Friday, September 21, 2012

Musical motivation, or blogging about cleaning when I actually should be cleaning

Special people are coming to town next weekend, and the weekend after that.  So that means Operation Deep Clean of the Pine Cone Inn (aka my house) must begin.

I've gotta hand it to Mrs.
Meyers; they have some
pretty packaging.
Thanks to my attendance at the Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged conference last month, I have coupons for some Mrs. Meyers cleaning products, which twitter tells me might actually make cleaning fun, or at least aroma-therapeutically soothing.  For the record, I'm skeptical, but I will dutifully use my coupons tomorrow to give it a try.

Before I clean, though, I have to fulfill a facebook promise.

Back in the spring, I participated in a 24-hour play festival produced by TheatreSquared and Ceramic Cow Productions, which my fabulous team didn't win (we're not bitter).  We did, however, walk away with a consolatory bag of crap, which included a CD complilation entitled:

Party Fun-Fun CD of Music So There
"get your dance on..."

I forgot about it in a pile somewhere, until I found it a few weeks back when, coincidentally, I was cleaning.  Intrigued by the title, I popped it in.

Disclaimer:  For the rest of this post to make sense, I'd recommend you visit this post about my musical idiocy.  

The first song was Adele, whom I've heard of, and even have on my IPod/Phone.   Thumbs up so far.

Next up was that song about "running faster than my bullet."  That's a song I've heard of...enough to know that I should know it.

The fifth song was Katy Perry's Carlie Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe."  It was then I knew that this CD was made to educate me on the songs I should know, either because they are awesome or because I need to summon the proper cultural disdain for them while secretly grooving like hell to their beats.

Obviously, the songs were all danceable, thus making them prime cleaning song candidates.  A new world of cleaning productivity opened up to me that day, and the Pine Cone Inn sparkled. 

Inspired, I turned to facebook to find out what you all out there in my little circle like to listen to when you clean.  I got some great answers, several of which were "when I what?"  Love you, ladies!

First off, since this is my field, let's discuss the Broadway show tunes. Soundtracks from Dreamgirls, Mamma Mia, Leap of Faith (the movie, not the show, but hey, I need to categorize for the sake of your time) and Hairspray were thrown out there.  Personally, I've done laundry with the support of "Supertrooper" in the background to great success, but for me, there's nothing like cleaning the kitchen while belting a little "Defying Gravity" from Wicked.

Apparently some of you like to be mellow while cleaning (Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday or even classical music/NPR).   I respect that.

However, it's in the more energetic songs of Motown, selections from Reservoir Dogs and a new love for the Foo Fighters that I've found some cleaning mojo.

So over the next two days, I'll be testing out some new tuneage while I divest the house of dog hair, clean the baseboards, scrub some grout and generally make my house tolerable for honored guests.  Not that all of y'all who visit regularly aren't honored, but let's face it; you're not my mom, nor are you my former college roommate who probably remembers what a slob I can be and is crossing her fingers that I follow through on my cleaning plan.

It's gonna take some work.  So share your own cleaning (or other chore) inspirational music below!  Comments make me feel good, and I need all the inspiration I can get. There's a lot of dog hair in this house.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

From bad mood to good - a tale of printers & earrings

I have a short neck.

This will become relevant in a moment, I promise.

But before we get there, I have to confess - I have been in a serious funk these last couple of days.  It's been the kind of funk that hangs around; even when I shake it off for an hour or two, it comes back.  The kind of funk that makes me see meanness in the laughter of others, even when it's not there, or the kind that means I get pissed off when someone enters my office without knocking.  Ridiculous stuff.  The kind of stuff I KNOW is unreasonable, yet I can't stop myself from feeling it.

So back to my short neck.  We've established that I have one, and also have a habit of leaning my elbows on a desk/table and scrunching up my shoulders, which pushes the earrings out of my ears.  It happens mostly on my right side, which has led to a plethora of lost single earrings in my life (and a lot of cute wine glass tags, for all you crafty types).  So recently, I've taken to wearing those clear plastic tab-thingies that keep earrings in your ears.  Sexy.

Anyway, this morning I put on a pair of earrings and briefly contemplated wearing the plastic tabs.  Then I said no.  No plastic tabs.  I want freedom.  And off I went to work.

The funk continued through the morning.  Grumble, grumble, grumble.  Until...

Just before lunch, a colleague was in the hallway at the printer outside my office, printing things.  I wasn't paying any attention to him. Then, he poked his head in my door and asked, "Jodi, do you want me to close your door?  I know how loud this printer can be."

Folks, I've gotta tell you, I almost teared up.  The printer IS loud (especially when it breaks and the only way to fix it is to slam the doors multiple times), but I've gotten to the point where I tune it out.  That's not the point.  He thought to ask.  Without anything to gain from it.  I felt like I needed to buy him flowers or something. 

That simple little act of courtesy flipped a switch in my head, and my bad mood was GONE.  Poof.  Just like that.

I sailed down to a meeting, then jumped in the car to drive to another one.  A quick glance in the mirror revealed that I'd lost one of my earrings, a pretty pair that my parents got me for Christmas.  I groaned, but before my grumpy side could say "I told you so", I thought, "Whatever. I'll find it.  It's gotta be around somehwere."  Optimism?  From grumpy-pants me?  What the?

Back from the meeting, I learned more good news about work, and Facebook revealed some really great news from a friend (he got a $100,000 grant for his organization - that is frickin huge!!!!), and then I started to pack up to go home.

I glanced down to pick up my purse.

Right there, shiny and gleaming on the carpet, waiting to be noticed, was my missing earring.

Thanks, universe.  And thanks to my colleague.  I like this mood much better.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Things I need to say on the eve of 9/11

I've been thinking about this entry for a while.

Well, for about 10 minutes anyway. 

Last night I found myself at a local professional theater's production of Noises Off, and as I was telling my date (my colleague from work, don't get excited) how many times I'd seen it, I realized the last time was at Northern Stage in Vermont.  It was the show on our stage on the morning of 9/11/01. 

That morning is etched into my memory; the blue of the sky as my friend Colleen and I drove around town hanging posters, the haze of the air in the senior center where we first saw the TV footage, the texture of the couch I sat on when I realized a friend of mine had worked in the Towers and was traveling on business that week, the exact angle of my desk which allowed me to obsessively refresh my web browser while watching as people on phones paced anxiously, trying to track down loved ones.  I have other memories, too, but I'd forgotten that Noises Off was the play.  Now, looking back, I remember a tough conversation about whether we should continue with the run.  It felt wrong, somehow, to perform a farce after what had happened. But it also felt right.  In the end, we put on the show.  I think it was the right decision. 

Anyway, there are a lot of thoughts in my head right now.  I feel some despair at where my country is, so divided by politics.  But I also feel full of life and blessed to be where I am, enjoying the refreshing cool of autumn, the fun of my friends and the antics of my silly pooch.

Mostly, I just wish we could all make like the dogs at the park - sniff a few butts, pee on a few trees, and then run and romp about, just getting along and helping each other enjoy life.

To that end, I thought I'd share two very different posts that have given me faith that maybe the pundits and PACs that are trying to drive us apart won't win in the end.  Here they are:
  • This post has spread like wildfire via facebook and the interwebs.   I love it, because it expresses what I've been trying to articulate to myself and to others for a while.  I'm not going to tell you what it says, cause I'd like you to read it.  :)
  • StoryCorps has always been one of my favorite NPR features.  I routinely have to sit in my car until I stop crying after many of the features.  This one, about an 11 year old boy who remembers his grandmother (she died on 9/11 in the Towers' collapse) thanks to his mom's stories, was no exception.
Oh, and PS.  You should go see TheatreSquared's Noises Off.  It's damn funny.  We need some laughter, don't you think?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dog's Night Out

You know how first birthday parties are really for parents?

Well, dog parties are the same.

I attended a fundraiser for the Humane Society of the Ozarks last night at Dog Party USA, a fabulous (and highly recommended) doggie day care facility.

Though it was supposedly an event for the dogs, it was mostly for the humans to watch their dogs.  And keep them from freaking out with all of the stimulation and smells.

Anyway, I get a huge kick out of this little photo sequence taken by my friend, Jennifer.  Her dog is the grey schnauzer.  Enjoy!

Sadie's paying attention.  Spot is not.

Aaaand...vice versa.

At this point, we gave up.  There were clearly more
exciting things going on elsewhere.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Missing home, thanks to the Hudson River School

It's safe to say that I've been working pretty hard at falling in love with my adopted hometown here in the Ozarks recently.  I've been hiking all over, exploring some really beautiful areas, visiting cool places like the Ozark Folk Center and spending time with my super-cool Arkansan friends.  And of course, I see all kinds of amazing art thanks to my job.

However, there are moments when I just miss home. Home, though I haven't lived there full time since 1994, is New England.  New Hampshire, to be specific.

I haven't missed home for a while.  Until today, when I went to see the The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.  It was a collection of paintings by artists from the "Hudson River School" that depict (mostly) American landscapes in a highly romanticized manner designed to highlight the grandness of the American identity.

I love the work of the Hudson River School mostly for how it depicts light: my favorite painting in the museum is from that era. 

I also love it because some of the scenes depicted are representations of my home state.  Like this one:
Thomas Cole, Autumn Twilight, View of Corway Peak
[Mount Chocorua], New Hampshire, 1834.
I've hiked that mountain.  And we all grew up wide-eyed at the legend of the Indian chief who leapt from the summit rather than be captured by whites.  It's one of the few mountains in the region that isn't named after an American President.

But here's an interesting thing.  While they made me nostalgic, these paintings don't look like the New England of my upbringing.  They are hazy, muted, and though the landscapes are largely untamed, they seem...well...gentle. They're appear soft to me, though they weren't intended to be. 

I remember New England like this: 
Photo credit: Me, Summer 2011
Or this: 

Deep blues and greens, or, in autumn, glorious flaming yellow and red.  Nothing subtle.  All boldness.  I mean, our motto is "Live Free or Die", after all.

At any rate, I suppose it's only natural that I'd start to feel a little homesick for New England at this time of year.  It's getting to be fall, and with apologies to my fellow Arkansans, there is no place like New England in the fall. 

Still, it surprised me how much I enjoyed simply seeing the name of my state and familiar landmarks up on the gallery labels all the way out here in Arkansas.  As much as I love it here, there are still moments when I feel like I live on another planet, and I find myself missing fleece vests, cold mornings, maple syrup, New England accents and the Sandwich Fair.  So when I can get a taste of home, I'll take it. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Storytelling in the Ozarks

It's a familiar feeling for me.

I'm in a store, chatting amiably about nothing much with the checkout clerk.  And then I feel it.  That antsy, gotta get-away-feeling.  That sense of "ok, I don't have anything else to say, can I leave now?"

Maybe it's my Yankee upbringing.  Maybe I'm impatient, or even a little rude.  Or maybe I'm just not interesting enough to keep spontaneous conversation going for that amount of time.  I'm much better with a script, or a story with an ending I know by heart. 

At some point in my past, I remember being dubbed "the storyteller."  It might have been college, or late high school.  Regardless, it was not entirely a compliment.  There was a bit of eye-rolling inherent in that nickname, a bit of "oh, lord, here she goes again."  If you're stuck on a road trip with me, for example, you are guaranteed to hear your share of "hey, so a few years back, when I was...".  It's just a given. 

So it was with great anticipation that I learned we were going to have a session at the Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged conference about storytelling. The AWBU, for those who don't know, was a gathering of about 70 women in Mountain View Arkansas last weekend.  You can read more about my adventures at AWBU here.

Mary, the park interpreter at the Ozark Folk Center, told us stories for at least 30 minutes.  She did two stories, one in traditional dress and the other, after a slow transformation, in modern-day fishing gear.  She definitely hit her stride during the fish story, but her first story, about "collecting" the stories of women who used music to get through their lives, was the most poignant. For many of my fellow bloggers, including this one, it conjured memories of the strong women of their pasts.

For me, the storytelling started off as a typical artistic experience; I was examining and parsing Mary's technique, comparing it to the hundreds of stories I've seen presented live.  Like most live experiences, it took the audience (myself included) a while to settle down and really listen. But that's not the fault of the storyteller.  My mom once remarked, after going to a piano concert, that you really have to give your brain time to settle in to the focused, quiet activity of watching live performance, especially since it's so rare in our lives these days.  Mary, I noticed, gave us that time, starting her tale slowly, not revealing the meat of it until we'd stopped gabbing and really tuned in.

Mary's stories had the wandering, non-linear messiness of what I'm coming to discover is the storytelling style of these parts.  If the stories were people on a stroll, they would start on the main road, then stop for tea on a front porch, head back to the road, then veer off for an over-the-fence chat with a neighbor.  They zig-zag across the map, veering off for a side trip here, or a tangent there, until we often can't remember where they started.  But inevitably, they come back to the road and finish up, leaving us a little wiser than we were before.

My beautiful new handmade broom. I will
probably never sweep anything with it.
On Saturday, we had free time to explore the craft village at the Ozark Folk Center.  It was a charming place; I could have spent hours milling about marveling at the artistry of the crafters. In my short time there, I saw pottery, jewelry, printing, baskets and brooms being made.  In the print shop, the delightful volunteer managed to keep me in the store for quite some time, telling me about the presses and how she would drive hours every weekend to volunteer there.  In the broom shop, I learned that the broommaker likes to mess with telemarketers who try to help him "get more business" by telling them "I don't want any more business."  He also confessed that he manages 30 websites, and gave me recommendations on what blogging platform to use.

But it was Sherman, the spinning top maker, who brought it all full circle for me.

Sherman and I were walking down the same path, he in one direction, I in the other.  He gave me a cordial smile, I said hello, and he asked me how the blogging conference was going.  We stopped and began to chat.

I can't recall everything we talked about, but I wish I had recorded our conversation so I could share the marvelous, convoluted path we traveled. Of course, after just a few minutes, I started to get that antsy feeling.  I made subtle attempts to move on, but Sherman was having none of it; he kept asking me about me, my blog, my life (somehow we got to talking about how many languages the Swiss speak, prompted by a conversation about how I studied abroad in Geneva.  Don't ask me how we got there.  I have no clue.).  I discovered that he orders parts for his tops from Taiwan, that he has a relative (or maybe a relative-in-law) who is working for a choreographer in New York, and that his sister (or sister-in-law) has beat cancer three times, bless her heart. He told me his sales were good, and when I exclaimed, "That's great!" he replied, "Yes it is.  But for every top I sell, I have to make another one."

At some point in this dialogue, as I was shifting from foot to foot and eying the next shop as my escape route, something happened.  I stopped, mentally smacked myself and said "Jodi, you jerk. You have nowhere to go.  There's no reason you shouldn't stay and talk to this interesting man for as long as you can.  What's wrong with you?  Listen, really listen, and maybe you'll learn something." It wasn't easy for me to stay tuned in, but I did it, and I'm so glad I did.

Sherman, his fellow shop owners, and Mary the park interpreter did indeed teach me something.  They taught me that at some point in an interaction with a stranger, we will tip from small talk to storytelling.  I don't usually get there.  I usually run off and breathe a sigh of relief that I'm on my own again, or I head for a familiar face and we share our usual, safe conversation.   But if we get there, we will hear something we haven't heard before, or say something we've never said before.

I also learned that it's ok to be a storyteller.  It's ok if our stories wander; we'll bring them back eventually, and even if we don't, we'll have some fun along the way.  If our stories are too long, many in our audience will just leave, and that's fine.  Let them.  The ones who stick around, who hear it all the way through, will be the interesting ones.  They'll be the ones to tell us their own stories, the interesting ones, and we'll learn something from them. 

I'm not saying I'm going to magically become great at small talk.  But I think, thanks to this experience, I'll become more aware of when we cross that invisible line, and hopefully I'll pay more attention to what we discover out on that winding, meandering road.