getting out

i don’t get out much.  i know that surprises my friends who think i’m this adventurer-type, who loves getting lost in some trendy shop, or planning my next trip to cuba or some throwback neighborhood, hole-in-the-wall place that smells slightly of used books.  but i don’t really get out much.  i wake up on a sunday morning, slightly dehydrated, definitely foggy head, after a night of pure fun, being rain-soaked while watching Casablanca, in a cemetery in hollywood – and realize this “where i’ve been” must give way to the “where i want to be”.  conversations in line with strangers will sit in my memory bank for a while.  huddled under whatever blanket we could find, to enjoy the last 45 minutes of the movie and laughing at great script and waiting for the epic lines we have come to love from this movie.  singing billy joel on the way home, rod stewart and trying to figure out a bach compilation cd.  i ask our host, how do you find all these fun things to do?  he says, he sits with his coffee and reads the sunday l.a. times.  (my kids have been asking me to stop getting the paper – i tell them usc football is almost here and that it’s one of my sunday morning rituals to open to the sports page and see what commentators have to say about the big win – they don’t care.)  to my kids, the paper just sort of piles up on the other side of my couch and eventually the piles gets high enough and i throw it out.  they don’t see that this newspaper is my link to fun.  on this rare occasion that i have a swampy sunday morning (like today) to sit on the patio and read the times, i’ll start making my own adventures.

i suppose i could sit here and dissect why i’ve stopped adventuring lately.  don’t really want to.  the porch is waiting and i must find some strong coffee. happy sunday.

call it therapy

i have this boss … well, one of them … that has this approach to work and getting things done.  his approach is … “there’s no crying in baseball”, or in music, or rehearsing, or whatever else needs to get done.  i’m thinking about that morning because of an encounter i had with a young man last night at a 4th gathering.

we were all sitting politely at the table, talking music, naturally, and catching up with friends. then out of the blue, words were exchanged and out came this barrage of ugly.  immediately, the mood changed in the room.  the peacemakers stepped up to the plate and tried to score a run.  they were walked to first base.  the referees had their go at arguing with the manager.  and everyone watched the replay on the big screen, over and over to see if somehow something was missed.  it’s one of those scenes that will be up for discussion for a while, at least in my mind.

i tried to talk sense into the kid.  do something. anything.  stop making excuses for what is, what isn’t, get on with it.  take my boss’ approach.  it didn’t work.

i feel badly for this kid.  but empathy and sympathy are weak motivators in the end.  they only serve to indulge you in how you feel.  you feel entitled to your feelings.  they’re yours, after all, and the world should cater to you because how you feel is way more important than what is really true.  (sorry, a little sarcasm.)

it got me thinking this morning about what i really wanted to say to that young man.

get to work.  just be quiet and get to work.

in january, after the break-up with this gentleman, i sat at my piano and took out my songs.  songs i write and songs written and decided to spend the next few months tackling Bach’s French Suite Gigue #5 in G major.  my fingers were rusty.  i stopped making excuses for bad technique and i got to work.  metronome at 60. i set a goal of 132.  measure by measure, i got there until the piece was memorized.  at 60.  and then notched it up.  with each notch up, comes decisions about how you want phrasing and detached playing and minor adjustments technically.  then it’s the head game.  can i keep my concentration up for 4 pages?  in front of the recital in may.  for parents who haven’t heard me play.  it was an exercise that made me relevant to my students.  not just an observer who has performed, or who is performing just in church, but “with” my students in the day in/day out work of what it means to live with a piece of music.

this participating vs. observing thing has been on my mind of late.  and how i define my life by doing or not doing.  expecting things to happen or making things happen.  there’s so much going into that as a christian.  do we wait on the Lord or do we go and participate in the thick and mud.  do we wait for the circumstances to just be perfect before we do anything at all – and casually say, i’ll jump in when i’m ready?  too much unbelievably wasted time.

so, kid, get to work.  it’s messy, hard, honest work.  it’s the grit that our forefathers had to commit to when they traveled across sea and plain.  those aren’t just fancy words on the “God bless America” – they’re the heart of living in this freedom.  it’ll tear your heart out.  work, i mean.  but it’s the best feeling in the world to know you can play a Gigue, or write a chapter, or finish a song.

i’m buying the Chopin Ballades this weekend.

july 4

july the 4th.  no fireworks have gone off yet and my neighborhood is still.  i haven’t seen one neighbor walk by yet.  and in this morning quiet with my cup of tea (only because my coffee grinder is missing and i’m not entirely functional without a cup of something jolty) i realize that it’s been far too long since i last wrote.  to be truthful, it has really been a year, which i’ll explain somewhere near the bottom of this post, since i unpacked my musical life on this page.  so let me jump in – with the good, bad and everything in-between.  the following is certainly not in order of priority or importance.  it’s just where this creative has been living with the Creator for the last few months (ok year) ….

a few weeks ago, i sat and watched the tony awards.  beautiful and poignant was the song “always starting over” sung by “the wickedly talented Idina Menzel”.  there on national tv, was my new favorite song (well, at least for the next few months) … things are shifting again.  i feel hopeful, like the first daffodil in spring, or finding shoes for a wedding that are perfectly size 5.   one of my piano moms yesterday called it, “you’re getting rid of bad karma.” she may be right.  getting rid of fluff and stuff that occupies too much personal and emotional space.  oh, i’m getting ahead of myself.

happy news! – my son was accepted into AFI – yes, that film school, at the age of 22, knowing he’ll be massively in debt when he finishes.  i say to him – it doesn’t matter.  you have faith and greatness and you have your grandfather’s natural likeability and generosity of spirit.  those things far outlast money and student loans. (we are hunting down cuban scholarships – oh you bet!!)  i’m beyond happy for my soon-to-be major motion picture editor, christopher alan carmona young.

israel carmona.  dad has been gone 15 years and i’m starting to lose some of my memory of him.  i know that’s what happens over time, but i don’t like the idea of not remembering him.  an idea has popped up, on the fringes of my just waking up groggy on the weekends.  i could build a simple website, which would have his sermons and speeches he gave at international peace conferences in Israel, with Sadat and Begin.  i still need to hear his voice.  i still think we, as a country, need to hear his thoughts on israel.  yes, the politics there have changed, but the truth does not.  i think about how much this country meant to him.  he sacrificed everything, leaving cuba, to be here.  he sacrificed everything for the love of Israel and he believed that if we do that as a people, and as a country, we will be blessed.  i miss his indomitable spirit.

indomitable – that’s my daughter.  dianna moves forward with wedding plans, on new years eve of this year.  she’s 20.  she and i have had long, cleansing conversations about what that means to be married, and to be married young.  what i love about my girl is her honesty.  she is THE most honest person i know.  yes, sometimes we clash in all that honesty, but i’ve watched her grow and mature and face challenges.  she’s had opposition from friends and family. she muscles through with courage and a faith that is genuine and lovely.  i think as she nears that date, it will be sweet to watch her temper her fire and blend it with grace.  she will be radiant and i will be properly overwhelmed when i see her walk down the aisle.

the last time i wrote, i had high hopes for a relationship that by january, didn’t work out so well.  i naturally was disappointed.  even depressed for a few months. i moped. i was grumpy.  more recently, i said good-bye to a friendship with a neighbor that didn’t work out so well.  i’m disappointed, but i will not be depressed this time. (i’ll stay away from the chocolate.  i promise.)  part of that resolve comes from my day job (in answer to the question – where have you been the last year?)

truthfully, i’ve not wanted to write about my “day job” for the last year.  i was concerned about confidentiality and not sure how to articulate what i do all day.  i suppose that part doesn’t matter so much.  what matters is that i’ve built relationships with the craziest assortment of people that i would have never run into in the regular course of life, as a piano teacher.  i’ve been refined and frankly, i’ve become a little unmerciful.  how is that a good thing? well, when you’re julie, it is.  maybe unmerciful is the wrong word?  i’ll come up with a word by the end of this post.  what’s happened is that i must answer to my boss with straight, non-flowery answers.  “julie, how many files do you have to do today?” i used to answer “enough”.  now, i give him … 64.  he walks away and is satisfied.  i’ve adopted this no-nonsense approach straight across the board, in every area of my life.  it has permeated everything.  just tell it to me straight.  let me deal with facts.  i like being factual and i love being creative.  there’s a healing and wholeness that has happened as a result of working 60 hours a week. yes, i work a lot, and the hours leave little time for much else.  so i say no more often.  i say yes to myself, to be rested, refreshed and unmercifully cut out the bad choices and move up and on.

back to karma – i drive around yesterday thinking – karma gets such a bad rap in christian circles, but jesus himself taught it.  what you sow, you reap.  what you give out, will be returned to you.  so i say goodbye to passengers on my bus that need to exit, and into my studio walk new parents, and new students who shake my hand with firm grips and say “how do you do?”  i’m not kidding!!  this is all good.

last paragraph – i promise … 2 weekends ago, one my students got married.  this is the 3rd one in a year.  this event was a very swanky beverly hills gathering.  i’m still talking about it!  it was glorious, complete with choir and orchestra.  every detail was in place.  i sat at the family table and one gentleman at my table asked, how do you know the family?  i say, well, i taught piano to Tan for 8 years.  he replies (in vietnamese english): oh, you responsible for such beautiful music.  my heart ached with gratitude.  it’s true.  but as i’ve had time to reflect on Tan, the influence i had on his life, i’ve had time to understand why he means so much to me.

when he started piano, i had maybe taught 5 years by that point.  tan was the kind of student who asked the most difficult questions, who i never had to correct much of his technique.  he was responsible for his learning from the beginning.  and with his progress came my own personal doubt, if i could see him all the way through to master level.  my hands are small, his were enormous by this point.  i couldn’t keep up with him, and i remember those being difficult months. could i still teach him?  i remember reading an article about a russian master teacher that they nicknamed “the eagle”, because even though he was a small man, he imparted life and vision to his students.  i grew up with Tan, as a teacher, and as a person.  he challenged me in ways, i don’t know that he’ll ever understand.  so when he got married, i was once again reminded that i have had an enormous impact on my students.  that he called me for wedding advice. what a privilege to have been a part of all of that.

well, i think that’s it, for now.  world cup begins in a few minutes.  happy 4th!