Sunday, March 30, 2008

It's a big deal, if I actually say it out loud.

I've returned from my trip to the North American Brass Band competition. We certainly did well, taking eight individual soloist awards (including all three places in the Low Brass Melodic Solo). I wasn't originally scheduled to go on this trip, but I stepped in to substitute for... well... myself. Kind of. If that sounds confusing, then we're both on the right page.

It was an epic trip. Retroactively, I consider it a fitting reward for dealing with all this comprehensive exam business over the last few months. The band members seem to generally agree that we've got a good thing going. The band has exceptional quality for an amateur unpaid group who rehearses 3 hours a week at a community college.

Because it's composed of lots of people I know, I've always had a hard time realizing where the band fell on the scale of good to intolerable. If I didn't know before, I sure do now. We took first place in the highest division (which the band also won last year) which makes us the de facto best brass band in North America, I suppose.

It's a great feeling to be a part of a group like that. It's even greater when the group that took this trophy has several good friends and a ton of new friends. After all this academic judging in the exams, it's nice to be wanted (and rewarded!) for my ability to perform on my instrument.

It's a great feeling to perform in front of an audience of your peers and have them give you heartfelt recognition and applause for all your efforts.

While I was playing our finale piece (which is quite exciting), I actually felt my entire right arm tingling. I had to take a second to remember that it's the LEFT arm tingle that denotes a heart attack. I was certainly playing with just about everything I had, and the contracting of so many muscleg groups was giving me the shakes!

I mention last entry about changing the names to protect the guilty half in jest. Turns out that my be unnecessary after all. As always seems to be the case on extended band trips, there were plenty of relationship issues that came to a head during the time. New couples, old couples, ex couples, chaste love, sex in hotel rooms, strange friendship dynamics, and a steaming pot of envy; we had it all. I'm sure some of it will get worked over in the weeks and months, since it was such fertile ground for personal reflection.

Anyway, chalk this weekend up in the "Positive Life Event" column. Good stuff.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Leaving on a jet, plain, old bus.

I'm off to Louisville, KY this morning for the North American Brass Band championship. Much rehearsal time has been spilt to get to this moment, but all I can think about is going back to bed. Perhaps that's my own fault for waiting until last night after a three hour rehearsal to pack and do necessary laundry, but let's not point fingers.

There's a rather long comedy of errors that leads up to me being the person who goes on this trip, but I suppose I'll save that for my memoirs, since it involves a lot of people secretly badmouthing someone else. I will say that while I may have been indifferent to going or staying, some good speeches were made last night where we all congratulated each other on how far we've come and how much time and expertise we've devoted to improving. That may sound self-congratulatory in the way I just described it, but in the heat of the moment, it was quite ennobling to have 35-odd people working diligently towards a goal. For free. Worse than free, because it costs some members quite a lot in gas money just to get there (80 mile drives, each way?).

See you all on Sunday, when I may have some choice thoughts about whatever it is I'm about to find myself in the middle of. Names will be changed to protect the guilty.

Monday, March 24, 2008

I've forgotten her face(book)...

I went looking for a friend's Facebook profile this afternoon, but it wasn't there. As often happens with digital "wrong numbers", I thought it was just a faulty search or user error (perhaps I spelled the name wrong?). After verifying my correct spelling and trying a few more times, I can safely say that information isn't there. My friend has vanished from Facebook.

It's pretty amazing when a person closes up shop at Facebook. The system removes you from the index, but it also removes all information associated with you. It searches out all the references to you on anyone's page and removes them. Any pictures where people identified you remain, but the system no longer knows "who" you are. Any comments left on another person's page are removed.

When it's one of my friends who deletes their account, there's no notification. When you make a new friend, the system prompts you to accept. It allows you to pay attention to who you let into your walled garden. No riff-raff in my space, that's for sure. But when they leave, it's as a shadow in the night. It's completely possible to have no idea that you've lost a friend.

It sort of dawns on me slowly. Wasn't there a picture of me from that one party, holding on to my friend so I don't fall down? Didn't my friend just say something on my page last week; it was really funny and now I can't find it.... Maybe there's a flash of self-doubt: did my friend cut me out as a friend? After a little digging, it appears that all links are broken, all photos unconnected. It's not just me; all traces have been removed.

Where has my friend gone?

I suppose I could call and talk to my friend, but we're not the sort of buddies who talk much on the phone. I would feel terribly obvious if I just called and said, "Hey... how are things with you?" especially since I ordinarily see them everyday. In fact, one of the reasons I'm in the dark is because it's now Spring Break and my routine has been disrupted. So I suppose I'll have to wait a week or hope that the gossip train can kick in.

It's only occurred once before. Year before last, a fellow student vanished from Facebook. I remember sitting in a computer lab when I noticed. The girl sitting next to me was also a friend, and I turned to her and asked, "Do you know what's happened to Ellie?" She frowned, "Is there something wrong?" and I proceeded to show her that that picture wasn't where I thought it would be.

In that case, Ellie had just had a monumental and acrimonious breakup with her fiance'. There were pictures of them together all over Facebook. They had covered each other's walls with sappy love notes, sincere statements of admiration and appreciation, and (worst of all) a hundred mundane things that served as reminders of a less-complicated time. Don't forget to pick up the papers from the office. Can you get milk on the way back from rehearsal. I'll be sure to bring home the tomatoes you asked for. And a hundred other bitter-tasting innocuous notes.

That being the case previously, I currently fear for my friend and the relationship they're in. They're both good people and I'd hate for them to be involved in trouble, especially the kind that makes people virtually burn down their social interactions.

"Are you a good person?"

I was caught off guard by that question. Maybe it was because seems like a simple question that I might be able to answer without even thinking about it. Or maybe it caught me off guard because I had my hands closed around the neck of the woman who asked it. Or maybe because it's a question fraught with meaning, even in the event of a yes or no answer.

Lest you think I'm a dangerous psychopath, I should mention that the reason I had my hands around the young lady's neck was because I was giving her a massage. She often has horrible pain, and my clumsy and inept ministrations provide at least a few hours of relief, allowing her to be able to sleep or focus on things other than pain. While she was face down and I was working on her neck and shoulders, she asked me that question "you're a good person, right?" It was in the context of discussion of someone who is decidedly NOT a good person, so it wasn't as though the topic was out of left field. Still, the question really caught me by surprise.

I consider myself a good person. I go about my life with an eye towards doing things easy for myself and also devote a large amount of time to making sure that it goes well for everyone else. At least as far as I can influence events. I help people move because I'm certain I'll need help some day. I don't call attention to people's faults, because I don't care for people doing it to me.

After she asked this question, I was consumed with trying to decided if there was any possible situation where someone might say "yes, I'm a bad person". Surely even bad people are going to say that they're good, and that they're completely trustworthy.

I don't think my friend was asking because she lacked the information, though. She was asking as a reassurance to herself, what with the aforementioned hand-throat situation. After all, there's a part of the modern brain that gets cautious when a man is sitting over a prone woman he outweighs by 120 pounds. She occupies an extremely vulnerable position.

I'm certainly conscious of the vulnerability, and consequently, the trust she's placing in me. It's the reason I make every effort to let her know she's the one who has the power. I continually look to her to direct me where to move next (especially since I can't feel where it hurts). When I start smooshing her around, I'm constantly on the lookout for even the briefest hint of discomfort. If she flinches, I practically fall over myself to stop applying pressure.

Sure, part of my reflex is because I don't have much of a grasp of therapeutic massage or human anatomy, so I'm deathly afraid of putting a thumb into her liver. But it's much more important that even though she's face down on a pad and being pressed there by a strong guy exerting a lot of muscle power, she needs to feel like she's at least partially in control of the situation. I don't mean in the sense that she can order me to eat a bar of soap at will, just that she's far from powerless.

The idea being that when she asks, "are you a good person?", the answer is already self-apparent from the moment I step in the door, and reinforced by every action I take.

After all, there's plenty of time to disappoint her with my laziness and lack of work ethic after I get to know her better!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Communicating with volume

I yelled in an orchestra rehearsal on Wednesday. This isn't an unprecedented occurrence: I usually end up yelling once or twice a year, but I'm not sure I've done it in orchestra lately. It's only ever one word: "Quiet". I'm not sure what caused it to happen the first time, but luckily it hasn't yet lost it's efficacy.

As a general rule, I don't raise my voice. Yelling is something I have a general distaste for in the normal events of a day. I place it on the same shelf with profanity, which is to say that I think it's completely unnecessary in the daily course of life. Using either basically shows that I am over-matched by whatever conversation or argument I'm having.

I suppose I should differentiate between two separate sub-classes of "yelling", too. There's bellowing, in which volume is the primary goal, but then there's also angry conversation wherein the voice is raised to indicate a mood. The strict volume may not be as loud as bellowing, but angry yelling seems to take place at closer ranges, amplifying the effect.

By my own definition, I suppose I should say that I bellowed at the orchestra. We were running on a very tight rehearsal schedule. The director had taken pains to say that we only had 20 minutes to do the next piece, which included getting 30 men onto risers. There were people talking and playing everywhere, even as the concertmistress stood to indicate that tuning should begin. I don't know if people didn't see her, or if she was too passive for people to notice, but the general hubbub wasn't diminishing. And that's a recipe for one of my few pet peeves in rehearsal.

I hate watching people try to gain the attention and silence of large groups of people. I grow more frustrated the longer the attempts to obtain order go along. It literally makes my skin crawl. And sometime two or three years ago, I figured out a way to instantly snap everyone into silence and begin attempts at productivity. I do it by utilizing my physiology and yelling louder than all the rest of the noise in the room.

It's a blunt solution, there's no denying: I'm fighting fire with a flamethrower. And yet, it works every time. Not only that, but it seems to be a complete surprise every time (the shock helps to make the whole thing work). By taking a large breath, as though playing my horn, it's far more air than I need for a normal conversation. That large amount of air allows me to project the command "quiet!" with a serious and sudden volume. It helps that my diction is good, too.

Since I sit at the back, most of the orchestra appears as backs of heads. As soon as I yell, most heads turn quickly, interrupting conversation. I almost never acknowledge that it was I who bellowed, preferring to sit in silence (as example). Into this vacuum, the proper authority figures can resume control.

I'm not sure I've ever yelled in orchestra before. I thought I must have, but many people reacted as if it was the first time they'd heard it. A cello player afterwards asked if I was the one who yelled. When I said yes, he said "That was great!" I'm not quite sure how to take that, but it felt like a compliment. One of the trumpet players agreed that it was very effective, but felt intimidated that I never smiled afterwards. The assistant conductor thought I was now the official orchestra "roadie", keeping the crowds in line.

I think I even yelled in the band I'm not a regular member of a couple of weeks ago, but I don't remember. I suppose it shows how annoying I find it, that I'll even do it in a room filled mostly with people I don't know.

It's the only word I yell in rehearsal, and the only time I yell, too. I'm sure it's not something I'll transfer over to a professional paying performance, but I would hope those would have more disciplined rehearsal ethics, anyway.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Distant Muse

Anthony Minghella died today, and what I have to say about it isn't a traditional post in memorium. I don't know if he was a good man, or a wife beater, or a tax cheat, or a champion of the destitute. The only thing I know about him is he wrote the stories for Jim Henson's "The Storyteller". Also, that those nine stories influenced me as a writer.

I remember seeing two or three episodes when they aired originally, circa 1985. I focused on it because it had Muppets. In the years afterward, though I didn't see them again, I knowingly (or sometimes unintentionally) adopted the particular patter for telling my own stories. It didn't matter if it was the fact that the car broke down on the way to the grocery, in my mind there were aspects of the fantastic in the language, at least. Even if I didn't say it, I was thinking about alliteration or turns of phrases that seemed more epic.

A few years ago, they released "The Storyteller" on DVD, and I was able to see the episodes I remembered plus six others. It was uncovering a treasure trove of things I already knew I'd like, which is a rare feeling much to be enjoyed! That's when I learned that all the stories were adapted by Anthony Minghella.

I've never seen any of his other, more acclaimed works, like the Oscar-winning screenplay for "The English Patient". But he's certainly influenced just about every blog entry I've made, plus hundreds of journal entries and stories I've written. The Nordic fairy tale I adapted for the class last year (posted earlier) is steeped in the language and cadence of those fairy tales. It's my pale imitation of a writer I admire.

I've even told some of his stories as stories, which I'm sure is a rare occurrence in today's world. They flow easily as told stories as never fail to entertain. It's a testament to good storytelling that when all the world is talking about instant gratification and shortened attention spans, we can still huddle near the fire and listen to times that never were and places that haven't been.

So in addition to all the other things he did, Anthony Minghella taught me that children's stories don't have to be for children. He also influenced the way I speak, the way I write, and even my vocabulary.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The American People are with me AND against you

Sometime in the last year, the political phrase "the American people" starting grating on me. I'm not sure what the process is that mechanically isolates a particular phrase from all the others you hear over and over ("prices may vary, Member FDIC, results not typical, etc."). However it works, that phrase started to jump out of every piece I heard on NPR. A thousand variations on a sentence that contains "I think the American people are looking for...." or "I think the candidate is too extreme for the American people" or "The American people certainly aren't going to stand by while this happens."

I have no idea how long people have been saying this phrase. I don't know if George Washington stood on inauguration day and said "The American people want to see me on the $1 bill!" I also don't know if its use is primarily attributed to one end of the political spectrum versus any other. What I do know is that my writer's sense tells me that that phrase has grown stale and lost whatever meaning it once had.

When I tried to decide what that meaning was, I drew a blank. I'm going to skip right over the strange assertion that the American people are as like to each other as sardines. If there's anything that the past few years have taught us, it's that the American people unite behind very few things.

In most matters, almost no one thinks the same thing as anyone else. There is no single checklist that says "yes, you're a Republican". There are pro-life Republicans, pro-choice, gay, anti-homosexual, big government, small government, big army, small army, and a hundred thousand other combinations.

The choice of political party isn't supposed to teach you how to think about issues. Have you ever considered that? The whole reason political parties exist is to act as a collection house of people with the same ideas. Belonging to a party doesn't control your politics: your politics should bring the party to you.

The public perception of that was lost somewhere, here in our republic. If you're pro-choice, you're a Democrat. Sorry, but please fill out the paperwork. If you're religious, you're a Republican. Time to change your bumper stickers.

We've had these perceptions drilled into us through repetition, because it's easier to fit into a news cast. We save the qualifiers for special cases. Rudy Guilianni was referred to as a "pro-choice Republican", which many people react to as some sort of "white dog that's completely brown". How can a completely white dog be brown? This frightens and angers me!

So I laugh when people use "the American people". Because the American people always support you and your ideas. The American People are against the war, but the American people crave security from terrorists. The American people are disgusted by torture, but the American people certainly don't want bombs going off in L.A. The American people are paying too much for health insurance, but the American people know that universal health care would make for rising costs.

Anyone from outside listening to just the quotes would be astonished at the American people's ability to haver and vacillate through diametric extremes. Why are the Americans all of two minds? Actually, they're of 303,631,387 minds (and counting). Politicians certainly know this, yet continue to refer to Americans as a monolithic supportive bloc. Why?

In my opinion, a false majority has been created. Let's call it the "imaginority", which surprisingly no one else seems to have thought of. In light of several divisive elections over the past few years (with the inverted electoral college election of 2000 being a good exemplar), we've lost the go-ahead mandate that a decisive victory gives us. For every one person who supports abortion, you can find another who opposes it.

Please note the difference in a statement made about the imaginority in contrast to one simply made to refer to a group of Americans. John McCain said today, "As president, I promise the American people … the first earmarked, pork-barrel bill that comes across my desk, I’ll veto it.” Yahoo News Here, he's telling us (all Americans) what he intends to do as president. If he had said, "the American people oppose discretionary congressional spending", that would have been an assertion about the imaginority.

The key to making an "American people" statement (and thus securing the temporary support of the imaginority) is to phrase it in the positive. Do you want your military sons and daughters to come home for good and be safe? Then the American people are opposed to the war in Iraq. Do you want your country to be free from the grips of domestic terrorist actions? If so, then the American people support the War on Terror.

Obviously, regular people aren't going to say, "Yes, I hope the troops stay over in that quagmire forever," or "I do believe in killing babies, born and unborn, indiscriminately. And we should use the stem cells to fuel our cars." When a statement is made about the imaginority, we can usually all nod our heads in agreement.

"The American people don't want taxes raised to pay for government overspending." Nod.
"The American people don't want social security to collapse and endanger our elderly." Nod.
"The American people want to make sure that we have enough jobs to keep our economy going." Nod.
"The American people don't want to support big companies that cause environmental pollution." Nod.

Interestingly, this "imaginority" seems to be the opposite of the "endangered majority" tactic which also gets used often. Recent cases have involved the threat of Mexican immigrants coming here and breeding and taking over the country, or the continually "outnumbered" non-denominational Christian group.

Interestingly (and astonishingly), it is apparently possible to use the "endangered majority" AND the "imaginority" in the same sentence:

"I'd like to point out that neo-Darwinist "scientists" who evolved from monkey and ape ancestors in Africa aren't properly qualified to judge the American people, especially Jewish, Christian and Islamic people who are descended from Abraham's ancestor, Noah."

--John Crawford, as quoted from

I also found an interesting blog that automatically collects the uses of "American people" from the daily news stories. HERE

Challenging the thinking that humungous things aren't cute...

I give you Canadian Elephants in Snow

Although the poor cheetahs just look confused.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Forget the terrorists: we've got bigger fish to fry!

Contents of an email I received:

According to The Book of Revelations the anti-christ is:

The anti-christ will be a man, in his 40s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal....the prophecy says that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace, and when he is in power, will destroy everything. Is it OBAMA??

I STRONGLY URGE each one of you to repost this as many times as you can! Each opportunity that you have to send it to a friend or media it!

If you think I am crazy..Im sorry, but I refuse to take a chance on the "unknown" candidate

I'm not sure which political campaign this is a product of. I could conceive of it being pro-Hillary, pro-Republican, or even pro-Obama people who think they're clever. It is, however, frighteningly ignorant and horrifically plausible. Plausible that such an email could be sent, I mean.

Just in case you were wondering, the Book of Revelations would be wondrous indeed if it truly described this in a prophecy, because a text written in 100 AD that describes someone as being from a religion that wouldn't be founded for another 500 years would be amazing.

And another thing: if Obama really is the anti-Christ, shouldn't we be taking serious action? I mean, other than not voting for him in a political primary, which I'm sure is a serious blow to the devil and all his legions.

And if he truly is the anti-Christ, shouldn't it be impossible for him to lose (until he's defeated by the Glorious Assumption of Jesus no. 1)? I mean, it seems kinda pathetic if all the anti-Christ can do is get defeated in a second tier election and go back to being a senator with his loving wife.

Seems a little anticlimactic.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Finally drove over big hump; two weeks before scope of damage determined

This morning was my second (and final) attempt at the music history examination. Going into this short span on a cold Saturday morning took me at least the better part of two months of study, if you don't count all the preparation for the first try in October.

I walked out of the testing room really glad that I could begin working on uncramping my hand. I had hoped for that gush of endorphins that normally accompanies a major turn-in like this. I got it last time I took comps and I was really looking forward to it.

It didn't happen. I just quietly went back to my car, pleased to be out of the cold when I unlocked the door. I didn't have that rush of feelings driving off campus. I didn't have them when I downgraded my celebratory lunch plans from a nice sit-down place to a nice fast-food place (Culver's). I didn't have it when I sat down at home and looked at all the myriad notes and books and knew that I wouldn't have to look at them again.

And I still don't have it. At this point, I'm thinking it's not coming. I can't blame my endorphines for hiding. I need to save them all if I get bad news in a few weeks when the results come back.

I updated my Facebook status last night to say "Andrew is oscillating between despair and confidence." That's pretty much a metaphor for this entire week. I would study a lot, remembering things I thought for sure I would have forgotten, and my mood would elevate. Then I'd remember that a particularly dogmatic professor is sitting gatekeeper at the Early History Exam, and I'd be despondent. Then I'd have good ideas about what I could do with my life if I didn't pass. Then I'd focus on the big looming failure.

Back and forth. Forth and back. I went to view all of the graded exams from October, hoping to gain some insight into how close I was to passing. Was I really close and just forgot a pyramid? Or was I writing down directions for making Oobleck when they asked about Beethoven?

Leafing through the exams was another episode of ups and downs. The Early history exam has two parts: definitions and an essay. The graded terms were practically ink-free. There was a faint elongated infinity symbol across one entry. On another term, the professor had drawn a line through the word "form". Or it might have been an underline... Of the six, only two had writing, and you can see how well I learned from THOSE corrections.

The Early Essay had no marks. Whatsoever. Just a directive on the cover page to "retake both". Conceive the scene with me. Andy sitting at a conference table, writhing and wringing his hands because he has no idea how wrong anything is.

The Late Terms had considerably more ink (those are graded by a separate professor). I had some wrong information here, some lackluster sources there. The Late Essay had lots of comments, mostly negative, but I passed that.

I worked my way through the exams again. Surely I missed some faint red marks. Perhaps the Early professor was in the process of contracting mononucleosis and her strength had been sapped. Should I use powdered graphite to see if the pen made any indentations in the paper?

In spite of that not being helpful, other exams that I passed were a nice pick-me-up. The three theory exams were all graded "A". The comments were all very complimentary. I laughed at one portion because I had apparently lost my ability to count. When asked to identify how many measures were in a particular section, I dropped a ten and put 61 instead of 71. I laughed because that test had me so frazzled I had forgotten how to count.

I laughed at the fact that the trumpet professor wrote positive comments about the humor in my project for him. That was the best one. I came back to that test again and again to soak in how much it had amused him. I came out of that session knowing that even though I may be hopeless for history, I had passed all the rest with flying colors. Even if I can't be a doctor, I'm still not completely hopeless in music. It was a nice message.

Last night, I couldn't shake the giant failure. It's completely conditional and hadn't even happened yet, but I couldn't get out from under it. I thought about how I'd have to rewrite my resume. I thought about how I'd have to change the name of this blog. I thought about how much it would crush me to be told I wasn't good enough to do something I knew I was spectacular at.

So I sat at a chair at my dining table and cried. The sort of frustrated crying that comes from having the tears squeezed out of you by the pressure of all the people you've ever known. The sort of crying that comes from twisting the words of support from friends and family into one giant honor debt that is owed to them.

I cried because I was worried about a whole host of things that had nothing to do with the exam. One of my uncles has inoperable lung cancer. Another has a marriage on the rocks. A friend I took to a clinic a while ago is contemplating an abortion. Friends whose relationship is on the rocks. Violence everywhere. People being killed because of cartoons.

In short, it was the kind of jag that I really excel at. It's basically the exact opposite of when Atlas Shrugs. It's Atlas finally paying attention to how much this thing really weighs. I don't know if I just tune that sort of stuff out most of the time, but I do know that once in several blue moons, it really sinks in how much is the weight of the world.

Of course, by the time I woke up, most of that was forgotten. I'm NOT a morning person, so I get a free pass on worrying in the mornings, because my brain just hasn't gotten that far down the checklist. I was into the first hour of the exam before I thought about how much I *had* been worrying. Even then, it was only because I looked at the Late Terms and realized I didn't have any idea what one of the possible terms was. "William Jennings/Song school method"? Anyone? Bueller?

The stress for this exam manifested in ways that didn't occur to me at the time. I was slightly indignant about the brass band rehearsals I was in. I was angry at the other section members who got angry at the conductor in the Friday orchestra rehearsal (huh?). I said something slightly crueler than I intended to one of the other trombonists.

In a hundred tiny ways, the stress of being under the shadow of that test was changing who I was and how I behaved. I can't explain how upsetting that realization is. That's also why, no matter what the results, I'm really glad I don't have to take that test again.

And there's the rush of relief. It comes from realizing that I just avoided going down a road I (in my right mind) would never want to be on.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Maintenant en fran├žais!

I've mentioned before that the my single most-visited entry is the one which contains the first line to Shakespeare's Sonnet CXXX, "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun". The content of the entry itself doesn't directly relate to the sonnet text, but ever since I first published it, people have come out of the internet to that page specifically.

In fact, if you search for "my mistress eyes meaning" today, I'm on the first page. And that goes to show that you can't always trust search engines to lead you to what you want. As an experiment, I subsequently wrote a brief analysis of the sonnet and linked to it from the deceitful entry. The number of people who pass on through to that link numbers about 36%.

Today, I had an international visitor. That's nothing new, as fully 30% of my visitors come from abroad. This was the first one who got to the page through a translating service. As such, I was able to see the entry that drew that visitor (Sonnet CXXX, of course) in French.

I'm sure this translation is full of small grammatical errors, as often occurs when a computer tries to literally and directly translate a language. Still, I receive a thrill from seeing content that I wrote translated into another language. I'm sure I'm just having some sort of Gutenberg episode, in which I subconsciously think someone went to all the effort of translating it, instead of an idle computer somewhere.

It still feels special, even if it is automatic and on-demand.

Via Google's In-house Translation Engine: 5 Octobre 2006

Monday, March 03, 2008

A Nordic Tale: The Three Aunts

This story was written by me as the final project for the class on Nordic history and culture I took in fall 2006. My method was basically to find at least three different versions of this story, read them frequently, back to back, and then ignore them and write what I recollected. The result ends up being a fairy tale that contains elements of "actual" versions, but streamlined enough for a speed-read. I also made up much of the descriptions and dialog whole-cloth, because they sound "heightened" enough to quickly establish the non-reality of the world. By the way, "whole cloth" is a rather weak bon mot which I think very funny, but only because I already know what the story is about. I invite you, the reader, to come BACK to this sentence after reading the story so that your eyes can fully roll about how clever I think I am.

This story needed to be read out loud for the presentation, and it had to fit inside of two or three minutes. As a result of these constraints, you'll notice that it stays tight to the action and even makes a few leaps of place or time just to get through. You'll notice that the queen and prince (and even Hedda herself) receive very little characterization. In spite of that, I feel that they have more personality elements than completely blank slates.

One of the things I found helpful was repeated phrases (already a part of fairy tale culture). By the time I get to the third declaration of the Aunts, I can tell it very speedily, because everyone already has a sense of the words I'm going to use. That entire paragraph comes to act as a single image of the aunt making everything fine.

The story also contains a few aural puns, which I couldn't resist writing in, like "sew and sew" and "so and so". It's not really funny, of course, but it's disguised enough that it can really only be appreciated by reading it out loud. Which I encourage you to do! I had thought I might upload audio or video of me reading it, but there's no time for that.

freely adapted by Andrew Schwartz

Once there was a beautiful girl whose name was Hedda, who lived way out in the forest. When she had grown, Hedda felt it was time to go into the world and earn her place. So she bid good-bye to her father and walked while the sun set and walked as the sun rose. Finally, she came to a castle.

And she asked in the castle if there was work to be had. They gave her a place as one of the queen's maids; the lowest one. But Hedda worked hard making everything spic and span. And the queen noticed; she noticed the places that were spic, and she appreciated the places that were span! Quickly, Hedda became the most favored of the maids. But the other maids didn't think much of this. They told the queen that Hedda had bragged she could spin ten pounds of flax into yarn in a single night.

The queen was quite taken with this idea. She instructed Hedda that she should do it, because the queen never knew when she might need yarn, and the stores were quite low. Hedda, desperate not to disappoint the queen, asked only for a room by herself so as not to be distracted. And before the dog dropped his bone, she was alone in a room, with a spinning wheel and ten pounds of flax.

Of course, Hedda had never spun in her life. She walked around the wheel seven times, but still she couldn't figure out how to work it, and had only managed to prick her finger on the needle. It was hopeless.

Into her room walked an old woman. “What's the matter?”

Hedda was overwhelmed, so she explained about the wicked maids, and the rash promise, and the never-before-spinning.

“Tell you what,” said the old woman. “If you promise to call me your aunt on the happiest day of your life, I'll make it all better.” Hedda promised, for what could she do?

At once, the woman began to spin. Hedda's eyes could not keep up with the wheel, and she fell asleep. In the morning, the old woman was gone, and the flaxen yarn lay in a basket. The queen was pleased. The maids were not. They spread the rumor that Hedda bragged she could weave the yarn into cloth in a single night. Again, the queen commanded it (since they were low on cloth, too), and again Hedda asked for a room.

As she sat in the room with the loom, wondering how to work it, a second old woman came in. “What's the matter?” the woman asked. And as before, Hedda told the woman everything.

“Tell you what,” said the old woman. “If you promise to call me your aunt on the happiest day of your life, I'll make it all better.” Hedda promised, for what could she do?

The second old woman began to weave like a fury. And though Hedda tried to focus on the shuttle, she fell fast asleep. Next morning, the old woman was gone, and the flaxen cloth lay in a basket. The queen was even more pleased. The maids were even more jealous. They spread a rumor that Hedda bragged she could sew all the cloth into shirts in a single night. And before you could even scratch your nose, Hedda was alone in a room with a sewing kit.

In walked a third old woman. She inquired, Hedda replied, the old woman comforted.

“Tell you what,” said the old woman. “If you promise to call me your aunt on the happiest day of your life, I'll make it all better.” Hedda promised, for what could she do?

The woman began to sew and sew. But Hedda was so, so tired. Before she knew it, it was morning, the woman gone, the shirts finished.

The queen was beside herself. She thought this an excellent girl for the her son, the prince, for she was amazing with cloth! So before anyone could try on ANY of the shirts, the prince and Hedda were married. It was the happiest day of Hedda's life.

At the feast, an old woman walked in, with a nose six inches long. “Hello, auntie!” said Hedda. The prince couldn't believe his beautiful wife was related to this long-nosed crone, but he invited the crone to sit, because it was polite. In walked a second old woman, with a back hunched and gnarled. “Hello, auntie!” said Hedda. The prince couldn't believe his wife knew this ugly hag, but he invited her to table, because it was polite. In walked a third old woman, with huge eyes bleary and red. “Hello, auntie!” said Hedda. The prince couldn't believe it! “How did you get such ugly relatives?” he said, impolitely.

The first woman explained that her long nose was from always tugging it while spinning. The second said her hunched back was from bending over a weaving loom, and the third said her bleary eyes were from too much sewing.

“Then my bride, Hedda, shall never again sew, weave, or spin as long as she lives,” said the prince.

And she never did.