Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The mechanic whose car doesn't run

Earlier this week I finally rehaired my bow.

Violin family instruments use horsehair on their bows, and that has be be replaced periodically.  Bow hair is coated with rosin (which is sort of a refined block of tree sap that looks like a white powder on the bow, and that you reapply about every four hours of play), which makes it sticky and able to grip the strings.  The physics of what's happening is kind of like plucking a string really fast over and over--the rosined hair grabs the string and lets go repeatedly causing the string to vibrate.  The hair itself is covered in little scales that hold the rosin.  Over time and use the hair gets stripped and won't hold rosin well, and the hair even if you don't use it eventually loses elasticity.  I have some customers who play aggressively enough their bow hair only lasts a couple of weeks.  Most full-time professionals don't usually let their bow hair get older than six months.  The average person should get a rehair once a year.  No horsehair works well longer than two.

It's easy to forget the last time you got your bow rehaired.  I often hand out little reminder cards like the ones people get for oil changes so my customers can remember.  The part that's tricky is you don't feel the changes from one day to the next.  The wear sneaks up on you.  It's insidious, because when you play your bow doesn't feel that different from how it felt the day before, but if you were to jump back six months to compare you would definitely feel the change.

Anyway, last week at rehearsal I realized that I had just let my own bow go too long.  Bow rehairs are not my favorite part of my job and I'm already swamped with work, so the idea of taking time to do my own bow is not appealing.  I tend to put it off as long as I can, which makes me feel like a hypocrite as I chastise others about doing timely maintenance on their equipment.  But my own bow was well overdue and I couldn't ignore it anymore.

What a difference.  Good grief, playing at rehearsal last night was so much easier.  And I wondered the same way I do every time why I don't rehair my bow more often since I can do it whenever I like.

The same thing happens with sharpening my tools.  There is nothing more satisfying than the first few cuts with a freshly sharpened plane blade or a well-honed knife.  You don't realize how much you've been struggling with your tools until you take the time to get them back into optimal condition.  In an ideal world I would set aside an official sharpening day every two weeks and keep everything up to snuff, but real life doesn't work like that.

There is just so much to do and so many unexpected things that come up.  Maintenance takes time and gets annoying.  It doesn't feel like progress, but it facilitates it.

I'm trying to do better about applying that lesson to my health and my mental well-being.  There is a lot that wears you down day to day that you don't notice, but would if you could step back.  It's hard, because a lot like the mechanic whose car doesn't run, we don't always take care of ourselves first even if we are the most obvious choice to do it.  We expend all our energy on work for others.  The last thing we want to do at the end of the day is more work with no external appreciation or compensation for it.

But it's worth it.  I just keep forgetting.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Packets

One of the lovely things about my dad was he collected packets of articles for people he cared about.  He lived to file articles.  There are still dozens of large boxes of them to sort through since he died, and it will be a long term project to go through the raw feed of material he meant to separate out into particular piles, but I have in my possession about fifteen packets just for me and my family.

From the time I left for college to about a year or so before he died, my dad assembled collections of articles for me in big yellow envelopes.  He did that for my brothers.  He did that for other friends and family as relevant articles presented themselves.  If you expressed an interest in a topic around him you might get a file of papers in the mail.  It was his obsession to clip and save from printed material, and in its distilled form the packets were personal filing masterpieces.  I don't know anyone who got one who didn't feel special for receiving it.

If he really deeply loved you, though, you got a lot of packets.  And my dad deeply loved me.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Clean Sweep

In recent weeks (months?) the house has really gotten away from me.

I don't think I was mentally built to be a full time stay-at-home parent, but at least back during Ian's two deployments when the kids were much smaller I adapted well enough.  There was no real upside to Ian being away, but there was some satisfaction in staying on top of most of the basic chores while stuck at home.  With another responsible adult around there is always the hope that the other person will do some of what needs to be done and you can sidestep a chore, but when you are on your own you just have to do it.  I had a pretty good system of starting laundry in the morning and folding it all at night, of making meals and cleaning up with a certain rhythm, and keeping things fairly organized and tidy.  When Ian goes away for brief Army obligations now, I still fall back into those old patterns.  But lately my schedule has been rough and my work days long, which means the kinds of things that are important to me in running a house have kind of suffered.

So between Ian having just been out of state for a few days for more Army stuff, and my mom coming to visit soon, I had a lot of incentive to buckle down and try to get the house back in order.  I do what I think of as a Baryon Sweep (which is a Star Trek TNG reference for those who don't try to give house cleaning geeky connotations) where I start at one end of the house and clean thoroughly, pushing misplaced things into the next room until eventually I get to the other end and everything in my wake is clean.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Bated Breath

All of my kids at some point when they were babies had croup.  Each time it was awful.  Each of them made a trip to the emergency room at Children's Hospital for it.  Each time we were told there really was nothing they could do.  But when your baby struggles with each breath and won't stop crying and coughing it's nightmarish and you just want help.

The thing about those times I remember best was the drive to the hospital with the baby rear facing in the backseat, always in the dark, out of reach.  And I couldn't tell what was worse: Hearing each tortured inhale, or the silence in between breaths.  Each strangled breath was bad, but wondering if something worse had befallen my baby to cause the silence was equally bad.  Times like that when your imagination is spinning out of control and your instincts are hyperactive make for a very long drive (even when it's only 10.7 miles).

We are far from the baby stage now.  Those parenting challenges are hard, and some things do get easier as your kids grow, but somethings don't.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Escape the Room

This past weekend we decided to try Escape the Room.  It was really fun.

Escape the Room is a game where you are in a room filled with puzzles and locks and have one hour to figure how to get out.  We managed to escape (with lots of hints from the Clue-Master) with over three minutes to spare!

I'm not going to give anything away because it would be a lot less fun for anyone who wants to try it to know much in advance, but I will mention a few general things, and some that were unique to our experience.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Now What?

It's taken some time since election night to get my thoughts in order.

Watching the returns made me panicky.  The next morning I felt ill.  For the most part over the past several weeks I've gone back and forth between trying to stay informed (which alarms me with each new headline) and avoiding the news (which preserves my sanity and any good faith I have left toward my fellow citizens).

Donald Trump is the new president of the United States.  This says some unflattering things about ourselves as a nation, and reveals some important truths we must come to grips with.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Luna Moth Dream

If I really wanted this blog to be entertaining I would simply write about my brothers all the time.  Either of them is an easy go-to topic for me at parties because there are endless interesting stories available, and in case I'm in a situation where the company is boring, talking about Arno or Barrett keeps me amused.  I love them and could not have asked for kinder, funnier, or more intelligent siblings.

Arno is a neuroscientist who currently works at the Child Mind Institute in New York City.  He always talks to me about his work as if I'm a knowledgeable colleague, which is flattering, but consequently I have no clear idea what he does.  The bits I can follow are fascinating, and he does important research that will improve people's lives, but don't ask me to explain any of it.

But this post relates to a project coordinated by my other brother.  The baby of the family by four minutes, Barrett is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin LaCrosse where he specializes in entomology and insect sleep research.  He's also a talented artist who has done lots of model making and scientific illustration, and he is particularly interested in cultural entomology which is where insects meet art.

Last year he commissioned 30 artists to make small books with the theme "Insect Dreams."  He was generous enough to invite me to participate, and despite the limits on my time there are moments when an intense little project is a good distraction from other things so I recently buckled down over a weekend and made my contribution.

Want to see?