Random Summer Is Random

I’m the kind of person who likes to have some structure to my life. It can be a little bit of structure or a lot of structure, but preferably a mix. If I need to practice piano earlier in the day than usual to accommodate something that can only be done later in the day, I like having that flexibility. But if I didn’t have my piano lesson at the same time every week, I’d have a hell of a time planning around it and remembering when I need to head out the door (note to self: you need to leave in about 45 minutes for this week’s lesson).

But trying to maintain any kind of structure to my days this summer? Didn’t happen. Too much flux, which is one of many reasons I’ve been so scattershot about blogging the last few months. Hopefully, though, September should bring a touch more stability with it. Classes for my MLIS program start this Thursday. Regular weekly choir rehearsals start up again next Wednesday. My last day at Ye Olde Day Job was a week ago; I’m hoping to find something part-time and library related, but in the meantime, there’s a freelance database project I’ll probably be taking on. And with all of those things set, maybe I can get back into something resembling a regular routine for writing and exercise, both of which I’m ashamed to say I’ve been mostly neglecting lately. Bad me. Bad.

Related to all of the crazy flux in my life right now, trying to answer the question “What do you do for a living?” at my grad school orientation last week was far more difficult than it used to be. “What do I do? Up until a few days ago, I was a grant writer for a theater company. Why did I leave something that sounds so cool? Well, working in the performing arts was cool, but fundraising made me miserable, and I really loved the two years I spent working in a music library, which is why I’m pursuing my MLIS now. Why didn’t I stay at the music library job? Because it was a temporarily funded project, or else I would have. No, I’m not going to be a fulltime student now. I’m hoping to find a part-time library job, and I’ll probably be taking on a freelance database project.  

“Oh, and I also write fiction.”

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In which I explain how opera snobs don’t want your filthy uneducated ears listening to their music

Opera is among the musical genres I enjoy, both as an audience member and as a singer. Opera is not to everyone’s taste, of course, but that can be said of any musical genre. Rap is not to everyone’s taste. Nor is country. Nor polka. The list is quite long.

There’s an unfortunately common perception that all opera fans are elitist snobs, but really, we’re not. Some are, true–no one musical genre has a monopoly on dickish fans. But most of us don’t look down at our noses at all other musical genres. In fact, a good many of us listen to other types of music as well. Here, to keep a running list of what’s been playing on my computer as I write this entry: Vienna Teng. Loreena McKennitt. Lisa Gerrard. Garbage. U2. Amy Winehouse. Elvis Costello. Dar Williams. All not opera.

(That said, I do think some people write off opera without giving it a fair chance. For those who think it’s nothing but fat people singing, I suggest you look at this little clip of operatic beefcake. Even if you don’t find the music impressive, the abs on those guys most certainly are.)

Now, the rant: yesterday I came across an opera-related blog post, and one of the comments on the post accused folks in the opera world of purposely keeping the art form dependent on private donors and grants in order to keep uneducated lowbrow undesirables from listening.

Cue me falling out of my chair in a fit of hysterical laughter.

[sarcasm font on]

Yes, as an opera lover and someone who has spent most of the last decade working in fundraising for performing arts organizations–four of those years at an opera company–I can assure you that it is true: we love begging for money and remaining dependent on the whims of people with deep pockets. Especially the cranky eccentric ones who might stop donating if we take an artistic risk or do a production they dislike. We certainly don’t want to increase revenue from ticket sales; that would bring in the riffraff.

And the grants. As a grant writer, my job description has always specifically stated that I am responsible for securing grants so that we can keep the undesirables out of the seats. I’ve certainly never spent time writing proposals asking for money to fund the education department’s efforts to provide curriculum-based arts enrichment programming to inner-city students whose cash-strapped schools have cut all of their arts teachers and activities. We certainly wouldn’t ask for funding to help bring those kids to see a performance. They might enjoy it and want to come back. We can’t have that.

I’ve also never had to write proposals for marketing initiatives specifically aimed at attracting new and diverse audiences. No partnering with other non-profits for community outreach activities that will be free and open to the public. No radio or television broadcasts. No movie theater simulcasts. No ticket discounts of any kind. In fact, we should probably cut the advertising budget next fiscal year. The elitist insiders know where to go.

And it’s especially fun depending on government grants. Because it’s not like government arts funding sources are ever in danger of being cut.

[sarcasm font off]

On that note, I leave you with an example of how the Opera Company of Philadelphia is trying to keep away the rabble:

My Writing Soundtrack Revisited

In a previous entry, I babbled about listening to music while writing and how I usually stick to two general playlists, cleverly named Writing Music 1 and Writing Music 2.

“Demon Dreams” was one of the rare stories where I started writing to a very specific playlist–and subsequently found it difficult to work on the first draft without it. As an experiment, I put on one of my general writing playlists partway through the first draft. My brain rebelled. It just folded its arms, shook its head, and went “Nope, I’m not working under these conditions.” So I put the original playlist on, and voila! My brain went to work without complaint.

By the time I had finished the second draft and was starting the editing/revision phase, though, things changed. Suddenly the original playlist was a distraction and conversations with my brain went something like this:

ME: Um, brain? You want to help me out here?
BRAIN: Shhh! I’m listening to the pretty music.

So I switched to one of my general writing playlists, and this time it worked. My brain got down to business.

On Sunday I started writing a new short story inspired by the town of Longyearbyen, part of Norway’s Svalbard Islands. I went with my usual routine of putting on one of my general writing playlists and sitting down with my AlphaSmart to get to work on the first draft. But as I started to settle into the story’s voice, barely a few hundred words in, I realized that the music was all wrong for the setting and the whimsical, slightly fairy tale-ish feel I was going for. From there, the math went something like this: pondering my musical options + a brief discussion of Norwegian folktales with AsYouKnowBob over dinner = light bulb going off

I was writing a story based on a Norwegian town, so how about a Norwegian composer? It just so happened that I had an excellent recording of Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes playing music by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg at the composer’s home, Troldhaugen, and on the composer’s Model B Steinway piano dating from 1892. So I put it on after dinner, and ta da! It worked. I don’t know if I’ll continue writing to that particular recording (I unfortunately haven’t been able to work on the story much since Sunday), but it certainly helped put my brain in a place that gave me a good start.

Four Things Make an Undercaffeinated Post

1) After another once over and some fine-tuning on Saturday, I was able to declare "Demon Dreams" ready for other people to actually look at. It even slimmed down to a mere 6,500 words.

2) Next up on the short story writing front is a story inspired by this article: Why dying is forbidden in the Arctic

3) On the non-writing front, it was a fun concert-going weekend. For both Christmas and his birthday, I got AsYouKnowBob tickets for concerts that happened to fall right on top of one another.  Saturday night we saw Vienna Teng and Alex Wong at World Cafe Live in Philly. The concert was awesome. Not so awesome was me turning into a dorktastic fangirl when getting them to sign a songbook afterwards. And Sunday night we saw Randy Newman, which was a lot of fun, though I could have done without the guy behind me wanting to sing along (badly) with everything. I paid to hear the guy on the stage, dude, not you.

4) I need more coffee. Stat.

The Writerly (and Readerly) Update

As expected, this past week was rather weird for me schedule-wise.  Adjusting to the whole part-time from home day job shift was sort of like pulling on an old pair of pants; you’re thrilled they fit again, but it’s been so long since you’ve worn them that you’re trying to remember which tops look right with them.  As a result, the time I spent trying on metaphorical tops meant I didn’t do much fiction writing during the week.  At least until yesterday, when I finally got my ass out of the metaphorical dressing room.

After doing a small amount of research and photo scrounging on Thursday, I finally started the prequel-ish My Big Fat Epic Fantasy Novel short story.  Well, I had already written a first sentence or two and jotted down some notes a while back, but yesterday was when I finally sat my butt down and started writing in earnest.  The Silk Road Ensemble was kind of a "duh" soundtrack choice for working on a story set at a caravanserai, especially when one of the albums I have from them has a track called "Night at the Caravanserai."  And I threw Loreena McKennitt’s "Caravanserai" onto my writing playlist for good measure.

After working on the short story for a bit, I switched gears slightly and did an hour writing exercise with some online folks for the first time in forever.  Recently, I’ve imposed all these huge expectations on myself as a writer, which often has the unfortunate side effect of making me petrified when I’m staring down a blank page.  This was a good way to tell those expectations where to shove it.  I turned off Serious Writer Brain and just goofed off for an hour by writing something silly that will probably never go anywhere beyond the exercise.  It was also my first time playing with Write or Die, which was a great help in turning off Serious Writer Brain.

And finally, on to the reading front:

Readerly update under the cut…