred goose bumps from one arm rest to the next.

What also seemed to be contagious was the persisting, remarkable coughing that rippled through the crowd. With each new piece, another audience member began clearing their throat, hacking through a tickle, and then hawking up something demonic. At one point I began to wonder if the entire hall was coming down with croup.

I thought that perhaps at intermission I should dash out to the nearest drug store, buy a few bags of cough suppressants and hand them out as folks filed back in. The war cry of windpipes continued.

But the boys sang on.

Directed by a man who was world weary himself, whose lines to the audience were as deeply ingrained as a piece of old driftwood, and who struggled to recall the names of the soloists, simply relying upon a finger to point them out among a sea of youthful faces, the boys did their best to follow the slushy command of their leader.

At any given moment, something was always falling, burning out, or beginning to smolder and spark. Not one singer’s head turned, no one dashed out to catch the collapsed trimming, and the new sound of a tittering crowd accompanied the carols, canticles and chorus.

But the boys sang on.

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Angelic and earnest, exhausted yet joyful, those young chaps persevered, delighted to share and be part of the university’s 74 years of bestowing song to those who were hungering to hear it. Clearly their intent was to lay their acoustic offering at the foot of the stage, gift wrapped in a bright and festive bow.

They finished their celebrated recital as they had begun it; candles in hand, they drifted out single file, ignoring the buckled adornments and the coughing crowd, and on toward a long night of study. With the last haunting notes of the Dona Nobis Pacem round disappearing behind the stage, the audience sat still for the first time in two hours, holding on to the precious musical moments as they lazily slithered away.

But thankfully, the boys sang on.

~Shelley

PS. Rob and I would like to wish everyone the very happiest of holidays! Next week, all will be silent and dark, as Rob’s hands will be filled with grog and nog, and I’ll likely be buried beneath four months’ worth of laundry that came home from “someone’s” dormitory. We’ll be back the first week in January with a very SPECIAL EDITION of Peak Perspective and look forward to seeing all of you upon our return. Happy New Year, Peakers!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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The etiquette of working a room.

I have never been a big party person. I find being in a roomful of jubilant people about as fun as having a toenail removed with a putty knife by three-year old. Yep. A laugh a minute.

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This is ironic because long ago I worked as a social hostess for a beautiful resort, where six nights a week I hosted a cocktail party for at least one hundred people. But that was work. And I got paid handsomely for it. Plus I had nothing to do with the prep, set up, operations, or the washing of thousands of glasses smeared with freshly applied lipstick. All I had to do was glide and gush—and discourage the odd wayward hand.

The ‘speaking to folks I didn’t know’ part wasn’t so difficult because my job was simply to make my way from one end of the room to the other, butt in on conversations, ask a few questions—all totally rehearsed with practiced ad libs as answers—and make empty promises. I was instructed to be agreeable. Say you’d love to sit with them at Chef’s six course dinner (never happened), promise to have a drink with them later after the resort’s evening show (I was nineteen—couldn’t happen), consent to many a game of tennis on the clay courts the next morning (nope), and pledge to meet guests up on the championship golf course after lunch (sorry, Charlie). No one was ever fussed, because that kind of talk was as meaningful as a basketful of air kisses. Just cocktail chatter. And I got the hang of it in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

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Well, that was then and this is now. Right now is graduation season where everyone and their uncle are celebrating the commencement of someone special.

My kid just graduated high school! Potluck at our place!

Come help us applaud Harold for his achievement at finishing first grade! Formal reception at the Four Seasons.

Your father just passed a three-year old kidney stone! We’re breaking out the good booze and getting ready to play lawn darts.

Whatever the occasion, it’s Graduation Party Season. Having a high school senior, and admiring their success at convincing the requisite number of teachers that they deserve a diploma, has morphed into recognizing the tiniest of achievements leading up to graduation day. All of them honored with a party.

– This month is the last month of school for our seniors. We’re starting it off by giving them a skip day, but come back for the BBQ in their honor.

– Let’s celebrate our seniors with one last senior appreciation day lunch in the cafeteria.

– Parent potluck with our seniors. Let’s bring in their favorite food. (I truly was expecting a table full of Ben & Jerry’s pints.)

– Senior’s, parent’s and teacher’s brunch. Let’s rehash all those stellar grades.

– Graduation rehearsal and picnic to follow.

– Breakfast before Graduation.

– Reception to follow ceremony.

– Lunch to follow reception.

– Diploma party.

– Diploma framing party.

– Slide show party of all the parties.

Ugh.

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I understand how important these life events are, and the necessity of celebrating the terrific efforts of our loved ones, but parties nearly kill me with the amount of energy I apply trying to fit in like a normal person. It probably wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t other people at these parties. Or if there had to be other people, then the rule was you could only acknowledge them with a wave. No talking allowed.

As a writer, I work with a lot of words. Hundreds of thousands of them flow out my body in any given year. But they flow out of my DIGITS and not my MOUTH. I get little practice chatting with folks currently apart from dialoguing with my hound all day long. Except he and I have our own language. We’re like Hans Solo and Chewbacca. Or Kristoff and Sven. No one but us understands us.

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And I’m pretty sure that wonky part howl, part growl parlance is the first thing to slip out as soon as somebody sidles up, gives me a hug and asks how I’m doing.

It’s guttural, it’s primordial, it’s dysfunctional and makes people take a large step back.

But one cannot dodge these mandatory events without some sort of judgment and backlash, therefore, I plaster on a face and pull on a dress. I make my way from one end of the room to the other. I remind folks to try the chef’s newest award-winning dish of elk and sea urchin pie. I hype up the ballroom’s upcoming show and encourage people to get a seat early. I point outside the cafeteria window toward the outdoor basketball court and suggest we volley a few balls over the net in the morning. I promise a handful of fathers I’ll have a drink with them before the evening is out.

I turn back to register a sea of parental faces staring at me quizzically and note several women dragging their innocent husbands to the door. I stand in horror over my massive faux pas.

I garble something that sounds like it came from the mouth of a German Sheppard.

I fumble for my car keys and dash to the parking lot.

I am not a party person.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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Ready or not …

A long time ago I learned how to fly.

Lessons were thrilling, dazzling, mind-blowing and action-packed.

They were also exhausting, white-knuckling, petrifying and hair-raising. My knees knocked together with such precision and regularity, I’m certain they were sending out some sort of Morse code of panic.

But one of the most important lessons I took away from that experience was gaining the true definition of what it meant to fly by the seat of your pants.

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I think, at the time, I would have been fairly confident in admitting that I was not spontaneous. I’d been raised and trained as a musician and had been for many years making a living showing others that I could deliver results because I’d practiced and perfected (or close enough) what was expected and what I’d been paid to do. The shows I performed in were strictly timed and had no room for stepping a toe outside the margin for artistic license. In fact, artistic license was frowned upon. With microphone in hand and speaking to the audience, even the ad libs were practiced.

No surprises.

That was the point. Surprises meant panic—and these were not shows that invited outliers to mess about with the tried and true. Follow your cues, hit your mark, and take a big bow. Remove your makeup, cash your paycheck and wake up to do the whole thing again tomorrow.

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Piloting a plane was incredibly similar. Tick off the checklist, fly the plane, land the craft. Don’t skip procedure or you’ll NOT wake up to do the whole thing again tomorrow. You will also not wake up inside the pine box you’re now residing in.

Easy peasy. Simple and safe.

Accompanying my daughter to one of her shows is an entirely different experience. She too had been fed on the same diet of stable, steady and straight, but at some point, she spat that bunk out like it was a mouthful of cat hair.

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From then on, playing the part of parental roadie has been like riding a roller coaster without a safety harness, and knowing somewhere you missed the sign that said, “Temporarily shut down for repairs.”

I’m a planner. If I’m doing a road trip, I’m going to make sure my car is in tiptop shape, I’ve got gas, I have directions to the destination, I’ll have packed my bag, and I have emergency supplies for every conceivable calamity mankind has had to face.

My daughter will grab an armload of clothes off her bedroom floor, a jug of eyeliner and rely on a bra strap to use as floss before bed.

My computer copied directions turned out to be less than reliable as a split second after seeing the Google Map displayed beautifully on my screen and clicking the word PRINT, all the numbers seemed to have gone missing. I was told to turn left or right, but not onto what and never after how long.

But I’ve got a great sense of direction. So we fly by the seat of our pants, right?

WRONG.

Rule number 792 of flying: Never trust the seat of your pants.

230314Pants (550x800)

Trust your instruments. But only after you’ve checked your backup instruments to your instruments. And only after you’ve checked and double checked your original instruments and backup instruments.

Speaking of instruments. Do you have your violin??

The answer was: Probably.

We had to rely on my daughter’s iPhone, as mine is working better as a thick bookmark and a paperweight these days than it is as anything with intelligence—artificial or otherwise.

The problem with the above scenario was that the smartphone’s voice for directions only occasionally worked because the gadget was being overloaded with text messages from a hundred other teenagers and the necessary ‘study music’ needed to accompany somebody who was finally cracking open a few chapters for a massive physics test in 36 hours.

About 30 minutes before we arrived for sound check the question, “I wonder what I’m playing tonight?” floated through the car.

Flicking back through several weeks of old text messages revealed the set list: a few songs she sorta remembered, one she would wing, and two others she vaguely recalled performing nearly a year ago.

VAGUELY??

My ‘panic and puke now’ bells were rapidly firing off. I was only an audience member and I was beginning to hyperventilate, but the person riding next to me just pulled up one of the tunes on YouTube and started air violining her way through it.

“Oh my godfathers, you had better hope they’re going to let you Milli Vanilli the performance tonight.” I envisioned catastrophe.

“Chill, Mom—and shush.”

Fast forward to showtime and a last minute text that came before the lights went down.

MOTHER! Hair up or down?

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I thought about what could save her future. Down. Definitely down and see if you can’t hide most of your face.

And then I added, Which dress will you wear?

Her response: All of them.

The lights went down, the show began, the numbers flew by. There was no panic on anyone’s faces—no sign of distress—my child did not leave the stage amid a flurry of booing and tomato throwing from the audience—no crashing and burning of aircraft because she forgot to do a fuel check before takeoff. She got fuel from applause. She got inspiration from the whooping and hollering. She got chord progressions from the guitarist beside her.

Was she lucky? Was she good? I think maybe both.

And now she wants to learn to fly.

Well, I may sit with her in a car using nothing more than the sun and a few shadows for directions, and I may sit in the audience for her holding my breath and hoping for the best, but I will not sit in a cockpit with her and be offered nothing but a wing and a prayer.

That is one flight of fancy that I’ll just have to ground.

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~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the Pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Related articles

Nothing to fear but fear itself. (And the mic, the stage and the 800 people.)

Port-42

Port-42 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

October is full of things meant to scare you: ghoulish sites and hair-raising sounds, grisly stories and spine-chilling escapades. But if you have never had a case of stage fright, it means you still have a few degrees to finish up before rounding out the circle of fear.

For those of you who haven’t, chances are it’s simply because you have never been through a ceremony like marriage, a graduation or have been asked to carry the final torch to light the Olympic flames.

Have you never been the center of attention for a recital, a birthday or burial? (Hey, that last one could occur. People have been buried alive. And I would imagine it’s got to be somewhat stressful.)

Maybe you haven’t even given a toast or led a fascist movement.

For people who have experienced something akin to the above, they usually announce one of two things:

  1. I like having people watch me.
  2. Allowing people to watch me is creepy and should be illegal.

If you fall under the first category, you can choose to stop reading this essay, pat yourself on the back, and head back to your chair on the judges’ panel for American Idol. Of course, you’re welcome to continue reading and catch a rare glimpse at the other side of normal.

English: LED lighting instruments used on Radi...

English: LED lighting instruments used on Radiohead’s recent tour. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you find yourself assigned to group two … walk with me a minute. Let’s remember why it’s best to leave the spotlight for the big boys.

The first thing that happens is the invitation to walk on stage–an enticing summons that fills your head with mind-altering thoughts of flattery. Ah, this person sees in me that which I knew deep down was there: GREATNESS.

Apparently, the word is out. You need to be shared with an audience of more than just your bathroom mirror.

You accept the call. Wave it off as if it’s something you routinely do and hope to remember to jot it down in your calendar. Of course, details will come later. No worries. Loads of time to prepare. Yes, it’ll be fun.

The second thing that occurs is nothing.

That is, you do nothing for three months except occasionally see the penciled notice in your calendar and dismiss it from your mind with the same gesture one uses to swipe a mosquito from your vision.

Next, you’re sent reminders. They pile up on your phone and email account. A note is left on your car. Somebody hunts you down at the gym. Remember you said you’d perform? This suddenly translates to: You promised to give me your kidney.

Things begin to crystallize. Like the fact that you were a dolt for agreeing to do something like this in the first place.

You begin to practice at home.

You realize your material is best suited as an ingredient in the manufacturing of pellet packaging matter.

You make another choice. Anything will be better than doing what you originally thought would be acceptable. It’s awful.

It’s all you have.

English: The illustration shows the major sign...

English: The illustration shows the major signs and symptoms of heart failure. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You go back to the original. It’s not as bad as you thought.

The night before, you stay up until 2:30 debating whether or not you can pull off a sudden case of laryngitis, scurvy or congestive heart failure.

You wake in the morning to realize that sadly, you’re healthy, apart from a slight tremor you developed in the middle of the night.

You show up at dress rehearsal hoping for a large sign indicating the show has been canceled and participants will still be generously acknowledged in the local newspaper.

Instead, there’s a woman with a clipboard, a dour expression and a habit of glancing at her watch as you approach.

Your tremor increases, making your car keys jingle like tiny sleigh bells in your hand.

The stage manager tells you where to sit, where to wait, where to walk and finally where to point your mouth when the time comes. Smile up there. Don’t look down. Please don’t trip. This is reinterpreted as Wait a second. I can’t breathe. What’d you say?

 It doesn’t matter. You’re dismissed. You must come back in two hours.

Must you?

How much gas is in your car? How far can you drive if you start now?

You return out of guilt. And the fact that you have only a quarter of a tank and you’re fairly certain someone was tailing you the entire time. You hate accountability.

You sit. People filter in. The muddled noise of the crowd is a swooshy sound not unlike the fuzzy garbled reverberation of the one word echoing in your head: idiot, idiot, idiot.

An Austrian curtain.

An Austrian curtain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The curtain opens and the first act plays spectacularly.

The crowd applauds and your tremor is now sizeable enough to register on the Richter scale. The applause dies down apart from one person who continues on. Why won’t they stop clapping?

Wait a sec. That’s your heartbeat.

 You cannot feel your feet.

Person after person and group after group performs with eloquence, style and ease. These people belong here. Look at them. They don’t even wave to their parents in the crowd–that’s how practiced they are.

It’s your turn. You’re tapped on the shoulder and sure you would have felt it had your whole body not gone numb. Your vision grows tiny, two infinitesimal pinholes of light at the end of long dark tunnels.

English: Gemini V Prime Crew, Astronauts L. Go...

Are you onstage?

You wave to your parents.

Something happens and you wake up to applause.

Finally, you are in your seat, smiling ear to ear. You are given more pats on the arms and shoulders than a gazelle in a petting zoo.

“You were fabulous!”

You shake off the compliment with a nonchalant shrug. Aw shucks, it was nothing. I could do this in my sleep.

Apparently, you did.

~Shelley

PS. Watch two people who truly thrive under hot lights. (Chloe Sackier & Humberto Sales )

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!