Some Assembly Required

Whether it is new furniture or a whole new life, there’s some assembly required….

This year, I left the assembly until Christmas Day.

After decades of staying up almost all night on Christmas Eve, to stage the best possible surprise, I decided this year was the year we’d do it the adult way – open the package, see what it is, and put it together later. It gave the same delight, perhaps more, because it prolonged the wait to make use of the new art desk.

There was the usual trial and error (oops, bolts are supposed to go on the inside, take the screws out, go the other way, tighten) and the usual cursing and screaming when the bolts wouldn’t tighten enough, or parts were discovered cracked or broken, but in the end I got it put together with a few hours to spare to set up the appetizers for my brother and sister-in-law’s visit Christmas Day.  And my handy brother got the untightenable bolts to tighten as they should and I got a beautiful adult-coloring-book page of blue butterflies out of it from my young adult, happily coloring at the new art desk.

And when the day was over and our little two-person Christmas feast cleaned up (last year, our first without Mike, I burned the cranberry sauce for the first time in my life – this year my culinary transgression was less severe, but just as disappointing – I made the gravy too thick, and gravy is usually my specialty.  But I aced the mashed potatoes, so there’s that, anyway), I sat “regarding the tree,” after our nightly “candle time” of quiet contemplation and it occurred to me that a new year is coming, and it is time for me not just to figure out what my life is going to be like from now on, but to do something about it.

Each day for the past several weeks, our child has been sighing and saying, “a day without Dad.” And I’ve had to confirm again and again that yes, every day for the rest of our lives in this world will be a day without Dad, but not without his love, because like he said before he died, “Dad’s love never ends.”

Although his love is with us, he is not – not here, physically, to talk to, to joke with, to enjoy music together – and although I do still talk to him all the time (hey, talking to yourself or to your dearly departed is HEALTHY as far as I’m concerned – I may be ridiculous, but I’m not crazy), but I am speaking to a spirit, a memory, a hope that he can hear me on the other side. He’s not here, can’t be here, but I still am. Here. In this world.

So I’m determined not to spend the rest of my life stuck in the absence of his. He wouldn’t want me to. In fact when I do talk to him (HEALTHY, remember, a HEALTHY way to grieve and cope), I ask him to involve himself in helping me move on.

So in 2018, we’re going to put together a new life, a life that will be fully lived, for me and for our child.

Because if I’m trying to learn from loss to live with love and laughter, I probably should find someone to love and laugh with.

Some assembly required. A lot, actually, because I’m not sure where to begin this project of putting together a new life. I know what I want – a meaningful life, fully lived, which means involving myself with other people more, not just sitting at home, or even going out, just to be missing Mike.

That means getting busy doing things I love – singing, improvising, cooking, gardening – and trying new things –  yoga class perhaps, maybe one of those wine education seminars at the big beverage depot. That’s the traditional way of meeting someone compatible – do things you enjoy to meet people who enjoy doing the same things you do.

While the traditional way may still have merit, I know the world has moved on from that hit- or- miss approach.

Now, there’s an app for that. Apps, plural. And some fancy algorithms running behind them, mixing and sorting and making a match, finding a find, catching a catch, so to speak.

So yes, yikes – online dating.

OK there I said it. I’m going to try it. I’m afraid to, and I’m going to do it anyway.

I think I’ve got a good few woman years left in me and I’d like to make the most of them.

This holiday season I’ve been humming to myself, “Santa Baby, put a new man under the tree, for me…one who’ll treat me respectfully…”

We will observe certain rules (this rule thing, it’s getting to be a pattern with me, no? (See “Middle Aged Woman Rules” and “Thanksgiving Rules”). As with the others, I reserve the option to add, alter or abandon these rules. I have rules regarding political views, but I promised no politics in this place – so I’ll keep those to myself. I think my other rules will pretty well take care of them anyway. So here goes (advice on this from those with experience, good or ill, welcome):

  1. Straight male. No confusion there. OK, that’s a start.
  2. No smokers. Non-negotiable.
  3. No married men. Ditto.
  4. No motorcycles. Double ditto.
  5. I will try not to make instant decisions based solely on physical appearance – swiping right – or is it left? – I’m trying to be a better human, one who shows kindness to others, and I’d like to find someone with the same aspiration – there are a few exceptions  (no tattoos, no weird piercings,  no man-buns or ponytails, no ungroomed facial hair – hey, wait a sec, since when am I so special, and so young, that man-buns, ink, pony tails and shaggy beards would be a problem? get a grip, ms. ridiculous!)
  6. All meetings, if any, will occur on neutral turf in public places until further notice.
  7. No man-splaining. Ejector seat on that one.
  8. Must be able to recognize Shakespeare, Bach, Mozart and the original BoDeans on first try. OK, maybe the second try.
  9. Likes the Chicago Blackhawks and the Chicago Cubs.  But see rule # 7 above.
  10. Bonus points: likes, or will at least tolerate, attending the opera and musical theater. And super-spectacular bonus points: has read all of the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey-Maturin series, more than once.
  11. Thinks I’m funny, charming, attractive and smart, and likes the roundness of me, and won’t shush me when I sing. Likes my singing.

Like Mike did. Mike liked my roundness. My round head, round face, round bottom. And he took delight in my singing, my ability to vocally mimic the piccolo trumpet descending line in the Hallelujah chorus (BAH! Bah ba ba ba baaaaah!) and my ability to burst out in Puccini along with WFMT when it came on.

I’m sensing the need for a twelfth rule –

12. No trying to recreate or recapture what I had with Mike.

That’s gone. There will never be another Mike and I have to try hard not to impose expectations of a past life on a new man, but instead carry that past life with me, forward into a new future.

Starting from scratch. Starting over, starting again, carrying on, moving forward. Perhaps the best person for me will be someone who has been through a loss like I have, and is trying to carry that loss forward into a new and different life.

Someone who “gets it” about being a parent to a young adult with differences, who understands that this nest isn’t empty and isn’t likely to be for many years to come, long past when others are visiting grandchildren and going on cruises. And who is ok with that.

Good luck with that. I’ll have to try to write an honest profile of myself, the ridiculous woman, that won’t send a nice man running for the exits.

That’s going to require some major assembly – and a lot of hope and confidence. Widow goes a-wooing – in which a ridiculous woman attempts to find new love via mechanical matchmakers.

I’ll let you know how it goes – I’m sure there’ll be some cursing and crying along the way – poorly written or misunderstood instructions, or none, bolts and washers misplaced, the assembled result not quite level, but sturdy and beautiful just the same.

I hope.

Memories in Minutiae – and in Music

…when all six cans had been used…I found myself automatically pulling out a pair of scissors to cut the plastic rings apart….

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Stuff I haven’t thought about in years comes back to me suddenly, triggered by the most ordinary things – things like a six-pack plastic ring thingee. I haven’t seen one of those for quite a while, because, due to its ability to blow me up into a gigantic beach-ball shaped human, I gave up beer several years ago. I used to buy it exclusively in bottles, anyway. Don’t really ever buy soda or much of anything else in six-packs of cans, held together by those plastic rings and I haven’t, for years.

But there is a type of diet mixer that I discovered recently that I can only get in those held-together-with-plastic-rings six packs.

And when all six cans had been used up, I found myself automatically pulling out a pair of scissors to cut the plastic rings apart.

I froze in the middle of this action, remembering why I was doing it and where I first heard of doing it, cutting those plastic rings open.

I was doing that to protect sea life, particularly dolphins, who I was told had been found starved to death, their noses (beaks? mouths? snouts?) stuck inside those plastic rings.

I was told this on our honeymoon, when Mike and I swam with dolphins. The guide-trainer guy said that these plastic rings find their way into the ocean, having been washed into rivers or just dumped overboard by some careless boater, and dolphins get their noses stuck in them, and he asked us to always cut them open.

So I have been cutting those rings open ever since.

Our honeymoon was a little over 25 years ago, and swimming with dolphins, even as an educational exercise, is now considered inappropriate.  Some argue it is even cruel to these amazing beasts. I’m grateful I got to have a close-up experience with these creatures, and I got to discover how soft their skin feels to the touch, but even then I could have done without the obligatory flipper-flapping and jumping through hoops.

I hadn’t thought about our honeymoon in ages (maybe because there was a video of our dolphin experience that our child watched incessantly for probably more than a year running, so I’d had enough of remembering that) but then zap all of a sudden, there it was, front and center, because of something as ordinary as the six-pack plastic ring thingee.

A few days ago, I went alone to the bookstore to do something Mike and I had done annually at Christmastime – to try to find a hidden gem or two in the bargain bin of CD’s in the music section.

And what I found was a drastically reduced bargain bin, and a supply of CD’s that had largely been supplanted by – vinyl records. Which the hipster Millenial generation has recently re-embraced, playing them on weird vertical turntables, and insisting that the sound is better than on CD’s.

And these vinyl records were priced at TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS!

Oh, bless you, hipsters, bless you, Millenials – because of your newfound enthusiasm for vinyl, the price of the (still drastically reduced supply) of CD’s in the bargain bin seems to have gone down a bit. And you have inspired me to ‘more appropriately price’ my old vinyl records at my next garage sale – authentic, original 1970’s relics! Rare gems! Get ’em while they’re hot! A bargain at $15 bucks per LP! (up from fifty cents! Ha!)

But my trip to the bookstore took on a mood of melancholy when I saw how slim the pickings were in that CD bargain bin – many that we already own, some that I just will never be able to bring myself to buy (Mariah Carey Christmas, just sayin’) and others that didn’t seem quite worth the risk. Nevertheless, I persisted.

I found one of the Boston Pops Orchestra with Arthur Fiedler conducting.. Fiedler was the conductor of that orchestra when I was a child, and a favorite in our house.  I found another of the same orchestra when John Williams was the conductor.Each less than ten bucks. Score!

I found the soundtrack to The Polar Express really fun and well produced, also less than ten bucks. Bingo.

One pricier new one by Sara McLachlan for my young adult, which was surprisingly OK, especially when Emmylou Harris’ voice showed up unexpectedly.  Ring the bell.

And one from The Piano Guys who have been all over the internet, and oddly, for a group called “the Piano Guys” seem to feature a lot of cello. But cello is my favorite instrument (OK, now I’ll have to write a post about my never-ending search for the perfect recording of the Bach cello concertos) so that one was fine, too.

But there were no really weird or funny ones, the kind that you think, oh man, it may turn out to be awful but for $4.99 I just have to hear this! A few old Frank Sinatras (already have them) and a Rosemary Clooney (maybe next year, if there are any CDs next year) and, inevitably, Elvis.

Streaming may take over entirely when the hipster fad for vinyl fades. And then I guess I’ll listen to new Christmas music projected from my phone to the bluetooth speaker that came as a freebie with the last new phone I bought for Mike – I’ll put it next to the picture of him on the little side table by my Dad’s chair, where I sit deep in the night, “regarding the tree,” with only the outside lights and the tree lights lit, just as Mike and I used to do together at Christmastime.

They say (and I saw, with my Dad’s decline) that memories of music last the longest. When Dad could no longer speak, he could still sing and recognize songs and music. And whatever the medium, CD, vinyl or stream, the memory of Mike lives with me in the music he liked; at this time of year, the music he chose from the much better selection in the much bigger bargain bins of the past. Mike’s choices invariably turned out better than mine.

A week or two ago, as I was “wondering as I wandered” out under the crisp black winter sky, “where are you out there, loves? Hanging around with Orion?” –  just as I thought that, and turned to go back in the house, I saw a meteor: a shooting star that blazed, then faded.

As Mike did. As will we all, eventually.

Our aduilt child has been anxious lately – checking in, “you’re good Mom, right? You’re here in this world, with me? Dad’s in the next world. A day without Dad. But you’re good, right?”

Yest, lamb. I’m good, as long as I can listen and sing, and hear the sound of your Dad’s voice singing along to Vince Gill’s recording of Breath Of Heaven (Mary’s Song) or Pavarotti’s O Holy Night in my memory. I listen deep in the night, while regarding the tree, to the music he chose for us for Christmas.

Getting a Handle on Handel

I would never find the perfect recording… two favorite recordings … come closest to what my ears need Messiah to be..

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There’s no escaping it this time of year (even though it was probably written for Easter), but why would you want to? From do-it-yourself to professional performances, Messiah is pretty much required Christmas music and hearing it, even for the umpteenth time, can still be a delightful or even profoundly spiritual experience.

But what about listening at home? A few years ago I decided I would finally make a definitive selection  of which recording I would own, to enjoy at home, and sing along to (at the top of my lungs, yes, because it’s my house and I can, so there!)

It was kind of an overwhelming assignment – how to choose? There are hundreds of recordings of this masterwork.

Most of them seem to fall into one of two camps: the big, loud, huge nineteenth century versions, with large orchestras and choruses, and often, to my dismay, draggy tempos, or the nimble, smaller, lighter, often original-instrument ensembles, with quicker tempos and a less ponderous, more joyful or mysterious, feel to them.

The three features of any recording that were most important to me in choosing the one I’d listen to most often were tempos, the quality of the singers and the size and nature of the orchestra.

Which ran me straight into the mix-n-match problem.

What if there were stupendous soloists, singers I’d always want to hear, coupled with a conductor whose tempos I didn’t like or an orchestra that sounded too big? Or what if the chorus was spectacular but the soloists unknown or over-the-hill?

I quickly learned that I would never find the perfect recording  – I’d be wailing along with one of them and then all of a sudden the tempo would go south, or the soloist would run off the rails. So compromise was inevitable, and I ended up choosing two favorite recordings that come closest to what my ears need Messiah to be, and here they are:

This falls into the Big Singers and modern orchestra category, but the tempos are great and Sam Ramey – well, he’s Sam Ramey.  When he sings “I will shake…” he’ll have you trembling in your boots. Kathleen Battle is her usual crystal-toned self, nimble and birdlike and often a little too flashy, but that just gives you something to strive for in the sing-along department. Plenty of  “hey let’s see of they can do that one in one breath” moments, and usually they do. I only have this one as a digital recording so I don’t have what used to be called “liner notes,” that now usually come as booklets with the CD, but listening to this one is kind of self-explanatory. It’s just plain great.

Here’s my other favorite:

This falls into the nimble, original instruments category with a wonderful lightness, or solemnity and mystery, where appropriate. I do have this as a CD and the accompanying booklet is terrific – a very enjoyable and unpretentious music history lesson in a jewel case. The best thing about this recording to me is the wonderful surprise of hearing the “Rejoice” done in a dancy 12/8 version.

I’ve listened to a lot of other recordings and performances of Messiah, and I have a few rules:

  1. No “highlights” or “greatest hits.” Handel nearly killed himself in a frenzy of composition writing the entire thing in about three weeks, and although he changed it and reworked it a lot for different solo voices and different performances, I think it was always intended to be heard as a whole. So yes, I am requiring you to listen to the whole thing. You won’t regret it.
  2. If  you are attending a live performance, yes, you have to stand up during “Hallelujah.” I stand up at home anyway, howling along with it, often messing up my part in a fit of overconfidence – “I’ve sung this thing so many times, I know it backwards and forw…oops, missed that run there…better get out the score…where’s that score?…”
  3. Take the “one breath” challenge during “Thus Sayeth the Lord” and “Rejoice” – yes, I’m a soprano but I sing along with the other parts, including the bass, because it’s my house and I can, so there.

Messiah is the kickoff of the holiday music season for me, and once I’ve had a few good sing-throughs, I move on to the carols and the CDs that Mike and I picked up on a lark each year from the bargain bin. We listened to a lot of drek, but also discovered several unexpected gems which I’ll share in my next post and over on my Books and Music page.