Monday, April 30, 2012

In My Castle on a Cloud

I came across an interesting list the other day, called “Nine Things That Will Disappear in Our Lifetime” written by a fellow from Florida named Plinio Granado which appeared on I thought, someone sounds awfully sure of himself, but when I read the list, I agreed. I’ll put it at the end of this post so I won’t interfere with the “narrative flow” of the piece. (Right.)

Basically, Mr. Granado says the post office, the “cheque” (check to you and me on this side of the pond), the (paper) newspaper, the (physical) book, the land line telephone, recorded music, network television, “things” you own, and  privacy are toast. He discusses each one in the article and includes his rationale for thinking each will disappear in 30 or 40 years or even sooner. Some I just have to say, “Yep,” good as gone. Those would be the post office, the check (I used to write 50 a month. Now I do one or two), network television, and privacy. For the others, I have some comments.

Starting with the paper newspaper and physical books, I think we are at a watershed. By and large, the younger generation has embraced the epaper and the ebook. In the area I live in there are a number of good hyperlocal electronic papers. Some of my friends write for these papers, and they are darned good writers. At the same time, I think people my age have one foot planted in each world. I have a Nook and read the local paper online but I still like the feel of a book in my hand (and its battery never runs out) and being able to fold the Post so I can work on the crossword. Paper newspapers and books might go the way of the buggy whip, though, although I think there will always be devotees of each, just as some people still ride horses for recreation. They might still be used on some ranches in the West, but my understanding is that on the big cattle ranches the cowboys ride ATV’s. 

A writer friend of mine believes that physical books will survive in used book stores as the castoffs of those who still use books, and will be a place where writers and aficionados of the books will gather to write, contemplate and discuss. There’s a phenomenon that has sprung up with the advent of so much personal technology called “high tech, low touch,” meaning that the same people who embrace all the technological devices will also engage in traditional activities such as weaving, knitting, painting or playing instruments (just to name a few activities) as a counter to all the technology. Some readers of electronic books will go to have an "old school" experience at used book stores. Make sense to me.

A number of young people, including our daughters have only cell phones now. We still have a land line and I wonder why. The rationale used to be that the landlines worked during a power failure and of course cell phone batteries would run down if they couldn’t be recharged at a wall socket. Well, Amy’s college roommate Kyle was without power in New England this past winter for ten days and charged her cell phone from her car. I think land line phones will become as dead as phones with dials. Remember those? I do, dimly.

Recorded music has changed drastically in the cyber age, with bands and singers being able to bypass music companies and establish a following directly through the internet. So, I’m conceding that one. At the same time, the high tech/low touch principle means more people are making their own music. The popularity of local choruses is at an all-time high. 

When composer Joseph Martin was here for our Voices United 2012 workshop and concert, he talked at lunch about the disappearance of objects from our lives. An example is the CD collection, which has been replaced by MP3 files on a player. As a result, said Martin, it’s no longer possible to walk into someone’s house and know something about their taste in music. It’s not visible: it’s a digital file on a computer, or increasingly, on the Cloud. It is possible even now to keep pictures, sound files, movies, artwork and even holograms of objects completely hidden away from view and call them up on demand.

I remember watching the original Star Trek series and thinking, man, they don’t have much stuff. Spock’s cabin had a few weird looking objects sitting around and that was it. Undoubtedly that was a cost-saving measure for the production since the set dressers didn’t have to do much. But I wonder if Gene Roddenberry was on to something about how we will live in the future. As for now, I’m resisting this. I want to put my CD tracks on the computer but that takes time and the mp3 files don’t have the sound quality of disks. Still, mp3's are easier to carry and more convenient so I’m sure I will make the switch. As for the rest, I have too many objects that mean something to me sitting around. Yep, it’s a bear to dust and makes for a cluttered look, but it represents who I am…for now. But hang on. I have a feeling we’re all going to live in a castle on a Cloud. And I hate that song...

Here’s the list of

Nine Things That Will Disappear in Our Lifetime

Whether these changes are good or bad depends in part, on how we adapt to them. But, ready or not, here they come.

1. The Post Office

Get ready to imagine a world without the post office. They are so deeply in financial trouble that there is probably no way to sustain it long term. Email, Fed Ex, and UPS have just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office alive. Most of your mail every day is junk mail and bills.

2. The Cheque 

Britain is already laying the groundwork to do away with cheques by 2018. It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process cheques. Plastic cards and online transactions will lead to the eventual demise of the cheque. This plays right into the death of the post office. If you never paid your bills by mail and never received them by mail, the post office would absolutely go out of business.

3. The Newspaper 

The younger generation simply doesn't read the newspaper. They certainly don't subscribe to a daily delivered print edition. That may go the way of the milkman and the laundry man. As for reading the paper online, get ready to pay for it. The rise in mobile Internet Devices and e-readers has caused all the newspaper and magazine publishers to form an alliance. They have met with Apple, Amazon, and the major cell phone companies to develop a model for paid subscription services.

4. The Book 

You say you will never give up the physical book that you hold in your hand and turn
the literal pages. I said the same thing about downloading music from iTunes. I wanted my hard copy CD. But I quickly changed my mind when I discovered that I could get albums for half the price without ever leaving home to get the latest music. The same thing will happen with books. You can browse a bookstore online and even read a preview chapter before you buy. And the price is less than half that of a real book. And think of the convenience! Once you start flicking your fingers on the screen instead of the book, you find that you are lost in the story, can't wait to see what happens next, and you forget that you're holding a gadget instead of a book.

5. The Land Line Telephone 

Unless you have a large family and make a lot of local calls, you don't need it anymore. Most people keep it simply because they've always had it. But you are paying double charges for that extra service. All the cell phone companies will let you call customers using the same cell provider for no charge against your minutes

6. Music
This is one of the saddest parts of the change story. The music industry is dying a slow death. Not just because of illegal downloading. It's the lack of innovative new music being given a chance to get to the people who would like to hear it. Greed and corruption is the problem. The record labels and the radio conglomerates are simply self-destructing. Over 40% of the music purchased today is "catalogue items," meaning traditional music that the public is familiar with. Older established artists. This is also true on the live concert circuit. To explore this fascinating and disturbing topic further, check out the book, "Appetite for Self-Destruction" by Steve Knopper, and the video documentary, "Before the Music Dies."

7. Television 

Revenues to the networks are down dramatically. Not just because of the economy. People are watching TV and movies streamed from their computers. And they're playing games and doing lots of other things that take up the time that used to be spent watching TV. Prime time shows have degenerated down to lower than the lowest common denominator. Cable rates are skyrocketing and commercials run about every 4 minutes and 30 seconds. I say good riddance to most of it. It's time for the cable companies to be put out of our misery. Let the people choose what they want to watch online and through

8. The "Things" That You Own 

Many of the very possessions that we used to own are still in our lives, but we may not actually own them in the future. They may simply reside in "the cloud." Today your computer has a hard drive and you store your pictures, music, movies, and documents. Your software is on a CD or DVD, and you can always re-install it if need be. But all of that is changing. Apple, Microsoft, and Google are all finishing up their latest "cloud services."
That means that when you turn on a computer, the Internet will be built into the operating system. So, Windows, Google, and the Mac OS will be tied straight into the Internet. If you click an icon, it will open something in the Internet cloud. If you save something, it will be saved to the cloud. And you may pay a monthly subscription fee to the cloud provider.
In this virtual world, you can access your music or your books, or your whatever from any laptop or handheld device. That's the good news. But, will you actually own any of this "stuff" or will it all be able to disappear at any moment in a big "Poof?" Will most of the things in our lives be disposable and whimsical? It makes you want to run to the closet and pull out that photo album, grab a book from the shelf, or open up a CD case and pull out the insert.

9. Privacy 

If there ever was a concept that we can look back on nostalgically, it would be privacy. That's gone! There are cameras on the street, in most of the buildings, and even built
into your computer and cell phone. But you can be sure that 24/7, "They" know who you are and where you are, right down to the GPS coordinates, and the Google Street View. If you buy something, your habit is put into a zillion profiles, and your ads will change
to reflect those habits.
"They" will try to get you to buy something else. Again and again ...

Friday, April 27, 2012

Poems of the Week: Chicken Poetry Fest 2012

Some poems based on the question, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" written by some of my talented and humor-enhanced FB friends.

But first, a cartoon:

Some Poems in Answer to the Question, “Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road” (and Variants on that Question)

Looking back across
the black expanse,
I clucked to myself,

Beak canted,
beady eyes narrowed,
I knew the answer.

Maybe, I left it there,
On the other side.

Brunswick Stew

A chicken and a squirrel walk into a bar;
leisurely strutting about, and feeling peckish,
the chicken attacks the popcorn bowl,
and the squirrel, the peanuts.
A few drinks later, the chicken emerges
and meanders, clucking and clueless,
across the avenue,
the squirrel scampering close behind.
Now, squirrels are faster, and have more options
than a flightless, brainless bird.
And yet…
the chicken survives the transit, unscathed;
the squirrel is (as ever) roadkill.

Forget the question of chickens and roads--
Why do squirrels even try?

Mary McElveen

Cock-a-doodle-doo on Broadway
(With a nod to Walt Whitman, And the Bee Gees. And the Beatles.)
Staring down the broad boulevards, sauntering past the cross streets
I strut, my feathers ruffled, looking for other chickens
I see them, those proud preening fellows so colorful clucking to attraction
I am the cock of the walk. I am larger than life, larger than death,
Larger than all of Manhattan!
Make way, make way for my cock-of-the-walk walk!
You can tell by the way I walk I’m a dancin’ cock!
There is no meat as sweet as that on these bones: the fat drips from mine
And so, however I shall end up, I will be toasted and I will be enjoyed and
I am me and I am he and
I am you and you are he and we are all together...
I am the eggman
They are the eggmen
No, wait:

I am the walrus

Goo goo g' job
Dan Verner

Chaucer's Pertelote to Miss Emily D.:

I most certainly am not merely "a Thing with Feathers";
When I perch, I am making something far better than Hope--
Perfection in an Egg.

Nancy West

Thursday, April 26, 2012

An Omission and Some Advice for Writers

I apologize to my FB friend and former FCPS teacher Nancy West for overlooking her detailed and heartfelt account of seeing the shuttle last Tuesday. Here it is, followed by the usual Thursday feature of Advice for Writers:

My husband John and I didn't realize we should have left the house by 6 AM last Tuesday if we were to have had any hope of getting into the prime viewing site by the museum at Dulles, so we luxuriated way too long over our morning coffee and crossword puzzle before heading out the door at 9:20. By the time we merged onto Route 50 off of the Fairfax County Parkway, traffic was already bumper to bumper going west toward Route 28. To pass the time, I continued working the crossword puzzle, occasionally firing a clue over to my chauffeuring husband--never thinking that Discovery and her carrier might appear at any time for its initial "flyover," and that was our first sighting. I looked up , and there it was, flying low across Route 50, heading toward Dulles and D.C. Folks were stationed in median strips and sidewalks giddy with excitement....

Initially we assumed that brief glimpse was "it" but remembering that the landing was scheduled for 10:40 AM, we continued to inch our way closer to Route 28 which we soon realized was shut down. Feeling "dauntless and sagacious" we pressed on up 50, finally detouring into a Baptist church parking lot not far from the Route 28 exit. Like excited four year olds at an amusement park, we tumbled out of the car, cameras in tow, and made our way to the best viewing spot along with several other dozen gawkers. One fellow had his car radio's volume up to the mega decibels so that we could all keep track of Discovery's whereabouts. There were young families, office workers sporting ID badges, really old folks in wheel chairs and walkers, and us--true children of the Space Age eager to witness history once again.

Our seemingly endless wait was soon rewarded with not one but two spectacular flyovers. I was so excited during the first one that I couldn't hold the camera still and opted just to gape stupidly saying "So awesome" over and over like a pre-teen. During the second flyover as Discovery was clearly going to land, I got some shots, then put the camera down, raised my arms high, and shouted "Welcome home"! My eyes had teared up and so had my husband's. Neither of us expected to be as emotional as we were...We were remembering so many other incredible space journeys--some great successes, others disasters. T'was for sure a life highlight! 

Advice for Writers
 From the Guardian newspaper:

We asked some of the most esteemed contemporary authors for any golden rules they bring to their writing practice. Here are Roddy Doyle's:

1. Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.

2. Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph ­–

3. Until you get to Page 50. Then calm down, and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety – it's the job.

4. Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.

5. Do restrict your browsing to a few websites a day. Don't go near the online bookies – unless it's research.

6. Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg "horse", "ran", "said".

7. Do, occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It's research.

8. Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.

9. Do not search for the book you haven't written yet.

10. Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – "He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego." But then get back to work.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Biscuit City Local Artist of the Week: Gracie and Her First Book

 My little friend Gracie Hodgson, a five-year-old kindergartener, heard her parents Sean and Diana and her brother Garrett and sister Kaya talking with me about books and writing at a weekly church dinner recently. She decided she wanted to write  abook and this is the result. Biscuit City is pleased to present The Mini Plane by Gracie Hodgson with illustrations by the author and subtitles by her mom. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Most Memorable Day: Some First-Hand Accounts of Sightings of the Shuttle Discovery and Its Carrier Aircraft during the Area Fly-By, April 17, 2012

(I don't have credits for these incredible pictures. They were shared around on Facebook and I copied them to my desktop without noting where they came from. I should have been more careful with the provenance of  the images. If you took any or all of these pix, please comment and let me know and I will be glad to credit your work!)
Norm Modlin (Norm is an Air Force meteorologist and one of my go-to guys for all matters aerospatial.)
(Norm's FB posts)
 Shuttle spotting with Lilah Gaulden Modlin at Target parking lot, Lee Road/Hwy 50, Chantilly. Checked and they said there's no real time flight tracking today.
Initial flyby just went over ~5 minutes ago. Must be headed for DC now. I hope these winds don't cause a change in flight plans.
Second flyby...circling again...I think they're lining up for runway 30.
WOO HOO!!! Flaps & gear down this time....nice approach....mad flying skills in what has to be a significant crosswind. Kudos to the crew of NAS
Terri Wiseman, retired educator and Manassas Chorale member from Manassas:

I was at the Manassas Battlefield picnic area with six other educators waiting for our students to arrive for the Watershed activities. It was awesome to witness! We were just sorry we didn't have busloads of kids with us.

Lisa Hope Lucia Vierra-Moore, teacher and one of my best students ever:

 I was in my classroom. At first it was no bigger than a fleck, then all a sudden it was, well, bigger. Nearly the size of a wadded piece of paper. I was stunned, amazed by how quickly it soared past me just glancing off my brow. Nearly weightless in its flight. Oh, perhaps it was just a wad of paper after all.

Amy Verner, fourth grade teacher, Manassas Chorale member, and esteemed elder daughter:

It came right over school. The kids literally ran outside and then were waving and cheering and pointing.

Gretchen Day, columnist for the News and Messenger: (I also talked to Gretchen about the event when we met up with her at a restaurant late last week.  This is an excerpt from her column this week.)

Discovery Makes Trip over County
I hope many of you got to view the space shuttle Discovery on Tuesday as it made its trip through Prince William County on the way to its new home near Dulles Airport. I was driving down Wellington Road, on my way to the Senior Center, when I looked up and saw it soaring right over my head. Several cars (mine among them) pulled over to watch as it circled and made a second pass.

I have to admit it brought tears to my eyes as I watched it flying low enough that I could clearly read the writing on the side. The wonderful sight definitely “made my day!”

It got me thinking of all the things that our manned space program is respon­sible for— first among them being the microwave oven. I can’t imagine not having that in the place of honor in my kitchen! AND, what would children do without the hook and loop closings on their shoes, jackets and sweaters? Just think of all the ways we use them, and the many other products that are results of this space program.

At a meeting I attended Tuesday evening, the first thing we did was go around the circle and each one shared their stories of where they were and what they were doing when they saw Discovery on its final journey. One participant sadly said, “I didn’t think to look to see if I could see it outside, I just watched it on TV.”

Sherri Craun Katoen, former student (also one of the best) and Manassas Chorale member:

I was inside my jury deliberation room getting ready to go into the courtroom for the jury I'm on. A few of us were looking out the window and noticed people in the apartments on their balconies. Someone saw it first and then we all saw it. It was amazing...and gave me goosebumps to see it. Court began at 10 and we were happy the shuttle was early so we could see it. The funny thing is the judge mentioned that while he was in his car he saw it. We were all thinking, you were in your car at 9:50 and court begins at 10??? Ha ha!

Win Lightner, Manassas resident and Manassas Chorale member:

We live within the flight pattern of planes heading into Dulles. I was watching it on the news and heard a plane going overhead and ran outside to see the shuttle flying overhead...way cool. Just bummed that I didn't think fast enough to have my camera ready!!! It will be an image I won't soon forget!!

Leigh Giza, Gainesville resident, librarian and poet:
Most exciting event I've experienced in a long time -- seeing the Space Shuttle Discovery flying overhead, tethered to a jet, as I drove east on Route 66 this morning. Amazing! Whoever said the suburbs were boring was wrong -- well, at least for today. :-) 

And my immediate reactions, as posted to Facebook, as I had given up trying to see it and was parked at Walgreens and about to go inside:

WOW Shuttle just went over me about 1000 feet up Amazing!

More detail on the shuttle sighting. I had been trying various places in town to try to see it. The radio reported its whereabouts and I was looking at a news feed parked in the Bloom lot on Route 28 which runs north to the airport. Aircraft normally let down into Dulles along this road about 3000-5000 feet up. From what I saw on the NASA television feed it looked like the assemblage was coming from the north rather than from the south where I was. I went over to the Walgreens parking lot and was facing Route 28 and about to give up and go into the store. I looked up and there it was, right through my windshield, about 1000 feet up. So amazing! I grabbed my camera and jumped out of the car to take a picture and my camera batteries failed at that moment. Argh. But the whole 747/shuttle combo slid by so quietly and smoothly. It was a beautiful sight. People in cars along 28 were paying no attention to what was going by over their heads. Further up 28, I would bet people were running into each other and off the road when they saw it!

Cindy Brookshire, Manassas resident, writer and force majure behind the Write by the Rails Writers’ Group:

I was working in my windowless office, when Curtis called and said, “Go outside now, the Shuttle’s flying over!”  I ran out just in time to see it circle, perched on the back of a 747.  It was thrilling; yet sad.  My first husband, Martin, if he was still alive, would have camped out at Dulles with kids, camera and binoculars to catch sight of it.  After all, his father Willis had photographed the original Mercury astronauts when he worked at NASA Langley in the 1960s.  Martin grew up with an eye to the heavens.  I stood alone by the crepe myrtles, losing sight of an era, the hum of distant engines fading away.

And some who missed it…

Patty Reed, hardware lady par excellence at J.E. Rice’s Hardware and inveterate reader:
I drove to work unaware of the news. I did receive a picture text message of the shuttle and had no idea what it was. I found out on TV 30 minutes later. D'oh!

Jennifer Blanchard, mom and Chorale member:

I missed seeing the shuttle - I was watching my daughter's first dance recital instead.  A different kind of once-in-a-lifetime event!

Kathy Smaltz, Manassas resident and high school teacher: Sadly, I missed it. It flew right over our high school (and I was off for lunch) but I didn't realize it until after!  My husband and oldest son got to see it though!

Bottom of Form

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Baby Takes the Morning Train

Well, I did take the morning train last Monday, but I don't think anyone was singing that for me unless it was Becky and I don't think she knows it and if she did she probably wouldn't want to sing it. I kinda like the song and I was singing it (to myself) as the VRE pulled out of the Manassas Station at 7:56 AM last Monday, to be precise.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I was on the train because I had a brief appointment in upper Northwest Washington, D. C. in the 4900 block of Massachusetts Avenue near Westmoreland Circle at 11:00 AM. (Got all that? There will be a quiz later!) I had never ridden the VRE into Union Station. I didn't want to drive to my destination because of traffic and because I was told there was little parking in the area. So the train it was.

I don't live far from the station, so I showed up about a half an hour early and worked the crossword with a few other commuters waiting around. About five minutes before train time, people seemed to come out of nowhere and lined up to board the train which pulled slowly into the station, right on time. The doors opened and I joined the silent crush of people boarding. They were clearly experienced at this routine commute: it was, of course, new to me. I wrote a poem about the journey in that morning and posted it on Facebook as part of my attempt to write a poem every day during the month of April, National Poetry Month. Here's my entry for Tuesday, April 17, the day after my trip:

                               On the Morning Train

This is my first time riding the train into the city
I am all eyes.
(No ears necessary this morning--
I am sitting in the quiet car

The regular commuters do not speak
And keep their heads down
Exhibiting elevator behavior
Not making eye contact
To maintain anonymity.
No one says "Bless you"
When someone sneezes.
For them, this is routine.

But I am, as I said, all eyes
Peering out the window
At lush sunstreaked woodlands
The backsides of restaurants
Isolated elegant houses
Cars backed up behind crossing guard arms
Their red warning lights bright in the sunshine
Impossibly green highs school football fields
The back side of strip shopping centers

And I am singing (to myself) all the train songs I know:

"The City of New Orleans"
"Morning Train"
" If I Got my Ticket, Can I Ride?"
"Chattanooga Choo-Choo"
"The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe"
"Freight Train"
"This Train" and
"My Baby Takes the Morning Train."

We slide out of the suburbs
Across the sparkling Potomac
The Jefferson Memorial white in the near distance
Washington Monument in the far
Monuments and colossal buildings
But also at the back of a row house
A lady hanging out laundry.

So into a tunnel and to the platforms of
Union Station

"Good morning, America, how are you?
Don't you know me? I'm your native son!"

But I ain't no train

I am a wide-eyed

First time rider

On the VRE.

So I got to Union Station about 9 and then hoofed it over to the Metro, which was a pretty good hoof as it turned out since I got onto the platform about 9:15. I caught a northbound in just a couple of minutes headed toward my destination, Tenleytown, up near AU where I went to college, graduating in 1970 (no adjustment to your blog is necessary. The date is correct--it is 1-9-7-0). The Metro train got into the station about 9:30, which left me plenty of time to make the ten-minute walk promised by Google maps to my destination. Or so I thought.

For one thing, it took ten minutes of riding upward escalators to reach street level. I had forgotten how deep some of the Red Line Stations are and man, are they deep. I wouldn't have wanted to have walked up to the surface. So, by the time I reached the street and looked around to figure out where I was supposed to go next, it was about 9:45. I had a GPS with me but it wasn't showing which way I should go so I relied on my sun sense of direction and started south toward Massachusetts Avenue and then hooked a right onto van Ness Street toward my destination. Unfortunately I was going the wrong way for about ten minutes before I figured out that the little dot on the GPS was headed east. I wanted to go west.

I reversed course about 10 AM, figuring I would be early. The Google Map directions showed it to be about a mile away or ten minutes. I didn't notice that I had it set on "automobile" so the ten minutes was by car. Walking would take 25 minutes. Still it was downhill, it was a nice day and the neighborhood was filled with nice (and expensive) houses. While I didn't recognize anything in the neighborhood from my time at AU, I expected some changes in 42 years. Everything looked different. The Tenleytown Metro was not opened until early 1978.

I got to my appointment by 10:30, half an hour early and was done by 11:00. I had plenty of time to walk back to the Metro, have some lunch and catch the VRE at 1:15 for the hour ride back to Manassas. I walked back up Alton Street which was uphill (duh). It was also unseasonably hot (about 80 degrees) which warmed me up on my trek, but the scenery was nice and I was in no hurry. I wrote another poem about seeing a milk box at a nice house on the street. Here it is:

            Deja Vu

On Alton Street
In Spring Valley
Upper Northwest,
Washington D.C.
I saw an old-style
Dairy delivery box,
Outside one of the houses,
The same kind of milk box we had
When we lived in Maryland
In 1950.

The house on Alton Street
Was beautifully maintained
With a well-tended plot
Of pansies, alstroemeria, aranthera and jonquils,
Between house and sidewalk.

I bet a house like that would go for
A million dollars

Our little government surplus temporary house
In Maryland
Had porous walls that
I could stick thumbtacks in
and put up pictures of my heroes
Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy
And hard-packed dirt between
House and street
(no sidewalk).

The little house in College Park
Might have cost $2000
And was torn down shortly after
We moved out in 1953.


Both houses had
The same kind of
Milk box.

I had a nice lunch at a Panera in Tenleytown using a gift card I had, caught the Metro back to Union Station, poked around the shops at Union Station for while, including the Barnes and Noble to see if they carried a book a friend had written. They didn't and I told them they should. One clerk said she would have to read it based on my recommendation and enthusiasm about the book. I had some coffee and a croissant as a kind of dessert and made my way to the gate about 12:45 to wait to board the train at 1:15.

It came up right on time and I got on board, took a nap in the nearly empty car and was back in town by 2:20. It had taken me over six hours to go to and come back from a 20 minute appointment, but I enjoyed every minute of it (well, maybe not getting turned around for a few minutes). I have not traveled by myself since I went to visit my brother in Atlanta for a few days in November. Before that I would have been in college eons ago when I made a solitary trip. With a wife and then a family, most journeys are group ventures, which is as it should be. But traveling solo is fine, for a change. I probably won't do it again soon, but if the opportunity comes up, I'm ready. I also want to use the train to go with Becky to the new museums on the Mall we haven't seen and to make a test run with my dad down to Union Station and back as a precursor to our planned trip across the U.S. by train this summer. Now that's going to be one train ride!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Local Artist of the Week: Laura Giz, Violinist


Good morning and welcome to our Artist of the Week Feature. Our guest today is Laura Giz, violinist extraordinaire, teacher, and Virginia resident!

Dan: Laura, welcome to the show!

Laura: Thank you, it's nice to be here! 

Dan: We have known you for about five years now when you and your mother and grandmother started coming to Manassas Baptist Church. You were quite a striking group of ladies so we became aware of you as talented and delightful individuals early on. Where did you come from and what are your backgrounds?

Laura: My mom and her family lived in Miami, FL for many years, which is where I was born. We moved to the Seattle, WA area when I was about eight, and lived there until I went to college. About five years ago, my mom decided to move to Virginia to live closer to her brother and his family. It also helped to have more family around with the care of my grandmother. We've been here ever since! 

Dan: You play violin like an angel. We’ve heard you play at church and as part of an orchestra for the Manassas Chorale. What would you say about playing for these services and concerts?

Laura: Thank you! Yes, they've been very enjoyable. It's been neat to see your wife grow the program, and to see the choir start performing in the Hylton Center. I'm used to playing for weddings or symphony orchestras, so it's been fun to put string parts with choir and play in that unique setting. The members of the choir have always been very nice and welcoming. 

Dan: How did you get started playing?

Laura: I started violin when I was ten years old. It's an interesting story, because I was set on playing flute at the time. My mom made me play the recorder for a few months to make sure I was willing to practice before she'd rent a real flute for me. I did practice every day, and proved myself ready. However, apparently during this time, I heard a violin concert, and was convinced I now wanted to play that instead. When we went to the store to rent my first real instrument, we ended up renting a violin instead of a flute.

Although most public school programs start children on stringed instruments in the fifth grade, I was in a private school at the time where they started kids around first grade. I joined the orchestra class but was quite behind, and wanted very much to be in the intermediate/advanced class. I practiced hard and the orchestra teacher would often pull me out of class and give me extra coaching. I also started private lessons with another teacher and joined the youth symphony shortly after. All of this really helped push me forward, and the rest is history!

Dan: Where did you go to college and how did that advance your playing?

Laura: Growing up, I played with the Seattle Youth Symphony from ages 11-16, and the Tacoma Youth Symphony at ages 17 and 18. We had weekly rehearsals, and I also joined chamber music groups during the course of playing with both organizations. In addition to this, I took weekly private lessons, and played with my school orchestra. 

I had other opportunities to advance my playing, for example, I also played in All -State Orchestra and All-Northwest Orchestra several times throughout high school. We also had Solo-Ensemble Contest, which was a yearly competition for each district in which each student received ratings and comments from a judge. I played solos every year, and did duets occasionally. I was able to go to the state competition my senior year, which was a lot of fun. My private violin teachers would also have recitals. Because my family was really supportive, I was able to make the most of opportunities presented to me, which greatly helped with my playing. 

I have a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Cincinnati: College-Conservatory of Music. I greatly enjoyed my time there, and it was a great fit of a school for me.

Dan: You have an interesting story about playing during the summer as a summer job in Seattle. Would you tell us about that?

Laura: I had some good friends who were either in school orchestra or youth symphony with me, and played violin, viola, and cello. We purchased yearly permits, and played at Pike Place Market on street corners as a string quartet or trio for our summer job. Not only did this give us a lot of practice and playing time together, but we also made more money than we would have at a normal summer job. We'd frequently get wedding or other playing jobs from this, and were able to save up some spending money for college at the same time. 

Dan: A couple of years ago the Washington Post published an article about renowned violinist Joshua Bell who played in a Metro station with few people noticing him. The conclusion of the article was basically that people in this area, with a few exceptions, are Yahoos without culture or too busy to take a few minutes to appreciate true artistry. You had a different take on that experiment. Would you share that with us, please?

Laura: First, I want to say I thought that was a very interesting experiment. After reading the article, I thought immediately about my experiences playing at Pike Place Market, because I can relate to playing in that sort of environment. I had a few thoughts on the experiment though--first, because Joshua Bell was playing in a Metro station, it didn't surprise me that he wasn't able to draw a big crowd, as people are often in a hurry and on a strict time schedule. From my experience, I noticed that certain spots in Pike Place Market would draw a crowd, and others wouldn't, even though we could have the same group of musicians and play the same music. I'd be curious to see if the results would be the same if they had him play in several different spots, and/or experimented with playing in a flea market setting versus a Metro setting. 

Second, I know that the piece of music performed and the type of ensemble makes a difference in drawing a crowd. For example, solos often would not do as well as a duet or string quartet. The Bach “Chaccone”, which is the piece Joshua Bell played, is one of the most famous pieces for solo violin of all time. However, I think it would be hard to appreciate that piece in that setting. If he played “Eine Kleine Nacht Musik” with a string quartet, for example, I wonder if he would have gotten a difference response. All things to ponder, but definitely an interesting experiment! 

Dan: Tell us, if you would, about some of the “gigs” (music talk) you’ve had. I know there are some great stories there.

Laura: Sure. Well, as I mentioned earlier, I play a lot of weddings and orchestra concerts. I think some of the more memorable jobs have been where things went really well, or didn't go quite as planned. I played a wedding a few years ago that was during the big snow storm, and after playing, I got stuck at a friend’s house for several days. I've had other weddings where it's rained or wind has nearly knocked us over during the jobs. Over the years, I've worked out some kinks in my contracts, so I no longer will play outdoors under certain hazardous conditions, but when I first started playing jobs, I wasn't as prepared for all the things that could happen! 

I've been blessed to play at many amazing locations with other talented musicians. I've played at celebrity weddings, for Supreme Court justices, at a number of the embassies in D.C., and most concert halls in the state of Virginia. Many of the wedding sites are also beautiful, so it would be hard to name just one!

Dan: Tell us about your family. I know your mother is a music teacher with Prince William County Public Schools, and your grandmother was a delightful older lady who passed away recently.

Laura: Yes, my mom is a music teacher at Penn Elementary School, and is a pianist. She used to accompany me growing up. My grandmother wasn't a musician, but was an avid gardener, and was head of the Beautification Committee for many years in Miami. She and my grandfather planted over 900 trees for the city of Miami. 

Dan: What’s the oddest experience you’ve ever had as a player? The best?

Laura: The oddest experience(s) I think I've had is listening to certain sermons at the weddings I've played. I always find it funny when the pastor talks about divorce during most of the wedding sermon, or gives a really embarrassing story that I'm sure the couple would have rather not shared.
All of my best playing experiences have been connected to playing with great groups. One that stands out in particular was when I was able to play in the All-Northwest Orchestra during high school. Judges made an orchestra out of about 40 violinists from 6 states, and it was the highest level group I'd ever played with. It was really inspiring and something I'll always remember. Professionally, some of the concerts I've played with Richmond and Virginia Symphony have been very memorable for me. 

Dan: I know people are so affected by your playing. What are some things people have said to you about your music?

Laura: I think my favorite comment is when people say the music touched them for whatever reason. That's the whole point of playing: to make an impression on your audience and to take them into the world of the composer. I like when I'm able to do that for someone. 

Dan: What do you like to do when you’re not playing, teaching, or practicing?

Laura: At first I thought, “What do you mean, not ‘playing or teaching?!’ ” There usually isn't a whole lot of time left after I'm done with those things, but I think mostly visit with family or friends, or read. Although I don't watch a lot of regular TV, I enjoy learning, so get involved in watching documentaries or informational programs (this last month has been about religious history and physics). I usually have some project I'm working on, or most of the time have multiple jobs at once, so I'm always practicing something.

Dan: What do your plans for the future include?

Laura: I teach Suzuki violin lessons, so I plan to continue training at least yearly in that. I have about 20 students right now, but want to continue growing a studio and make it better each year. I also would like to go back to school and get a master's degree in violin eventually.

Dan: I should mention here that Laura works for Washington Celebrations and is available thought them for weddings (

Laura, it has been a delight talking with you today. Thank you for sharing with us, and thank you for being on the show.  I wish you well with your playing and whatever the future holds for you. You‘ve been a wonderful guest, and we’d love to have you back sometime.

Laura: Thank you for having me! It's been a pleasure.  

Dan: …I have one final question. If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be? I would be a Brazilian rosewood tree because they are beautiful and their wood is used in high-end guitars.

Laura: Hmm...well, this isn't for a very deep reason, but probably a Mt. Fuji Cherry Tree, because we used to have one in our back yard in Seattle, and I loved seeing it flower every year. It was the prettiest tree in our yard. 

Dan: I like that! Take care and keep playing!

We’ve been talking with Laura Giz, violin virtuoso, local resident and one of  the sweetest people I know.

This is Dan Verner, bidding you a fond adieu until next time when we’ll talk with another local artist.