Category Archives: thirtysomethings

I Think Banana Clips Might Be Out of Vogue

I would much rather overpay for a haircut than have to do math in my head. That’s why I subject myself to a “no tipping” salon where everyone wears black and treats the banana clip holding up my bun like a diseased relic.

At this salon, there is always at least one dude wearing makeup and black leather pants and I spend a lot of time getting shuffled from one holding area to another. But I endure it because at thirty-seven years old, I can no longer introduce drastic change into my life.

Because my regular stylist is very busy juggling three clients at once, I spend a lot of time with her assistant. As far as I can tell, Tiffany’s only duty is to wash my hair and keep the conversation flowing, even when I’m faking sleep.

She always asks me if I have a boyfriend and I always have to tell her “no.”

I can tell Tiffany feels sorry for me because I have gray hairs and no boyfriend, so she offers me a free facial and makeup. Which I decline because I don’t like people touching my face and besides, I have to get back to my kids who are puking at home.

Now Tiffany is devastated because I am a single mom with no plans for the evening.

One time she tried to talk with me about the Real Housewives of the Whatever, and I had to break it to her that I don’t watch TV.

“You don’t have a TV?”

“No, I have one. I just hardly ever watch it. I don’t know why.”

I am a lost cause.

Finally, finally, Tiffany gives up.

It’s times like these I miss my old Ukrainian stylist, Nadia. I broke up with her ten years ago and still have to hide when I see her at the mall. But even though she spoke no English, wielded her scissors like a weapon, and gave me the highlights of a skunk, we always spent our time together in amicable silence.

And when you’re thirty-seven with gray hairs, no boyfriend, and puking kids at home, there’s a lot to be said for that.

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Gold Star

The violin lessons are going much better. I’m still just working on rhythm exercises and improving my bowing technique, but progress has definitely been made. Today my teacher said something along the lines of, “That was actually not too bad,” but stopped short of giving me a sticker. And I know she has them.

It gives me immense pleasure to know that I am a full page ahead of a third grader who started around the same time as me in the Suzuki Level One violin book. The two of us are now in fierce competition, although he doesn’t know I exist.

I can feel OK about my progress as long as I’m one step ahead of the eight-year-old, but the problem is that he gets away with a lot more than me by virtue of being cute and little. My teacher is always telling stories about the endearing mistakes little Peter Protégé is making, but something tells me that she isn’t regaling her other students with tales of “the soccer mom who always forgets her checkbook.”

It kind of sucks being the eager non-traditional student, like the middle aged lady in your college French class who always sat up front and asked tedious questions in her bad accent. You know, the one who was always forming a study group and wondering aloud if there was a homework assignment just as the bell rang and everyone else was hightailing it out of there?

That’s me as a violin student: I am nothing if not earnest. I pore over YouTube clips of violin masters, practice diligently, work ahead in my book, ask a million questions, and marvel aloud at the awesome beauty of a single perfect note.

I would have hated myself as a twenty-year-old.

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Fiddling Around

So far, the best part about taking violin lessons is waltzing around town carrying a violin case and looking vaguely musical. The actual “learning how to play” bit is proving to be quite a challenge.

Did I listen when the first potential teacher I called, chuckling slightly under her breath, suggested I try cello or piano instead? Was I paying attention when she confided that playing violin is actually hard physical work? That proper form must be mastered before any real music making can begin? Did I pay heed when she explained that the hands of children who start playing at a very young age actually grow differently to accommodate the various string positions? That few adults have the time and stamina to take on the commitment that is violin?

I did not. I arched my brow and did the Z-snap. “Bring it, sistah!”

And that’s how I ended up on a tree-lined street with ivy clad Tudor style houses last Friday, knocking on her door for my first ever lesson, a flimsy invisible fence separating me from the two pissed off attack dogs who were obviously trained to scare the crap out of housewives turned wanna be violinists.

The first thing I learned is that the violin is a high maintenance kind of gal – there’ s a lot of rosin polishing, string tightening, and chin rest adjusting before one can even begin to think about making music. And when your instrument is finally ready (*snort*), it’s time to get in play position.

But don’t think you can hold the bow any which way and drag it across the stings willy-nilly, readers. The violin is a demanding luv-ah, and there’s a special place in hell for players who don’t practice good bow hold. Of course, once your gnarled thirty-six year old digits are finally in position, you must go directly to the nearest fire station to make sure you’ve installed yourself correctly. Then and only then can you begin to play. One note – the “A.”

But you mustn’t flap your arms all over tarnation like some kind of freak show carnival fiddler. Instead, move your forearm back and forth, as though opening a door – your elbow should remain almost stationery. There! Just like that. Now make sure the horsehair hits the string at an angle, like so, otherwise it sounds like you’re skinning a cat. Pretty hard, eh? Try to do all this with a “light touch,” even though you’re concentrating so hard that your knuckles are turning bone white and it’s everything you can do to hold in that fart. Now you’re ready to play.

Despite not being especially supportive of my non-traditional student status, I think my teacher is pretty cool. She drinks tea, has a dry sense of humor and a little zen rock garden in her music room. She also makes you do yoga stretches before each lesson, which seems to run counter to the attack dogs, but who am I to question the mysterious violin subculture?

My only assignment for the next week is to practice holding the bow and striking the “A” string using proper form. If I get really good at playing the “A,” I’m allowed to try another note, but I must not go nuts with it. My lesson was only a few days ago, and already I’m having trouble re-enacting the bow hold and arm movements my teacher showed me. Despite watching countless instructional clips on Utube and poring over the diagrams in my Level One Suzuki book, I feel like I’m just now getting acquainted with my opposable thumb.

Readers, it looks as though I’ve met my match. She’s fifteen inches tall and weighs about a pound.

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Yo-Yo (Ra)ma*

I’m thirty-six years old, and there are a lot of things I still want to do in life. Last weekend, after hearing the Cleveland Orchestra play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, I decided I would learn to play the violin.

I took piano lessons as a kid, but the thing that got me in the end (besides laziness and inadequate wingspan) was that pesky bass clef. It’s a very busy instrument, the piano, and my left hand never fully cooperated the way it was supposed to. I always pounded out the melody, fudged the harmony, and pumped the pedals with a leaden foot.

The violin, however, is a simple, unassuming instrument with a pittance of strings. So rudimentary is the violin, that you could probably play it with your hands tied behind your back. I was fairly certain it was the perfect instrument for me, and, lo! I had an opportunity to try it when I took the V-meister to see a school friend make her debut with the childrens’ orchestra.

The concert was part of the family music series, and the kids in attendance were given the chance to try different instruments before the performance began. V-meister didn’t want anything to do with any of it, but I couldn’t stay away from the violin table. After circling it for several minutes, I finally asked one of the orchestra volunteers if I could give it a go, and she said, “Why not? You look about twelve” (Not really, but it was implied.)

Just between you and me, I half expected that violin to play itself. And so I was rather taken aback at how awkward it felt, how cumbersome . . . how . . . how . . . downright difficult it actually was. I couldn’t even figure out how to hold the bow without the docent’s assistance, much less guide my paws into position on the strings. And the sound it made when I finally managed to put it all together was absolutely pitiful. I handed the violin back and ran away.

But don’t think for a minute that my musical dream has been dashed. The violin is all the more enticing because of the challenge it poses. And really, I just want to learn how to hold the damn thing without poking myself in the eye with it play for my own pleasure and perhaps the P-Dawg’s, who I plan to serenade by firelight (when I’m not busy hobnobbing with Franz Welser-Möst at Severance Hall, that is.)

* Cello, schmello

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