if you’re looking for me, you’ll find me right here

my favorite sign in the library

Not long after I started working at the University of Richmond, a coworker told me that most people stay at the University for five years or forever. At the time, five years seemed like a really long time to be anywhere, and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever stay in one place for the rest of my career.

I’d had two professional, post-graduate jobs at that point, neither of which lasted more than three years, for various reasons. I took this one because I liked what I saw when I interviewed, and because it was in the part of the country where I wanted to live. And, as much as I enjoyed the work environment and collegiality (particularly compared to the previous job), I was not going to commit to anything more than my three years.

The first year is the honeymoon. The second is when things get real. The third is when I decide if I want to keep going or try something new.

The path to what has now been five and a half years was… interesting, to say the least. And not without a good helping of uncertainty. Just as I would be getting comfortable with the organizational structure and my job expectations, someone would come by and upset the book truck, so to speak.

I’ve just completed a long period of uncertainty, and while things are not yet entirely settled, it’s finally dawned on me that I have the power to determine, or at least guide, the outcome of this uncertainty, which I’ve never been in (or realized I was in) the position to do before. It also helps that there are some clear dates for when change will have to happen. I always function better with a schedule.

As I enter into the second half of my sixth year here, I don’t want to go anywhere else, and that’s a good feeling to have. Sure, there are still unknowns that could change things. Something could happen to my boss and his replacement could be horrible. My coworkers could leave and be replaced with difficult people. I might fall in love with someone on the other side of the world and decide to move there. It’s all possible, albeit unlikely.

It’s not the best job in the world, or the most perfect library, and I certainly could do with less humidity in the summer, but it’s better (for me) than any place I’ve ever been, and better than most of the horror stories I hear from colleagues elsewhere. Sometimes, when you know how bad bad can be, good enough is good enough. Sometimes good enough is all you need to make it awesome.

on milestones

singing with the Ellensburg Women’s Chorus in the 2005

Some of you may know that I enjoy singing in choirs/choruses/chorales these days, even doing a solo every now and then, but I’ll bet few of you know that I was too shy to sing in front of most people until my second year of college. Most of my college friends could sing pretty well, and many of them were in the university chorale or the chamber choir. I loved singing, but I was too nervous and shy to audition, as much as I wanted to. Somehow, they convinced me to take a voice class. Not private lessons, but with a small group of students and one teacher, all at once.

This was safe for me to start out in. We sang everything together, until our final, and that was the first time I’d sung for real, alone, in front of anyone. It was terrifying! But it also gave me the courage to go through the audition process the next year, and I was in the chorale for the second half of my college career.

Since then, I’ve sung with Sacred Harp groups, church choirs, community women’s choruses, and a university women’s chorus (I still sing with two groups that fit in the last two categories). It’s been an amazing learning experience, and I sometimes marvel at how a person who was too shy to sing in front of a handfull of friends can now stand on stage and sing in front of hundreds of strangers.

In college, I was obsessed with singing low. I was proud to sing the alto part, and one of my fellow altos and I would frequently try to hide with the basses until our director made us go back to our section. For me, alto meant harmony and something interesting. Soprano seemed, well, boring.

These days, I sing first alto or second soprano, depending on the group and the arrangement. And the strange thing is, I’m finding that the low notes aren’t as much fun anymore, and sometimes are rather uncomfortable to sing. My voice, as women’s voices do, has been changing and maturing over the years. When I moved over to the second soprano section in my community women’s chorus last year, it was the first time I acknowledge that shift to anyone, including myself. It was a bit of an identity crisis at first, but I’ve come to embrace it.

Back in that voice class in college, my instructor called me a “chicken soprano,” and she was right. I could sing higher than I was willing to (or brave enough to) back then. Now I know I can, and I have quite often. The strange thing is, I can feel my voice changing. I started noticing this on octave leaps that would take me up to the C above middle-C, and beyond. They didn’t feel strained anymore — I just thought it, and then sang it with confidence.

My ear is much better. I have a good sense of certain notes and placement and intervals, although I couldn’t tell you what a perfect fourth or a major seventh sounded like to save my life. Those names never stuck with me. But, I can sight read pretty well, if you give me a starting point, and back in the day I had to hear it a few times before I could follow along.

So, I’m moving into my upper range, and it feels fine. But also weird. Sometimes, I can’t trust my sense of place anymore, because what feels like a G may be something else entirely now. My voice breaks are shifting, or maybe I’m just not as aware of them anymore.

This makes me feel less certain. Unbalanced. And it doesn’t help that I’m turning 37 this year.

Back to that voice class and the instructor who told me I was a chicken soprano… she also told us that women’s voices hit their peak maturity around age 37. To my 19-year-old mind, that seemed like a future so distant I couldn’t even imagine it, and now I’m here. Or nearly there.

People talk about how turning 30 wasn’t as big of a deal as turning 31. I get that. For me, as a woman and a singer, I think this 37th birthday is going to be more significant than either of those previous milestones. I’m just not sure if I’m ready for that to happen yet. Luckily, I have about six months to figure it out.

thankful for Thanksgiving

Banana boat tragedy by Robbie V
“Banana boat tragedy” by Robbie V

Next week is a two-day work week, and my schedule for those two days is almost completely wide open. This means, if all goes well, I might actually recover from being away for Charleston last week and being away two days this week for meetings. There are about 50 action items on my list, ranging from a few minutes attention to a few hours attention. And that’s just the “must deal with now” stuff. Forget doing any of my ongoing projects.

The blessing and curse of travel — you get to do cool things, see cool places, and meet cool people, but then you spend several days of work hell trying to atone for the sin of not being there.

resolutions and all that

statue reading a book at Mozart Museum in Prague
statue at Mozart Museum in Prague

I’m terrible at making and keeping resolutions. The first week or two are great, and then it starts to slip. That’s partially why I’m hesitant to articulate them, much less share them with anyone else. That being said, I have made a few promises to myself regarding things I want to work on this year. I have hopes that enough practice will eventually turn the new behaviors into old habits.

One thing I really hope to do more of, and have been working on unsuccessfully for several years now, is to set aside time to read books. And if not physically read them, at least make use of the time I spend in my car or at the gym to listen to them. I used to consume several books a week on summer breaks from school, and even kept up the habit in the working years between college and graduate school. I think it was the combination of graduate school and home internet access that broke the habit.

Last year, I chose twelve books that I planned to read. I made it through six, finished one a day into 2012, and gave up on another. Here’s the list of books read, with links to my reviews on GoodReads:

When I made the original list, it was a mix of books I’ve wanted to read but didn’t own and books that I owned and hadn’t read yet. I thought maybe the list would make me more focused, and only 12 in one year seemed doable. In fact, I read 17 books total last year, just not all of the ones I told myself I would read. About four of the books I read were ones I found in audio format at my local public library, and they were my road trip companions for the Thanksgiving and Christmas pilgrimages to Ohio.

Ultimately, what it came down to, was a mix of feeling like the list of 12 were more like school assignments and less like something I would choose to read, even though I did choose to read them and no one but myself “assigned” them. It was an interesting experiment, but this year I’ve decided to just make the time to read, and leave the material selection up to whatever I’m feeling like or have recently discovered.

Maybe all this resolution making and breaking is a good thing in the long run. Maybe it teaches me more about how my brain works and how to trick myself into making better decisions. Or maybe I just need to turn off the computer and pick up a book.