February 23, 2013




I do have some excuse for being a little frantic.**  It’s nine p.m. and I’m finally eating lunch.  It’s been that kind of a day.  A whimper kind of day.***  Fortunately I turned over a new leaf recently and began to take breakfast seriously.  Heretofore—well, menopausal no-metabolism heretofore:  there are photos of me eating breakfast in the garden at the old house† but that was a long time ago in many ways, including metabolic—I have felt that an apple and sixteen cups of tea was adequate.  But advancing age and/or (advancing) ME deem otherwise: protein, they spoke in one voice.  And a very interesting time I’ve had hacking out sufficient calories from the rest of my minimal-ingestion day to permit frelling protein before noon.  However I have to admit that the new system makes the double-hurtle requirement presently in force†† a good deal more likely not to kill me.

The GUARDIAN tweeted this today:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/feb/22/breakfast-characters-james-bond?CMP=twt_fd  †††

My characters have tended to the caffeinated beverage and breadlike substance breakfasts—Maggie in SHADOWS drinks too much coffee and adds a little toast for ballast—although the ones who know they’ll be waving swords later may also indulge in protein.  I will have to think about this.  Sylvi will need to keep her strength up in PEG II (and III.  Moan).  At the moment out here in the real world I favour scrambled eggs or cashews—speaking of CALORIES—but when you’ve spent years not eating breakfast, six cashews is luxury.  And the smell of them roasting—I buy raw organic—is so decadent it ought to be fattening.

And now I have to get on with dinner so I’ll have time to sing.  Before I go to bed again.  I have to get up sharpish tomorrow morning both because all hurtling must be done in daylight while this infernal cold spell‡ continues and also because I’m having my horrifying second lesson in playing bridge tomorrow afternoon.  In one of my wilder moments I suggested that I should learn enough baby bridge to be pressganged into playing a fourth when they’re short.  Why Peter’s local daughter couldn’t have two boyfriends so they could play four without me. . . .

* * *

* I think I’ve been hanging around with a hellterror for too long.

** Very like a hellterror, in fact.

*** Although we may have The Wall sorted.  I hope.  I had a letter through the door this morning after I finally staggered downstairs after a bad night even by my standards . . . from my neighbour detailing her bad night after our phone call.  Siiiiiiigh.  One of us needs to be calm and capable and confident.  Um.

† Homemade marmalade on homemade bread.  We bought the butter though.

†† And I mean FORCE.  The troika still only goes out after midnight.  And only when I’m feeling strong.

††† With the I think daft headline ‘the sexiest meal’.  Anyone who pantingly turns to it is going to be disappointed.  But for sheer journalistic idiocy I assume at least some of you know about the absurd and fraudulent hoohah about Hilary Mantel’s essay Royal Bodies?


I’m a republican all the way when it comes to the royal family, and the paragraph about hurting the queen’s feelings roused in me that most American of reactions, the Bronx cheer.  But the point Mantel is making about royal women being acceptable by being fertile and dutiful—this even into the twenty-first century—I think is only too grotesquely true.  Enter the DAILY MAIL shrieking and waving chains and truncheons and condemning Mantel’s ‘vicious attack’ on the latest pretty, dutiful and pregnant royal wife.  ARRRRRGH.  I’m torn between ‘get a life’ and ‘get either a brain^ or a bottom line sense of frelling ethics’.  If this is what it takes to sell newspapers then I’m ready for newspapers to be over with.  However the GUARDIAN which is usually pretty good about this sort of thing^^ published this:


And, yeah.  I spared myself reading the original MAIL hysteria—I give the DAILY MAIL a wide berth:  I have an OCD friend who is pretty urgent about brushing herself off after she’s been on public transport:  I feel that way about passing too near the DAILY MAIL—but reading the original article I admired Mantel’s courage not least because I knew they’d get around to saying that the only reason she was going on about the Duchess of whatsit is because she’s fat and childless.  She’s fat and childless, just by the way, because she was very badly botched by the medical profession.  Which is another story.  Anyway.  This all produces lying-in-a-darkened-room time for me and it’s nothing to do with me, and I hope Mantel is resting in her own darkened room with a good friend and/or a good book and a bottle of cold champagne.  And that it’s worth it to her.  I can’t believe she didn’t know she was being dangerously provocative, but you can misjudge this kind of thing.  Don’t bother to ask me how I know this.  But I’m not famous enough to get yelled at by anybody but my agent.  There are advantages to obscurity.

^ Can they possibly have genuinely misread what she said?

^^ Even if its willingness to bash homeopathy is deplorable

‡ IT’S THE END OF FEBRUARY IN SOUTHERN ENGLAND.  GO AWAY WITH THE SUB-ZERO TEMPERATURES AND THE SNOW.  You’re making my little flowering cherry miserable.  And the hellhounds.  And me.^

^ The hellterror says, Cold?  Is it edible?


We interrupt . . .


. . . the scheduled programme continuing our discussion of life, art, performance and Good Enough* . . .

. . . to moan.

I’ve only—pretty much just this minute—got the copyedited SHADOWS back to my editor’s assistant’s (virtual) desk.  It’s in the contract that your copyeditor will be from another planet and imperfectly drilled in earth mores.**  This one was, in fact, better behaved than most.  I thought I was getting off easily*** until . . .

Part of the problem is that trying to produce anything but the plainest of plain text on a computer makes my brain flurg into bread pudding.  I can’t deal with electronic notes in the margins.†  So my editor’s ever-patient assistant printed out a hard copy and sent me that. ††  It took me a while to realise that those little faded grey streaky things are actually what significant house-style††† changes look like when electronic marginalia is forced onto paper.

My style is not house style.  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH. . . .

I took Wolfgang in for his yearly legal-requirement MOT test on Monday.

He failed.  He’s seventeen years old, it takes a little while for the parts to come in.  I got him back today‡ . . . just in time to howl out to Ditherington this evening to return my sheet music from the concert I didn’t sing in with the Muddles, which if the librarian doesn’t return all of he can’t check out the music for the next concert . . . which, yes, I am going to try to sing in.

All of this would pass as fairly standard Life Stuff.  However.  Remember The Wall?

Somewhat against my better judgement—but it’s always easy to be wise in hindsight—I was talked into agreeing to the fellow who started work on Monday.  He’s built dozens of brick-and-flint walls.  Hundreds.  Millions.  He knows EVERYTHING about building brick-and-flint walls.

He poured in a lot of concrete on Monday and covered it up to set or jell or coagulate or whatever cement does.  He was going to start again on Wednesday.  I heard a lot of talking going on Wednesday morning, but then hellcritters and I set out on our double commute to get all of us down to the mews without benefit of Wolfgang.

That evening my neighbour rang me to say THE WALL BUILDER HAD QUIT.  HE’D DONE ONE DAY AND HE’D QUIT.‡‡

My neighbour now wants to go with some other frelling friend of a friend of a colleague’s cousin’s small-appliance repairperson’s mongoose.  I want to hire someone we know something about.  She and I had nearly half an hour on the phone tonight, talking at total cross purposes, because she wants her way and I want mine.  She’s already booked this joker to come talk to us tomorrow.  He’s very nice! she said to me.  You’ll like him!  Whether I like him or not is beside the point.

I am very tired. . . . ‡‡‡

* * *

* I meant ‘good enough’ as a positive thing.  I apply it positively.  I make myself crazy—you may have noticed—I wind myself up, I force myself to fail by setting the bar too high.^  Good enough means I can achieve something and recognise it as achievement and not some flavour of failure.  I personally feel it gives me room to have both good and bad days:  on the good days it’s a springboard and on the bad days it’s a support.

My affection for this approach may partly be my age again.  I remember when the concept of good enough hit the media and the self-help racks.  I was raised to believe that anything less than A-plus, 100%, a gold medal and a Hollywood Walk of Fame star^^ was not good enough and that sackcloth and ashes and a life of social exile and sixth-rate chocolate were the only alternative.  Good enough was not only a HUGE relief but it also meant you could try stuff without ruining your reputation (if any).

And possibly your grade-point average, depending on the school.  This is one of the things that even at the age of seventeen or twenty and going or going back to college, and I was not a subtle thinker at seventeen or twenty, made me kind of nuts.  Here you are attending full-time an Institution of Higher Learning and . . . you only dare take stuff you’re reasonably sure you can get good marks in, because education isn’t really the goal here, having a good-looking transcript is.  This was in one of the eras when a liberal-arts degree was about as useful as a rubber pogo stick^^^ so you didn’t want to smash the poor flimsy thing up any further by taking risky classes.  I’m not sure what quantum physics looked like in the early 1970s but I totally wouldn’t have dared.  I did however weaken my poor sad BA by taking music, which I did not get wonderful grades in.  Fortunately I subsequently found a way to escape my doom of sackcloth and ashes and the sixth-rate chocolate.  . . . Social exile?  Eh.

But Good Enough came along before I had permanently crippled myself by the weight of the chip on my shoulder.

^ Yo, I’m a Shetland pony, not an Irish hunter.

^^ If they can give stars for walking on the moon, I’m not too fussed about how they define ‘entertainment industry’.

^^^ Although I’m not sure even a proper steel and titanium pogo stick can be classified as useful

** It’s either that or the questions that have no connection with reality as you understand it are some kind of plant, seeking to discover if you have dangerous hidden personality traits that might lead you to go suddenly mad with a banana frappe at a crowded shopping mall.

*** Aside from an extreme case of Not Able to Focus on These Words any more

† My editor handles this just fine, and she’s nearly as old as I am.  I tell myself she does a lot more of it than I do.  She’s, you know, an editor.

†† I think I told you about the FedEx man not delivering it when there was no one home despite the fact that it said PAPER and MANUSCRIPT and ZERO VALUE and PLEASE LEAVE and NO SIGNATURE REQUIRED all over it.

††† Ie Chicago Manual of Style or whatever.  Grammar and punctuation and all are somewhat mutable and publishing houses usually have a standard way of doing things, although the choices Teacosy Press makes may be somewhat different from those of Zombie Revolution Books.  Aside from their contrasting approaches to acquisition.

‡ I am VERY GRATEFUL to the weather gods for giving us two non-sequential good days for walking.  Hellhounds and I enjoyed the walk back from and out to Warm Upford very much.  Something went right.^

^ But the question is, will there be four of us shepherding Wolfgang to and from his MOT next February?  SHE’S BEEN HERE FOUR MONTHS.  DON’T YOU THINK WE COULD ALL START TO GET ALONG?

‡‡ He’s decided he can’t do it for what he claimed on his estimate.  Is this spectacular incompetence or a spectacularly crude attempt to jack the price up?

‡‡‡ And I haven’t even told you how copying seven pages of Zerlina’s Vedrai, carino^ took ten minutes because every page jammed.  Some of them several times.  Feeding pages in one at a time didn’t work.  Fanning them between each page didn’t work.  A whole new trayful didn’t work.  I.  HATE.  MY.  PRINTER.

^ If I like it, or anyway Nadia likes me singing it, I’ll buy the book.  I worry about copyright even when the bloke’s been dead hundreds of years.

Of Daydreams and Harps, part 2 Guest post by Bratsche


Soon after I brought the rental harp home, I had a lesson with Jane and got some basic pointers, as well as some music recommendations. I must be slightly crazy (or maybe just a musician), since I was very happy when my book of scales and exercises showed up. Yay, it’s scales and chord progressions and finger patterns! I did also get two music books (Bach and Celtic tunes). Playing the harp turned out to be every bit as much fun as I hoped it would be. It is a little bit like playing a vertical piano in terms of setting fingers in a block for chords and reading the music (bass and treble clef), so my year of piano study from college came in handy. Also, much like a piano, you immediately get a nice sound.* Jane’s comment is that playing a harp is instant gratification, much like chocolate. I think that is a pretty good description!

Part way through the first month of renting, I called Dusty Strings to ask some questions about harps in general and their harps in particular. I will always count myself blessed that during that conversation the person I was talking to asked me if I knew about their Memorial Day sale. I was, of course, all ears! Every Memorial Day weekend, Dusty Strings has a sale on their harps (and other instruments) as part of the Seattle Folk Life Festival. You must come to the store to take advantage of it – no phone or web orders. I got off the phone and told my husband that I knew where we would be on that weekend!

The sale started on Friday, but we drove up on Thursday so I could return the rental harp and check on a few other things before the sale. One of the things I did was play a little bit on one of the smaller Ravennas (26 string) to verify that I did indeed really, really want the bigger one (34 strings). Okay, “play” is too strong a word. I plucked the lowest notes on the 26 and instantly confirmed that I wouldn’t be satisfied unless I had the even lower notes of the 34. I had already decided to go for full levers based on Jane’s advice that I will eventually want the flexibility to play more music in more keys as I get better at playing.

Another advantage of going up on Thursday was that we were able to check out the harps ahead of time and plan which one I would hope to get. All of the harps were 15% off, and there were also some seconds that were 20% off. I was happy to find that the 34 string Ravenna second with the lowest price was one that I would be quite happy to take home.

Several of the staff at Dusty Strings had mentioned that in years past there was sometimes a line before the store opened, so I was determined to be there well in advance. We spent Thursday night at a relative’s house and with her enthusiastic help were out the door on Friday morning even earlier than intended. I was, therefore, not surprised to find nobody else there when we showed up an hour and a quarter before the store opened! My husband and daughters explored the area some while I held down the sidewalk in front of the store and greeted many of the Dusty Strings staff as they arrived to get ready for the first day of the sale. My presence was greeted enthusiastically – “Yay, we have a line!” was my favorite of the comments. There eventually was an actual line. Other people started showing up about twenty minutes before the store opened.

I made a bee-line for “my” harp as soon as they opened the doors.

Right side

The base/stool on which the harp is standing was made for me by my talented and generous father-in-law.  Dustry Strings sells something just like it; but Dad was willing to make me one, which was great because it saved me additional expense and I was able to ask for the exact height of legs that suited me best.

Rear view (the 3 holes are what let the sound out and also make great hand-holds for carrying)

It is a second because the finish on the pillar and neck of the harp has darker streaks in it. I can understand why someone who was expecting a “smoother” looking finish might have been disappointed to receive this harp; however, I’ve always liked more interesting grain in wood, so it is fine with me. It also has an insect “scar” on the pillar, which immediately pulls everyone’s eyes and then fingers. My husband and I both ran our fingers over it when we first saw the harp, because it looks like there ought to be a dent in the wood. It is completely smooth, though; and when my woodworker father-in-law saw it, he said it was a spot where the tree had healed itself after an insect had tunneled through.

Insect scar

We loaded my new harp** in the car and headed home.

– – – – – – – – – – –

* This is very much enhanced when the instrument is actually in tune, though! I know someone whose piano goes so long between tunings that some keys now play two notes when you strike one key. Ewwwww!

** MY new harp, all MINE…oh, right, I promised to share with my family…I suppose I can do that.

Good enough. Mostly. Sometimes.


I should be carrying on with the copyedits for SHADOWS which are at this point overdue . . . I’ll finish tomorrow, really I will.  But by this stage of a book I can’t frelling focus on those frelling words any more* and I don’t think that right this minute I can stand to handle the pages any more tonight . . . which is my own fault for needing hard copy, but if I were doing it only on screen I’d have pixelated eyes by now as well as an advanced case of Technicolor heebie-jeebies.  As it is the heebie-jeebies are displaying quite a tactful, restrained palette of peach to salmon to rust with occasional highlights of green. . . .

I’m raving.

Part of the problem is that I’d be a perfectionist if I could . . . but I can’t.  My brain won’t hold that sharp an edge, however energetically you hone the soggy thing.  So you have to go for good enough.  What you hope is good enough.  What, some of the time, you believe is good enough.  Is sometimes even . . . plain unmodified good.

But not while you’re dealing with copyedits.

But good enough is something I’ve been thinking about since last night’s blog—since Bratsche’s first harp post and my Monday singing lesson.  I think good enough is sometimes really hard to define.

I’m a good enough dog owner.  My three hellcritters have daily walks—walks plural—a warm place to sleep, the almost constant presence of the hellgoddess (which is supposed to be a good thing in dog pantheon terms) and tasty sustaining food (when they eat it).  They are not trained to a high standard**, especially not the recent addition to the family***, but they have some concept of what training is, and they’re nice to have around (mostly).  I’ll share a sofa with them any time.  They’re all bonkers, of course, but I pretty sure they’d be bonkers anyway, although a more dedicated trainer might have reshaped the bonkersness more than I have done.

When I was still riding, I was a good enough rider for a certain kind of horse;  a horse I suited I could groom and exercise and have (mutual) fun with, and even bring on a little in its training, possibly with the help of a trainer for me.  I’m a good enough cook.†  I’m even—marginally—a good enough bell ringer, since there’s a shortage of any kind of ringer in this area, and bells and the upkeep of bells still exist in exchange for calling Christians to church services.  I’ve rung a lot of services where I as an available pair of hands was absolutely good enough.

But the line about good enough is always blurry, and sometimes it’s so blurry it’s just a smudge.  Would those horses whose training I contributed to have done better with a better rider?  Probably.  I’m a good enough cook if you like brownies and roast chicken—not so much if you want Beef Wellington and Baked Alaska.  And I’m not a good enough ringer to be invited to ring quarter peals any more often than some patient teacher type can bear to organise.

The farther you go over a different line into territory that might be considered art, I think the concept of good enough gets harder and harder to define—or possibly to accept.  As long as you’re tending to a critter’s basic needs—and that includes comfort and contentment, not just food and shelter from the weather—good enough is fairly straightforward.  Brownies and roast chicken hit the spot, even if they’re not glamorous.††  And you don’t have to be able to ring Snorkel Upstage Flugelhorn Major to tell people to get their shoes on and stop dozing over their coffee.

I don’t know what good enough singing or piano-, harp-, violin- or flugelhorn playing is.  I think music does fulfil a basic human need, but I’m not sure how to describe it.  I’m really enjoying the conversation going on in the forum right now, beginning with the response to Bratsche’s first harp post and gaining momentum last night after my Monday-singing-lesson-aroused response to one of Bratsche’s comments.  I hope you’ll keep talking.  Please.†††  I think I’m learning something.

* * *

* Except for those occasional, flaying moments when you realise THIS ENTIRE CHAPTER MAKES NO SENSE/CONTRADICTS WHAT YOU SAID IN CHAPTER TWELVE/UNDERMINES THE ENTIRE PLOT IN A SUBTLE WAY THAT NONE OF YOUR READERS PICKED UP WHEN YOU STILL HAD ENOUGH BRAIN LEFT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT/IS GENERALLY SENSATIONALLY, PRODIGIOUSLY, SUPERABUNDANTLY STUPID . . . etc.  But you’re frelling lunchmeat about this book by now, and you just have to hope none of your other readers will notice either, because any significant change you tried to make now would probably turn out to be like adding chopped liver to the strawberry shortcake.  Unwise.   This is, however, when you start reading the job ads for openings for shelf restockers and file clerks.  I didn’t know they still had file clerks.  Maybe only in small backward Hampshire villages.

** ::falls down laughing::

*** ::injures herself falling down laughing::

† When in doubt, add chocolate.

†† Although I feel this depends on your brownie recipe.  Brownies can be very glamorous.

††† Not only because I can probably get another comment post out of what’s been said so far. . . .

It’s all performance. Isn’t it?


Bratsche wrote:

I don’t think that not playing an instrument well should stop anyone from getting one, if they plan to play it. The pleasure of playing at whatever level you can (and it will surely grow with time) is important. I know I’m preaching to the choir (so to speak!); but I think it’s even more important to reinforce that as it continues to become easier to listen to professionally recorded and performed (and possibly edited) music, because music should be also be made enthusiastically by non-professionals.

Siiiiiiiigh.  I struggle with this every ratbagging day.  Well, every ratbagging day I practise some kind of music, which is most days, even if it’s only singing There Is A Tavern in the Town while doing the washing up.*  I sometimes feel as if I’m back in psychotherapy, struggling with self-worth issues.**  It is really quite amazing that you can do something like write stories for a living***—which means that people are spending money to read them—and still feel that you have nothing to offer.  I have professional musician friends who admit to similar struggles, so it’s not just the notorious neurotic weirdness of writers.†  But it is hard to convince yourself you should bother doing something like sing, when you’re not a professional-quality COUGH COUGH COUGH singer . . . when you can just slap Beverly Sills into the CD player.††

I was moaning to one of those professional-musician friends about this and she said that she guessed that I was moving the goal posts on myself:  well, yes, but how can any half-intelligent amateur help it—when you can slap Beverly Sills into the CD player?  Isn’t it the same for just about everything, anything that has a professional division, and what doesn’t?  At least if you play tennis you’re getting lots of nice healthy exercise even if you’re not the third Williams sister, and if you like to arrange flowers your hall table looks nice.  The Muddles aren’t dreadful, but they have trouble selling concert tickets because unless you’re a friend or a relative you’d much rather, and very reasonably, stay home with your CD player than sit on a hard uncomfortable pew and listen to a bunch of variously semi-talented dabblers feel their way through a selection of standard rep.†††

So what is the point?  I personally find this to be a real issue.  I love singing, and I’m not going to stop—and this includes voice lessons with Nadia—just because I can’t see the point.  You’re all saying, if you love it, then why do you need a point?  Well, but isn’t music supposed to be shared?  That’s how I understand it—it’s almost part of the definition of music, that it must be shared.  If a singer/harpist/trombone player falls in a forest and there’s no one around to hear, does she make a sound?  No.  It’s like what I’ve always said about being a storyteller—you aren’t one unless someone’s listening.  A storyteller needs an audience.  So does a musician.  A big part of the reason I’ve let my piano-playing mostly lapse and am concentrating on singing is because the piano is such a relentlessly solo instrument.  Even if you’re playing with other people chances are there’s only one piano.

I know I’m getting somewhere with my singing not only because I’m a whole lot louder than I used to be but because of the stuff Nadia gives me to work on, to think about, the stuff I write down in my notebook—and then spend the following week trying to figure out what I mean, what Nadia said that I imperfectly wrote down.  The music I’m singing isn’t, I don’t think, any more ultimately difficult than what I was singing for her eighteen months or whatever ago, but the stuff she wants me to aim at, to remember, to juggle, has changed—even allowing, I think, for the patient teacher’s hammering out the 1,000,000th way to say something again in the resolute hope that the frelling student will get it this time.

But—why?  Toward what end?  Singing in a group is fun, but the group needs a purpose—doesn’t it?  Concerts are the obvious answer to that one—but then you have to convince people to come.

So, Bratsche, or anyone else, why should music be made enthusiastically by non-professionals?  There are other ways of learning to breathe deeply‡ and hang out with your friends.

. . . Ah Beverly, you heart-breaker.  Note that I am going to sing Una voce poco fa before my voice gives out due to extreme old age.‡‡  Meanwhile Nadia sent me home with a book of Mozart arias to try, recommending the easier one of Zerlina’s from Don Giovanni.  I’ll start there, but . . .

* * *

* I can’t remember if I told you that I told Nadia that Tavern was a good song for practising getting in and out of my chest voice and she said excellent, bring it along.  WHAT? I squeaked.  But I brought it in last week and she said, that’s great, now I want you to sing it in lots of different keys so you’re climbing in and out of chest voice in different places in the song.  —This turns out to be rather hilarious.  Also, when it’s just me and the hellcritters, my inner ham, who spends most of her time wondering why I couldn’t have grown up to be Ellen DeGeneres or Whoopi Goldberg so she could have had some fun, emerges to startling effect.

** While Nadia tries not to pinch the bridge of her nose with her fingers till she leaves marks, nor to think loud balloon-over-head thoughts about other ways she could earn a living.

*** I don’t say a great living—remember that JK Rowling is a one-off—but it keeps me in hellcritter food and chocolate.  I do try to buy fewer books.  And less yarn.^


+ Stop that laughing.  You know who you are.

† Although Nadia, who is a soprano, assures me that sopranos are the worst.  Oh, that’s nice.  Maybe I should work on my chest voice some more.^

^ And give up my high B and its possible friends?  No frelling frelling FRELLING way.

†† Which I just have.

††† Although I believe the post-concert nosh is excellent.  If you listen to the singing you get snacks.

‡ Zen-style sitting, for example.  Which is difficult in an entirely different way, but does not require an audience.^

^ All right, don’t get me started on the benefits of zazen in company.

‡‡ Hundred Year Old Woman Has First Carnegie Hall Recital.  Film at Eleven.

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