Monday, September 5, 2011

The Dog Days Are Over

From my favorite song of the past year:

“Happiness hit her, like a train on a track.
Coming towards her, stuck still, no turning back.
She hid around corners, and she hid under beds,
she killed it with kisses and from it she fled.
With every bubble, she sank with a drink
and washed it away down the kitchen sink.
The dog days are over,
The dog days are done.
The horses are comin, so you better run.”

Thank you, Florence and The Machine for these lyrics and the beautiful song (Dog Days Are Over) which they accompany. As stated, happiness does often come with a blow. You’re fine without it- maybe you even think you are happy. Then you find someone or something that makes you feel this whole new level of joy, but if it goes away, you’re left with just the lack-there-of, which I guess we call sadness. But isn’t that silly? If you did not realize you were unhappy before, why can’t you just revert back to that state of prior happiness, instead of getting hit by the subsequent sadness “train?”

Luckily, there remains the fact that we are all in charge of our lives and inevitably what happens to us therein. We can determine what happiness looks like for us, feels like, and the same goes for sadness. Once that thing that provided you with happiness becomes something that now makes you sad, you cannot dwell on it. You can, if you have the strength to, let it go.

This song strikes a particularly loud chord in my soul because of the running metaphor. I’ve been a runner for years, but had to put my career on the sidelines for a bit due to some post-marathon injuries of a year and a half ago. Recently however, I’ve gotten back into it, and can run both painfree, and even faster than before. While dealing with some post-happiness-sadness as of late, I’ve found solace in running; in pushing myself, in the burning in my legs, the heaving of my chest, and the relief of finishing a hard run. And on one of my latest runs, while this song overtook my ipod, I decided that my dog days are indeed over. No more feeling sad, no more woe is me. I’m washing that now lost happiness away “down the kitchen sink”, and running, fast.

One of my dearest friends who also teaches at my school, frequently gives our students this ultimatum: “There are two kinds of people in this world. You can either be an energy giver, or an energy taker.” She herself, is the epitome of an energy giver. She is almost always smiling, laughing, and simultaneously a full time teacher, graduate student, and she is training for a marathon. She helps me keep my reality in check. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed by teaching, I think about how much MORE work she does on a daily basis, and I realize that the grass is definitely greener on the side where I’m standing.

An energy giver is that person at a party who just kind of glows. Who people naturally gravitate to, who makes people laugh, and conversation revolves around. An energy taker complains, and always seems to be in the middle of some major catastrophe, and is incapable of putting themselves in someone else’s shoes in order to realize that they don’t really have it that bad. Energy takers might not actually take the fun out of a situation, but they also don’t exactly add to it. Their presence is either not felt at all, or felt in a negative way.

I used to be an energy giver (at least I hope so), but lately I’ve been more of a taker. So I’d like to apologize to any and all of my friends who have had to listen to me complain and whine. Because honestly, I have nothing to complain about.

There is so much beauty in the world. Every day I get to witness children learn and grow, and even more pertinently, I get to be an instrumental part of their learning and growing. Next week, Cross Country starts after school, and this just adds a new dimension to my life and my time with students. I absolutely love running with my kids. And as a teacher and a coach, I MUST be an energy giver.

To flourish in this world, one must believe that they are the makers of their own reality. If you have a problem, try to find a solution. If you are unhappy, figure out what does make you happy and focus on that instead. If you are reading this and thinking “easier said than done,” then may I humbly suggest you find a hobby.

Lastly, we all experience what Florence calls “dog days,” and maybe the fear of them is what causes her to hide from happiness, as described in the first few lines of the song, posted above. I want to make clear that I am not saying we should run away (whether metaphorically or literally) from potential happiness. If you let old pain, and the fear of feeling that again, cause you to hide from new happiness, then get ready for a lonely, unfortunate life.

My point is simply this: if something is getting you down, then face it, and run away from it. More importantly, run towards something that makes you happy. If you don’t know what that is yet, then start with the Florence’s suggestions;

“Run fast for your mother, fast for your father,
run for your children for your sisters and brothers.
Leave all your love and your longing behind,
you can’t carry it with you if you want to survive.”

So lace up your running shoes, folks. The dog days are over when you say they are, but the "horses" will never stop “comin.”

Monday, November 1, 2010

Q & A

Phoenix: "Ms. Kennelly, if you were a millionaire, would you still be a teacher?"
Me: "Yes."

Scary thing is, I actually meant it. No sooner had the question left that little boy's mouth than that affirmative answer popped out of my own. And now I'm looking up masters programs so I can be a teacher for longer than my two year Teach For America commitment...for, ever, maybe. After years and years of going to school to become a doctor, a writer, an artist maybe even- never ever had becoming a teacher entered my mind. In fact I pretentiously looked down upon education majors. Last year at this time I HATED teaching. However, somehow in the past twelve months I have evolved to my current state of being: loving my job, loving my students, and unable to think about NOT being a teacher. Idleness and ease bore me. Even if I had a million dollars I couldn't possibly just sit around and relax, and I think that indulging my romantic fantasies like slumming around Europe would just make me feel guilty and wasteful. Therefore, yes. If I had a million dollars I would still be a teacher. I might buy myself a nicer car though...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Something old = something new

I haven't written anything in a while. I've really tried, but nothing significant has come of my efforts. So instead of writing something lame and fatigue-induced, I decided to revisit some of my old pieces to drudge up some inspiration.

One of the last essays I wrote before receiving my Bachelor's degree in English from St. Louis University, was one in which I tried to mimic Joan Didion's tone and writing style in her essay Slouching Towards Bethlehem, which was written in the style of New Journalism in the 60s. While writing, Didion was living under cover in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, mingling with the hippie, and pretending to be one of them, all the while writing an all together damned account of their lifestyle, and consequently painting a bleak picture of the country's future. My essay, Slouching Towards the Billiken, written in May of 2009, is obviously an homage to Didion's 1968 piece.

Slouching Towards the Billiken

The center is still not holding. The country is in a state of crisis. Though we came together for a few brief weeks over the election of the first African American president and his promise of change, the sad fact remains that America is still a very divided country. We are divided politically, economically, and still, unfortunately, racially. In these times, I find it difficult to imagine a better future. The question on everyone’s mind is “where are we headed?” What’s next for America, once the greatest nation in the world? In an effort to answer this question I turned to America’s youth. In the spring of 2009, I spent a few weeks in St. Louis, Missouri, living amongst the students of Saint Louis University, affectionately dubbed “SLU.”

Remember those walls I built
Well, baby they're tumbling down
And they didn't even put up a fight
They didn't even make up a sound

I wait with about ten others outside of Sean’s apartment, as someone comes down to let us all in. It is a warm, April night. The mood of the group is excited- exited for the party, but also in anticipation of summer and months away from SLU. Sean lives in a building called The Coronado, an imposing, elegant brick building, which looks more like a fancy hotel than a building that houses many students. There is a café in the basement of the building- Nadoz, a self-proclaimed “Euro Café & Bakery.”

As we wait, boys chat about sports, and girls compliment each other on their clothing and hair. After a few more minutes, John, Sean’s roommate, comes to let us in. “Dude,” a boy in jeans and a green polo says to John, “that took forever,” and they slap hands in a high five. “Sorry man, it’s crazy up there,” John replies.

The entryway of the building leads into a grand foyer, with marble flooring, high ceilings, and dangling chandeliers. The Coronado doubles as a banquet hall and ballroom for big events, and though the actual apartments are not that fancy, tenants pay dearly for the elegance of the first floor and the convenience of its being right across the street from campus. Singles range from $725-1000, doubles start around $1200, and triples range from about $1475- 2000, depending on layout. For a typical SLU student, $600 a month is “not that bad” for rent.

We all pile into an elevator and take it up to the sixth floor. “Last door on the right!” John calls out, unnecessarily, as the blaring music makes it quite obvious which apartment is throwing a party. The bass on the stereo is so high we are practically thumped down the hallway. The door of 602 opens to a swarming mass of twenty somethings and a blast of Jay-Z:

If you're havin' girl problems I feel bad for you son
I got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one
Hit me.

Once inside, John calls out “five dollars for a cup!” and motions to another boy standing in the kitchen next to a beer keg, holding a stack of red Silo cups. I reach my hand into my pocket and pulled out some crumpled bills. I walked over to cup boy and handed him a five. “What’s in the keg?” I ask.

“Natty Light,” he shouts, “or there’s jungle juice in the cooler if you’d prefer.” He motions to a blue Igloo cooler on the floor next to the fridge. Natural Light is the beer of choice for SLU keggers. Anheuser Busch, which is based in St. Louis, pretty much monopolizes the drinking scene. Not only is Natty Light one of the only beers you can get by the keg, but it’s also the cheapest. Best of all, due to its watery, “light” taste and texture, it can be easily consumed in large quantities- ten to twenty glasses, or more, in a night.

The other drink offered, Jungle Juice, is somewhat of a phenomenon in itself. Wikipedia defines it as “huge quantities of hard alcohol mixed with arbitrary juices” and says that “generally, it is believed that the name originates from the drink's potency, causing an extreme state of inebriation and thus causing the drinker to exhibit animal like behavior” (Jungle Juice). Though part of the fun of jungle juice is not knowing what is in it, it isn’t hard to figure out the recipe of this blend; the counter is littered with emptied Kool-Aid Fruit Punch packets and a bottles of alcohol; Absolut Vodka, Malibu Rum, and of course, the main ingredient, Everclear. A girl in a very short “shirt-dress” and stilettos stomps into the kitchen and throws herself worshipfully down next to the cooler. She lifts the lid and dips her cup into the free-standing, red liquid, trying to avoid the solid lumps that are floating around, and which I can only hope are pieces of fruit.

I decide to go with the Natty Light, and hand my Silo back to cup boy, who is also the keg boy, as guests are not allowed to pour their own beer in an effort to keep it in cups and off the floor. He pours me a cup that is more foam than beer and I realize with not too much disappointment that it will be a good five minutes before I can take a sip.

The song changes, and the girl in the shirt dress jumps up, dripping jungle juice all over the floor, and runs to the living room to join several other shrieking young ladies who are all obviously very excited with the song that just came on.

I've had a little bit too much, much
All of the people start to rush, start to rush by
A dizzy twisted dance, can't find my drink, or man
Where are my keys? I lost my phone, phone

“Oh my god, this is like, my theme song!” One of the girls calls out.

What's going on on the floor?
I love this record baby but I can't see straight anymore
Keep it cool, what's the name of this club?
I can't remember but it's alright, a-alright

Just dance, gonna be okay, da da doo-doo-mmm
Just dance, spin that record babe, da da doo-doo-mmm
Just dance, gonna be okay, d-d-d-dance
Dance, dance, just, j-j-just dance

The song, “Just Dance,” by Lady GaGa, has been on the billboard top ten for weeks now. I’ve heard it at least twice a day around campus and at least once at every party. All the girls are dancing around the living room, arms flailing, with moves that are attempts to look sexy but tend more towards awkward. Despite this fact I can’t help but feel a little bit envious of their lack of inhibition, even though I’d attribute it more to the Jungle Juice than any sort of personal conviction.

The party consists of clusters: the dancers; the “dudes,” standing in the kitchen trading sports stats; the non-drinkers, who sit on the living room couch pretending to like what’s in their cups; the girls who are too cool to dance, and the game-players. There are two games going on at this party, Beer Pong in the living room and Circle of Death in the dining room. Beer Pong is THE game at SLU parties. It has a simple premise; there are two people on a team and each team stands at one end of a long table. Each team lines up ten cups of beer arranged in a triangle at their end of the table, and they take turns throwing ping pong balls at eachothers’ cups. If one team sinks a ball in a cup, the other team has to “chug” that cup. The first team to knock out all of the other’s cups wins. Beer Pong games are usually run tournament style- the winner keeps playing till they lose. Currently, two girls are playing against two boys. Both teams are equally terrible and the game has been going on for over twenty minutes. Ten or so partiers flank each side of the table, enthralled by the game, and waiting for their chance to play.

Around the dining room table, six people are playing Circle of Death. This is a card game which is well liked because it usually gets all the players pretty “wasted.” One game just wrapped up and another is beginning so I walk over to see if I can join them. A tall, thin blonde boy is arranging the cards face down in a circle around a cup of beer in the middle of the table. He looks up at me and says “Hey, you wanna play?”

“Sure, I say,” and take a seat. A few more people sit down at the table, and we start the game. No one introduces themselves, but some people already know eachother, and it doesn’t really matter- we’ll all be best friends by the end of the game. The girl to my left pulls the first card, a red five, and the blonde boy calls out “Ohh! Red to the head, Katie!” Katie says “damn it!” and takes a five second swig of her beer. Cards with numerical values 2 through eight represent seconds one must drink for. If you pull a red card you drink for that amount of time, hence, “red to the head,” but if you pull a black card you choose someone to else drink for that amount of time.

The next card pulled, a Black Ace, prompts a disagreement. A dark haired boy named Jim pulls the card and calls out “waterfall!” and stands up. Across the table a brunette says “I thought aces were for categories.”.

Kings are categories,” Jim says.

The brunette shrugs and says “whatever.”

“Ok, everyone up,” Jim says, “and we’re going counterclockwise.” In a waterfall, everyone stands in a circle and starts drinking their beer at the same time, and each person cannot stop until the person before them does. Luckily, Jim called for counterclockwise, which means only he and Katie to my left have to stop before I can. This is the part of the game which allows each player to show off their drinking prowess, and stopping before you should is very looked down upon. Some people however cheat and only pretend to drink for their allotted time.

I want yo body. I need yo body.
As long as you got me you won't need nobody
You want it, i got it. Go get it, i'll buy it
Tell them other broke niggas be quiet

Stacks on deck. Patron on ice.
We can pop bottles all night
Baby you can have whatever you like
I said you can have whatever you like

The game continues for another half hour or so. As each card is pulled, the player has to place it on the rim of the cup in the center of the table. The game continues until either every card is pulled or until someone knocks all the cards off of the cup. If this happens, that person has to drink the whole cup of beer. The tall blonde boy, whose name is Alex, had this honor. He drinks the whole beer in one impressive gulp, and the game is done.

I head to the bathroom, which is locked, and while waiting outside I take a peak into an open bedroom. I’m not sure if it’s John or Sean’s room. I notice the Phi Delta Theta plaque on the wall, but this is not very helpful- they are both Phi Delts. There are a few posters on the walls; a Jack Daniel’s ad hovers over a neat desk and a Sports Illustrated cover featuring a bikini clad Marissa Millers faces a bed covered with hunter green flannel sheets- the kind Moms pick out from Bed Bath and Beyond when they take their sons to college.

Just then the bathroom opens and two girls stumble out, giggling. One grabs for the other’s iphone saying “Oh my god, do not text him right now- that is a horrible idea!”

“But I want to see him!” her friend responds.

“Maybe he’ll be at Humps later,” the other one says referring to Humphrey’s, an on-campus bar, “and anyways he can’t come, he’s a Beta.” Since John and Sean are Phi Delts, the party is open to all girls but only to boys who are also members of their fraternity.

In the bathroom I am forced to crouch uncomfortably over the toilet seat, as someone has recently vomited all over it and the surrounding floor. I wash my hands thoroughly and I wonder if anyone else at this party is worried about getting the Swine Flu. Exiting the bathroom, I hear a loud cheer coming up from the kitchen and a chorus of “chug chug chug!” I walk in to find five guys hoisting John upside-down over the keg for a keg-stand. John drinks for an impressive eighteen seconds before spewing Natty Light all over his refrigerator. His friends lower him down lightly, and Sean pats him on the back, saying “nice, dude.”

“Who’s next?” A boy in a polo (they’re almost all in polos), jeans, and a backwards Cubs hat says calls out “Bridget!” Bridget, a petite, shy looking brunette in a shimmery tank top, jeans, and flip-flops says, laughingly, “Oh my god, no way!”

“Come on Bridget! Do it!” Cubs hat boy says, and before she can even reject, the boys have grabbed her, lifted her in the air and upside down. Poor Bridget puts the tap in her mouth and drinks for only about 8 seconds before she starts hitting one of the boys on the shoulder and screaming “put me down, put me down!” They oblige and she runs to the bathroom, covering her mouth. More vomit.

Shawty had them Apple Bottom Jeans [Jeans]
Boots with the fur [With the fur]
The whole club was lookin at her
She hit the flo [She hit the flo]
Next thing you know
Shawty got low low low low low low low low
(Flo Rida).

The music is louder now, and a few more boys have joined the girls dancing in the living room. Couples “grind” with (on?) one another, relishing the physical contact. The non-drinkers have mostly left by now, and it’s ten past one in the morning. I notice Bridget wobble out of the bathroom leaning on a blonde’s arm. I start to consider leaving, when suddenly the music stops, and a boy calls out “The cops are here! Everybody out!”

Panic strikes. Everyone sobers up, even if just for the moment, and we run around grabbing purses, jackets, cell phones and bottles. People run out the door and down the hall to the emergency exit. I follow, trotting behind two boys, one of whom says “Man, I’m so sick of this shit, it happens every weekend.”

“I know,” his friend replies, “I mean, everyone in this building is in college. What kind of loser reports party? It’s like one a.m., it’s not even late.”

We manage to get outside without seeing the cops. Some kids are not that lucky however, and I wonder how strict cops are with underage drinking around this campus. I’ve heard that mostly they just let people off with a warning.

A small group forms down on the corner of Lindell and Spring, about fifteen of us, and the question on everyone’s mind is, “where next?” Katie checks her phone and says “there’s a party in the Village that I heard is pretty good.”

“Let’s go to Laclede’s,” Alex proposes.

Laclede’s is another on-campus bar. On the weekends, starting around midnight, there is a line out the door to get in, and every other student on campus is already inside. Drinks are cheap, and the music is loud. The dance floor is like a sweaty, clothed orgy, moving in step with whatever rap song is most popular that week. Laclede’s is where people go to “hook up.”

“I can’t go,” one of the dancing girls says, “I don’t have a fake.”

“I know a guy in De-Mat (referring to DeMattias Hall, a dorm) who makes them for fifty bucks,” Jim offers, “you really should look into it.”

“I heard those kind of suck though,” the dancer replies.

“Yeah, but it’s Laclede’s,” Alex says, “they barely even look at your I.D.”

Laclede’s is very popular with the underage crowd as they are notoriously lax about showing proper identification.

After a few more minutes of discussion, the group splits; those of age or with a fake go to Laclede’s, and the other half decides to go to the party in The Village. I decide I’ve had enough for the night and head home. I say goodbye to the few familiar faces in the group and walk toward the clock tower. A flock of girls- a flurry of skinny jeans, short dresses, straightened hair and perfume- stomps past me purposefully. One lags behind, having trouble walking in her four inch heels and talking, rather slurring, into her cell phone. “Guys, wait up!” She calls, but her friends are chattering too loud to hear. She turns her attention back to her phone call.

There’s something happening here

what it is ain’t exactly clear

During my time at SLU, I met a lot of kids with ambitious goals and big dreams; the stuff leaders are made out of- leaders who unify their country and set things straight. I did see glimmers of hope, here and their, flickering about campus. But what I did see wasn’t nearly enough. What I saw mostly was indifference. I heard more rap music than conversation. “Are they not concerned?” I often wondered, and I couldn’t help but think not. There is a fine line between ignorance and apathy, but at SLU, I’m not sure one even exists at all.

It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
(Buffalo Springfield).

I turn left and head towards Grand. Lots of students are out still, and the campus is alive under the moonlight. I pass a couple cuddling on a bench. Ahead of me I see a group of boys - jeans, polos, baseball hats; they are standing outside of the Bauman Eberhardt Center, huddled close, murmuring and laughing. They quiet down as I pass by, and eye me rather suspiciously. I pretend I’m not at all interested and carry on my way. A moment later I look back over my shoulder just in time to catch one of the boys walk up to the statue of the Billiken, his school’s mascot, which sits proudly outside of the gym. Without hesitation, he unzips his pants and pees all over it. Tomorrow, one of his friends, a SLU “Ambassador,” will guide families on a tour of campus. He will stop in front of the statue and tell his group “don’t forget to rub the Billiken’s belly! It’s good luck!”

Works Cited

Beyonce. “Halo.” I am…Sasha Fierce. Columbia, 2008.

Flo Rida. “Low.” Low. Atlantic, 2007.

Jay-Z. “99 Problems.” The Black Album. Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2003.

"Jungle juice." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 6 Apr 2009, 03:05 UTC. 5 May 2009 <>.

Lady Gaga,. “Just Dance.” The Fame. Interscope, 2008.

T.I. “Whatever you Like.” Paper Trail. Grand Hustle/ Atlantic, 2008.

The Buffalo Springfield. “For What It’s Worth.” Buffalo Springfield. Atco, 1966.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

If only- # 357

If only... I had stuck with playing the piano.

I started playing piano at the age of four- no lie. My parents began training my brother and I with the Suzuki method, whoch focuses more on learning the fundamentals of playing music- rhythm, melody, fluidity, etc., rather than note-reading. As one advances, they must of course learn to read notes, but the key is a gradual building up to note reading, so that once you get there all you have to do is recognize which key to hit, and you're all set because you have all the other essential basics down.
So at the age of four I had my first suzuki lesson, which consisted of sitting cross-legged on the ground, hitting a stick on the floor, trying to keep pace with a metronome. Primitive, yes, pointless, NO. The suzuki method also incorporates lots of concerts in front of other students, so that children at very early ages become comfortable playing in front of others. Throughout the rest of my life- quiet though I can be- I can honestly say I never experienced stage fright during school plays, or singing in front of people, and of course, while playing music. I remember many Christmases where my parents would make my brother and I each sit in front of family and guests and play for them. I might have rolled my eyes like a true adolescent, but never did I experience any sort of fear.
Eventually, I moved on from the Suzuki method to a very strict, Classical teacher, one Ms. Uhlig, who used to grab my hands and slam my fingers down on the correct notes if I misplayed. I remember being so terrified of her and her house, how the smell of it made me queasy, and how she never really complimented my playing, but rather would say I'd simply "completed" a piece when I was able to play it to her satisfaction- completely memorized, of course.
After Ms. Uhlig there was a string of others. I even experimented with a jazz teacher for a while, but he unfortunately did not last long. Firstly, after playing strictly classical for most of my training, the concept of syncopation was very hard for me to grasp. I could not convince my fingers that this odd, untimely plunkering of keys was in fact the way the music was supposed to be played. But perhaps the main reason my jazz teacher did not stick around long was because he had the worst case of halitosis I've ever encountered. The man's breath smelled like feces- end of story. And, unfortunately, end of my jazz career.

I bounced around to a few different teachers after that but none seemed to fit. By age 13 I decided that I was just no longer interested in playing the piano. Nevermind the fact that by this point, I'd been playing for 9 years and was pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. Nonetheless, I was much more concerned about the fact that practicing for the necessary hour each day was interfering with my growing, teenage social life. I wish I could travel 10 years into the past and slap that Julia and say "you are throwing away the greatest gift you were ever given." Though I doubt she'd listen.
By the age of 16, I actually did begin to miss playing again. I started up with a little old woman who lived within walking distance of my house. The process of beginning to play again was painful. I remember being insulted when she started me off with very easy pieces, thinking I was way too good for Bach's early Sonatina's. However I was quickly humbled when the very same peices I had mastered at the age of 8 took me weeks to re-learn. In just three years I had lost so much of my talent. To say this was frustrating doesn't even begin to cut it. But I persevered, worked hard, and for maybe the first time ever I did not see practicing as an unwanted obligation. I looked forward to my time at the piano each day and would sit for sometimes two, three hours trying to perfect a piece.
Unfortunately, as my piano life was progressing, so was the rest of my life- quite rapidly at that- and I became part of a highly competitive crew team that practiced at 5 am each morning before school. When I got home each day I could barely keep my eyes open long enough to finish my homework and eat dinner, let along practice. My skills began to slip, my fingers began to slow, and eventually I had to quit my lessons to make Crew my number one priority.

Since then I have graduated from high school, moved to a different state, traveled and lived abroad in Europe, graduated from college, finished my first year as an 8th grade science teacher for Teach For America and never, ever, has the thought left my mind that giving up music was the worst decision I've ever made. Beautifully played piano pieces bring tears to my eyes, and anyone who plays them I see as practically holy. To make music is an incredible thing. To make your hands become vessels that bring black specks on a page to life to make a sounds- sweet, harmonious sounds that can silence and touch a listener- that, I believe, is one of the closest links between man and divinity. As human beings, I believe we have a responsibility to create; we should strive to make something tangible in our lifetime, something beautiful that we leave behind, to make our lives mean something, and to be sure that we don't take all the beauty around us for granted.

Recently, I acquired a not-so-old, but not-so-new Yamaha keyboard. It has a pedal, which is essential, but unfortunately it also has a pretty crappy sound. I stole some sheet music from my parents when I was at home this summer, and I have been trying to get back into playing over the last few weeks. I may never become the piano player I could have become, should I have not quit as a young teen, and this a fact that I will always regret. Nevertheless, I can try.

Current endeavors: Eric Satie's Gymnopedie #1

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Turtle

I’ve spent most summers of my life at my family’s little cottage in Door County, Wisconsin. When I was fourteen, my mother put our turtle, Yoldla, outside for some fresh air on a hot day, and she died from heat stroke. My mother was terribly upset, blaming herself for Yoldla’s death, and she spent the greater portion of days on end weeping. In an effort to cheer her up, I decided to paint a memorial rock for Yoldla, to be put over her gravesite in our backyard. I had just finished reading “The Grapes of Wrath” that summer, and a quote from the beginning of the book seemed to me to be an extremely appropriate tombstone epitaph; it read “Nobody can’t keep a turtle though. They work at it and work at it, and at last one day they get out and away they go.”

I painted this on a large, flat rock, along with a stunning portrait of Yoldla and presented it to my mother proudly. Like most moms, mine gives me a lot more credit than I deserve, especially when it comes to my artistic abilities. As such, she thought this rock was the most beautiful thing ever, and instead of putting it over Yoldla’s grave as I intended, she put it on the mantle of our fireplace and there it has sat for nine years now.

As a semi-adult with a full time job and an apartment of my own in St. Louis, MO, I no longer can spend long, lazy summers in Door County. However, I try to visit whenever possible, and I am currently three days into a five day vacation there with my Mom, my cat Henry, my mother’s two dogs, and her new turtle, which she found on the side of the road and never gave a name to. This turtle without a name (she calls him “The Turtle”) is also without a real home, because my father told my mom she is not allowed to have any more animals. She hides The Turtle in a garbage can when my dad’s around, and sets up make-shift, easily disposable habitats for The Turtle in his absence. My mother paints animals on rocks and sells them on ebay. Her specialty is turtles. When I asked her why she needed to have this secret, stray turtle, she told me “Julia, how can I be a legitimate turtle painter and not have real-life inspiration?” Well, you can't argue with that... so The Turtle spends most of his life in a bathroom size, blue plastic garbage can, where he’s been this whole trip.

I stayed up late last night reading, so I was not ready to be awake when my mom burst into my room screaming “Julia! You have to wake up! I need your help NOW. Your fucking cat knocked over The Turtle’s cage (garbage can) and I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t find him and I have to be at the bike store at 10, and I haven’t even showered, and…” my mother has a tendency to ramble, so I’ve developed a tendency to turn off my hearing (it’s self defense, really). I got up, put my glasses on and crawled downstairs.

Everything was in uproar; chairs were turned over, couch cushions on the floor, cabinets moved… she had clearly been at this a while and still, no turtle. I walked into the living room and noticed Yoldla’s tombstone glaring at me from the mantle. If I believed in things like that, I might have thought that I cursed our house- “Nobody ever could keep a turtle though-" but I don’t believe in that kind of stuff. Even still, realizing that my mom would assume responsibility for this turtle’s demise as she did Yoldla’s, and not wanting to see her so upset again, I got myself a flashlight and crawled all over the house on my hands and knees, looking under every piece of furniture and in every crevice. I scoured our damp, moldy, dungeon of a basement, while my nose and throat screamed with allergic rage.

Two hours later I took a break. “Maybe we should just stop looking for a minute, Mom,” I said. “Maybe if everything is quiet for a bit, The Turtle will come out, or at least move around and we could hear him.”

My mom was still on all fours at this time, a bright red nervous wreck, and almost in tears. “Julia,” she spat out, “I know this turtle. He’s a frantic turtle. I’ve found him standing on his back legs. He’s not gonna come out.” This stream of logic didn’t quite make sense to me, but I understood it to mean that my mother was not going to stop looking for The Turtle until she found him. I was desperate for a cup of coffee or some breakfast, but I also knew that there would be no relaxing until he was found, so I got up again, picked up my flashlight, and resumed my crawling.

Minutes later, my cat went flying down the hallway towards the bathroom and we heard a mad shuffling of feet -- turtle feet! The suddenly, from behind the open bathroom door (the most obvious hiding place in the whole world) came The Turtle, running for his little life from Henry. My mom started screaming unnecessarily, and running after the turtle too, whose heart was probably very close to bursting with fear. Luckily she reached The Turtle before Henry could and she scooped him up exclaiming “I’m so happy to see you!!! I thought you were gone!” You can’t really hug a turtle, but my mother did her best to do so, and then walked over to me and said “you’ve never really even looked at him, have you? Isn’t he beautiful?” As she raised The Turtle to my eyes I looked into his wrinkly face. He is pretty, I guess, for a turtle. He has green skin with yellow stripes, orange, surprisingly expressive eyes and a multi-colored shell. He squirmed in my mother’s hand, and she held him tightly to her chest saying “praise be to God.”

Eccentricity often comes with a negative connotation, but what does it really mean to be an "eccentric?" To me, it just means that you care a lot about things that the majority of people find strange, or just could not care less about. And why is that a bad thing? I spent many childhood days rolling my eyes because of something crazy my mother said or did. Now, however, I take a look at my closest friends and realize that they themselves are a bunch of eccentrics; I have selectively chosen to spend all my free time with, and desperately enjoy the company of people who are about eccentric as the come- for our age group at least.

Unfortunately, it is rare to find people my age who really care about anything, be it something strange or something totally normal like a pet. Strong opinions do not flow freely from the lips of most 20 somethings- and if they do, then another 20 something usually gets offended by said opinion, which brings good and interesting conversation to a screeching halt.

To make a long story short, I'll take eccentricity over "normal" any day.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Simple Twist of Fate

(See title) My favorite Bob Dylan song, decidedly.
I heard it performed by a very old couple with just a guitar and a ukulele at Fred's Six Feet Under tonight (behind Iron Barley in South City- every Thurs. there's an open mic night there, FYI ) and as usual, it shook me to my core, because I believe in fate.
Oh Bob, how you crawl into my soul.

"People tell me its a sin, to know and feel too much within."

Prior to showing up at Fred's, my friend and I drove past a place called The Wedge, which had a sign out front that read "Ukelele Fight 9pm," and we both thought for a moment that maybe we should go to the Wedge instead- I mean, Ukelele fight? Too good, right?- but he had never been to open mic night and really wanted to check it out, so we passed it up. Much to our delight, however, Ukelele Fight Club (their official name) made a surprise appearance at Fred's. No fighting, unfortunately, just 10+ ukelele players having a good time drunkenly strumming some classic tunes. Fate, indeed.