Saturday, January 29, 2005

Learning Curve

The strangest thing happened just now. I was spreading peanut butter with the stainless steel butter knife from a set I’ve used all my life when I had to stop and look at it. It felt funny. It has a thickly rounded, heavy handle with a tapered end, and any piece from this ancient set of Grandma’s silverware usually feels comfortable in my hand, customary and familiar. The utensils I first learned to eat with. But something wasn’t right. It took me almost half an hour to realize that it doesn’t feel like a violin bow, which is of course much heavier and longer and quite a bit more square. I don’t use my home silverware very often (ah, the carefree culinary life of a bachelorette!) and I’ve been handling the bow a lot lately, and I guess my hand just got accustomed to the shape and weight of that more impressive item.

It’s disconcerting when something you were once used to is suddenly completely alien. Like City Hall is now, and any shoes that aren’t my steel-toed Skechers and pants that aren't jeans. Once in a while I do that with words, too. The longer you look at a word, even and especially simple, common ones, the more unfamiliar it becomes. The first word that ever turned on me like that was ‘Fraggle.’ Recently it was ‘lapse’ and before that ‘grapevine.’ It’s like you suddenly see the individual letters for the first time, and the whole word crumbles, as if someone swept a word in letter blocks off a table and they landed jumbled, each one far apart on the rug.

I still remember being unable to read as a very small child, when letters were puzzling, individual things. Street signs and restaurant names and magazine covers were mysterious codes I couldn't crack. I was desperate to understand, yearning to belong to the throng of people around me who scratched letters on paper as easily as breathing, writing things others could understand but not me. I've never liked being left out, and I've never liked the frustration of not knowing. I want to be able to use whatever tools are handy to work on whatever task is necessary. That's something I didn't think about when I took the job at the Water Plant. It's frustrating being the one who has to just stand and watch, even though I constantly ask questions and the guys are careful to answer in patient, simple language, never condescending but certainly repetitive and slow. I'm picking it up fast, and I love the look on their faces when I ask a question that clearly indicates I understand far more than they thought I did or already knew something they didn't expect a girl to know. They're pleased that I care, and glad that I'm willing, which is all they would ever ask of me. Soon, much sooner than anyone expects, even me, I'll be as familiar with the knobs and screens and pipes as they are, and it will be hard to remember a time when I wasn't. But in the meantime, it's just hard.

The luckiest thing about timing is that I'm currently taking violin lessons, too, which is ever so much harder than the trombone is, and I can play the hell out of a bass trombone. I taught myself that and the trumpet and clarinet, and I'm one of those annoying people who can hear a song once and sit down at the piano and out flows an impressively intricate version. I ‘play by ear,’ which isn't the same as ‘perfect pitch.’ I can't tell you what a note is that I'm not seeing you play, but I can easily distinguish the spaces between the notes, and that's all ‘playing by ear’ is. It makes it easy to predict which note should come next in a melody, and which two or three or four will make a pleasing, harmonious chord. This instinct, however useful, will do me no good on the violin. At least not early on. Anyhow, my point was that learning the violin, a process which simply cannot be rushed, is helping me develop the patience to learn my new job at the slow and thorough speed that will make me very good at it. And even the occasional frustration isn’t enough to make me not want to go to work. Because I do so love to learn, however difficult.

I didn't mean to neglect so many things this week, such as the blog, but sleep was the most important thing, and there were a lot of beginning-of-the-year important events to attend. The Renewal Ball Kickoff was Thursday night, and this will be my fourth one, the first weekend in June. I did the poster two years in a row and one year the original art sold at the fundraising auction for just under $4,000.00. I was almost annoyed because it wasn't one of my better works, having been influenced and directed by someone else. But it was still gratifying. This year I signed on for much less stress and drank too much champagne. (I've still never had a hangover, thanks to excessive body weight and lucky genes.) I still feel like the outsider, especially at the ball, when the upper crust of this dinky little town dress to the nines and still look like fours, or threes trying way too hard. I see no sense in sequins and blonde highlights and fake tanning and acrylic nails when there are only 12,000 fairly unimpressive people to see you. Go ahead, call me a snob, but I despise pretension and some days this town fairly reeks of it. The ball is still a nice event, though, and for a while you get to feel like somebody else living someplace else. And that's always a gas, right?

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