11 September 2011


Not so very long ago, my family and I upped sticks and headed even deeper into the South than we already were.  I agreed to this move, though I lacked significant enthusiasm for it and my daughter even less so.  This feeling was compounded when, a mere three weeks after we moved, my daughter headed off to college several states away.  

Needless to say, this means that my last year has been a very transitional year.  I have felt extremely isolated and alone and on more than a few occasions have wished for a Time Turner or a Tardis so that I could go back and have a big "do-over."  But that's not really how life works, is it?  Instead, I unpacked, I started to learn my way around town, I met a few people at a nearby church, and I started to consider my options.   Sometimes I still felt like becoming a hermit because it's just easier than forcing myself to go out and meet people or do things I don't really want to do just for the sake of companionship.  It was so much easier to meet people when I was younger or when my daughter was small, because as a parent you get thrown into new groups all the time.  Ultimately I decided to give myself a year to adjust to all the changes and to get my house in order, after which it would be time to start branching out and figure out what I wanted to do with myself and my time.

In that spirit, with my daughter safely back in school for her sophomore year and my Calamity Mary broken bones all healed, I ventured out into the community last Tuesday pretty much for the first time since moving here and finding a church.  I chose to go to the first rehearsal of the Athens Choral Society, or ACS (which sounds disturbingly like the American Cancer Society).  While most people think I am a very outgoing person (and for the most part, I am), the reality is that I am often hesitant about rushing into new situations; I like to get the lay of the land before I jump in and fully commit.  But I still went.  I got there, signed in, and picked up some music, opting to "borrow" it for the night before paying for the music and dues, just in case I didn't like the group.  I was given the score for "Star of Bethlehem" by Rheinberger, a composer with whom I was unfamiliar, and told we were going to be performing it in German.  Okaaaaaaay.  I have sung in German before, but it's been a while.  We listened to each movement before sight-reading it and they all seemed relatively accessible.  Plus, everyone I met was very nice.  It was lovely to be singing orchestral music again after all these years, even if "singing" only meant going "lalalalalalala" a lot while we learned the notes.  I enjoyed the rehearsal enough that at the break I went ahead and forked over my $28 for dues and music.  (Okay, so I don't hesitate that long...)

While there, the director of the group (who also is the music director for the biggest Methodist church in town) told us that on the anniversary of 9/11 there would be a community sing of Fauré's Requiem at his church downtown.  Hmmm.  Well, I guess if I was gonna commit, I might as well commit.  In for a penny, in for a pound and all that.  So the director emailed me the score, which I spent the better part of Friday printing out because I did not know there would be great stacks of the music copied and collated at the service.  Par for the course.  Yesterday I found the Requiem on YouTube and proceeded to review the music, which I had actually sung once some 15-20 years before.  There were a couple of rough spots, and some time signatures that were gonna mess me up, but mostly it sounded vaguely familiar and not overly difficult, so I thought "what the heck?"

I headed downtown today at 5 pm for a quick run-thru of the piece with the orchestra and the other singers.  Before we started, I sat in the wrong section and was eventually redirected to the soprano section.  Then I left my water bottle in the alto pew I had just vacated and had to reclaim it.  Then I had to go find a program that I somehow lacked.  Then I sat in my back pew all alone, gazing in front of me at the 200-300 people I'd never met (beyond a scant few I'd vaguely met Tuesday night) and I started to think, "What the heck am I doing here, anyway?"  Then we began the run-thru.  Some parts were more familiar than others, especially after listening to them on YouTube, but let's face it--sight-reading music has never been my strength.  I was not singing very loudly (or accurately) through much of the rehearsal while I tried to re-familiarize myself with the music.  I was convinced people were laughing at me.   Some of the movements went okay and some less so.  I started thinking I needed to hightail it out of there and go hide in a pub downtown somewhere.   I began to feel overwhelmed by all the people I didn't know, by the music I clearly didn't know, by singing something more advanced than "Amazing Grace" for the first time in over a decade--so I did the only thing I could think of--I got out my phone and posted my concerns on Facebook a few minutes before the concert was to start.  (Don't judge me--you know you would have done the same thing.)

While most of you know that I love music and I love singing, what most of you don't know is what an uphill battle it has been for me to learn to sing reasonably well.  Heck, that's a whole 'nother blog post in itself.  As a result, I sometimes lack confidence in spite of my posturing to the contrary, and today was no different.  Yet, within seconds of my posting on Facebook, I had several friends willing to band together and donate a few seconds of their time to bolster my flagging ego and to assuage my fears.  My friends are awesome like that.  It was time to suck it up and do what I came there to do.  Besides, Eleanor Roosevelt said we should "do one thing every day that scares us," and who am I to argue with the woman who could keep FDR in line?

As the music began to swell, I felt myself start to relax.  All of the people and all of the nerves fell away, leaving nothing but a music which caused my heart to soar with the strings and my soul to swell.  I was lifted up just as surely as we were raising the music to honor those who had fallen 10 years ago.  Did I sing it perfectly?  Hardly.  But I sang it better than I was expecting.  I managed.  I survived.  I joined my voice with the voices of so many others in that room and no doubt around the world, joining together in love and unity as we raised a musical prayer to the fallen.  I overcame my fear.  I realized that whether or not I sang perfectly was never really the point.  Being there was the point.  Participating was the point.  Being a part of something greater than myself was the point.

In that moment, I realized that my experience was a microcosm of the larger meaning of 9/11.  Yes, there was tragedy, yes there was loss and yes, in my opinion, we dwell far too often on that.  I dwell far too much on some things I can't change already; I don't need to add one more.  The point of 9/11 is not that it happened, but how we as a nation and as a world, for just one moment, came together in love and unity to help each other move forward and to assuage each other's fears.  The point of 9/11 was to conquer fear.  To let go of the things which bind us.  To move on.  To move forward.  To LIVE.

My cowardice over some piece of music may seem silly in the face of the larger ramifications of this particular anniversary, but I cannot help being awed by the fact that, in my moment of weakness, people from all over the country rushed to support me just as we did for each other on that day.  I cannot help but be struck by the fact that in each and every day since that horrible moment we are refusing to let our fears master us and are instead choosing to move on, to move forward, to LIVE--even if it's only by sticking around and singing a couple of songs.  And isn't that really kind of the point too?  Isn't that what gives those losses and sacrifices meaning?  It's that drive to overcome, that unspoken connection to each other that gives us strength and hope in the darkest of times and allows us to rise like a phoenix from the ashes.

So thank you, Mr. Fauré, for helping me to remember that it was never about me.  And thank you for your glorious music, too. 

07 September 2011

Sew Wrong

Today after a visit to the eye doctor I decided to run a couple of errands.  One was near the local Jo-Ann Fabrics which is unfortunate because for me, the lure of bookstores and fabric stores is tantamount to that of a junkie jonesing for crack.  I say I won't go in.  I intend not to go in.  I tell myself I can't afford to go in.  And then it starts -- first a little twitch of my cheek, then my feet turn away from their predetermined path, then next thing you know I'm in the middle of a fabric store stroking the suedes and satins, perusing the patterns, and fondling the fleece.  I start making excuses to justify my behavior.  I have time to kill (like there aren't enough household chores to keep me busy).  I need something to do (like I don't already have enough fabric stashed in a closet to clothe the entire population of Samoa).  I'm almost out of zippers/thread/interfacing/buttons/seam rippers (how many seam rippers does one person need really?)/etc.  I need a pattern for medieval garb (because there aren't already 15 in my pattern box at home).  It's always something, and before long you've drunk the Kool-Aid and are standing in an airport swathed in clearance cotton and handing out packages of seam binding like some sort of freaky Kraft Krishna.

That should really say "Experience the Casualties."

Needless to say, I succumbed to temptation (how can you not?) and ended up perusing patterns once again.  While I normally stick with the Big Three companies, i.e. Simplicity, McCalls and Butterick, today I found myself leafing through the book of Burda patterns.  Now I realize that the Burda company originated in Germany, but they do still sell patterns throughout the US.  As a result, I couldn't help but wonder what the heck was up with all the freaking dirndl patterns?  And it's not like they were all located in the costume section of the book, either.  So what's the deal, Burda?  Is there an unanticipated glut of Oktoberfest celebrations popping up across the US?  Are the number of Sound of Music productions suddenly on the rise?  Or perhaps economic woes are encouraging people nationwide to begin churning their own butter and making their own cheeses, requiring them to obtain more practical country attire?  Are Beer Maids being laid off in droves?  What gives?

"Okay, I'm wearing the dirn dress--now pass me a beer, Dumkopf!"

To be fair, Burda did also have patterns for lederhosen -- but they were placed appropriately in the costume section.  Interesting how that works, isn't it?  Sticking a man in leather shorts would be considered unusual and costumey, but somehow traditional Bavarian garb becomes perfectly normal everyday wear for women, particularly if you can slap an apron on them?  If I were in a different mood, I could totally go all Feminine Mystique on that crap.  

Instead, I chose to flip through the plus-size patterns, because although my brain insists on the delusion that I am 25 and still a svelte, muscular size 10/12, my body has other ideas--the traitor.  Most pattern books are pretty decent about using plus-sized models to show off the clothes, unlike most retail outlets, many of which still use traditional models (and by "traditional models" I mean "flagpoles").  Seriously, why do they do that?  Are they so afraid of showing a plus-sized woman in plus-sized clothing?   Do they think we won't buy their wares if we suddenly see how we might actually look in them?  Won't we be just as horrified as they are?  It's as if they think we only dress in the dark, we never pass an actual mirror (especially in our own bathroom, God forbid), and we never noticed when our clothing sizes passed into the double digits.  Who even decided that when you hit size 14 you are suddenly "plus-sized," anyway? Give me a break.  Sure, the clothes they sell are going to look better on waifish 20-year-olds, but that doesn't really do much to show me how I will look in their clothing.  Apparently we must avoid viewing anything approaching reality at all costs.  Heck, even Butterick has now color-coded their plus-size section with red so that on every page there is a red bar going down the long edge of the page.  You can almost hear the publishers screaming "Danger!  Danger, Will Robinson!!  The big girls are on the loose!!!  Wear our clothes and you will look dumpy, too!"  But I'm sure that was just a coincidence.  Probably.

        THIS is considered a "plus-size" model, presumably because her clothing size isn't in negative numbers.                          Also, she actually has boobs.

And while we're on the subject, why is there no "plus-size" section in pattern books for men?  To be fair, there aren't exactly a lot of men's clothing patterns in the first place, but still.  Are men too good to wear homemade clothing?  And what if a big guy needs a big size?  Is he just out of luck?  Come to that, why are clothing stores for larger men called "Big and Tall" stores?  They don't get called "plus-size" or "full-figured."  It's kinda funny how stores for big girls are now trying to get away from these more negative terms by instead using phrases like "goddess-sized" and "clothes for curvy women."  Just once I want to see a store advertisement that says "Clothes for the Amazonian Bad-Ass."  Now that would be a selling point.  We're big, we're tall, we're proud, and we don't take crap from anyone.  Stick that in your Plus-Size and smoke it.

Ranting aside, I must admit that the various pattern books do amuse me.  Where else can you find instructions to make everything from a wedding dress to a doggie diaper?  Women may be the ultimate multi-taskers, but that's still a pretty broad range of possibility.  "Yes, in between making new curtains and pillows, I'll just hem this formal gown, make fuzzy slippers, put the finishing touches on my daughter's backpack, and then make the dog a costume for every holiday so he won't feel left out.  I can do all these things because I am wearing this fine, practical dirndl."  Yeah.  Because that happens in the average household.  And when exactly did fleece become the fabric of the new millenium?  Sure, it's warm and comfy, but even here in the toasty Gates of Hell South there is fleece o'plenty available for purchase, and not just in your basic boring colors, either.  Should I feel the need, I can make a robe/coat/blanket/bun warmer/etc. displaying nearly any variety of sports or sports logos, John Deere, assorted animals, Spongebob, Disney characters, camo, animal prints, flowers, and even eco fleece made from recycled plastic.  Somehow I don't find the idea of wearing jammies made from old Coke bottles entirely comforting...in theory, yes--but every single time I'd go to sit down, I would be waiting for the crunch.  You know the one--that noise you make when you start squeezing and playing with your empty water bottle.  I wouldn't want my PJs to creak more than my knees do.

Although I spent nearly an hour there, I somehow miraculously escaped the clutches of Jo-Ann's (siren sewing seductress that she is) empty-handed--which just doesn't happen very often.  Perhaps there is hope for me yet.  Or perhaps I just "don't need no stinkin' dirndl."  Either way, I resisted the call.  For today, at least.  Can all you other crafters and sewers say the same?

Is "Fabric Rehab" a new type of twill?