Gamma and I practiced piano on the weekend. It worked like this: she threw a fit, I sent her to bed, she took a long nap because it turned out she had thrown a fit because she was tired, tried practicing again and it worked fine.

Besides not wanting to practice at all, another problem we have with her playing the piano is her insistence on improvising and having fun when she plays. She goes in and tinkles like some jazz pianist instead of practicing her etudes and scales, which frustrates us to no end.

Music is not supposed to be fun.

We have worked out a compromise where she is allowed to improvise, if necessary, as long as she practices her scales and etudes for a certain length of time.

Sometimes she forces me to play along with her when she improvises. As I’ve said before, it sounds exotic and somehow not wrong as long as we stick to the black keys (her discovery).

We even had a big success with one song she was learning. She had it down by heart. She could play the song without notes, except she always made the same mistake in one measure. So I broke it down, made her play with notes again, more slowly, and we used a metronome, and I clapped the rhythm and sang it and went through that measure note by note and she got it and now she can play it by heart again, only right. And when she went in to her lesson this week her teacher checked off that song, meaning she has learned it and no longer needs to practice it, for which Gamma has given me great credit with the result that I am now in charge of piano practice (i.e. the others have weaseled out of it).

Picking her up at a friend’s house was a great success, piano practice was too, so I decided to try putting her to bed. I have been busy lately and preoccupied and have neglected that.

She has also complained that English is so boring in school, so we read an English book in bed. Some encyclopedia for kids sort of thing, an illustrated book of questions and answers. We leafed through and she asked about whatever illustration caught her eye.

“What’s that about?” she would ask.
“The ring of fire, a system of volcanoes and seismic activity around the Pacific ocean. Hundreds of erupting volcanoes. Merapi on Java island is erupting right now, miles of lava and poison gas forcing the evacuation of 30000 people who live on the mountain,” I said and we talked about volcanoes for a while.

“Who’s that?”
“Vlad Tepes,” I said. “The article is about who Bram Stoker based his Dracula on.”
We talked about the article for a while.
“Did he really impale people on stakes?”
“You bet.”
We discussed the why.
“How did he do it?”
I suppose one soldier held them down while the other impaled them, I said.
“Did they all die?”
I said I supposed so.
“Anyhow, good night,” I said. “Pleasant dreams.”


On the weekend, I fetched Gamma from a friend’s house in a nearby village. I have worked out a deal with her whereby if she does not hide from me when I fetch her there, or throw a tantrum, or run away, or anything else that I may deem dramatic, she is allowed to visit again.

It was six in the evening. She met me at the door, along with her friend and their large, black dog.
“No drama, right?” I said to her.
She was sugar and spice. Of course no drama. She began looking for her shoes.
“Oh, I was just making her something to eat,” her friend’s mom said.
“Um, but,” I said.
“Would you still like something to eat?” she asked Gamma.
Meat with rice. It was already in the microwave.
“Coffee?” she asked me.
“Sure,” I said. “Yes, please.”
So we sat around the table while Gamma ate her meat and rice, and I was served coffee.
Amazingly enough, the coffee was made with a machine so I had something to make conversation about.
“So, is that a filter or an espresso machine?” I asked, and the conversational ball was rolling.
“Milk and sugar?” I was asked.
“No thank you,” I said.
“Dad’s on a diet,” Gamma said. “Dad and mom both.”
“Well, actually, I happen to not be on a diet,” I said. “I just never take sugar or…”
“Dad and mom are on the Bl

Back when I was a kid

One dozen attempts on my life in the past 24 hours I’ve survived. I feel like an action movie hero. Tom Cruise. All ready to go be silly on Oprah and shit. It’s always like this on the roads around the full moon*, but yesterday and today have been odd in the extreme.

Also, I took a walk at lunch and was all like
When I was your age
Back when I was a kid
I can remember back when

All these things going through my head that cannot be spoken, only listed, in italics.

I remember when, you called someone on the phone, you knew exactly where they were: standing by the wall phone in the kitchen. Sitting in the foyer by the telephone table.

Later, people got extensions, but you still knew what house they were in. Nowadays, it’s like, Are you stuck in a traffic jam or are you in the men’s room taking a crap?


Where was I. Attempts on my life. Tom Cruise. Walking.

Did you know that when someone tells you that they are 47, and you say, Oh, nearly 50! that that jinxes you? Within a week headhunters posing as Girl Scout cookie saleschildren come to your door and cut off your fucking head with a fucking jigsaw?

At least I hope so. If there is a god, it does.

I mean, my image of god is pretty open. It doesn’t disallow a god that would not jinx people for saying that. I’m just saying, wouldn’t it be interesting if that were the way it turned out to work?

My daughter asked me to stop cursing people recently. Apparently in traffic I have a habit of calling down the wrath of god on their ass. With good reason, IMO, but eh.

A friend cursed her recently and she got on a subway GOING THE WRONG WAY so I have to be careful.

Indeed, I suppose, images are powerful. See what you want, and maybe you get it. Maybe it happens. Like a positive jinx. I got a cell phone that way once**. So, the fiberglass cello case is only a matter of time. As is peace on earth, or at least peace in my house.

This is what I was thinking at lunch: we laugh at children for what they say they want to be when they grow up, but.

Imagine, if you will, the following. Imagine that what a kid says she wants to be when she grows up is simply the best label she can come up with for what she sees herself doing. It’s an occult image, secret to her, hard to name.

A boy sees himself saving people, or chopping down doors, or standing helplessly by while things burn, any number of possibilities, and says, I want to be a fireman when I grow up.

A girl wants to ease pain, or handle drugs, or tuck someone in, or watch people die, and says, I want to be a nurse.

I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau. And here I am, mysterious affinity for fish, swimming underwater, holding my breath.

Maybe our dreams don’t change, maybe we don’t outgrow them. Maybe they are not dreams, but just children trying to describe something words can’t directly name. Like symbols in a dream, so not dreams but elements of dreams, dream-like things, things similar to dreams but not exactly dreams, strictly speaking. Quasi-dreams. So, more like dreams than goals, I suppose, I’ll grant you that, so for lack of a better word, okay, dreams. But in quotation marks, sort of. Or italics. Dreams.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

    *No one knows who built the roads around the full moon. They are hard to see with the naked eye, because, you know, the sky is black, and the roads are black.

    **Thanks, Novala!

Triple Jackpot

After I bought the lotto ticket I made the mistake of asking myself why, in fact, I wanted to win, and was plunged into an existential crisis of sorts. What problem, I asked myself, do I have that this money, were I to win, would solve?

The wheels in my brain whirred and creaked like the gears in a cheap watch turning over the date at midnight.

Continue reading

Little-known facts about the seahorse



  • Seahorses mate for life, under a full moon, and sing while they’re doing it.

  • Seahorses have the superpower of invisibility, in the sense of changing color to blend in with their surroundings. Especially where waiters and bartenders are concerned.
  • Male seahorses give birth to their young, and are very proud of their offspring.
  • In fact, the sun shines out the asses of young seahorses.
  • For example, say a seahorse couple has two offspring that both play in the same music recital because they have the same teacher. They make sure their offspring are bathed, brushed and dressed in clean clothes.
  • Despite these efforts, the younger of the two seahorse babies manages to have a stain on her t-shirt, messy hair and socks that clash with the rest of its outfit when it marches up to play the piano. The father seahorse thinks, What a character, she plays with more personality than all the other seahorses combined. He thinks his offspring plays maybe not better than the others, but with a whole lot of Chico Marx. He figures the stain etc is the price of maintaining her personality. He also notices that she is the only seahorse to play by heart that evening. Or he thinks so, anyway.
  • And when the older of the two young seahorses plays her Bach gigue, he thinks she is the most musical of the harpists that evening, and is in awe of her coordination, because there is much pedaling to be done. It reminds him, coordination-wise, of someone performing a kidney transplant on an unanesthesized ferret, on a bicycle, only it sounds better.
  • The natural predators of seahorses are crabs, among other creatures. And man, of course, the natural predator of everything. Fucking man.
  • One source says the average size of a full-grown sea horse is 2-8 inches, which what the hell kind of average is that? That’s like saying a person is between two and eleven feet tall. Or two and eight feet, I suppose, strictly speaking.
  • Seahorses are fascinated by the sounds produced by the theremin.

Tortoise care

It was warm so we put her in the flowerbed out front. It’s fenced off — tortise-proof-fenced off, because tortoises have this Great Escape instinct thing going on — and I have built her a cozy little tortoise house in which to spend the night.

Sometimes she spends the night there, sometimes not. Sometimes she just hunkers down among the flowers, settled into the bark chips.

It was warm so we put her out. Then a cold front came down from Scandinavia and it began raining cats and dogs. Beta and I were on our way to town, moving the concert harp and the cello and the Irish harp as well to the music school because a concert and some other gig for her Irish band were scheduled for the next day.

At any rate, we were moving the instruments. And it was dark. And raining cats and dogs, and Alpha says, Oh, bring in the tortoise before you go. Or maybe it was even my idea, We can’t leave the poor tortoise outside in this weather.

Beta and I looked for her. Tortoises have a million years, ten million years evolutionary experience at hiding. They are perfectly camoflagued, they look like a mixture of bark chips and tulip leaves from above. Rain was running down my neck.

Beta suggested a flashlight. I told her all the flashlights were dead. But we have new batteries, she said. But the bulbs are all burned out, I said.

I stood there, partially wrapped in the vines of the climbing rose bush, and remarked something about Here we stand, combined IQ over 300, maybe, outwitted by a turtle.

So we delivered the instruments and looked some more when we got back.

The tortoise is usually either at the left end under some bedding plants, at the right end in her house or under a rose bush, or in the middle under a particularly bushy and stickery rose bush. But we couldn’t find her anywhere.

I finally went into my shop and rigged up a naked light bulb to an extension cord. If you’ve never tried to find something outside with naked 60 watt bulb at night, they are very bright. You spend half your time figuring out the right way to shade your eyes, and blinking the spots away.

Plus, as I’ve mentioned, it was raining heavily and I began to wonder whether the last thing I would hear in my life would be ZZZZZT.

Then I found the tortoise. Under the bushy, stickery rose bush.

She was very wet, and cold and happy to be moved into the warm house. Happy. I say happy, but how do you know with tortoises? They don’t wag their tails. But she did do the pushup thing she does, and she extended her head quite far out.

The next day she celebrated by taking having two large bowel movements, one in the kitchen (she walked through it afterwards, and painted a large, irregular circle around the perimeter of the room). I couldn’t find the actual turd at first, because it was on a black tile (our floor tiles are white with smaller black ones in the corners). I eventually did find it though. The second dump she took in the library, which was quite nasty judging from the gagging noises my eldest daughter made cleaning it up.

The tortoise was quite lively after that, as you would be, I think, after taking a BM that amounted to roughly half your body weight.

The weather stayed cold for a few days, so there were one or two more incidents. She’s back outside now.

Another brief remark on playing the cello

I’ve been taking cello lessons for almost six years.
Something like that.
I remember walking past the music school when Beta was still too young to learn an instrument, except maybe a tiny violin, she may have been around three or so, which would make me around 33 at the time, so almost 14 years ago now, walking past the local music school, which is in a nice, old building, a former convent; it was a summery day, and music was coming out of the windows, and flowers were blooming and I thought how nice it must be in that place and how we would support Beta if she ever chose to learn an instrument.
Then she chose harp of all things, when she was what, 7, and a few years later I surprised myself by starting with cello, just as an experiment, just trying it out and then of course was unable to stop because parents must set a good example for their children and quitting is not a good example.
Also, I like the cello very much.
I have not learned as much in those six years as, say, a diligent child might have, because I have other things going on and have not practiced as much as I could have.
But this weekend I played in an orchestra, twice, once to a full house, and didn’t fuck up massively.
Once or twice my bow touched the string prior to the beginning of a piece, and it made a little twang that I think only I, and maybe my teacher, who was sitting beside me, also playing, heard.
I did not fortissimo into a rest in this Bizet piece, which relieved me mightily, as I had feared doing it, and feared that fearing it made it more likely that I actually would.
But I didn’t. There were a couple fiddly bits I sat out, otherwise it went okay I think.
And the orchestra got some nice applause, and we had to play an encore.
I never imagined I’d end up doing this, when I started.