Who needs fancy cat toys?

Step 1: buy fancy box to put toys in so cats can stick their paws through and play with toys. 

Step 2: discover that Loki’s thumbs don’t fit in the holes. Also, bad design — toys roll out the side. 
Step 3: take a box cutter to empty box. 

Result: instant hit with babbies!

I may cover it with solid-colored duct tape so it looks nicer on the living room floor. But I’m happy to give the cats something they like!

Cutting you up on cello

I feel awesome. This morning I started arranging Peter Murphy’s “Cuts You Up” as a cello duet. I mentioned wanting to do it a couple of weeks ago, but I finally started working on it.  On staff paper with a pencil, plucking my cello because it was too early in the morning to play with a bow. Which was fine, it was easier to write while not holding the bow anyway.  I have loved the song since the album came out in 1990, but the synth cello always annoyed the fuck out of me.

And then in 2000, Murphy released a live album — aLive Just for Love — featuring stripped-down versions of his songs.  The only instruments were a violin and a guitarist.  That hugely influences the way I’m arranging it.

It’s been surprisingly easy.  And much simpler to do it on paper than in Noteflight.  I’ll be posting it there when I’m done, because proper sheet music is easier to read than my scribbled hand-written music, but the actual transcribing and arranging is easier on paper.  I may try composing something original that way; everything I’ve written myself has been done in Noteflight, and I think my music will sound better if I’m writing it on a real instrument and I know how it truly sounds.  I needed NF before, because I hadn’t memorized what fingerings went which what note names and what sharps were in which key, so it was easier to do it electronically.  Yay for musical growth!

I also arranged an Irish jig, “Haste to the Wedding,” for two cellos.  That was easy in NF — change the clef to bass, drop the melody down two octaves, and done.  Not “arranging” so much as “transposing,” really.  I haven’t played it yet, but will be trying it today.  This last Wednesday my teacher brought a jig she’d arranged as a cello duet, “The Swallowtail Jig,” and it was surprisingly easy and fun.  In retrospect, it makes sense that there would be jigs that sound complex but are easy to play; back when most of them were written, there was no recorded music, so people had to make their own, and most fiddlers were amateurs.  So dance music that didn’t take a lot of skill would have been in demand.  That’s my theory, anyway.  I could probably google the history of jigs, but I’m feeling lazy.  My arrangement of “Haste to the Wedding” is mostly played on the two middle strings, the crossings are only between strings next to one another, and only one note is an extension out of first position.  Should be pretty simple.  (Hopefully those are not famous last words.)

Music is awesome.  <3

Family good, crazypants bad

Mom told me the other day that she and my sister had talked some time ago about what will happen to me after Mom’s death. Sis is willing to take me in, which is amazingly generous, especially considering that her husband shares my diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder.  I am very, very lucky to have such a caring family. 

But it’s depressing to realize that I’m that family member, the disabled one whose future has to be planned for. Even if I manage to hold down a job at some point in the future, I can’t live alone.  It hurts, knowing that I need that much assistance.  That I’m going to be a burden on my family for the rest of my life.

I’m not planning to relieve the burden through suicide or anything. Some people do. I’m rational enough, and close enough to my family, to know they’d rather have to help care for me than lose me. And I do what I can to help them, as often as I can manage it. I don’t ever want to not have some usefulness. 

It hurts. But I am so goddamn lucky. Few people are. 

Re-opening my Etsy shop

I have way, way too much handspun yarn.  So I’m going to try selling some again.  And since my motivation is only to make back the money I spent on the fiber (so I can buy more fiber!), I’m going to donate half my profits to charity.  Specifically, I’m going to donate it to the #blacklivesmatter movement.  It’s one thing to share links on Facebook, but slacktivism is ultimately meaningless. So yeah.  I’m on disability, but I have a place to live and food to eat, and giving to a cause I believe in is worth keeping to a tighter budget.

Over the next week or so I’m going to start taking photos of my yarn and prepping them for sale.  I don’t even know if I’ll get any sales, but I have to try.  Otherwise the number of skeins I have will take over the entire apartment in six months, and Mom will get annoyed if I start replacing the food in the pantry with skeins of yarn!

 

Day Trip to St. Augustine

Mom and I drove over to St. Augustine this morning, planning to visit the beach and then have fresh seafood somewhere for lunch.  We managed the first part, no problem.  Drove to Anastasia State Park and walked a very long boardwalk out to the ocean.  I took lots of pictures and stuck my feet in the ocean.  It was nice.  Brutally hot, but nice.  I wanted to swim, but I didn’t bring my suit; I haven’t wanted to get in the ocean in two decades, so it was odd that I felt the urge.  Maybe next time.

We drove by the lighthouse so I could snap a few pictures, and then checked Yelp to find food.  It failed us.  The first place was closed, even though it was supposed to be open for lunch.  The second place was inaccessible by car.  And the third looked to be permanently closed.  Add in weird directions from Apple Maps (which we switched to after Google Maps took us to a tiny neighborhood and announced we were at the beach), and we didn’t have time to try finding a fourth restaurant.  (I babysit for my nephew every Tuesday at 3:30.)  So we got Wendy’s drive-thru on the way home.  Sigh.

The pictures I took, though.  Damn.  It was a beautiful day for nature photos.  The clouds, y’all.  Gorgeous.  Full photoset is here, but some of my favorites are below.

Beach at Anastasia Island State Park

Beach at Anastasia Island State Park

Beach at Anastasia Island State Park

Beach at Anastasia Island State Park

Lighthouse and Museum

 

WOOP and getting my ass in gear

I was listening to episodes of NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast today while on a short (1.5 hour) road trip.  The first one I listened to on the drive back was about WOOP, a method of motivating yourself to accomplish goals.  The scientific name for it is “mental contrasting” — picturing a goal and figuring out how to attain it.  The thing that really got me was the third step: figuring out what obstacle is in yourself that is keeping you from accomplishing the thing.  Because then you can’t make excuses for not doing the thing.

So after I finished the episode, I thought about the novel I’m trying to write.  I already knew who the characters were, and some about the setting, but I’ve been struggling with the plot.  The obstacle, of course, was me vaguely hoping I’d figure out the story, and I needed to actively work on it.  So I opened up Evernote on my phone, turned on the speech-to-text thingy, and spent the drive either thinking or dictating notes.  The notes are hilarious in places because I wasn’t fixing the dictation errors.  So, like, “he gets caught” was recorded as “he guy Scott.”  But hey, I generally know what I was saying.

By the time I got home I had a general plot, and a rough staging of the opening chapter.  I sat down at my laptop, and by the time Mom called about dinner three hours later, I had 2200+ words written and am almost done with chapter two.  I didn’t edit much as I went, working on getting the story down first and foremost.  The only time I went back is to change, say, a skill a character had that I realized wouldn’t work out when I got to the next scene.

So yeah, I’m writing a thing.  I hope I can keep up the momentum.  I’m rather enjoying my characters right now, and I’d hate to leave them hanging…

(And special thanks to my younger sister, for getting me hooked on the podcast.  You rock, kiddo!)

Gainesville police and racism

A lot of police departments behave deplorably, especially where race is concerned. So I thought I would share a positive story.

I live in Gainesville, Florida. The police chief is Tony Jones, who has spent his entire career in GPD. He is… awesome. In the original meaning of the word.  He’s been a leader in the Community Policing movement, and has won a ton of awards for working to move policing into this century. He believes officers should know the citizens on their beats, and that police should be there to help improve the community as well as catch criminals. He’s been working for years to keep young black men out of the prison pipeline with a social program called the Reichert House that has proven results.  Even one of our state attorneys is a graduate of the program.

Chief Jones is African-American. It’s relevant, because there is an older generation of (white) Gainesville cops, hired under previous chiefs, who dislike the idea of “progressive policing” and… well… You know the problem some people have with President Obama while claiming to not be racists? Yeah. That.

Earlier this week an anonymous letter got circulated on Facebook, written by one of those old guard officers who isn’t happy with the way Jones is doing things.  He is angry because the Chief won’t allow the police to use racial profiling. He believes Jones cares more about the people he serves than his officers. The screed has six pages, saying that morale is low among the ranks and… I’m not going to link to it, but if you’re curious you can go to Facebook and search for Jones’ name.

I told you this is a positive story, right? I’m getting there.

Word spread that a group of those old guard officers would be at Thursday’s city commission meeting to argue for the Chief’s removal. The public showed up in force to show their support for Jones. Even with a three-minute limit for each citizen speaker, it took almost three hours for everyone to speak who wished to. And there were many more there for visible support, so much so that the overflow of people had to be put in conference rooms where they could watch the proceedings via video feed.  And it was a mixed-race crowd.  Not just black and white, but others too.  Most of the attendees were black, but there were tons of people.  There were police offers there, too, off-duty ones who’d come to show their support.

Nobody stood up to say anything bad against Jones, probably because one of the commissioners said flat-out that the commission supported the Chief completely.  I suspect the negative people were worried about being a tiny percentage of the audience, too.  Cowards.  But then the letter was anonymous, so we already knew that about them.

A lot of people talked about racism, public and elected officials both.  There is a good deal of it in this town, but the fact that so many people were willing to openly discuss it for two hours with our elected politicians was fucking amazing.

When the public comments section was over, it was the officials’ turn to say their closing remarks on the matter.  Every single one of them said they supported the Chief (and even if they privately didn’t, their constituents were right there telling them they’d better if they wanted to stay in office).  A few of them talked about fighting racism in the community, and steps that need be taken and are currently underway.  One black commissioner, who was admittedly very long-winded, specifically addressed the black citizens, talking about what they could do to help as well.  I had never seen an African-American politician speaking directly to black citizens, so I think that was educational for a lot of non-black attendees.  It was for me, anyway.

The mayor, Lauren Poe, wound up the proceedings.  Even before this week’s uproar hit, he had started a book club that was beginning with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.  There were also already plans in place for a community meal this fall called The Longest Table, where attendees would be seated with complete strangers so everyone could get to know other residents better.  (Nothing was said explicitly about race, but everyone knew that’s what the meal is about.)  I think I’ll go to that, because it sounds like it will be interesting at the very least.

One thing several people said, citizens and commissioners alike, is that Chief Jones is the reason we aren’t the next Ferguson.  Having people of all colors and all walks of life standing up in defense of the goddamn police chief was amazing and wonderful.  I love this city so much.

(Gainesville, by the way, for years has had anti-discrimination laws and bathroom laws to help us transgender folk.  Florida may be a red state, but not all towns are red!)

No cello lesson this week. Sadface.

My lessons have moved to Wednesdays!  But Luna is sick, and my house smells like beer thanks to a minor kitchen accident.  So no lesson this week.  I thought I’d write about my playing, though.

I have found two new uses for my iPhone’s tuner app.  The way the app works is that it shows what note is being played, so you can tell if your instrument is in tune.  But I have two better things to do with it.

  1. Humming songs I want to learn, to see what the notes are (roughly).  I hummed the bass line for The Cure’s “Lullaby” while watching the app, and between that and my ability to play by ear, I was able to pick it up very quickly.  (Note that this will only work for songs I know well enough to hum in tune, and where the notes are within my vocal range.  Ooooh, that means I can do The Smiths and REM.  Yessss.  I will play ALLLLLL the 80’s alternative!  Woo!)
  2. Making sure I’m hitting the right notes while doing etudes.  As I mentioned last week, I’m learning second position.  We’re starting on just the A string, since it’s the outside string.  It is so, so much easier to learn how far to move my hand when I can see the pitch on the screen to make sure I’m hitting it right.  In the beginning I looked at the screen while moving my hand.  Now I look at it after, while I’m playing the note, to see if I hit it right.  It’s helping tons.  It’s also helping improve my first position fingering, too; I’m getting more accurate, as I sometimes wind up a quarter-tone off in my hand position, and that’s when I’m just playing first position only.  Luna just took my thumb marker off last week, so I need the help in remembering precisely where my thumb goes for first as well as second.

Isn’t technology useful?

The Mozart is going… meh.  (It’s piece number 2.2 of Suzuki.)  I can play it if I go slow, which is an improvement over not being able to play it at all, but it’s a energetic little piece so I need to pick up my speed.  If I’d had my lesson today, Luna would have just told me to keep working on it for next week, so I’m doing this week what I would be doing even if she’d come today.

I just had a thought.  A really good thought.  Some years back, Peter Murphy did a two-disc live album called aLive Just For Love.  The show was stripped-down versions of his works, which are frequently badly arranged (IMO) — the only instruments were a violin (played by Hugh Marsh, whom I know from Loreena McKennitt albums, among others) and a guitar (played by Peter DiStefano, who was in Porno For Pyros).  The album is absolutely beautiful.  And I’m pretty sure I could learn the violin parts on my cello.  Because “Cuts You Up” neeeeeeeds a real cello, not the synthesized one on the studio album.  Yesssss.  I have a new project!  And this one I actually want to play along with the recordings, because the arrangement is so minimalist that I can clearly hear what I should be playing.  AWESOME.

I wonder if I can write a cello duet arrangement of “Cuts You Up.”  I bet I can.  Luna will have to play the melody, though.  I think.  Hmmm.

So happy together…

My cello teacher, Luna, arranged The Turtles’ “Happy Together” for two cellos.  I played the melody.  Mostly by ear; if I know how a simple melody sounds, I don’t need to check the sheet music very often.  Luna can always tell when I’m doing it, too, because I don’t hesitate the same way as when I’m sight reading.  So that was fun, and I got to learn how to extend back into a flat — which wasn’t hard, although I want to work on muscle memory with my drone app, to make sure I’m getting the right pitch.

I started learning second position.  Awesome!  I have an etude for that to work on.  I’ll also be using the drone app here.  I need to learn to sight read higher notes, way above the lines.  Otherwise it gets too confusing when I try to remember which position I’m supposed to be in.

And we started a cheerful bit of Mozart, too.  I don’t have a problem with the rhythm, but the bowing is a bitch to learn.  Alllll the slurs.  Slow ones.  Fast ones.  Ones with three notes, ones with two…  I have a feeling it’ll be easy to play once I get the bowing down.

So: excellent lesson, and I’m sad that it’s been four weeks since my last one.  I’m already looking forward to next week!