Sunday, November 29, 2009

Huge Sigh of Relief

Tomorrow I start a new job.

That's right, a full-time, permanent, skills-appropriate, within-salary-range honest-to-god job.

I've been looking in earnest for two years (with three or four "filler" jobs I got as leads from friends.) The first thing I did when I got the news was retire my "job search log." This is really just a spiral notebook that I kept all my leads in. I didn't start keeping track of the exact numbers until June of this year. I had applied to 89 jobs since then - five interviews, two second interviews and one offer.

I went to the store this weekend and bought things to pack for my lunch. I also loaded up my iPod and have already picked out my "first day of work" clothes. I love those first days of work. If I thought about it long enough, perhaps I could examine if that is, perhaps, the reason why I've had so many...

But I won't.

I'm anxious to move forward and feel the benefits of going to work everyday in a place that fits.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Much as I Want to Resist, I Really Like That Song

I won't even beat around the bush, the song is Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA..."

Yes, that's Hannah Montana.

I make this statement knowing that, in a mere month, after the inevitable airwave over-saturation, when I get my life-long fill and I can't escape it, I will be begging for the torture to stop.

Until that point, I will say it again, I like that song. It's really catchy.

The middle-brow music snob in me will not allow me to make that statement without qualifying it. What intrigues me is that in my listening, is that the song does not make me like Miley Cyrus and want to explore her work. In fact, part of my amazement is how much I like the song despite the sheer machinery invoked to alter her voice. (I watched her unadorned performance with Sheryl Crow on the VH1 Divas and felt bad... for her being so eager, so in awe of Crow, and yet so unequipped to pull off a live version of "If It Makes You Happy.")

Back to the song... I did a little poking around and discovered it was written by a guy named Lukasz Gottwald, who has also written songs for Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Avril Lavigne, and Katy Perry. What I find interesting is that I like all of these artists, despite the fact that I often consider myself older than their "target demographic." What they have in common that draws me in, appears to be this songwriter.

Which leads me to the value of a singular "voice" in the arts. Surely, this guy is somehow obligated to appeal to the particular qualities of the singer he writes for, but it's the guitar lick, the jaunty sway, the hook, that brings me in.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hitting the Road, Hitting the Books!

I year and a half ago, I graduated with my master's degree in writing. The program is "brief residency," meaning I traveled to Louisville twice a year for workshops and lectures and did the rest of the work from home, mailing it to an assigned mentor. Ever since, several friends from the program go back to visit, usually the final weekend of the residency, to just hang out and catch up.

This time I am going early, to meet up with some friends who have each completed a manuscript (as have I.) We're planning on spending the next couple of days holed up in a hotel room and having discussions of our work and really digging in.

The fact that I had two promising job interviews this week allows me to feel like I'm not just going to "play," that the timing is right to get this thing to the next stage.

Wish me happy insights!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Biggest Fan, My Dad...

Now, there's nothing inherently special about a parent being unequivocally bias toward one's child's abilities. Legends are made of fierce stage moms of mediocre talent everywhere. Perhaps because of this, I take for granted my father's genuine enthusiasm for my work.

Here is a typical telephone conversation I've had with my dad:

"I need a copy of that essay on ironing."

"Why, Dad?" I finally got smart enough to ask.

"Because Judy at the bank wants to read it."

While part of me is touched that my passion and efforts regularly surface in my father's daily tasks, the other part of me treads lightly. I try to explain that Judy at the bank really doesn't want to read my essay, that Judy at the bank finds my father charming and genuinely approves of his allegience to his daughter.

He takes this to mean that I have no self-confidence as a writer. He is offended that I don't think he has the ability to recognize quality writing. I don't believe this. My father has good taste. He also, as all good father's do, has a blind spot when it comes to his children.

So I've spent a fair amount of energy trying to resist this kind of attention from my father, as though accepting it somehow dimishes my credibility. Until I realized that there are many people who don't have this kind of support, who spend their whole lives soliciting their parent's approval. And so I surrendered to it. And it feels pretty good.

Just the other night, I'd dropped by my parents' to help my mom out with some tasks as she is still recovering from a broken leg (and who, also, it should be noted, is a proud supporter and good sport about being portrayed in print...) Dad walked in the door with a plastic grocery bag hooked over his arm. When I went to tell him that the new (614) magazine in which I had an article was out, he pointed to the bag. "I've got about seven copies already," and proceeded to stack them on the table.

A few days later he told me he had had lunch at Columbus Brewing Company. While waiting on a table, he saw two business men with (614)'s tucked underneath their arms being seated. He waited for them to get settled, approached them, and said, "Page 24," tapping the cover. He said he waited for them to finally turn the page, and continued, "My daughter wrote that."

I'd be a fool to not fully embrace this kind of support.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Double Dose of Dylan

When I told people I was going to see Bob Dylan live, I got a variety of responses, almost none of them positive.

"Is he still alive?" was the common refrain from those under 45. Those older could often vividly recall being dragged to a show sometime in the mid-70s or late 80s. "That was the worst show I've ever been to in my life." With all this lackluster response, you'd think I'd be thwarted.

But no.

My goal here is not to spout the merits of Dylan's significance or convince you to like him. Admittedly, my interest came seemingly out of nowhere, and I thought I had set up pretty solid resistances.

My first real exposure to Bob Dylan was in the summer of 1994. I'd just returned home from living in Rochester, NY for a year. On one of my first nights back, I went out and met Peter, a fun, interesting, cute computer programmer/music enthusiast. We started dating and we were often at his place (I was living with my folks at the time.) Peter had great tastes in music and the stereo played all of the time - Van Morrison, Peter Gabriel, the newly released Counting Crows "August and Everything After", even some classic Journey. The only thing I had a hard time taking was some of the Tom Waits (although I could be easily swayed with the songs that incorporated carnival sounds) and the Dylan.

I just couldn't take the voice.

I don't remember what Peter might have said to try to convince me, but I wasn't having it. However, he did insist I go with him when Dylan played at the Ohio State Fair later that summer. I'd talked about taking Peter to the Fair since I'd met him (he was from Chicago and never been to any county or state fair and I was looking forward to being his guide.) The Dylan show at the end of the day was the compromise.

The fact that he was actually playing the Ohio State Fair was evidence enough for me of his lack of importance. There were only two reasons to play such a venue - you're either on your way up, or down. But we went, and I can remember being really impressed with the band. And the songs. I walked out, not converted, but impressed that I didn't hate the experience.

Three years later, I met and started dating Rob. He, too, had great tastes and played music constantly. But so did I. By this point, I was living in an apartment and the unspoken rule was whomever's place we were in got to decide the music, and I was a little more tolerant of being exposed to things outside of my realm, as long as it wasn't forced upon me.

"Time Out of Mind" came out around that time. It was in heavy rotation at Rob's, but I still didn't pay close attention. Over the next decade, as Rob and I would drift in and out of each other's lives, I noticed that Dylan remained a constant staple at his house. When I expressed my opposition, saying that being a bad singer when you were a singer was pretty big barrier, he said, "His voice is really not the point."

That didn't really go over very well and I refused to listen to any more for several years.

What did it for me was, not surprisingly, a movie. In 2007, Todd Haynes released "I'm Not There", an unconventional Dylan bio-pic that wooed the critics but confused regular audiences. I've read a lot of interviews and was intrigued. Instead of the traditional linear approach of following a life, Haynes chooses to assign six different "personas" to define Dylan - the impostor, the earnest folkie, the superstar, the family man, the poet, and the recluse.

This, I thought, is the future of narrative film.

From there, I started exploring Dylan's various "phases" and found myself more interested in the lesser-known stuff than the classics (not because I think they're better, but more because pop culture tends to over-saturate its heroes.) Then I picked up an audio-book version of "Chronicles," Dylan's long-awaited autobiography and was impressed by his constant struggle to remain true to his direction and expression. There has never been a time when this man has not produced the kind of work he wants to, with limited outside influence. Turns out he wants to play places like the Ohio State Fair and the Canton Civic Center. Some artists say that because they have no other choice. I think if someone like Bob Dylan wanted to regularly sell out arena venues, I'm sure some executive at Frito-Lay could make that happen.

Over the past year, I've added albums from his back-up-singer infused seventies period as well as the vastly under-rated Born Again records. Still, I will admit some of my favorite renditions are covers by other artists, but I'm gradually developing some immunities.

So I was looking forward to the opportunity to re-examine my Dylan live-show experience with all of this new-found fan status under my belt. The fact that I was able to enjoy one show with Allen, a former co-worker and long-time Dylan enthusiast, and the second with Rob, with whom I've been enjoying a recent, renewed relationship, was a real treat.

I'm not much of a concert reviewer. I will say, however, that it was, again, the band and the music that stirred me. Dylan is now old enough that his voice (once described by Bono as a dirt bowl yelp, bluesy street howl) has deepened into a tolerable, gravely monotone that almost functions like a harmonium.

And just when I thought I was immune to the over-played older stuff, I was caught up, just like a 1960's London teenager, in the exuberance that is "Like a Rolling Stone," Singing along, hands cupped around my mouth for effect, in an exaggerated declaration of long-vowel sounds:

How does it feeeeeeeeeeeeel
How does it feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeel
To be on your oooooooooown
With no direction hooooooooooooome
Like a complete unknooooooooown
Like a rolling stoooooone

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Another Article

A few weeks ago, I interviewed the new CEO of the Columbus Symphony. My first face-to-face (I've done email exchanges and phone interviews, but there's something to sitting in front of someone having a conversation "for the record.")

Find it here -