Saturday, January 31, 2009

This is the kind of thing I meant

One of my earliest posts was a set of recommendations for helping straight people get past the Eww! Ick! response when they see same-sex couples express affection. In it I recommended going out of their way to see same-sex themed movies or TV shows and I emphasized the fact that I didn't mean pornography.

I was recently hipped by Joe. My. God. to a new music video by openly gay singer-songwriter Matt Alber. It's a great song and a very beautiful video. As a gay person in North America, I've spent my whole life switching pronouns in my head and reframing stories in movies and TV shows so that I could relate to the characters. Give it a try! It will help you appreciate the ease of being in the majority.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dad's Fiddle Reborn

The story of me becoming a fiddler starts when I was a very young kid. There were large cupboards above my parent's clothes closet where seldom-used things were kept, and those storage spaces were the most magical destination in my young world. When I could get away with it I would find a way to get up into those cupboards and peek into the boxes that held Christmas decorations, old keepsakes and my Dad's violin. Dad studied with the first chair of the Minneapolis Symphony until the Great Depression hit in 1929 when he was 10 years old. Music fell by the wayside as he looked for ways to make money to help support his family.

The violin sat in its case for 64 years until his death in 1993, when Mom gave it to me. Becoming a fiddler had never been in my plan for life, but when I held that poor, decrepit instrument in my hands it felt like a door opened in my heart and the fiddle moved in beside the harp. I had the initial restoration done by a violin company south of Seattle, and not knowing any better, thought they had done a good job. I marveled at how incredibly difficult it was to get a good sound out of a violin and being who I am, I blamed my lack of talent.

After 14 years of dabbling at playing it I finally got to a place in my career and life where I could afford to spend a couple grand on a better violin. As it turns out, the poor set-up and repair work was at least partly to blame for my lack of progress. My new violin was a revelation. It was so much easier to play that I practiced for hours every day and my skills took a quantum leap forward.

Which brings me back to my Dad's violin. After getting my new one, I moved Dad's up to Lingoman's apartment for weekend use, but I never played it; I had been spoiled. A couple of weeks ago the radical weather fluctuations caused all the tuning pegs to let go and the bridge fell down. Non-players might not know, but the precise placement of the bridge, which is held in place by string tension, is a critical element in how an instrument sounds.

So I decided to bring Dad's violin into Lasley and Russ in Ballard to see what could be done. To my surprise, Duane Lasley thought that he could overhaul it and make it into a decent instrument. He took the top off, carved down some of the surfaces, sanded the fingerboard smooth, replaced the tail piece and tuning pegs and now it's almost as nice as my new violin. Duane tells me that it will continue to adjust and improve over time.

Well, Dad, the instrument you had to abandon at the beginning of the Great Depression has been reborn in your son's hands at the beginning of the Second Great Depression. I think I'm going to have to write a tune about that.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Almost Canadian

I spent the weekend at the Fort Worden Folk Harp Festival and had a terrific time as usual. There were about 45 harpers there who came to learn techniques and repertoire from the five presenters and also to visit with each other. There's a core group of about 30 that come every year, and as you can imagine, we're pretty good friends after 25 years. We've seen each other through divorces, job losses, deaths, diseases and suffering of every kind. We've also celebrated each other's triumphs and joys, all in the context of our shared love of music and the harp specifically.

Most of the people who come every year are from Western Washington, but there is a contingent from British Columbia as well. I make sure they get a special shout out at the Saturday night céilidh since they have to face a US Customs agent to get there. I figure they deserve at least that.

As we were packing up to leave on Sunday morning, one of the Canadians, a dear woman about my age, pulled me aside because she wanted to tell me that she thought of me as "almost Canadian." I thanked her, and told her that my Dad was from Ontario and she responded with "O, then you are Canadian!"

Over the last seven and a half years of being in love with a Canadian man, I've been exposed to lots and lots of anti-Americanism from his friends and family. Usually when this happens, at some point the ranters will say "Oh, but we don't mean you, Seumas, you're not like other Americans!"

There's a part of me, naturally, that stiffens at that moment. I am like other Americans. Lots and lots and lots of other Americans. I've learned, however, to hear comments like that in a different way. If I take a step back I can hear something more like "you're nice and I like you."

Being accepted by people from other nations as "not like other Americans" is an opportunity to change that stereotype.

So, to all my Canadian friends, I want to say thanks for giving me the chance to show you what other Americans are like. Thanks for letting me learn a little about what it means to be Canadian. I hope I continue to earn your friendship and understanding.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

My main client is the U.S. Federal Government. It's been a great gig, which has provided me with loads of great experience and opportunities. You may not know this, but many of the people who do the work of the Government are actually contractors like me. In some ways this is good, but it also creates some strange situations. Federal managers supervise staff who are not their employees, and their actual employers are usually off-site. When there are performance management issues a complex ballet ensues. I got to see one of those today in all its glory.

An employee of a contractor who was in her probationary period wasn't working out as hoped. The Federal manager responsible for her work, who happens to also be my client, let us know this since I and my team are partially responsible for computer network management and security. Today was supposed to be her last day, though she didn't know it yet.


The Federal manager (I'll call him Teddy Bear) tells the young woman (Crazy Eyes) that she must attend her company's staff meeting off-site. She argues with him, but eventually agrees to go. Her employer was supposed to meet with her afterward and tell her that she was fired.


Teddy Bear walks into my team's work area and asks us if we've seen Crazy Eyes. We haven't. Apparently she never showed up to the staff meeting at her employer's office. We are informed that her network login has been disabled, as well as her government e-mail account.


Teddy Bear pokes his head out of the door to our area and sees Crazy Eyes headed down the hall. He leaves.


Crazy Eyes comes into our work area and tells us that she can't log in to her computer. We tell her "Go talk to Teddy Bear." She leaves.


Teddy Bear comes back into our office and we ask him if he has talked to Crazy Eyes. He hasn't. He tells us that he has phoned her employer, who is on his way into our offices to inform her that she isn't employed there anymore. In the mean time, Teddy Bear tells us to re-enable her network login.


I and two of my team mates step outside for a refreshing cigarette. As we are finishing, who comes barreling out of the building but Crazy Eyes. She doesn't say anything, but give us a head-held-high-crazy-eye grin as she walks by.


We send a representative to give the news to Teddy Bear that Elvis has Left the Building, but he's not in his office. On his chair, however, is a key with post-it note attached "office key - email to explain - Crazy Eyes."

Someday we're going to write a situation comedy called "Dot Gov." This is going to be in the pilot.