Music Makers and Shakers

Friday night, the thumping beats of “Turn Down For What” and “Talk Dirty to Me” echoed in my head. The audience was screaming, cheering, laughing, moving; the music wormed its way deep into our bones. It was the second-to-last number of the Repertory Dance Group (RDG) Fall 2014 show, and everyone was loving it. As the last song came on—“Rather Be”—and the dancers—over 100—all flooded back onto the stage for the final number, the audience roared.

The next evening, I sat in the quiet dark of the Schneebeck Concert Hall. On stage, a single violinist dressed in red coaxed music out of the strings. The soaring notes of the movements by Mozart and Rachmaninoff and Bruch and Ponce filled the hall. I didn’t close my eyes to listen; rather, I watched as the violinist, a junior, bent and wove with the notes she played.

I have no experience in music. The closest I ever got to playing an instrument was the month in elementary school we spent learning the recorder, at the end of which my music teacher did not let me perform in the class-wide recital. Because I was terrible. And this terribleness extends throughout anything related to music—I am incapable of dancing to a bit or singing along to song in tune.

Despite my inabilities, or perhaps because of, most of my friends are tied to the more musical arts in some way. Two of them play the clarinet, one of them performs in musical theatre, one has perfect pitch and plays the flute and the piano, one dances in RDG. And I get taken to every single show, from ridiculously good a cappella concerts to musicals to orchestra performances to, yes, RDG and violin recitals.

The dichotomy of the two shows that I saw over the weekend was stunning. One was in a high school theatre; the 800 seats were completely filled; the audience moved and clapped and cheered along to the music as the dancers swayed on-stage. And RDG accepts everyone who tries out—it was filled with people who danced, not because they were good, but because they wanted. The violin concert was much more sedate, with less flashing lights and thumping beats; the violinist herself was hugely talented and a major in that field; the concert hall was intently focused on simply listening to the notes she played.

I cannot make music myself: I cannot play an instrument or sing in tune or even tap my toe in time to the beat. But I can definitely appreciate it.

(Also, my friends see it as their duty to educate me.  So now I know which dances were difficult and which ones were not, and which composer focused on tone over structure—and therefore sounded better.)

(It was Rachmaninoff.)

Internship Search

This semester I decided to find myself an internship. The process was like the Odyssey, only with more paper work. As far as I know, Odysseus never had to write any cover letters. It was stressful, arduous, and time consuming but in the end I got an internship. Next semester I’ll be writing grants for the Gig Harbor History museum. It’s a fun environment with enthusiastic and dedicated people, which counts for a lot. I decided not to pursue an internship when an interviewer said to me “this job requires a thick skin which I don’t think you have.” That day I got to bike three miles there and back with a migraine to be insulted by a complete stranger. Fun. The internship process is full of little pitfalls like these which is why I’m going to share what I’ve learned. I sincerely hope it makes your life easier.

 

  1. Start early. Remember how it took Odysseus twenty years to get home? Well finding a good internship took me five different applications. Don’t expect the first opportunity to you find to pan out.
  2. Use resources like ASK Night and the Career Fair. I found my internship at the Career Fair. It was a great way to meet potential employers and see face to face who I was dealing with.
  3. Leave yourself plenty of time to get to interviews. I borrowed my roommate’s car and couldn’t figure out how her ignition worked. Previously, I had only driven a Prius, where you push a button and away you go. I sat there for a half an hour sending panicked texts and having several mini heart attacks.
  4. Be prepared for internship limbo. This is the period after you interview but you haven’t heard back yet. It’s a bit like Calypso’s Island without the sex. You sit there, not doing anything, and it drives you nuts.
  5. An interview is a two way street. When you interview with an organization you are also interviewing them. Ask questions. If it’s going to make you miserable you want to find out before you decide to work there.
  6. Celebrate. You worked hard. You deserve a treat, a little bit of your favorite something. Just don’t do the lotus eater thing.

If my advice doesn’t work out… find your own. Good luck with your search!

The Calm Waters

The semester is winding down, which means students campus-wide are preparing for final projects, tests, and papers—each worth a beefy chunk of grade percentage-points. While a few of us have already been hit by the assignments, most of the friends and peers that I’ve talked to are enjoying a brief moment of respite—the calm before the storm. At these moments when we can claim a little time for ourselves, I like to breathe the fall air and enjoy the slowness.

One afternoon, my friends and I got in the car and drove to the movie theatres, intent on making the most of the recent lull in schoolwork. But instead of going our usual way—which consists of traffic and roadwork—we decided to take an alternate route down a hill to a quiet road along the waterfront. The sky at that moment was beginning to darken and the air was beginning to chill. Yet, we decided we could take a minute to stop and enjoy the view.

The water was still. The sky was tinged by the light cast on it by the setting sun. It was receding quietly behind the horizon as the water whispered over the rocks. Some gulls flew against the deepening blue. And all was silent. If we walked out on the docks and looked down, we would have seen families of fish, crabs and plant-life being still or moving slowly, careful not to disturb the water.

We stood on the rocks, as the water flowed around us. We could step from head of rock to head of rock to get back to the car, back to warmth. But we wouldn’t yet. We would be still, like the water.

The wind spoke and sent our scarves aflutter. I pulled my beanie lower over my head, watched the warm air of my breath materialize and rise away, and settled in for another minute outside.

We took two.

The Calm Waters

Fall or Winter?

The first of November has came and gone, where has the time gone?! We have a mere 5 weeks of awesomeness left in this semester! And this change couldn’t be better acknowledged by the insane weather we’ve been having in Tacoma this week! On Sunday my weather forecast, which is highly inaccurate most of the time but isn’t most weather apps?, predicted SNOW on Thursday! I was jumping in my boots! Until I realized the many times last year my weather app predicted snow for naught, and my excitement tempered. I mean, c’mon what’s the likeliness we were actually going to get snow this early in the year? Highly unlikely as it turns out, no snow this past Thursday sadly.

What makes the prediction of snow all the more ironic is the rest of the week was predicted to be completely sunny. No clouds, clear blue skies, sun rays beaming down upon us and cool temperatures of 30-40 degrees! How did I to manage to enjoy the warmth of the sun if the brisk cold winds and temperature was an average of 34 degrees all day you might ask?! Clue: I wasn’t. I had to break out my down jacket and layer up, no slippers anymore unless I wanted my toes to freeze up.

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But the most surprising thing about this drop in weather is the wind! These Pacific Northwest winds are vicious! On Tuesday night the winds ravaged Tacoma, knocking the power out that the emergency generators came on (twice!), blowing the shingles off the nearby hospital and dropping branches bigger than myself on the ground. I have the rosy red windburn cheeks to prove its ferocity! But I’m loving this weather change, the cool temperatures (polar vortex again?), the possibility of snow this winter, the warmth of the November sun, clear views of Mount Rainier and breaking out my boots and sweater layers more often. I don’t know if this unusual weather can be classified as fall or winter precisely but it’s Tacoma weather and I love it all the same.

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So Many Days

In which Daniel attends an absurd and beautiful play, and contemplates the nature of narrative.

The poster advertising the Theater Department's production of Lori-Park's "265 Days/365 Plays".

The poster advertising the Theater Department’s production of Lori-Park’s “265 Days/365 Plays”.

Every day from November 13th, 2002 to November 12th, 2003, award winning American playwright and screen writer Suzan Lori Parks (b. 1963) wrote a play.  Some were as small as a single line, others as long as two pages, but all were compiled into a book entitled 365 Days/365 Plays, forming a cabaret of absurdist narratives linked together by a seemingly random combination of themes such as war, dancing ants, racial injustice, sou’westers, and history.  The Theater Department of the University of Puget Sound selected only 30 of these plays to be performed, and hoping to draw connections between the ridiculous but socially critical group of theatrical works and the genre of Domestic Fabulism, my Magical Realism professor Suzanne Warren decided that my class would read them before attending the play together.

At first glance, the plays seem random and somewhat unconvincingly bizarre.  They are permeated with references to American history, myth, and monsters.  Many of the stage directions are difficult or else impossible – demanding actions to be repeated into eternity – while facts about characters are given in places outside the dialogue, so that the audience will never hear them.  Yet if taken with a grain of salt, the scripts can be a fascinating combination of character study, narrative examination and playwright practice, and the plays performed can be an amazing, albeit unconventional, discussion of identity, love, distance and time.

I was not surprised by the high level of acting of the university’s theater department, nor by the clever use of minimal staging and simple but powerful sets, but as a musician, one of the most fascinating aspects was the play’s use of music.  It is strewn throughout the play at unexpected times, using Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 to musically narrate a flight attendant repeatedly performing a silent announcement of flight safety like a dance, and using avant-garde jazz and Beethoven pieces to musically pit modernity against tradition.  Toward the end of the play, a character tries to comfort another by bursting into an unexpected but beautiful song, and ambient music opens and closes the show as unrelated characters bustle about their busy lives.

If there were to be one aspect of Park’s plays, and the university’s production of them, that I enjoyed the most, it would be the absurd optimism permeating both.  In one of Park’s plays – one that the university did not perform – a fallen starlet of questionable sanity speaks to her sane companion, who is attempting to comfort her as they watch the starlight on the sea.  “What if I don’t get to be the person that I want?” she asks.  He replies, “Then you’ll be someone else.”  I believe that there’s a great deal to be said for a work that can examine so many aspects of life, with such a combination of ridiculous humor and sincere compassion.  So a hand to the university’s Theater Department, and I can only hope that my English class continues to deliver such deliciously absurd literature.

When the strong winds come

Because I came to University of Puget Sound.  Because I joined the sailing team, and because the Northwest college sailing conference scheduled its fall Eugene regatta for this weekend.  Because sometimes life works out this way, I was there, singing to my grandma with a small chorus of other family members.    I won’t question it too much; I guess you could say it was meant to be.

The rain was thrashing down and pooling on I-5 on our way down.  I was in a car with four people I’d scarcely exchanged words with, nodding off to the pounding of weather and windshield wipers and cars.  We got to the house we were staying at, the home of one of the U of O sailors, later than I thought we would and crashed with our ten other teammates in his living room, one person taking a sleeping pad to the kitchen once every nook and cranny of floor space was already full.

A few hours of fitful sleep later, we we were driving past the glassy water of the Fern Ridge Reservoir.  When the wind picked up later it would get a “churned mud” look about it, but with the morning pinks and blues reflecting off its perfectly calm surface, the reservoir was beautiful.

In Spanish we’ve been reading sonnets about the passage of time and the decline of beauty, in which roses are doomed to die by icy winds at the coming of winter.  These icy winds have been playing around campus lately, knocking branches off trees, sculpting icicles that hang off of Jones fountain.  The winds were knocking down branches in Eugene that day, freaking out my mom’s friend Cathy as she drove along a country highway to come pick me up.

The winds came to the reservoir, gusting, powerful but not icy, turning the glassy reservoir into a cauldron of waves lining up to crash against the dam at the far end.  Ellen, my fresh-into-college crew, stayed impressively calm as a gust took us far from the start line, and helped me tack over so we could make our way back on a reach.

There are winds that bear me up, and winds that knock me down, and that day the winds knocked our boat right over, a puff hitting us as we turned downwind.  I stood on the centerboard, pulling, trying to leverage my weight against the inevitable motion, but the boat kept flipping a full 180 degrees and I was forced to fall back in the water.  We righted the boat and climbed back in, but as I was contemplating whether to try and race, the other  boats headed for the dock; the wind was too dangerous to continue.

Cathy and my sisters were there when we got back to the dock, Ellen and I proud to have made it out alive, but ashamed of the mud stain left on the sail from its encounter with the bottom of the lake.

When I was in Chile, I learned about an old rural tradition (I don’t know if it’s still practiced) in which infants that die are dressed as “angelitos,” “little angels,” complete with little feathery wings attached to the backs of their clothing.  As it was told to me, friends and family are not supposed to cry, lest their tears weigh down the wings of the angels.  Instead, they sing, and the baby’s soul flies up to heaven.

Cathy and my sisters took me to my grandma’s house, and we sang to her, barely holding on to life, perhaps entirely unconscious, her soul readying itself for flight.  We sang old Irish and German folk songs and hymns, and laughed until we cried as my mom sang in her munchkin voice a few lines from “Wizard of Oz.”  My cousin played his fiddle.  We said goodbye.  We weren’t afraid to cry, but hoped that the wind of our breath as we sang would buoy my grandma up when she was ready to depart.

The next morning I was back at the yacht club, where the golden sunshine and light breeze signaled a day of easy, casual sailing.  I was thinking about endings, about the beauty of the “last time,” and how there will be so many “lasts” this year, as I say goodbye to a particular kind of life and embark on a new one.  I look forward to the annual traditions that I have taken part in and will take part in just once more, but I know that woven into the fabric of traditions and plans I have for this year are entirely new moments, unexpected and memorable.  Singing goodbye to my grandma.  That golden light across the water.  Remembering what a beautiful and strong heritage I have, and what a loving family I have to share it with.

Asuncíon

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The warm, tropical climate and promise of a hotel with a pool made our arrival here in Paraguay feel like a long awaited vacation. This trip has come at a very fitting time; since in the last few days in Argentina, I had begun to feel a bit homesick. But this hazy city of Asuncion is immensely different from the bustling urban hub that is Buenos Aires. It seems calmer here. Nestled next to the looming pink government buildings are wooden shacks with nails for bones to hold them up against the brewing afternoon storm (short term housing solutions for thousands of Paraguayans who were recently displaced by a flood).

so many things

I.

It’s been too long since I’ve written. To soak in this culture and this language is exhausting and I end each day feeling both utterly full and completely drained. But it is wonderful. The train wails by my house throughout the night and winter thunderstorms rattle the wooden blinds and I lie waiting to dream in the soft tones of Spanish. More things have happened in these last few weeks than I will ever be able to capture in this post, like visits to famous memorials, the mystifying show Fuerza Bruta (where by the end I was soaked with water and my hair was full of confetti), sunny Saturday morning runs through the vast park complex right by my house. But here are a few things.

II.

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Malba, a modern art museum is currently featuring the art of Le Parc Lumiere, whose works are all moving lights and mirrors. In the spacious and gaping dark rooms, we became fragments of pulsing light, reflections in hundreds of mirrors. Shadows.

III.

Since being here, I have taken the wrong bus twice. I have taken the correct bus once, but in the wrong direction and I didn’t realize until the bus reached the last stop and I was asked to get off. I wandered lost and confused for a while around an area that I later learned was Barrio Chino (Chinatown in Buenos Aires). I was half an hour late for class that day. Once, I gave a cab driver vague direction and ended up having to redirect him after he took me to “la catedral” subway station instead of “la catedral” tango club on Sarmiento street (not to be mistaken as Sarmiento Av. which is entirely different from just Sarmiento). Needless to say, I’ve figured a few things out since then.

IV.

Aprender a seguir. (learning to follow)

Tango. The dance of Argentina is sensual, but never sexy. It is rigid and fluid, and breathtaking to behold. We fell into it carelessly at first: Stepping boldly as if confidence could mask my clumsy ignorance. It was easy to memorize the basic step, and easy to feel the beat. So I was surprised when, an hour into the lesson, the instructor approached me to say that I was doing it all wrong. In Spanish, she stopped me and told me that I was leading and to try again. As soon as she said it I felt stupid. It’s exactly the kind of mistake that I would make.

A few moments later, my new partner was an older Argentine man. He was thin, and obviously well practiced at Tango. When I heard the beat come around to take the first step, I had to fight the urge to step forward and begin. Instead, I took a breath and waited. Follow. Why is this the hardest part? To let go of the grip of the steps, to not move my legs and body but rather let them be moved. Surrendering to the dance and the small Argentine stranger was like one long exhale.

He danced slowly, with small careful steps, and without looking I could feel where to step. It took a moment, and there were a few misguided steps on my part. But each time I did, he would hold still and wait for me to stop, take a breath, and ease back in to following his movements. And in an instant, I was doing something new. He glided me around the dance floor slowly and I felt like I was in some sort of trance. Like I wasn’t really touching the floor, like my feet were not my own. I realized we were doing Tango steps that I hadn’t even learned.

My reverie was broken when the old man smiled and told me that I was doing very well. I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t doing anything. Because the truth was it felt like I wasn’t. For the first time I wasn’t doing anything and somehow it was easier.

V.

Tonight we leave for Paraguay!

Arrival in Buenos Aires

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When the plane touched down in Buenos Aires after 9 hours in the air, we descend through a gray cloud, and for a moment I felt like I was just flying back to rainy Tacoma for another semester. But aside from the cold day, this place is not like Tacoma. It has the tall buildings of New York, and the wide and winding streets of Paris. The best steak and pizza and helado and empanadas and wine.

There are 12 of us here who will take classes together. Living in Palermo, popular destination and extremely nice part of the city. It is nestled by a huge park complex with Japanese botanic gardens, a zoo, lakes, a shopping and bar zone (called Soho), and dining zone (called Hollywood).

For the next four months a woman named Maria Labat will be my host mother. Mario, her husband will be my host father, though he is away this first night. Their three grown children no longer live with them, and the apartment where Maria lives is somewhat old fashioned in a quaint, adorable, and very homey way. But even though Labat apartment is empty of children, the apartment complex itself is full of family. Maria’s sister lives in the building next door, and there are several cousins ranging from 19-23 who live in other floors of the apartment. I met Maria’s sister and one niece tonight, who were both eager to meet me. The niece is a small, pretty, dark haired woman who is an assistant teacher for kindergarten and she speaks English.

It is strange and incredibly lucky that in this vast city Arianne now lives just two minutes from the Labat apartment where I now live. (My good friend Audra will hopefully be close as well) It has been four years since Arianne and I attended school together, and now we have four months to live and study as neighbors. I already can’t wait till this beautiful place feels like home. Cheers to old friends and new experiences.

surfing in Jacó

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When Daniel, Kevin, Arianne and I hopped on the bus that drove us for two hours to the nearest beach from San Jose, we were not expecting to learn how to surf. But for just $35, our hotel offered a two hour all inclusive surfing lesson the morning after our stay.

It has been years since I have been on a sandy, warm beach, and I had forgotten just how much I love the warm waves and feeling of sand so hot that it almost burns. Expecting to humiliate myself, I was standing on the board in just four tries and spent the rest of the two hours gliding with waves into the shore.

But all grand adventures must come to an end. Our short time in Costa Rica was only a taste of something sweet, but we are off for a bigger adventure. Buenos Aires!!!