I participated in my first Battle Decks competition at ER&L this year. I almost did last year, and a friend encouraged me to put my name in the hat this year, so I did.
I was somewhat surprisingly not nervous as I waited for my name to be chosen to present next (the order was random — names drawn from a bag). Rather, I was anxiously waiting for my turn, because I knew I could pull it off, and well.
This confidence is not some arrogance I carry with me all the time. I’ve got spades of impostor syndrome when it comes to conference presentations and the like. Battle Decks, however, is not a presentation on a topic I’m supposed to know more about but secretly suspect I know less about than the audience. They are more in the dark than I am, and my job isn’t to inform so much as to entertain.
Improv — I can do that. I spent a few seasons with the improv troupe in college, and while I was certainly not remarkable or talented, I did learn a lot about “yes, and”. My “yes, and” with the Battle Decks was the slides — no matter what came up, I took it and connected it back to the topic and vice-versa.
There was one slide that came up that was dense with text or imagery or something that just couldn’t register in the split second I looked at it. I turned back to the audience and found I had nothing to say, so I looked at it again, and then made an apology, stating that my assistant had put together the slide deck and I wasn’t sure what this one was supposed to be about. It brought the laughs and on I went.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jesse Koennecke for organizing the event, as well as Bonnie Tijerina, Elizabeth Winters, and Carmen Mitchell for judging the event. And, of course, thanks also to April Hathcock for sharing the win with me.
I’ve had lot more time on my hands over the past few days than I usually do. The University is closed, and I’ve been on a paid holiday since last week. I returned from visiting family on Saturday, and since then my time has pretty much been my own. This has involved mid-day naps, lounging in pajamas, and reading.
Normally, I don’t have much in the way of true leisure time, in part because I don’t allow it. On the occasions when I have found myself with “nothing to do,” I quickly get stir-crazy and regret not planning something in advance. I worried that might happen this week, but I had plenty of house projects if I felt inclined to tackle them, so I knew I’d be okay. What has surprised me, however, is how I was able to slip into a mode of relaxation I haven’t be in for a long time.
A big part of that has been trying desperately to at least get to half my 2013 reading goal before midnight last night. 2012 was a good year for me and books — I read 27 that year, starting at a goal of 25, so I figured I could make the goal of 30 this year. I didn’t anticipate eventually taking on music director responsibilities at WRIR in late spring, a job that consumes most of what remained of my downtime. As of last week, I had read only 11 books in 2013. The time off over the past few days coupled with a road trip (yay audiobooks!) helped me cover the ground and hit 15 in time. You can see what a motley crew they were on my GoodReads page.
I prefer to read my fiction cover to cover in one sitting, unless it takes more than four hours. I’m a pretty fast reader, doing about a hundred pages an hour of your typical mass market paperback, so four hours or more makes for a long book. I prefer to read my non-fiction in audiobook format, where stops and starts don’t interrupt the narrative too much, and having someone talk at me makes me pay better attention to the words. Given those conditions, and the types of nonfiction and fiction I prefer, it’s not always very easy for me to find something I’m interested in at the moment, and far too easy to choose a podcast or a project instead of reading. I’m not making excuses — I’m just working to understand myself better so I know how I can “trick” myself into making the time and space for books.
But why? What’s so important about reading? Funny thing for a librarian to ask, don’t you think?
Reading books was a huge part of my identity as a kid. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my bed, propped up on my elbows, mind far away in the story in front of me. Relations with my younger sister were tense after years of yelling at her to leave me alone when she would come in my room, looking for a playmate. Even then, I didn’t like to interrupt the story. We’re friends now, and ironically, she’s more of a reader than I these days (she read 80 in 2013, with an original goal of 75).
I distinctly remember when I stopped craving books and reading regularly. It was the year I went to graduate school for my MLIS. The coursework demanded so much reading, and I was taking four classes a semester instead of the usual three course full load, that after a while, I took more pleasure in not reading a book, using my time for other leisure activities. I recognized this shift a long time ago, but the new hobbies and interests didn’t go away, either, so I’ve struggled to make time for both.
I’ve winnowed down my book collection regularly over the years. I still acquire new ones, particularly hardcovers I plan to keep forever, but the discount books and mass market paperbacks I picked up over the years because they looked interesting have had to survive several severe weeding projects to remain on my shelves. And so many of them remain unread. At times it feels like a weight around my neck, dragging me down. At other times, it’s so overwhelming that I can’t choose what to read from among them, so I keep whittling it down, becoming more selective, and also having fewer to pack with each house move.
Books still remain important to me. Stories rattle around in my mind long after I have finished reading them. I don’t need their escape as much as I did as a kid, thankfully. But, I do appreciate the mind-expanding properties they offer.
So, I continue to set annual reading goals, striving to meet them, and struggling to not feel like I’ve failed when I don’t. The last thing I want to do is to turn this into a chore or assignment, which is what turned me off from reading all the time in the first place.
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.
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.
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.