Saturday, June 25, 2011

On Being Poor, and Following Bliss

Liz, one of my colleagues from the BYU School of Music, recently wrote a post asking how we felt about majoring in music now that all was said and done.

Let me explain my current situation, and we can delve into the details from there.

I have Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Cello Performance from BYU and UNT, respectively.

I am working two jobs (one totally unrelated to music, another more related), and teaching privately . . . and living below the federal poverty line. I married an idealist like myself--and, to be clear, that is exactly why I love him--who would not be happy working at a job that wasn't fulfilling at some deep level, and so, we're holding onto our hope that we can find some combination of fulfillment and sustainability . . .

We live in a tiny, 3rd floor apartment, we buy our groceries on Food Stamps, and for "health insurance," we try to exercise, eat right, and pray that nothing will happen to us. We are the working poor.

I've rewritten that last paragraph several times already, trying to remove any twinge of bitterness that may still come across, but the honest truth is that when I see people who are the same age as me (or, better yet, younger!), who are living "grown-up" lives, I can't help but feel bitter. Alas, envy green isn't a flattering color on anyone (especially not half-Asians whose skin, already tinged with yellow, looks especially jaundiced by any green), so back to the discussion at hand.

Do I regret majoring in music?

The short answer is no.

The long answer is no, but I regret everything about how I did it.

Why music, anyway?

Both of my parents are musicians. Growing up, I knew one thing: I liked playing cello, but I did NOT want to be a music major in college. However, that all changed when it came time to actually choose my major.

During my senior year of high school, my youth orchestra played a concert featuring a handsome young piano soloist, Alessio Bax.

During that concert, in a flurry of handsome-pianist-playing-Rach 3-induced passion (that piece is sexy), I knew more surely than I've ever known anything else in my life that


It's the rush that I get when I'm onstage, the feeling that nothing else matters, the compulsion to expel every emotion I've ever felt and many that I haven't so that someone can hear me, understand me, and appreciate me. It's that feeling that made me cry when I last saw a Symphony orchestra performing live, and even sometimes when I hear a piece on the radio. Even as I write this now in the public library, my eyes are welling with tears. It means a lot to me.

So, what do I regret about majoring in music?

1. I shouldn't have done it at BYU. This is tough. I was looking at my old pictures from the HFAC this morning, and I *love* my BYU friends, and I cherish the memories we shared. At the same time, I spent a lot of time at BYU being very lonely, depressed, and self-hating. Aside from that, it wasn't a good place for me to develop as a musician. There are myriad reasons for that, only most of which I blame myself for, but I was never my best at BYU. Which leads me to . . .

2. I should have worked a hell of a lot harder. I gave my all onstage, but never in the practice room, where it would have reaped more reward. As a result, I've always been (by my less-than-humble estimation) a compelling but sloppy performer. I've always thought it was much better to be "compelling-but-sloppy" than "clean-but-boring", but I never really figured out that I could be "clean-and-compelling" if I just worked my tail off (and, to be sure, it's still just a theory).

3. I should not have allowed myself excuses. I am simultaneously too hard on myself, and too lenient. I berate and belittle myself while I'm working on something ("You are so stupid, why can't you get that bowing right?!"), and give so many allowances after the fact ("I've been too busy to practice lately, or else I could have nailed that audition!"). [In case you're wondering, that is always how I talk to myself. When it's negative, it's a "you" statement, and when it's positive, it's an "I." I can't even own up to my own weaknesses in my own thoughts!] I regret not having been more honest with myself, especially about my level of playing, and what I could expect from the amount of effort I exerted.

4. I should have dreamed bigger. I shied away from the dream of playing in a Major Symphony Orchestra--too competitive. I shied away from the dream of playing chamber music--too hard to come by. Everything I could have done seemed inaccessible, which left me with the reality of playing Pachelbel's Canon (all 8 notes of it) in wedding quartets (see below).

No musician can tell me that this doesn't sound familiar. Unless you're a musician from Utah; in that case, you're thinking, "Whoa! $30 to play music?! Cool!!!"

If I'd had a complete, envisioned dream, I think I would have been successful. Thus, I can't say it was a mistake to be a music major.

My mistake? Not having a plan.

As a result of my poor planning, I'm still trying to figure out the place music has in my life. Sometimes, I forget why I loved it so much. Some days, I don't miss playing at all. But some days, it aches so much that I cry, and I remember that a part of me is dead. Some days, it feels like no one can ever really know me again, because Musician Rachel has disappeared, and she's the only Rachel that really ever had anything interesting to say.

I believe that if you work hard enough, you can succeed at anything.

What do you believe? Are you happy with your career choice? How do you wish you'd done it differently?

(P.S. Here is another interesting take on the subject. I just read an adapted version in my BYU Alumni magazine.)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Winner of 9 Tony Awards

[NOTE: I have not seen the Book of Mormon musical. I have read lots of reviews on it, I have heard and read interviews with the creators, and I have listened to a lot of the music. I don't claim any authority on the matter, but I also refuse to unilaterally declare it unfit for all human viewing.]

I'm sure many of you--especially my fellow Mormons--have read this article from the Washington Post about the Book of Mormon musical, calling it the modern-day equivalent to the Amos and Andy show.

I'm a pretty sensitive person--I get my feelings hurt if someone honks their car horn at me!--but this musical just doesn't bother me. Maybe part of it is because I heard an interview on Fresh Air that really led me to believe that there was absolutely no malicious intent to the creation of the show ("I don't think anybody would want to see a two-hour-long Mormon-bashing, and we wouldn't want to see that either."), but I just can't work myself up about this, like any self-respecting Mormon would.

It is caricature. And yes, we Mormons are portrayed as being naive, overly optimistic, and repressed. But what Mormon can honestly look him or herself in the mirror and say that at least some of that isn't true? Who has ever looked at a 19-year-old greenie on his way to PerUruGuateMexiCaliFiji without thinking about how innocent and enthusiastic he is, and how he's in for a harsh reality?

Here are two lyric samples. Which do you think portrays Mormons in a better light?

Example 1:
Crooked generation, we demand your veneration.
Will you shake your heel at us as we call you to your knees?

Crooked generation, will you scoff at ordination?

We are warriors by a rite, so respect us if you please!

Example 2:
I've always had the hope that on the day I go to heaven
Heavenly Father will shake my hand and say, "You've done an awesome job, Kevin."

Now it's our time to go out and set the world's people free.
And we can do it together, you and me – but mostly me!

Those of you better versed in Mormon Culture may have recognized the first lyric sample, from the song, "In Our Humble Way," from Saturday's Warrior, a musical written by, for, and about Mormons. The second is from the song "You and Me--But Mostly Me," from the Book of Mormon musical. Both are taken out of context, of course, but the sentiments of both songs are strikingly similar: "We are going to make the world a better place, because we are awesome!" Seems pretty innocuous to me.

Mormons do tend to suffer from a persecution complex, a result of our heritage of being tarred and feathered, unjustly imprisoned, and forced into migration. True, it hasn't been an easy road for us (though I take serious issue when people say--as they do at times--that we have had it as bad as the Jews and / or the slaves), but that doesn't mean that everyone is still out to get us.

We often talk about the difference between faith and logic, and any religious person knows that faith absolutely defies logic. The Book of Mormon musical shines a light on this fact (the song "I Believe" highlights it), but I get the feeling that people get uncomfortable with this kind of scrutiny just because they've been afraid to question things for themselves--or to recognize that, to an outsider (or even--shockingly!--some insiders you may sit next to in sacrament meeting!), the gospel presents some ideas that challenge previously held beliefs. But when these challenges arise, instead of confronting them head-on, we get defensive--and that actually pushes people away from hearing what we have to say.

Yes, there is explicit language. Yes, they literally curse God. Yes, Mormons are portrayed in a humorous light. But I'm still not offended, and I can only find one other difference between the Book of Mormon musical and Saturday's Warrior:

The music in the Book of Mormon is wayyyyyyyyyyyyyy better.

[P.S., I watched an episode of Amos and Andy, but I actually think that there are more offensive examples that have taken place much more recently in our history. See below.]

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Date Night: Putting it in Perspective

I feel like I'm falling in love with Pittsburgh all over again.

Last summer, I began to love Pittsburgh for its temperate summers, endless community activities, and beautiful library. Winter put a quick stop to our honeymoon phase, but when the sun starting coming out again and there was green all around . . .

It's really a great city. Tonight, for example, we're meeting up with some friends to see a free outdoor jazz concert, and then to watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in the park.

Yesterday was Date Night--our first in a while, since we've both taken jobs that require us to work on weekends, and neither of us has what you would call a regular schedule (oh, how I long for a M-F, 9-5!). Fortunately, though, Andy's job does come with connections: since he works with Kayak Pittsburgh, we get to kayak for free anytime we want!

We took out a tandem, me in front, and Andy in the back. It was a beautiful day to be out on the river! Perfect, in fact.
We then went to get an Italian picnic. Our friends Hannah & Spencer had graciously given us a GC for Buca di Beppo, so after we finished our kayaking, we called up for some Italian take-out. The original plan was to take our dinner up the Duquesne Incline and have a picnic at the top. Unfortunately, we figured out too late that they require cash fare, and we were starving, so we decided to have our picnic in the parking lot for the Incline. We roll with the punches.

After our dinner, we found an ATM so we could make it to the top of the Incline. When we did, this is what we saw:
Beautiful. I think Pittsburgh is a beautiful city, especially at night. We saw the city from so many different angles yesterday. It's amazing what a huge impact perspective has.

So, we paid $0 for our kayaking, $10 out-of-pocket for our dinner, and $9 for our round-trip tickets up the Incline.

Spectacular Date Night: $19.
Memories: Priceless.

Now then, who wants to come visit us in the 'Burgh?!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I Pity the Fool . . . oh, wait--that's me.

You know what feels terrible? Being made a fool. I am not an aggressive person, but I felt like lashing out today. I would have written such an angry email . . .


I know--but I really was that mad. And next time, I'll press "send," I really will . . .

Having recently become disenchanted with our current landlord, who seems to drag his feet about things like cashing our rent check, getting our washing machine fixed, and / or sending us a lease renewal, I decided to see what was posted on craigslist.

I found what looked like a beautiful apartment in a great neighborhood, for less than what we're paying for our current apartment, in all its tiny, almost windowless, awkward, right-angle-lacking glory. My interest was piqued, so I sent the inquiry to the reply-address.

A lady responded, and gave me a pretty good story about how they thought it was going to be rented, but they haven't heard back from the couple, blah blah blah. If I am honest with myself, I will say that there was a lot that had me uneasy about the whole interaction--BUT, I ignored those feelings, because I *really* wanted that apartment to exist at that price. (And why is that smart voice inside of me so quiet, anyway?!) She said I just needed to do a credit report, and then we could set up a time to look over the place.

The link she gave me was to a credit-reporting site, which has apparently been running this scam for a while. As far as I know, they're not taking people for all they're worth, but they are taking out a $30 monthly fee and making it really hard to cancel. (Said company has an "F" rating at the Better Business Bureau.)

At least I figured it out quickly, and canceled my debit card. I eventually (after getting a busy signal [A BUSY SIGNAL. IN 2011]) got a hold of the company and "canceled" my subscription to the "service," fighting the urge to go Medieval on the poor guy on the phone who may not have even been aware he was working for a scam-operation.

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Well, at least I can feel better about knowing that even Mr. T has, at times, been made a fool.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, dear Andy!

June 9th was Andy's twenty(cough)th birthday. Being that we are currently those "living from paycheck to paycheck" people, and his birthday (unfortunately) fell at the end of a long stretch between paychecks, we played it pretty low-key this year.

Last year, for Andy's birthday / our going away party, I designed a special cake wreck just for Andy. He likes Star Wars, and it's kind of a joke between us, since I don't really care at all for the series, but when he asked for a Yoda cake, I had to oblige.

"May the 4's Be w/ Yinz"

I made it without consulting any actual image of Yoda, and I was kind of disappointed. It just wasn't all that ugly!! It did bear a resemblance to Elder Dallin H. Oaks, though . . .

This year was a bit more random. Andy wanted a carrot cake. He wanted this cake wreck, to be exact. Unfortunately for me, it was harder than I anticipated to find weird tiny babies. I was still pretty happy with how it turned out, despite everything:

Again, it's not the wreckiest cake (only one misspelling), but Andy just wanted it to be funny. (Side note: we each picked out an element of the cake's wreckorations. Can you guess who chose what?)

So, we had some friends over to help us kill the cake. We only got one bit of photographic evidence that they were there, but it wasn't a very good picture. Boo! You can see, though, that it was a pretty killer par-tay:

Little Sidera was enjoying her first "big girl bottle" (no worries, fellow Mormons--it's only ginger beer!). We've been very self-conscious about having people over to our tiny, poorly furnished apartment, and so we haven't done it much, but it's something we've missed. It was nice to be surrounded by great people, and to just enjoy the good times. Thanks, Hannah, Spencer, Sidera, Neal, Cristy, Lisa, and Joseph for coming out! We love you guys.

So, happy birthday to Andy!

Monday, June 6, 2011

South Carolina Vay-Cay

We took a few days off in May to go to the Harlos family reunion at Pawleys Island, South Carolina, held in commemoration of my Pop-Pop's 85th birthday.

Happy Birthday, Pop-Pop! Real Southern Red Velvet + Lemon Cake. Yum!

We (all 18 of us!) stayed at this beautiful beach house, courtesy of Pop-Pop. It was so nice! Andy and I got to sleep on the back porch, facing the ocean. We could hear the waves gently lulling us to sleep, and feel the ocean breeze (when we were lucky).

Our agenda was PACKED:

First and foremost, of course, was beach time . . .

. . . then, getting ahead on those Summer Reading Lists . . .

. . . hammocking . . .

. . . and, of course, a good Harlos Family discussion. Pop-Pop likes to pontificate, and we all like to indulge him in that. We always try to talk about issues of great controversy, like gays in the Church, UFOs and other paranormal activities, and the like. The way it divides our family somehow brings us together . . . or something . . .

It was good to see Dadnmom, too. We were so spoiled when they were just a few miles down the road, and we could have Sunday dinners with them every week! We did get to enjoy our final SC meal with them, at the Charleston airport. Who do you think I take after?

Yes, it was a wonderful trip. Family, the beach, good food, and definitely good times!!

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I posted almost every day, until I didn't post anymore. Then I just gave up. I figured it wasn't worth pretending--didn't want anyone to think I was actually trying anymore. This might be typical of me in other areas of my life . . .

A few random thoughts for the day:

1. Driving over Pittsburgh's plentiful potholes is more pleasurable when you have a plethora of tambourines in the back seat of your car.

2. I saw some lawn service guys in orange shirts today, and it made me miss Denton.

3. I am a total fair-weather fan, but GO MAVS! Our wonderful neighbors gave us a TV a while back, and I hadn't had very much interest in hooking it all up until the NBA Finals started. So, tonight, I finally figured it all out, and got the TV working . . . only to discover that ABC (the channel carrying the Finals) is the ONLY station not to come through on our rabbit ears. Sigh.

4. Last night, I dreamed that Lady Gaga and I went to the abortion clinic together. (Don't worry: I'm not pregnant, and if I were, that is not the course of action I would choose. I don't want to invite any tirades onto my blog, but that's what happened in my dream.) I learned a few things about Lady Gaga: (1) her given name is Sutton, and (2) she has had many abortions before. Apparently, too, at the abortion clinic, they grade you (Lady Gaga was a Z-, which I'm guessing is pretty bad).

5. If anyone has any old VHS to unload, send them my way. I work PT at a nursing home in the dementia unit, and one of my new favorite pastimes is seeing their reactions to different films. I figure none of you probably want to hang onto your old VHS tapes, but if you have DVDs, that would also be welcome.

Some past reviews:

*Dr. Doolittle (Eddie Murphy, 1998)--very well received.
*101 Dalmations (Glenn Close, 1996)--residents were cussing at the bumbling henchmen, and cheered when they got their comeuppance.
*My Best Friend's Wedding(Julia Roberts, 1997)--"That was just crappy."
*Big (Tom Hanks, 1988)--"Very poignant."