Thursday, November 30, 2006

It's good to have friends in your corner

For the first time in many years, a "permanent" job has come along that compels me to apply. Those who know me will realize what a "gasp!"-inducing statement that really is, since I have spent the past four years scheming and plotting to avoid permanent employment as if it were a case of uncurable Degenerative Flatulent Leprosy Syndrome. And I haven't actually applied for a job the old fashioned way - cover letter and resume submitted cold - for well over a decade. I had hit that lucky place in life where I can more or less rely on people who know me to hire me every now and then - a few dollars here, a few dollars there. It doesn't come with health insurance, but it has been working well.

But then this half-time job came along, and I had to throw my hat in the ring. The nice thing about being a consultant is that you apply for jobs all the time - sometimes you get them, sometimes you don't, but you can't survive long if your sense of self gets all vested in whether somebody sees fit to hire you. So I have a pretty robust ego, in that sense. Maybe I'll get an interview, maybe I won't. Maybe they'll like me, maybe not. Maybe I'll like them, maybe not. It's all cool.

My friend and business partner, Zena, has worked up a much greater sense of righteous entitlement than I have. "They'd be idiots not to interview you. And if they interview you, I'd say it's 95 percent sure they'd hire you. You'd be great at that job!" Which is very sweet of her to say, but of course, she knows me.

Meanwhile, I have a new apprecition for how much work is involved in applying for jobs. The agonizing over the cover letter. The painstaking wordsmithing of the resume. It all makes me that much more grateful to be in the situation I'm in.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Another "I'm not crazy" moment

Great piece on Slate by Diane McWhorter about lobster-in-the-pot effect of vanishing civil liberties and human rights, and the forgotten lessons of history.

"Thus, in the week before the election, hardly a ripple answered the latest decree from the Bush administration: Detainees held in CIA prisons were forbidden from telling their lawyers what methods of interrogation were used on them, presumably so they wouldn't give away any of the top-secret torture methods that we don't use. Cautiously, I look back on that as the crystallizing moment of Bushworld: tautological as a Gilbert and Sullivan libretto, absurd as a Marx Brothers movie, and scary as a Kafka novel."

Where oh where has Flora been?

Good question! I just haven't been inspired to write lately. That might be because I have been producing a mammoth written document for a client and my writing mojo has been all used up at the end of the day. Usually Zena and I try to charge a "writing penalty" when a client makes us produce an actual written document - as opposed to a lovely Powerpoint presentation accompanied by a detailed spreadsheet. We much prefer numbers and pithy graphical representations using colorful arrows and text bubbles and such. Writing page after page of grammatically complete sentences is just so passe. But, there you have it. We bid this job flat fee, too, so there shall be no penalty.

Other reasons I could argue that I've been MIA:

  • Weather. It has been freakish of late out here in the northwest corner of the (continental) country. One could argue that freakish weather should have pinned me inside with nothing better to do than write, but there have also been internet outages.
  • Netflix. Yes, Enrico and I finally broke down and joined, first for the one-DVD-at-a-time service, but quickly upgraded to two-at-a-time. So I've spent an embarassing amount of time glued to the tv in obsessive consumption of Jeeves & Wooster episodes.
  • Holidays, of course. Lovely ones.
  • Music. I have obtained the Messiah score and have been diligently working to learn the alto part in advance of this year's Messiah sing-along. My voice doesn't go gracefully above the register any more, so I've had to learn to sing harmony - and let me tell you, I never appreciated how easy the sopranos had it! It's always easy to pick out the melody. The melody dominates, it's practically fascist, really. The people singing harmony have to fix upon the correct starting note in their mind's ear. Poor Enrico has heard many hours of me singing along to a set of CD's borrowed from the library. The 10-page "Amen" has come in for particular repetition, I'm afraid. But it's coming along nicely. I also recently rehabbed my clarinet and started playing again. I've ordered new sheet music that hasn't arrived yet, so it's been lots of scales and, of course, the alto part to the Messiah.
  • I still haven't fixed my "O" key.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

It was a dark and rainy afternoon...

The shop was small and cluttered, in an out-of-the-way corner of suburbia, the ugly part near the airport. But it was the only place I'd been able to find to do the job.

"What do we have here...ah, a sweet little Buffet R-13," said the repairman, peering into the case. Even back in the day when I spent a lot of time with it, I couldn't have told you it was an R-13, so I took this as an indication that the guy knew his stuff. He examined the barrel, and closed one eye to carefully look down the bore. "How old is it?"

"About 25 years. It's been sitting there untouched for the last 10, though. I assume it can be put back into service?"

"I have one myself that's 21 years old. Great era for Buffets," he said, continuing his examination of the various moving parts. "Yeah, this little beauty will clean up just fine. It needs a complete overhaul, but 25 years is nothing for this quality of workmanship." He looked up at me. "You said it's been 10 years? But you must have been pretty serious, in your day, to have invested in a nice piece like this."

"Yeah, I was. I thought I wanted to make a living at it, even. But I changed my mind when I got to college, and somewhere along the line I just stopped. And then recently I had the urge to pick it up again, so here I am."

He beamed with obvious pleasure the imminent return to the fold of a lost tribe member. "Will you look for a group to play with?"

"Nope. The first goal that I've set myself is the Messiah." He raised an eyebrow. "My church has a sing-along and even the orchestra is all volunteer. The clarinet part is only about five pages, so I figure that would be a nice easy goal to start out with. And I can still sing alto for the rest of it."

"Ah, the Mozart bit."

I was confused. Didn't Handel write the Messiah, I asked?

"Yes, but Mozart was the one who adapted the clarinet part, later."

"Oh, really? Well no wonder, that makes sense - I thought Handel would be too early, but then it was only five pages." It figures that Mozart, the first real advocate of the newfangled clarinet, would be the one to weave it into other composers' masterpieces. This guy really did know his stuff.

"Well, normally we're running a week out for overhauls, but next week I'm out of town for Thanksgiving. So it'll be another ten days, unfortunately."

"That's all right. It's been sitting 10 years, another 10 days won't matter much."

And so we concluded our business. But the very next day, he called me back. "I had a window of opportunity, so I did the overhaul on your horn. It sounds fabulous, you're going to love it. Come get it any time." I imagined that he just couldn't resist it, my sweet little R-13, neglected for so long and awaiting new life.

And so, as soon as I can get down there, and new reeds arrive in the mail, I'm back in business. After the Messiah is done, I'm looking for a clarinet transcription of Dave Brubeck's Take Five, if anybody has one.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Damn the rain

This morning my internet access was down, AGAIN. It's been happening on and off for the last week though I can't feel too cranky about it since I'm pretty sure it's on account of half the state of Washington being under water. But, I make my living from home and the lack of internet access cramps my billable style.

Meanwhile, I also had a rare asthma attack last night, probably because the rains of biblical proportion are causing everything to rot, which produces mold, to which I am violently allergic. So I woke up with bloodshot eyes and that unmistakable feeling in my chest, the feeling of lungs pumping in and out without actually taking in air.

As I sat at my computer, revising my productivity expectations downward for the day, I found myself pondering: Which am I missing more right now? The oxygen, or the DSL?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

What to do next?

I'm caught a bit by surprise. Now it's time to advocate for concrete, productive alternatives. Does that mean the time for protest is over? What does it mean to want peace and not just an end to specific wars, in terms of an actionable agenda?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Miscellaneous Shellfish

Lots has been said elsewhere about the election and its implications. I have a few random thoughts. In no particular order.

First, I am happy to see the Republicans get their thumpin'. One thing that has made me crazy for a long time are the conservative Christian Americans who say "well, I don't agree with the war, and I think the government has screwed up a lot, but I still support the President because he's a Christian and I know he prays." I don't understand this at all. If your accountant, or your lawyer, or your hairdresser, proved to be incompentent - they lost your money and undermined your legal rights and gave you really bad haircuts - would you keep them around just because they pray? Hell no, you'd fire them. Why would this expectation of competence apply less to the most important jobs in society?

Second, although I am happy to see the Democrats win, I have little hope that they have a cohesive program and a sense of grounded leadership. I hope I'm wrong and I'm more than happy to give them a chance.

Third, regardless - I am delighted at the prospect of the first female Speaker of the House. That is a fabulous and much-overdue milestone regardless of what else happens.

Fourth - the occupation of Iraq. It seems to me that we have broken that country, and it's possible that it simply cannot be fixed. I empathize with people who say, "The war was a terrible idea, but now we've broken the country and we owe it to the Iraqis and the rest of the world to try to bring some stability there." My heart says that same thing. But, it's recently been revealed that military scenario models, conducted over the past decade by the US military think-tank people, showed that even 400,000 US troops - more than three times what we have there - could not prevent Iraq from sliding into civil war.

It is possible that we as a country will simply have to admit that we made a mistake, and no amount of earnest trying can now fix it. We might have to just leave the mess to heal on its own. All of us as people make mistakes like this in our lives - ones that we cannot fix, that have repercussions that leave us sad or guilt-ridden or sick to our stomachs with the wish to go back in time and make different choices. The absolute hardest thing in the world to do is to take responsibility for those mistakes, acknowledge the consequences, and wait in all our powerlessness for the healing to happen. This is not a "cut-and-run" path, a cowardly path. It takes courage to admit you've been wrong, and strength of character to unconditionally accept responsibility for harm you've caused. I hope we have that courage as a nation, if that's what we're facing.

Lastly, I wholeheartedly agree with the speaker currently on my local NPR talk show, who is asserting that "the moral values crisis in our society is greedy consumerism." I actually think that outraged liberals and outraged religious conservatives are both responding to a comon sense of moral sickness, of something being fundamentally off in society. I just think we assign that unease to different causes - corporate greed or gay couples? Entrenched poverty or abortion? I'm as worried about violent video games, and exploding internet pornography, and inappropriately sexy clothing for pre-teen girls, as my religiously conservative fellow citizens. I just happen to articulate the harmfulness of these things in terms like dehumanization and objectification, rather than offensiveness to God. I hope that in our current collective exhaustion, we can find common ground about what really saps our moral core - a fundamentally selfish and materialistic way of life that diminishes our humanity, our sense of connection, and our sense of accountability for the planet and everything on it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

And the rain, rain, rain came down, down down...

Yep, we're bailing bucketloads of water here in Washington state. Record-setting flooding is predicted.

Nelly is expressing her disapproval of the rain, and our inexplicable inability to stop it, by refusing to go outside. She has clenched up her urethra and her sphincter in protest. When Enrico invites the dogs to go on their early-morning walk, Nelly makes a beeline back to the bed and curls up next to me, daring Enrico to make me go outside, just try to make me! Bodily necessity does eventually force her to go out to the yard, but she glares at the us the whole time in put-upon scorn. What kind of pack leaders are you, anyway, that you can do NOTHING about this intolerable situation? Are you really so feeble?