Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Deathbed Regrets of Writers

I just got an email advertisement from Writer's Digest, in which they tried to hook me into buying a book, or taking a course, or something. I didn't really pay attention to anything except the headline:

Deathbed Regrets of Writers

It made me open the email long enough to see what their Top 5 were, because I was curious to see whether it would match the thoughts that immediately came to my mind.

Their five most common answers:
“I’d never know if I could have made it.”
“I’d never find my voice.”
“I’d never get to show others what I’m capable of.”
“I’d hate not having the freedom to do what I want.”

Mine are a little more immediate and practical, I think:
"I should have parked my butt in a chair and written more often."
"I didn't get around to finishing my novel(s)!"
"I want to write down everything I'm thinking on my deathbed, but don't have enough time."

The sales pitch was silly, but it did get me thinking. I don't want to have writerly deathbed regrets. I need to put my butt in a chair, finish my novel(s), and leave time to describe my deathbed when the time comes.

What would be your deathbed regret?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Jazz 'n Cakes

I live where I live because of the schools. We live in the same district I did as a teenager and my children are going to my alma mater. I wanted this for them because I felt so privileged here. It was here that I earned a scholarship to study in Germany. Twenty-two years later, my son participated in the same program and headed for Germany as exchange student like I did long ago.

I also enjoyed the music program at my old high school and feel like it set me up for musical success that I might not have enjoyed at other schools. We had a very strong music program with excellent, dedicated teachers and a community of parents that supported the arts. My son played in that band, too, and now my daughter plays his old trumpet and participates in not only concert band, but jazz band as well. This is her first year.

The band program got off to a rocky start for her class. School levies failed and band was cut for two years. She finally started playing this year as a 7th grader. I didn't know how they could possibly catch up to where they should be. What would happen to all those talented musicians who wanted to go on to study music at college? What had happened to the school music program I loved? Why wasn't she enjoying the privilege of a nationally-recognized music program as I had? It upset me.

But the community rallied. They reinstated the band program and the music directors reformatted the class so that these beginner 7th graders have band every day instead of a couple times a week. They introduced the jazz band at my daughter's junior high and those who made it through try-outs now practice after school. Their hard work paid off. They had their first concert and I couldn't believe how wonderful they sounded with only six months of instruction under their belts.

One of the lessons they try to impart in jazz band is the ability to play impromptu solos; jamming with the band like real jazz musicians do. At the first school concert, a half-dozen brass players volunteered to come up front during a song and play a rif. They were incredible! I'm not sure I would have had the nerve. My sometimes-shy daughter didn't volunteer. She was happy enough to play in the background.

Then, this weekend, the school held their annual "Jazz 'n Cakes," a pancake breakfast fundraiser during which all the district jazz bands play as entertainment. The place was packed! The student volunteers seated us and waited on us as we listened to high school jazz ensembles and junior high jazz bands play. It was standing room only in the large cafeteria. I think we all lingered because the music was so good. I felt a warm glow being surrounded by all the great music. It brought back many pleasant memories and I felt lucky and privileged that my children attended a school with a music program like this.

And then it got even better.

My daughter's jazz band played the songs I'd heard them play at their school concert a month ago. They sounded even more polished and not so very different than the more experienced high schoolers. The same half-dozen brass players took their turns at the microphone, playing trombone, saxophone and trumpet solos. Then all of a sudden, a little blond-haired girl took her place at the mic. My daughter was up there! In front of hundreds of parents and students, she raised her trumpet to her mouth and played a spontaneous solo. It was  magnificent! So perfect, and completely unpracticed. I couldn't believe it was her!

I beamed through the whole concert and hugged her to me afterward. I was so proud of her! Not just because she'd played so well, but because she'd had the courage to voluntarily stand up in front of a huge crowd and do it. I know part of her confidence came from that same sense of privilege that brought us to this school district in the first place. Their music program is so strong that she knew she could do it; she knew she could play and play well.

But I'll bet she never knew this: that she could bring tears to my eyes by doing it.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Dayton's 2nd Street Market

Despite the fact that most major companies have pulled out of Dayton, Ohio and that all the highway entrance ramps into Dayton are currently closed, the 2nd Street Market is still thriving.

Open Thursday-Saturday, this market full of local food vendors and artisans is probably the hottest spot in Dayton. We went on Saturday and couldn't even find a seat after we split up and ordered from various food booths.

I got a Hungarian cabbage roll. My husband got a Colombian dish that the vendor recommended: Arepas. These are white corn patties topped with a variety of ingredients and sauces. Next time I'll get that; it was delicious.

Not surprisingly, my daughter got a chocolate-banana crepe. There is truly something for everyone.

Where we spent the majority of our time was at the Olive Tree booth. I've got something of a vinegar addiction. I can't go more than a few days without having some (but would rather not forgo it at all!). At the Olive Tree, you can taste the eight flavors of vinegars and sample the variety of olive oils as well. Trust me: there aren't any bad flavors, but I limited myself to four bottles of vinegar for the time being: Fig Balsamic, Chile Balsamic, Coconut White Balsamic, and White Strawberry Peach. That should last me for a month or two.

There are also bread makers, pastry makers, cheese makers, and booths full of jellies and jams. One vendor offers organic dog treats. Other sellers include artists and jewelry crafters. It's a nice place to wander for a few hours and eat lunch. If you can get there -- since no highway roads lead into Dayton at that moment. Make the effort anyway. It's worth the trip.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

So Many Labels, So Little Use

Name a holiday, any holiday. I've got mailing labels for that.

For more than a decade, I worked at various non-profits. I was usually the one who opened the mail and sorted the donations that came in. At least once a week, though, in addition to the checks we received from direct mail campaigns, we'd get letters chastising us for wasting so much money on postage. "I've gotten four letters from you this year. I already sent in money but am not going to send anymore if you're going to keep wasting money on stamps." Honestly, we got that letter a lot. Usually from someone who sent us a $3.00 check in the past and was then irked enough to spend another $0.22 (back then) on a stamp to send this reprimand to us, even though our mailings were done in bulk and cost about $0.03/letter.

That was in the 1990's. Oh, how times have changed!

Now, I am inundated by direct mailings from every nonprofit under the sun. I'm sure you've all gotten them, too: the envelope full of return address labels asking you to please send in a donation to cover the cost of the address labels. Oh, that I could. I get at least one envelope full of them every day. I get them addressed to people who haven't even lived in my house for 15 years; former residents who are surely getting the same address labels at their current address. I'm pretty sure at this point that I could wallpaper my house with all the address labels I have.

It's ironic, really. Back in the 1990's, I actually bought return address labels. I ran out of them all the time. In those days, I wrote letters to people and mailed off query letters with SASE envelopes. I mailed in all my bills. In fact, everything was done by mail. I would have been thrilled to get free address labels in the mail.

Now, though, I'm lucky if I use one label a week. I rarely mail anything other than greeting cards and a few bills. Even if I were still writing letters and sending out snail mail, I'd never be able to use all the address labels I have now.

What I'm dying to know is how incensed those nonprofit donors are these days at the "exorbitant" amount of money nonprofits are spending to mail all these out? It's not that expensive, really. But if people were mad back when we mailed four campaign letters a year, how irate are they now?