Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Just Scroll Down for the Dirty Pictures

On Saturday afternoon, b&c and I drove up to Catoctin Mountain Park, in scenic Thurmont, Maryland, to do a little light hiking on a gorgeous spring day. The plan was to drive most of the way up the mountain and then hike a bit up there. Alas, the roads within the park were mostly closed.

We wondered why, but then when we went into the ranger station to try to figure out an alternate hiking plan, we saw a notice telling us that much of the park was closed off because of security associated with a Presidential visit to Camp David.

This is why we can't have nice things (and on how many levels is that statement true?):

So instead of hiking on top of the mountain, we hiked up the mountain. The beginning portion was a lot steeper than I'd planned on, but there were a lot of cute straight guys out hiking with their dogs and/or girlfriends. It's been a cool spring here so far, and the flowering plants, most notably the mountain laurel, were not as far along as I'd expected, but I did see some immature blueberries.

Also, some nice rhododendrons.

The view from the Thurmont overlook is pleasant, but, really, I've been to Thurmont, and there's not all that much there, and it only looks marginally more impressive from a distance.

Still, it was a gorgeous day, and we had a good time. The drive to Catoctin is about an hour from home, and since I never drive anywhere when b&c and I go together, I was able to use the time to read most of the rest of Joel Derfner's Swish, which I finished that evening, after we got home. The only problem with this arrangement was that I had to keep contracting my stomach muscles because when I didn't, I would laugh audibly, and b&c would ask me what was so funny, and I would have to stop and read aloud the section that had made me laugh, and I very much dislike being interrupted when I'm reading something really good.

I suspect that much of the press about Swish will focus on how funny it is, and it truly is hilarious. I have nothing against humor writing, of course, but I expect more from a book of essays, and I am very often disappointed. To me, what differentiates an essay from an article is depth. Not a depth of information, but a depth of emotion. Good essays look at the surface and then connect you with something else, with what lies beneath, if you will. In each essay, Joel does this by taking two topics or ideas that appear unrelated and illuminating the emotional connection between them. It's a bit like the way George Eliot combines two unrelated stories in Middlemarch and creates a single novel by creating powerful thematic connections. It's a device that Joel uses with immense skill to create essays that are very moving. (And hilarious, which Middlemarch really isn't.)

I suspect that which essay you like best will depend on your personal circumstances, but if you can get through the first piece, "On Knitting," without choking up at least a little, then you're tougher than I. (Or maybe just an unfeeling clod, but of course, you're not that.) My favorite chapter was "On Musical Comedy." There are aspects of singing that I always say are ineffable, and I still think that's true, but I love to sing, and I have sung (chorally and as a soloist) a fair amount in recent years, and I have thought a lot about singing, and Joel has given words to aspects of singing that were, at best, inchoate notions swirling around the border between my subconscious and conscious minds. There were numerous examples in other chapters where he made me think of things in ways that I hadn't before. This is not a common experience for me.

I hope I'm not making Swish sound heavy, because it isn't heavy: it's just rich. It is certainly an entertaining read if that's what you're after, but there's a lot more to it. You will want to bring your A game when you're reading it, though. Joel always goes for le mot juste, even if it's a word that almost no one knows. And there were a couple of occasions where his usage was unfamiliar to me. Take my word for it, though: there is simply no point in doubting him. There are no mistakes in this book. If, say, you doubt him and think that you've found a typographical error and start to panic because when you email him to say how much you loved the book, you're either going to have to pretend you didn't see the typographical error and risk looking ignorant or tell him about the error and worry about him injuring yourself, then sooner or later, you're going to decide you have to look up the spelling, even though you're sure, and you're going to find out that the spelling you think is correct is more common online, but the spelling in Swish is also used and then you're going to ransack your home looking for a real dictionary, and the only one you'll be able to locate in the same room as your computer is your compact OED, and -- because you're in too much of a hurry to pull out the magnifying glass -- you're going to ruin your eyes, and in the end, you will learn that not only is "tranquillity" an accepted spelling, it's the original and perhaps still preferred spelling. And then (even though you're going to stick with "tranquility" for your personal use) you're going to feel foolish.

Not that such a thing has ever happened to me, of course.

Anyway, get the book. I'm tempted to buy copies for every member of my choir, just so they can read the parts about singing, but I'm not sure how they'd react to "On Casual Sex." You, however, will love that chapter.

I was amazingly lazy this weekend, but I did manage to get a few other things accomplished. Most notably, on Sunday, I sang three solo pieces at church, and on Saturday, I got a haircut. Because nothing boosts my confidence like a short haircut. It doesn't even have to be a good haircut. Just short.

Because it was Memorial Day weekend, I'd expected a very light turnout at church, but there was a pretty good crowd there. A few people told me before the service that they'd come specifically to hear me sing. But no pressure, right? I actually don't feel any pressure when I sing. I feel a little bit of nerves, but I get over that fairly quickly.

I love to sing more than I love to do anything else. Suppose that someone were to come to me and say, "Listen, TED. This coming Sunday morning, there's a small church with a mediocre choir in Northern Virginia, and they need a baritone soloist for the Faure Requiem. Alternatively, B.D. Wong's going to be in DC, and he'd like to spend three hours doing anything you want." I'm afraid B.D. would have to find other company: I'd be singing the Libera Me.

Anyway, Sunday went pretty well. The downside of singing in a Unitarian Universalist church is that people will sometimes applaud your performance. I was raised not to applaud in a house of worship, and I am still uncomfortable with it, but there is nothing to do but accept it graciously. I had hoped that I would escape unscathed with my second piece, "Hard Times Come Again No More," because it's very somber, but no dice.

Still, I had a great time, and the service, which was about death, was very moving. And everyone loved my singing, maybe too much. I put a lot of effort into choosing what to sing and preparing songs, but once it's over, I don't usually want to talk about it much, and after about the fifteenth compliment, I start to get overwhelmed. I've learned to accept praise graciously, and of course I would feel worse if I didn't receive any, but all I really want when I sing well is to be asked to sing again. B&c and a few of my friends came to hear me, and we all had brunch afterwards at the new Austin Grill in Rockville. Neither the food nor the service was good, but the company was, and we all had a good time.


Jason said...

Libera Me is like a tailored score for you.

Lewis said...

I'm not so sure that these dirty boy pics are completely appropriate for celebrating a national holiday dedicated to death and memories. And I'm just about positive sure that GW at Camp David wouldn't agree with them either.