28 September 2006

Symphonians part 2!

After my usual two-second lunch, I hurried to the library to get some work done.

In my notebook my Symphonians waited for me. Through them I plunged into another world: something like the show “Friends,” only with instruments.

See, I’d always been pathologically shy, where it just scares me to speak to people. I had a horrible time my freshman year. I was so depressed and isolated that some days I didn’t wash my hair. I wore the same sweatshirt until the cuffs got all worn at the edges, and I could not approach people for anything. I had problems with bullies that year, too, and because people ignored it when the bullies heckled me. So, I created my own friends. The Symphonians were everything that friends should be – fiercely loyal, generous to a fault, always loving.

And now I was a junior. I’d found my feet – washed my hair, wore cotton tops and comfy jeans and white tennies, so I wasn’t a total wreck. I liked to think I look nice, no need to be a supermodel, but nice, and I smiled a lot at people. It was just the talking part that gave me fits.

I headed to my little table in the reference section. When I rounded the corner of the stacks, I stopped. Noel was sitting there, working on what looked like a makeup exam, black hair rumpled, his black fedora sitting next to his arm. Before I could look around for another table, he looked up with those dark brown eyes. "Hey, Kathy. Did you want to sit here?"

“Um, sure,” I said. “Thanks.” When I sat down, I scooted my chair a few inches away, hoping Noel didn't notice. I wanted to scoot over farther, but despite my discomfort I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I pulled down the sleeves of my big cardigan (the library was freezing) and opened my green notebook, chewing my lip, and escaped into my work. Revisions, revisions, endless revisions. I loved ‘em, because I loved my people.


It was late. The concert was over, and most of the Symphony had gone home. Backstage, Roderick leaned on the piano, stuffing his tie into the pocket of his dress shirt while Jeremy and Penelope demolished another sonata. All three were still dressed in their black suits or dress, their regular concert attire. Penelope had black, curly hair that she wore loose around her shoulders, though she had it tied it back when she played her viola. Jeremy, who’d thrown his tie over his shoulder, his wavy blonde hair rumpled, was complaining about the way Penelope played her sonata, but the trumpeter wasn’t doing a very good job himself of showing her how it should be done. Jeremy gave up and began pounding out some Van Halen songs. Penelope covered her ears and rolled her eyes, but jokingly.

Roderick alone saw Violet heading toward the backstage door. Though Violet was about 25, about the same age as the three friends, tonight she walked like an old lady, with careful, small steps. Roderick thought, what does she do to herself to walk like that?

The three Symphonians were loitering around the piano, enjoying each other’s company and making a racket. It had been a while since Violet had loitered with them. That bothered Roderick. Has she stopped hanging around with us because I’m … interested in her? Violet was married. He’d never approached her. He had his reasons.

But to see Violet heading toward the back entrance in that dress like a black tulip, limping as if she hurt, stirred him. Now Penelope and Jeremy saw Violet, and he saw they all missed each other from the regretful, lingering looks they exchanged.

“Violet,” Roderick said. Saying her name made his blood leap in his veins. His dark hands tightened on the piano’s case. She turned, the dress flaring slightly around her ankles, and regarded him like a stray cat, ready to run.

Roderick waved her over. “Come here and hang out with us.”

“Yeah.” Jeremy eagerly leaned forward, arms crossed on the piano’s sill, to look around Penelope. Everything he did was with that boyish, wide-eyed enthusiasm, as if all his life was a variation of flying down the ice after a hockey puck. “We hardly ever see you any more. Where’ve you been?”

Violet, her clarinet case at her side, shrugged one shoulder so it touched her wavy brown hair. “I’ve been busy.” But Roderick thought that her face changed while she said it, as if she did not like being busy, whatever that entailed. Yet she took a step toward them. “Then again, it’s no fun being a hermit.”

“Play an upside-down etude for us,” Penelope pleaded, her brown eyes concerned as always. “It’s obvious that Jeremy and I can’t handle this instrument.”

“Yes, and it shows,” Violet said briskly. As if rising to the challenge, she came to the bench, her black dress swishing around her ankles. It had a fine, wide skirt to it that belled out as she walked: Roderick’s favorite. “Move aside, people.” And there was a spark of that ferocious Violet he’d always known. Roderick smiled.

Violet attacked the piano with grace, her fingers everywhere at once, something from Czerny’s School of Velocity. She fell into the music, her fingers flashing across the keyboard. Roderick loved to listen to her, as if the music was speaking to him. Then Violet played “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” in the style of Chopin, grinning. She messed around with Chopin etudes. First it was “Paradise City” by Guns ‘N Roses in Chopin’s style, then some Green Day, then “The Thrill is Gone” by B.B. King. The Symphonians cheered and made jokes, and Violet bantered back. She caught Roderick’s eye and grinned, which made him feel like he could lift a car off the ground. Something passed between them, a spark that he saw leap in her eyes.

(Today I could feel the emotions leaping between Roderick and Violet like living things, intense. Why was my heart pounding as I revised this scene? Why was I feeling so self-conscious as I scribbled more notes in the margins?)

As if abashed, Violet ducked her head to the keyboard. Her music suddenly turned terrible, jarring, filled with what sounded like wrong notes, except there were no right notes.

“What in the world is that?” Penelope raised her head like a displeased queen.

Roderick watched Violet frowning over the keyboard. From where he stood, he could not see her hands at work, only the sweet movement of Violet’s body as she chased down the notes. “It’s from the opera Wozzeck,” Roderick said. “It’s the final so-called aria after Wozzeck kills his cheating wife and the man she was with.” Roderick’s stepfather used to play in an opera orchestra.

Violet spared him a sidelong glance, then turned her eyes back to the keyboard before anything else could pass between them. “So-called aria, my foot. It’s good music, so deal with it. Besides, that’s how the world is.”

“Not necessarily,” Roderick said lightly, wishing she’d look at him like that again. “Maybe there is such a thing as a happy ending.”

“Ha!” Jeremy cried, leaning on the piano. “Cooper, when have you ever thought that?”

“Don’t want to hear it, Richardson,” Roderick muttered.

But just then Violet glanced at the clock – and stood bolt upright, so fast that the piano bench tipped slightly. The piano fell silent. “He’s right,” Violet said, grabbing her purse. Was that fear in her face? And what brought that on? She’d been there for only a half-hour. “I can’t stay,” Violet said. “I gotta go. I’m sorry.”


“I don’t want to miss my ride.” Violet raced out the door, her black dress flaring behind her.

Everyone stared after her. Roderick was floored.

Penelope said, “Did we offend her?”

Jeremy shook his head. “I don’t think so. She’s probably just late.”

But Roderick stared at the door, which was still slowly closing, was nearly closed, after her swift exit. That fear on Violet’s face was way out of proportion to missing a ride.

26 September 2006

The first installment of The Symphonians!

Hey guys!

On a lark, I thought I'd start serially posting my novel The Symphonians, bit by bit. I figure that by the time I've posted the whole thing, I will have achieved publication. It's 338 pages long, so settle in.


Concert band finished early, so there was time to talk before the next class began. As I headed to the instrument room with my bass clarinet, I saw three girls crowded together reading the same romance novel. They’d wait until everyone had finished the same pages before turning to the next page. Romance! I rolled my eyes. Just look at that cover, I thought. The man had conveniently lost his shirt, so he was able to show off his firm six-pack abs. And he had absolutely no chest hair. Maybe he had his chest waxed. I wondered if he’d screamed like a baby when they ripped the wax off. And the woman’s dress looked ready to fall off at the slightest touch. Man and woman strained toward each other, lips parted expectantly, their long locks (his black, hers blonde) rippling in some kind of gale-force wind. Tangle city. Ha!

And then I realized three pairs of eyes glared at me over the top of the romance novel. Whoops. I stopped chortling and slunk away to the instrument room.

The instrument room was crowded and warm, and it smelled like one of the freshmen went too heavy on the perfume, but I pulled in my elbows as I swabbed out my bass clarinet, singing quietly. I watched the adjoining tuba room from the corner of my eye. When Noel set his tuba, bell-down, in its place, I smiled at him, then ducked my head like some goofball.

“Morning, Kathy.” Noel came over to the partition dividing us and set his dimpled chin on it. His bodiless head looked like a serving of John the Baptist. I liked that comparison -- until I thought of dancing to him like Salome. I had to duck my head again. Hi! I’m a fire engine!

Jo, putting up her trumpet, saw Noel’s head sitting there without its body. She shrieked, "Don't do that!" and ran out.

"You look seriously spooky like that," I ventured shyly. It was suddenly getting warm. I pushed up the sleeves of my cardigan.

Noel's disembodied head gave me a Cheshire cat grin, his dark-brown eyes crinkling. "I know. That’s why I do it … hey, Kathy, has anyone told you you're kind of sexy?"

More blushing! Lots of it! "I am not!" I made as if I would bop him with the neck of the bass. Noel ducked, bonking his chin against the partition. He said stuff like that to girls all over school and put his arms around their shoulders. As far as I could tell, though, he wasn’t a player, just a nice guy. Noel had even given me a friendly hug a few days ago, which I liked, but at the same time made me shrink into myself. Still, never in a million years would I be . . . oh, even the word made me blush! "Besides, I'm a hermit. I mean a Kermit. No, I do mean hermit. Don't I?" I put my hand over my face and giggled insanely.

"You’re kind of cute when you get flustered. Come on, let’s get together and ‘do the things that lovers do.’"

“Er … read books, right?” I squeaked.

“Naw. Fight.”

I laughed, embarrassing myself more when I snorted like a pig. Noel gave me a “bye y’all” wave and left. I snorted some more just to make fun of myself. Oh, it would be so nice to have my brain attached to my mouth!

Me? Sexy? Ha! I closed the bass case.

Still, a few months ago Noel had taken off his fedora, leaving his black hair all rumpled, and asked me to the Christmas dance. It wasn’t a big deal, just a small-town school dance, but I’d had a few random daydreams about going. When he asked me, I thought, here’s my chance! Except I lowered my eyes to hide my standard four-alarm blush and stammered, “I’m not the type to go out with guys.”
Noel tried to smile and be a good sport. “You don’t go out with any guys? Or just guys like me?”

"I'm sorry! Just any guys! Or gals," I added, even more flustered, realizing how I’d sounded with my declaration. That kind of talk around here can get you walloped upside the head with a Bible. “I mean, it’s nothing against you, really. You’re nice.”

"I’m nice.” Noel melodramatically clutched his heart as he headed up the hall. "Thanks, Kathy. Just rub that salt into the wound."


That took place four months ago and I was still vexed at myself. I really didn’t want to hurt Noel’s feelings. Social occasions made me feel awkward. Also, I’d never been out with anybody, ever, so I don’t know what the heck I would do with myself. They need to have manuals for high-school juniors who have never been on a date, never kissed a guy, so when they do go on a date, they won’t look totally stupid. Though I would be embarrassed to buy a book that says, “I’ve never gone out with actual men!"

I closed my bass case and clicked the latches shut. A strange, suffocating feeling descended like a cloud over my heart. I went to the door of the instrument room. Noel had gone to the percussion section to join several students in a game of Speed. They had turned the big bass drum sideways and were slapping cards down on it, fwip fwip fwip, then lunging to grab the stack. “Welcome to Fiasco High School, home of the Debacles!” one of them shouted, and the others laughed. I loved to watch them. I wished I could join them, but I never knew what to say.

Why this unhappy feeling? It felt hard to breathe.

I shook my head and left the instrument room. I must be coming down with something; I would take a zinc lozenge just to be safe.

The morning sky was dark with a thundercloud. The windows were open, letting the humid April wind whistle in and cool the heat of so many bodies crowded in the bandroom. Northwest Missouri was always humid. Rain sprinkled the new spears of grass that pushed through last year's dead blades. Lightning flashed as maples lashed under steel-grey clouds.

Just then the lunch bell rang. Students buzzed around the bandroom, gathering books, putting away nail polish and CD players. Noel picked up his backpack, chatting with his friends. A black fleck bit my heart like a bit of sub-zero emptiness.

I dug my Symphonians notebook out of my backpack and impulsively hugged it to my chest, but this time it didn’t seem to do the trick.

11 September 2006

Where were you when the world stopped turning?

I was working as the horticulturist for Parks. I'd just stopped by one of the baseball fields and checked on some trees that needed work. I was heading out to City Hall and tuned in NPR. They were doing a several-part series on what George W. had been doing for education. "Ha!" I said. "This'll be interesting." Just then they broke in with news that a plane had flown into the WTC. I was like, That pilot must have been blindfolded. How the hell do you crash into a building like that?

Got down to City Hall, turned up the radio, left the truck door open, started weeding geraniums. And then they reported that the second plane had crashed into the second tower. And I just went really still and thought, oh. They did that on purpose. And I wondered what the heck we were in for. And I thought, Well, I guess I'm not going to hear the rest of that education report.

Switched stations on the radio all morning, finally settled on an ABC affiliate with Peter Jennings, who I like, and heard about the tower coming down, something that I could not imagine until I went home for lunch to cuddle my little girl, who was three months old, and saw the footage on TV, and it was awful. My dad was a war baby, I was a war baby, and now my girl was born into a war.

The two-way radio at work was silent all day. Some folks came outside from City Hall to pray. All the blinds in the windows were closed. I was wondering what kind of plane would be able to clear Museum Hill and hit a three-story building. But all day I pulled weeds as best I could and listened to the radio. There was no place on the dial that was playing any music: just dire news pouring out of the speakers. Blue sky, lovely weather, little sparrows hopping around under the truck. So weird. Then after work, horrendous lines at the gas pumps, and I sat in them.

But several days later, when the Daily Show came back on, Jon Stewart said, "No, humor is not dead," and my husband and I cheered.

So where were you?

07 September 2006

Checking in!

I'm not dropping out or anything. I've just been doing a lot of overtime over at the Angus Journal. I saw that my name is already on the masthead of the most recent issue. How about that!

So far it's been proofing sale books all day. But I really like proofreading. It's nice and quiet, I do my best to be sure all the info is accurate, and sometimes you have to do a little detective work. Also they give you breaks and quite a few folks will go outside and walk for 15 minutes and I go with them, and I've noticed that the little pooch in my tummy seems to have shrunk a little bit, though the scale says I'm still the same weight. But I do like walking.

The main drawback is that I'm stuck in a chair all day. Sometimes I stand up while I'm proofing just to get out of the chair. I wish there were a way I could proof while jumping up and down, but I doubt that my cubicle-mate would care for that. Also it would look weird.

BUT if I find myself falling asleep at the desk, I go make hot tea (yum!). And if that doesn't work, I'll go to the basement and run a few wind sprints, and that usually does the trick.

02 September 2006

Music! Sweet music! Music everywhere!

Current music:O Holy Night -- John Berry

A meme I found over at That Girlie Girl's page. And though I need to be working on the story I gave in because it's about MUSIC.


Open iTunes/iPod or Windows Media Player to answer the following. Go to your library. Answer, no matter how embarrassing it is.

How many songs? 864 on my playlist, 3188 songs when I include my husband's list.

Sort by artist:
First artist: ABBA
Last artist: ZZ Top

Sort by song title:
First: 'Deed I Do -- Jay McShann
'Round Midnight -- Theolonious Monk

Last: Zimmer Imagines Heaven -- Paul Zimmer
Youth of the Nation -- POD

Sort by time:
Shortest Song: Let Me Be Your Hog -- Weird Al Yankovic (:16)
How Poetry Comes to Me -- Gary Snyder (:17)

Longest Song: Le Boeuf Sur le Toit (The Ox is on the Roof) -- Darius Milhaus (18:45)
Macarthur Park Suite -- Donna Summer (17:36) whoo!

First Album: '80's Soft Sides with "Hold Me Now" (Thompson Twins)
Last Album: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Kenny Loggins)

First song that comes up on Shuffle: "Sweet Dreams" by Air Supply
Then "She Still Thinks I Care" -- George Jones

Top songs played on the computer --
29 plays for "A Song for You" -- Ray Charles
29 for "Let Me Be Your Hog" -- Weird Al Yankovic
26 for "Brick by Brick" -- Kelley Hunt (my daughter likes that one and me too)
26 for "Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear" -- the Muppets (I play it for me; my girl's ambivalent about it; she prefers "Manah Manah")
26 for "Shining Star" -- Earth Wind and Fire

How many songs come up when you search for "sex?"
1 -- "All My Pretty Ones" -- Anne Sexton

How many songs come up when you search for "death?"
1-- "O Death" -- Ralph Stanley

How many songs come up when you search for "love?"
66, including "That's the Way Love Goes" by Merle Haggard, "We Live for Love" by Pat Benetar, "Never my Love" by Kurt Elling, and "Sailing" by Christopher Cross (??)

How many songs come up when you search for "you?" 86
Including "If You Could Read My Mind" -- Gordon Lightfoot

How many songs come up when you search for "why?" 6
Including "Don't Ask Me Why" by Asleep at the Wheel and "Why Do I Love You?" by Kelley Hunt

How many songs come up when you search for "God?" 4
Including "Thank God and Greyhound You're Gone!" by Roy Clark

How many songs come up when you search for "crazy?" 2
"I Go Crazy" by Paul Davis and "Crazy Love" by Poco

How many songs come up when you search for "Certified Angus Beef!"

I just stuck that in there.

How many songs come up when you search for "f***?" 0, duh.