Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I'm a Mormon

I'm a Mormon.

I've been sitting on this profile for a while, and it's been "pending approval" for months. This made me feel uncomfortable, for several reasons:

1. Does that mean I'm not a good enough Mormon to go on display? They don't want to claim me??

2. What about me is wrong? Am I living a life inconsistent with what I believe without even knowing it?

3. Do I want to be a part of a church that doesn't think I'm worthy of their ad campaign?

I logged back on today, made a few minor adjustments, and it turns out that it's all okay. Hooray! Now, maybe I can go and add some more "interesting" bits in there . . .

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Crossing Guard

Look at this delightful lady, helping this sprightly young lass at a dangerous intersection! What a joyous life it must be, to be a protector of children!

When I was in elementary school, I recall that sixth graders were allowed to be crossing guards. Looking back, I wonder what my school administrators were thinking. Really? This 12-year-old is going to tell me when it's safe to cross the street? That doesn't seem a little . . . premature?

Here in Pittsburgh, our crossing guards are quite a bit more authoritative--or even authoritarian. I get the feeling that they flunked out of police academy, and are now trying to assert their authority over their precinct, even if that precinct is just an intersection. They spread their arms to stop traffic as though they were Moses parting the Red Sea. If their white gloves, police-style hats, and hi-liter colored trench coats (seriously) aren't enough to summon every bit of subservience in you, the fervor with which they wield their stop signs and blast their whistles will surely help you to find your way (when it is deemed safe). Actually, their role seems to have way less to do with keeping pedestrians safe than is has to do with showing those damn cars who's boss.

There are others, though. The crossing guards in my neighborhood are much gentler about it all. They don't leave their corner unless a bus is unloading, and they just give you a nod or a small hand gesture if it's your turn to go. I dig that.

Yesterday, I was sitting at a stoplight in a small suburb, and was approached by a crossing guard. He signaled for me to roll down my window.

He'd seen my license plates. "What part of Texas are you from?"
"Dallas area."
"Ohh, Dallas is alright. Lotta one-way streets."
"What brings you to Pennsylvania?"
"My husband's going to grad school."
"Oh. So you're here a while. You been through a winter here yet?"
"No, we're kind of scared."
"Well, you missed a good one last year. Maybe it won't be so bad this year. But you'll see snow, that's for sure."
"Yeah, I bet so."
"I'm going to Houston for Christmas. I like Houston. Dallas is alright."

May I remind you, this is all taking place at a stoplight. We had a whole conversation! He bid me have a nice day, the light changed to green, and I went on my way, smiling more than I had been. I guess they get bored, too.

I'm pretty sure, now that I think of it, that there must be a strict hierarchy for crossing guards. The best (meanest) ones go to the busy intersections, donning their uniforms with pride each day. They probably recite the Crossing Guard's Code before they step onto the curb. They use Stop signs passed down through generations of crossing guard royalty. The more lax ones go to the places like my neighborhood, or the stoplight where I had the conversation yesterday.

I like the second group much better.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Coming Out of Early Retirement

First of all, I want to thank everyone for their words of encouragement. I feel the love. Life's not bad at all, and I know it. We all have our moments of self-pity, and it's good to have caring friends who can shake you around a little bit and tell you it'll be okay.

Okay. Back to the point.

My lovely friend Tiffany alerted me about this movie that came out in July. A washed up conductor, trying to make his comeback with the help of an orchestra of misfits. Funny? Probably. True to life? A little bit too much so.

Granted, I'm not at "rock bottom," by any means. I'm not working as a custodian (that was a few summers ago!), and not trying to relive the glory days (mostly because I can't figure out which of my days those were). Nonetheless, there is something missing from my life right now, and I don't know how to work it back in. I used to be immersed in music, day in and day out, practicing until they kicked me out of the building and performing more than I really had time to do. These days, I hardly play at all. I teach a few private lessons every week, and I have my little preschool music classes, but that's about the extent of it.

A few weeks ago, I did something I never, never do: I listened to a recording of my playing. Listening to yourself play is like staring at yourself naked in the mirror: you focus so intently on the faults, and it all ends up disgusting you to the point that you essentially feel like a waste of space. Perhaps now you can see why I never listen to my recordings.

What I heard this time surprised me, though. It wasn't totally terrible. There were, in fact, some really lovely moments! More than anything, though, I remembered. I remembered what it felt like to play that piece at that moment, to feel those emotions so deeply that all I could do was to use my cello to express them. Then, I realized that it's been a really long time since I've had that compulsion to express. My music-making has suffered as a result, and now, I'm pretty well in a stage of dormancy (sorry, Gus).

When I hear a familiar piece on the radio, it's like seeing an old friend again. I'm instantly transported to where I was when I last played it. The feelings all come rushing back--including the frustration from never feeling like I was doing any piece of music justice (part, I believe, of why I haven't been playing much of late). As I reflect on all those memories, though, I realize how much of my life experience has been tied up in music, and that if I let that part of myself go, I also forgo many more experiences.

I need to get back into "fighting shape." I'm flirting with the idea of putting on a recital--the first recital of my life that will be just for me. I would revisit only my very favorite pieces, and play them like I want to play them . . . because I do. The only challenge after that, then, is to work up (and keep up) the motivation and the discipline to follow through. I've let it go because I never felt like I measured up, because I felt that the world would be alright if I didn't play. I've never been the best, but neither have I ever allowed myself to be even as good as I could be, whatever that is.

Maybe it's time to find out.

"The Glory Days?" This was in the BYU Phil, playing Shosty No. 5

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Getting to the Real

Being forthright with my emotions has never been one of my strong points. I suffer quietly, and I rejoice privately. It feels strange to do otherwise.

These habits make it very hard for me to ever feel comfortable around people, though. "Good behavior" Rachel doesn't ruffle any feathers, doesn't rock the boat, and essentially tries to be invisible most of the time. Unfortunately, I'm pretty good at being invisible.

Most of you, even my most dedicated of followers (add Reese's PB Cups to your Rachel Shrine to be moved higher on the list), will probably agree that you just don't know me very well. You may know facts about me: how many kids are in my family, where I grew up, what I studied in school, etc. Knowing about someone and knowing someone are very different feats. If you really know someone, it means you can fairly accurately predict how they'll react in a given situation. You say things like, "I think you'd like this movie," or "I saw this and thought you might like it." Andy and I have reached levels near telepathy in this regard. I have a really hard time with anyone else (which is why I suck at gift-giving--sorry).

Moving to a new place filled with new people means that I've built all kinds of impenetrable walls around myself. Social constructs are in my favor here: it takes a really long time to get past the pleasantries of chitchat that social norms require. Most of the people I know these days are through church, and because I don't go to the billions of activities that are held each week, my interaction with these individuals is limited to a few minutes a week at most. You can't move past "My week was fine," in that amount of time.

When we first came here, we had an onslaught of invitations. Every week, it seemed, we were off to a dinner appointment or a dessert, or more than one in a day. Social butterflies! I think we counted 30 or more people that we spent time with in the first month. We got a little further in our interactions, moving to, "What got you interested in that?," but that's it. There's only so far you can get in 2 hours.

Then it was our turn to invite back. We've been here now just about four months, and we have had ONE couple over for dinner. I have lots of excuses: our apartment is too small, we don't have anywhere to sit (just one uncomfortable couch and a chair whose seat is not attached to its frame), we don't have air-conditioning (that one worked better in the summer), we don't have a table, there's nothing to do, it's too cluttered, we're not child-proof . . .

Admittedly, most of these excuses have to do with my own personal pride. I'm very grateful for our apartment, especially now that it's getting colder, but it doesn't feel like a permanent home to me. We moved to Pittsburgh with nothing more than we could cram into our Camry or mail to ourselves, and since then, have acquired very little else--after all, with uncertain employment in a new place, living off our savings, spending rent and grocery money on furniture doesn't seem all that prudent. So, instead of a dresser, I have a suitcase. Instead of a table, we have two Rubbermaid bins stacked and covered with a bedsheet. Even our pencil cups are created from cardboard boxes. Improvisation: it makes us look like such a charity case.

I feel a twinge of jealousy each time I enter someone's home, with their family portraits hung on the wall, and am invited to sit on a chair. They turn off their TV, they apologize for the house being such a wreck (self-consciously picking up the two toys that are on the ground), they light their scented candles, adjust the centerpiece on the coffee table, and sink into their big, cozy sofa. My mind flashes back to our apartment: bare, unfurnished, and mismatched. This is, to me, a reflection on how everyone has it together but me.

So, I continue to keep my walls in good repair, fifty feet thick and one mile high.

Too bad for me that keeping others out of my bubble also means that I'm all alone in there . . .