Monday, March 30, 2015

First Day of Classes: Spring Edition

Today was the first day of spring term.  I had two classes today: my Ooligan Press class* and a fiction writing class.

I was a little bit tired today - I tried to make the last bit of spring break stretch out by staying up late last night.  I had a good break, though!  Here are some fun things that I did:

1)  Went up to Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., hanging out with my brother Ben.  We ate at some great restaurants and came up with so many Doctor Who jokes!!**

2)  Hung out with Dad a bunch, having dinner, going for walks, and so forth.  Always a nice, relaxing time.

3)  Had lunch with Aunt D and Aunt M, who I haven't seen in a while.  That was a lot of fun.

4)  Started watching Merlin on Netflix.  Creative, decently written, well acted, horrible special effects - lots of fun.

5)  Helped stuff plastic Easter eggs for church Easter egg hunt and met some more people from church.  We had a potluck.  I took my famous chocolate chip cookies; I was very popular.

6)  Practiced guitar, when I wasn't in Seattle.  I had mentioned the Sibelius concerts to my teachers, who gave me a copy of Finlandia for beginning guitar.

7)  Started building a fun 1000-pieces puzzle.  I don't do puzzles very often, and haven't in years, but I was at Barnes and Noble and the puzzle is a painting of a library (a huge, gorgeous library that spans room upon room in some sort of castle-type place) with a family, a few fairies, and a bunch of cats.  I bought it because I looked and looked at it and kept finding new things I hadn't seen before.  Plus the library was beautiful.  I'll take a photo when I'm finished!

Whew!  Quite the spring break, and those are just the highlights!

Today was a busy day.  I got to campus early so I could go find one of my classrooms - it's a building I'm unfamiliar with.  I went and found it, then timed the walk from there to my other class of the day, because I have them back-to-back with only 10 minutes to get from one to the other, and they're in different buildings.

I attended both classes, but I left the second on a littler early because I had to meet Dad to drive up to Olympia.

Why?  Oh, nothing.  Just attending a chamber concert at the governor's mansion, that's all.  No big deal.

Wait, what?!  Rachel, did you say the governor's mansion?  Yep.  I did!

See, Ben was playing in one of the pieces (by Bartok, Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano, originally commissioned by Benny Goodman), so we got to go!

It was pretty cool - before the concert, there was free wine and punch and nuts, and we got to wander around the first floor of the house.  It's basically a museum / art gallery, so it was really neat.  There's a small library with bunches of antique books.  They had one of the guest registries on display, open to a page signed by President Truman in 1945.  The walls were full of paintings, and one room had a four-wall mural.  Pretty great.

The concert itself was very nice.  It was Hungarian-themed, featuring a piece by Brahms based on a piece by Haydn for two pianos (played by Hungarians), two pieces by Liszt for piano, and the Bartok.  The third movement of the Bartok has a couple short series of high clarinet notes that really pop.

So that was my spring break, and that was my day.  Starting tomorrow, being back in school will feel like a vacation!

*Ooligan Press is the graduate-run publishing house here at PSU.  The graduation publishing students run this actual working press with guidance from the publishing program faculty.  Taking the studio and/or lab class allows you to get credit working on the press (and completing some academic work, of course).

**Knock knock.  (Who's there?)  Run.  (Run who?)  Run, you clever boy, and remember.
Knock knock. (Who's there?)  Hey.  (Hey who?)  Hey, who turned out the lights?!
Knock knock.  (Who's there?)  Missy.  (Missy who?)  Try to keep up...

Friday, March 27, 2015

Clarinets and Nerdy Jokes

How did I start my spring break?  By visiting my brother in Seattle.

I took the train up on Saturday night.  Provided you get a decent price on the tickets, it's cheaper than driving, and a lot easier - I usually read on the trip, and you certainly can't do that behind the wheel.

So I got up to Seattle and Ben picked me up at the train station.  The next day I went to a Seattle Symphony matinee concert - they're doing a series of Sibelius concerts, and this was week two - symphonies 3 and 4, and the violin concerto.  It was really good - I've decided I like Sibelius.*

The next day we went up to Canada to visit Backun Musical Services.  Ben got his new gold Cocobolo MoBa clarinets from them, so we went up to get some fine-tuning work done on them.  Due to a Facebook exchange, I took Morrie Backun a piece of chocolate cake from Seattle's Metropolitan Grill.**

Much playing, tweaking, and story-telling ensued.  Then I got a tour of the factory, which was really, really cool - how often do you get to tour a place that makes musical instruments?  It was fun.

Ben and I also had fun on our own.  The night before visiting Backun, we stayed up very late inventing Doctor Who jokes.^  Some of them are pretty corny, of course, but we're pleased with the results overall.  They're mostly knock knock jokes (how it all started), but we did make up a couple others.  Good times.

Anyway, that's mostly what we did during my visit - clarinet stuff and Doctor Who jokes.  What more can you want?

*Even if the 4th symphony does end rather abruptly.
**I think we're best friends now.  ;)
^Knock Knock.  (Who's there?)  River.  (River who?)  Spoilers...

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Fun

Winter term is over!!!!

To celebrate, I have a little treat for you all.

Back in 2011, I got to experience an altitude chamber.  We donned helmets with masks for oxygen, and went up to a simulated altitude of 25,000 feet.  Then we did some exercises.

I remember doing a color exercise - we looked at a placard with different colors on it with the lights on and off, and with our masks on and off.  Turns out when your brain is oxygen deprived, your eyes don't work the same, and the colors completely changed.

Next, they had us remove our masks and try to fill out a worksheet.  I kept mine, and have scanned it below, for your amusement.  I remember filling out the top portion of the left-hand side of the sheet, then doing the easy ones on the right-hand side, then I went back to the bottom left and...well, you can see how the hypoxia was affecting me.  :)


I'm happy to say that shortly after writing "shakey hands" as the answer to 'What's your answer plus our present altitude', I took the appropriate corrective action and gangloaded my regulator and re-donned my mask to get oxygen.  :)

Oh, look!  A bonus!* (We did not do this particular exercise when I went.)

*Some of it's a bit loud (followed by a few seconds of silence), so watch your ears.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Siege Mode Blog

It might be the livest dead week I've ever experienced.

Clara holding the TARDIS in siege mode.

I turned in one research paper on Monday, but here's the timeline for what I've got left:

Due tomorrow: A survey for my research paper.
Due Friday: A 7-page comparison paper.
For Saturday: I'm out of town all day.
Due Monday: A 12-15 page research paper.
Due Tuesday: A fancy portfolio and short presentation (both group work).


Like the TARDIS in siege mode, I feel like my world is shrinking down and cramming itself into a small, dense cube that defies space-time parameters as we know them.

Actually, the siege mode TARDIS is an interesting thing.  Already damaged, it's pretty much helpless  at this point- the Doctor (stuck inside) has no power to restore the TARDIS to its normal functionality, to say nothing of size and shape, and even if he did, he has no way of determining when it is safe to do so.  He also can't help at all, except by relaying a few words of encouragement - and doom - to Clara through the failing communications system.*

So think of it this way: My schedule over the next seven days is basically the siege mode TARDIS - a tidy, cool-looking, trapped, stressful cube decorated in undecipherable writing.  I'm obviously Clara, the one who has to figure out how to save the day despite all the odds.

Doctor Who: Metaphors for life.

*This is from the season 8 episode Flatline, which was awesome.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Baby Step to Spring Break

Spring break is almost upon us, ladies and gentlemen.  I have one research paper down and one to go; I have a comparison paper still to write; I have a portfolio to assemble and a presentation to give for a group project.  And that, my friends, is all that is standing between me and the ability to take full advantage of the ridiculous early spring weather we have been having here in the Willamette Valley.

Meanwhile, it's one of those truly rare, startling evenings when you're thinking it would be a great idea to go get some really unhealthy, bad fast food, like a double cheeseburger with fries and a chocolate milkshake at McDonald's.


I'm not actually going to do that, but it's tempting.

I don't have any plans for Spring break yet.  I'm sure I'll be hanging out with family and friends, but I don't know when and I don't know where.  I think a trip to the coast might be in order, and perhaps the Columbia River Gorge, as well.  Hopefully I can get up to Seattle to visit my brother, too.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

And I'm Stuck Inside?!

So the weather has been fantastic around here lately.  Naturally, I'm in the middle of doing research and writing final papers for classes and can't just wander around outside all day.  But I've still been enjoying myself.

Yesterday I had a couple of appointments.  I took copies of my book over to church for the bookstore.  Publishing through CreateSpace, by the way, is pretty great in that they just act like a printer - if you order copies of your own book, you can then do whatever you want with them.  Very nice.

After that, I headed downtown to campus.  I had to take my course certification sheet to an adviser to sign off on for GI Bill purposes.  I got there a bit early and was wandering around in the little convenience store in one of the buildings, looking at the overpriced school supplies and checking to see if they had anything unique in the candy aisle.  They did - a stracciatella Lindor truffle.  What?!  I've never seen one of those before, and I love stracciatella gelato, so I got one.  It was good (although white chocolate is not typically my thing), but I don't know that I'd bother with it again.  I think the dark and milk chocolate are better, and it was a bit strange to have a Lindor truffle with crunch to it.

Anyway!  I got the adviser's signature.  I stepped out into the sunlight and thought, "it's such a beautiful day, I should walk around and explore.  Or go to Powell's."  I really did think about it.  But I have so much work to do this weekend, so I was a good little student and took the bus back home.  But I did make plans on the way to practice guitar before getting to work, and to open all my windows, both of which I did.  I also ended up going for a walk later, which was really nice.

Before I went to bed last night, I edited another middle grade book for Ashberry Lane.  I loved it so much!  Next Wednesday Review I'll be reviewing Picture Imperfect, and then I think I'll review this new one after its release.

And now it's back to work.  Gotta finish that research paper for Monday and draw up a survey for my other research paper due the following week.  And what's the weather like today?  Beautiful, of course.  I'll definitely be taking a break later to go for a walk.

Oh!  And my hands are finally recovering from last Saturday!  Yay!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Wednesday Review: Travesty

So I've procrastinated this blog post.  I wasn't ever going to give negative reviews on my blog.  Because I'm not a critic by trade, I didn't see any reason to be negative - much nicer to just present things that I like.  But then I took a Theater Appreciation class and we went to see a local production of Precious Little, by Madeleine George.

Now, our class has seen a couple other plays I didn't enjoy, but whatever - not a critic.  But this one made me mad.  I cannot in good conscience say nothing.


Precious Little is the story of Brodie, a linguistics professor.  Brodie is a lesbian, and has decided, at age 42, that she wants to have a baby.  The play opens with her already pregnant, and after a brief scene involving a gorilla at the zoo (who we revisit at various times throughout the play), we find Brodie talking to a young counselor (Rhiannon) about getting an amniocentesis test to check the baby for genetic disorders.

As the play progresses, we learn that Brodie is dating one of her graduate students (which is not actually forbidden in the faculty handbook, just discouraged).  She is also beginning to record an elderly lady who is a native speaker of a quickly-dying language.  When Brodie finds out there is a chance her baby may be mentally impaired, she wrestles with the decision of whether or not to abort. The ending of the play is abstract - a one-sided conversation with the gorilla at the zoo - but strongly implies that she does decide to abort the baby.

My Review:

Brace yourselves, because this is going to be long and blunt.

Production-wise, it was well done.  The actors all did a good job, the set design was effective.  Sound and lighting went off with only one minor hitch.  Costumes were good.  I'd give it a 4 for production value.  The play itself, on the other hand...

One of the problems with this play is that it's actually pretty well-written.  I mean the dialogue is, for the most part, good.  The story is engaging.  The characters are consistent.  The problem is the content and the way it's presented.

The play is billed as being about language and how we communicate.  The description on Amazon ends by stating that it "reveals the beauty and the limits of the human language."  Portland's Defunkt Theater, where we saw it, quotes the playwright herself as saying that it is "about the limits but also the luxuries of language, about what we cherish about our uniquely human capacity for language as well as what it costs us to communicate in this way."

Well, I have no problem with a play about language.  And I enjoyed the scenes wherein Brodie was recording the elderly woman - it reminded me of some of my brother's early linguistic projects.

But that is NOT what this play is about.

My first clue was when the man introducing the play mentioned Planned Parenthood as one of the sponsors, and said representatives would be there at a later performance for a 'talk back' after the show.  Combined with what little I knew about the play already, the red flags went up.  I figured I was about to see a pro-abortion story, and I was right.  Although I myself am pro-life, I'll admit I wasn't too terribly worried; I hear the pro-abortion message all the time.  It's everywhere.  I felt prepared for that.  What I was not prepared for was the anti-disabled people through-line.

So there's this gorilla at the zoo.  It's advertised as the talking gorilla - supposedly it has a limited vocabulary and can 'communicate' through that handful of words.  We see the gorilla (played by an actor) at the zoo.  It's in a cage.  It doesn't actually know language - it only associates those few words with light-up symbols in its cage, and it can't actually communicate.  If you press the word 'jump', a shape is supposed to light up, which the gorilla recognizes as a command to jump.  Theoretically, the gorilla will do so.  Only it doesn't.

Throughout the play, any time we see the gorilla, it is unresponsive to the stimuli.  We see it through a haze of chatter - children, parents, teenagers - everyone at the zoo passing by trying to get the gorilla to jump through hoops for them.  The gorilla is clearly not into it.  It is trapped and tortured by people asking it to do what it is unable to understand.  Guess who the gorilla in the zoo symbolizes?  Yeah.  The mentally disabled.  That becomes pretty clear as the play goes on.

Getting mad yet?

Let's move on.  Let's go back to Rhiannon, the young counselor.  She's new, just finishing her training.  She's a little too exuberant - she's painted immature.  She's also portrayed as insensitive and prejudiced, just a little too startled when she learns that Brodie is a lesbian.  It's all fairly subtle (as I said, the play is more or less well-written - what a shame), but it's definitely there.  She's ditsy.  She appears to talk down to Brodie when explaining medical things.  She's also unprofessional - she tells Brodie the gender of the baby when she's not supposed to unless the patient asks.  She's also the only person in the entire play to suggest alternatives to abortion.  Coincidence?

Here's another thing that's disturbing: Upon learning the gender of the baby, Brodie begins to think of her as a 'child' rather than a 'fetus'.  This is primarily why she struggles with the idea of aborting the baby.  In the end, she decides to abort (again, this is implied abstractly, but it's pretty clear), and the suggestion is that this is totally ok.  Even if you consider the baby to be an actual human.  So abortion is fine whether you maintain that the unborn baby is just a 'thing', or acknowledge that these are, in fact, actual children.

Here's another one: The old lady being recorded speaking the dying language.  Brodie makes a lovely case for preserving the language - think what we can learn from it! - in the worst-written segment of dialogue in the play.  She gets a little carried away.  The woman's daughter is concerned for her mother's well-being, trying to make sure she doesn't over-tax herself, etc.  In the end, speaking this language for the first time in decades brings up a whole bunch of childhood memories, some good and some bad.  Apparently the bad outweigh the good - or at least the daughter thinks so.  She won't be bringing her mother back for any more recording sessions, and makes the argument that some things aren't meant to be, and that maybe some things are meant to die out.  I hope I don't need to point out the implications (especially for disabled people, since this is the whole reason Brodie is thinking of getting an abortion in the first place) at this point.

By the way, not that it really matters in the face of all that, but Brodie doesn't even know if the baby will actually be disabled.  She may not be.  And if she is, there is no way of telling how much - could be super mild, could be severe.  But why take the risk, right?  The implication is that if there's even a chance your baby could be disabled, abortion is an appropriate course of action.  No wonder it's the assumed path if you know your child will be disabled.

There is one moment in the play, where the balance seems to be tipping in the baby's favor.  Brodie is thinking of her as a her - as a child.  Her girlfriend is trying to 'talk sense' into her, to convince her to go through with the abortion.  The girlfriend actually sounds cold and selfish.  Brodie reacts against that and breaks up with her (don't worry - she's still welcome to help transcribe those recordings...).  Ironically, this only strengthens the argument for abortion - it allows the playwright to paint Brodie, the one actually making the decision, as a compassionate, selfless woman (in comarison, you see?).  Through her, everyone is able to feel justified and good about themselves when making a similar decision.

Finally, the play ends with the suggestion that Brodie will abort.  She reveals this through a 'conversation' with the gorilla at the zoo.  She is at peace with her decision, and the ending note of the play is hopeful, suggesting that this is the correct and most humane course of action for both the baby and her.  The play ends with the conversation.  We never see the aftermath.  We never see whether Brodie ever regrets that decision.  And we certainly never see the child's denied life.  All we see is the hope and peace of a good decision.  How convenient.

So.  Here we have a play.  It's deceptive, presenting itself as being about language when it's really about how abortion is a good idea for (potentially) disabled babies.  It's manipulative, creating abstract symbols (the gorilla and the old woman) and caricatures (Rhiannon) that set the audience up to sympathize with a woman having an abortion because, heaven forbid, the child might never learn to speak.  And it's insulting, comparing mentally disabled people with animals.

Needless to say, I found it repulsive and offensive and disgusting and horrifying.  What on earth are we doing?

I'm not even going to give this a rating.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Awesome Writing Nerd Weekend

I cannot believe this weekend, the awesomeness of which has seeped into my Monday (and who doesn't want a better Monday?).

Here's what happened, and I'm so excited about it, I'm going to present it in a list (you know I love lists...):

1.  On Saturday I attended Oregon Christian Writers' One-Day Winter Conference.*  I will write more details about this on my other blog; suffice it to say, it was a fantastic day.  It looked for a moment like it might not be so great: I made it to campus early** and got lost, found the building and had to park kind of far away, walked in and discovered I had the wrong building, patiently waited for my phone to load my email so I could get the correct building information, kept missing my turns to that building (that campus is smaller than it looks on the map), and had to park far away when I finally found it.  So I ended up being late.  Which I hate.

I was even later taking my seat, due to getting my books into the conference bookstore - I missed all the opening stuff and got to a seat in the auditorium just after the keynote speaker, Dr. Bill Giovannetti, started speaking.  But his two presentations/speeches/keynote addresses were wonderful.  They were fun, encouraging, inspiring, and focused on God.  Perfect.

The workshops after lunch were really good (especially the poetry as prayer workshop by Colette Tennant), and I got to hang out with a woman I met at the fall one-day conference, the publishers I edit for, and one of the authors (Susan Maas), whose book^ I edited and loved.  And purchased at the conference bookstore.  And told at least ten other people that they should buy it, as well, which was the truth.

I myself sold three copies of my book, which I think is pretty phenomenal.

Click to order!

2.  I had a great day at church yesterday.  The sermon was very interesting, I finally got a copy of my book into the hands of the lady who runs the church library/bookstore (trying to see if I could donate a copy to the library), and spent almost three hours with the young adult group.  The only downside to Sunday was that my hands were still bothering me from all the note-taking and book-carrying I did on Saturday, so about ten minutes into practicing guitar I had to call it quits.  But the weather was beautiful and I went for a nice walk.

3.  Today my mock publishing company (for a class) met up to go over a few things before turning in our draft marketing plans, profit and loss worksheets, and cover designs for our two mock books.  I feel like we got some good work done.  We figured out things we need to ask the professor about, broke down what needs to be done between now and finals week, and so forth.  Feeling cautiously optimistic about our mock company.

To top it all off, I got home to an email from Lori, the library/bookstore manager at church.  They want to sell my book!  I cannot tell you how extremely happy that makes me.  Even if it only sells a few copies, and I'm hopeful it will sell several, it has the church's stamp of approval, which is really lovely.

So, yeah.  I'm feeling pretty good right about now.  And I made a taco for lunch, and who doesn't like that?

*The next one will be in the Spring.

**The conference was held at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, OR.

^Picture Imperfect, a fantastic middle grade book.